Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Profiling, Interactive

Who is Jack?

<em>The Unknown Darkness</em> by Gregg McCrary
The Unknown Darkness by Gregg McCrary
Born to an Austrian prostitute, Theresia Unterweger, on August 16, 1952, Unterweger was abandoned to his grandfathers care. Several sources detail his life, from Astrid Wagners defense of him, Jack Unterweger, to police reports to the various encyclopedias specializing in serial killers. The most comprehensive account in English is in Gregg McCrarys book, The Unknown Darkness. Unterweger never knew who his father was, although it was rumored to have been an American soldier. For seven years, the boy lived with his alcoholic grandfather. He was sixteen when he was first arrested, and his crime was an assault on a prostitute. Newton indicates that he had an unpredictable temper.

Jack Unterweger
Jack Unterweger
That was significant to investigators. Anger against prostitutes was rare in Austria, and Unterwegers mother had been one, which indicated some misplaced anger. He had started early. Then he stole cars, broke into businesses, and received stolen propertyother behaviors that indicated acting out. He had also forced a young woman into acts of prostitution and took the moneya sign of denigration of women.

In 1976, Unterweger was convicted of the murder of Margaret Schaefer and sentenced to life in prison. That's when things took an unusual twist. While he went into prison illiterate, he used the time there to learn to read and write. Nigel Blundell writes that at every opportunity he pored over books. He acquainted himself with the great writers. He edited a prison newspaper and literary review. Eventually he was writing poems, short stories, and plays that got some attention in the outside world. In 1984, his prison autobiography Fegefeur (Purgatory) was a bestseller and his rage-filled tale, "Endstation Zuchthaus" (Terminus Prison), won a prestigious literary prize.

He admitted that by the time he had committed the murder that sent him to prison for life, he had 15 prior convictions for such crimes as rape and burglary. "I wielded my steel rod among prostitutes in Hamburg, Munich and Marseilles," he wrote. "I had enemies and I conquered them through my inner hatred."

His memoir begins with a sense of existential despair. "My sweaty hands were bound behind my back, he wrote in Fegefeur, with steel chains snapped around my wrists. The hard pressure on my legs and back makes me realize that my only escape is to end it. I lay awake, removed from the liberating unconsciousness of the sheep. Bathed in shit, trembling. My miserable small dreams are a daily reminder. Anxiously I stare into the unknown darkness of the still night outside. There's security in darkness. I try to divert my thoughts from wondering about the time. I ask only for the immediate moment, for in that lies my strength. It's still night, already late into the night, getting closer to morning."

Unterweger gave the impression that he was himself a victim. Critics and prison reformists embraced his honesty and the way he'd confronted his past. They hailed him as an example of how art can redeem a criminal. Journalists contacted him for interviews and it wasnt long before the support swelled to set him free. It seemed clear from his ideas and ability to write artistically that he had been reformed. He could also contribute to the betterment of society. On May 23, 1990, he won parole. That life is over now, Newton says that he told the press. Lets get on with the new.

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