Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Profiling, Interactive

Unexpected Lead

Austrian task force
Austrian task force

A team of investigators from the various relevant jurisdictions arrived at the conclusion that they did not have a serial killer on their hands. But Austria had no system at the time for linking crimes to make a sophisticated analysis. The official conclusion was based mostly on instinct, emphasizing the differences among the crimes and crime scenes rather than weighing the similarities. In hindsight, its easier to see what should have stood out, but in the midst of an investigation, its much more difficult.

On May 20, Sabine Moitizis body was discovered, and three days later, someone came across Karin Ergolus remains. Both had been dumped in forested areas outside of Vienna, lying prone, and both had been strangled with an article of their own clothing. Ergolus body was naked except for her jewelry and Moitizi wore only a jersey, pulled up. Moitizis money was missing, but her clothing and handbag were found a few yards away from the body. Ergolu had been subjected to blunt force trauma to the face. Her handbag and clothing were missing, except for her shoes and a body stocking, which her killer had forced down her throat.

Despite what the police had said, the press decided that a serial killer was at large, and according to one Austrian newspaper, on May 25 they dubbed him the Vienna courier. But investigators in Vienna resisted the idea that their murders were linked to those in other Austrian cities.

Johann Jack Unterweger
Johann "Jack" Unterweger
But then someone else joined the investigation who had a surprising revelation.

Former investigator August Schenner, nearing 70, had been retired for five years from the Criminal Investigation Department in Salzburg. He was following the media coverage of the crimes in Vienna, Graz and Bregenz and something about the killers MO reminded him of a murderer he once had chased down by the name of Johann Jack Unterweger. He called the authorities to discuss his ideas with them.

In 1974, he said, he had investigated two murders. One woman had been strangled and left in the woods. The victim was Margaret Schaefer, 18, who was a friend of Barbara Scholz, a prostitute who had told the police what happened. She and Jack Unterweger had robbed Schaefer's house and then lured her into a car and took her into the woods. With a belt from her coat, Jack tied her hands behind her back, beat her, removed her clothes and demanded certain sexual acts. She refused, so he hit her in the head with a steel pipe. Then he used her bra to strangle her to death, leaving her nude body face up in the forest, covered with leaves.

When the police questioned Unterweger, he broke down and confessed. In court, he defended himself by claiming that as he had hit Fraulein Schaefer, he had envisioned his mother in front of him. His anger was such that he could not stop.         

The forensic psychologist who examined him, Dr. Klaus Jarosch, pronounced him a sexually sadistic psychopath with narcissistic and histrionic tendencies. "He tends to sudden fits of rage and anger," Jarosch wrote. "His physical activities are enormously aggressive with sexually sadistic perversion... He is an incorrigible perpetrator."

Lake Salzachsee near Salzburg
Lake Salzachsee near Salzburg

The second murdered woman, Schenner said, was Marcia Horveth, a prostitute, who was strangled with her stockings and a necktie. Adhesive tape was applied to her mouth and her body was thrown into Lake Salzachsee near Salzburg. Schenner was in fact the person who had found her. Unterweger was not investigated for this murder, because he was already in prison for life. Yet convinced that Unterweger was responsible, Schenner interviewed him but was unable to secure his cooperation. In fact, Unterweger had been quite aggressive in his denials.

While there, Schenner observed Unterweger in that environment, and hed had the impression that the young convict was running the place. He had some charm and people responded to him, including the guards. That was reason enough to suspect that, despite his sentence, he might have somehow talked his way into a parole hearing. Schenner had checked on this and discovered that fifteen years into his sentence, just a few months before Brunhilde Masser was murdered, Herr Unterweger had been paroled.

Jack Unterweger signs book
Jack Unterweger signs book
But there was more. Not only was Unterweger free, he was a celebrity, an acclaimed bestselling writer and media darling. Investigators were going to have a difficult time without better evidence pinning any of these crimes on Jack.

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