Entering Hades: The Double Life of a Serial Killer
By John Leake
Recent reports say that Academy Awards nominee Michael Fassbender may soon appear as celebrated Austrian journalist, bestselling author, and serial killer Jack Unterweger. The film will be based on John Leake’s in-depth study of Unterweger. It’s a book well worth reading, especially if the psychology of serial killers interests you. Below is our review that appeared three years ago. Take a look.
Many writers of serial killer fiction imagine their protagonists as dapper, charming, and manipulative in a charismatic way, traits the killers use artfully to seduce and kill. In Jack Unterweger, you’ll meet a real-life serial killer who could have spilled from the pen of a fevered author of crime fiction. As John Leake deftly illustrates with page upon page of detail, based on interviews with the Austrian and American cops who hunted him and the women who loved him and whom he controlled, Jack was quite a unique fellow, almost as if written into life.
Unterweger entered the world in an Austrian village. His mother deserted him, for which he never forgave her and which may have contributed to his hatred of women and murderous life. He always asserted his grandfather, a gruff man, tormented him, though there’s considerable question about the truth of this. And he claimed to have come from poverty, a fact disputed by people who grew up with him in circumstances similar to his own. That what should be facts are disputable is par for the course with Jack, as he was a consummate liar, a master of deception. He killed a girl in his youth, went to prison, there educated himself, became a literary sensation from behind prison walls, and engendered the support of the Austrian literati in gaining his parole after 15 years. They believed him to be the poster boy for their cause; that the most hardened of criminals could be rehabilitated and welcomed back into society. Except that when Jack reentered society, he began murdering prostitutes, while he campaigned for prisoner rehabilitation, hobnobbed with the Austrian rich and famous, flitted about Vienna meeting and seducing women, appeared on television, and generally, by all outward appearances, lived well and contributed to the amity of society, the farthest thing from the truth.
It took a herculean police effort to catch Jack, even when they knew he was their man, not only because he covered his tracks expertly but also because he was to a large degree shielded by his literary acceptance and because authorities found it difficult to admit that their rehab efforts were for naught, at least in his case.
His uniqueness comes in several guises. First, according to Leake, he was the first known Austrian serial killer. Second, he was highly intelligent and a formidable autodidact, not the typical serial killer (contrary to films and books). Third, unlike the typical serial killer who confines his activities to a set territory, Jack killed in Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the United States.
In the end, the police did catch him, bring him to trial, and convict on a preponderance of circumstantial evidence. If anybody had doubts he was the serial killer they were looking for, Jack himself settled the question for them in the manner of his self-inflicted death. Let’s leave that for you to discover in reading the book.
Finally, we tend to be somewhat insular here in the U.S., so you’ll find Leake’s descriptions of the differences between the Austrian and U.S. justice systems intriguing. Among them, that the judge acts as inquisitor, the defendant can chime in with questions and remarks, and the jury can stop the action to raise questions. And finally, that the jury can convict with a majority vote. Jack Unterweger probably would have walked had he been tried in the U.S.
A must read for crime fans who crave detail. w/c