Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Profiling, Interactive

Jack in the Box

The trial began in June 1994 in Graz, Austria. Being an Austrian citizen, Unterweger could be tried for the three murders in Los Angeles and the one in Prague alongside the seven in Austria. His many indictments had not diminished his public support, and he continued to seek interviews to brag about how he would win.

Detective Jim Harper came from Los Angeles to lay out those cases and Lynn Herold from the crime lab to testify about the knots. Gregg McCrary was there to discuss the VICAP system, the unique behavioral patterns that linked all of the crimes, and how those behaviors associated the crimes with Unterwegers first murder. Along with all of that, the prosecution had a psychiatric report about Unterweger's sadistic criminal nature; Blanca Bockovas hair recovered in Unterwegers car; numerous red fibers from Brunhilde Massars body that were consistent with fibers from Unterwegers red scarf; and character witness testimony from former associates and girlfriends who had been conned.

Unterwegers attorneys had never before dealt with the FBI or criminal investigative analysis, and they asked questions that only strengthened the prosecutions case. They attempted to show the irrationality of Unterwegers behaviorhe was successful as a journalist and successful with women, so why would he undermine himself so badly, and why would he even need a prostitute? These questions were easily addressed by someone familiar with the compulsions and fetishes involved in serial murder. Rationality is not usually the issue. Neither was available sex. Killing was a dark addiction.

Unterweger in court
Unterweger in court
Unterweger, dressed nattily, argued his own case before the jury. He was certain that his charm and good looks would deflect them from the evidence. He asked the jury not to judge him on past deeds. He admitted what a "rat" he once had been, "a primitive criminal who grunted rather than talked and an inveterate liar." He "consumed women, rather than loved them." But he had changed. He had been rehabilitated. Clearly they could see that for themselves in his nice suit and clean-cut look. He was no longer that person.

"I'm counting on your acquittal," he said, "because I am not the culprit. Your decision will affect not only me but the real killer, who is laughing up his sleeve."

The trial lasted two and a half months, and the press began to shift in their collective opinion. Things looked bad for Unterweger. So far hed been unable to counter the evidence, as promised. Perhaps the reformed criminal had not been reformed after all. Even Bianca Mrak had decided shed had enough.

Jack Unterweger was found guilty of nine counts of murderthe Prague victim, all three Los Angeles victims, and five in Austria. (The remaining two Austrian victims had been too decomposed to establish a definite cause of death.) The court immediately sentenced the defendant to life in prison.

This was quite a blow to a man who had assured everyone he would never spend another day in prison. Serial killers often have issues with control, and Unterweger was no exception. Arrogant and defiant to the end, he fulfilled his promise in the only manner left to him: when the guards were not looking, he used the string from his prison jumpsuit to hang himself. It was the same knot he had used on his victims. And he was right. He never spent another day in prison.

Astrid Wagner, a colleague of Unterwegers, wrote several books on the case. Her assessment was that both the media and the police had been under pressure to make this story happen. The media were always on the lookout for stories about sex and crime, while the police had to close a number of cases. Unterweger had a fascinating personality, which made him an easy target. He was a scapegoat. Wagner also blamed the poor state of the Austrian legal system for Unterwegers conviction, claiming it was unjust and that the evidence offered was too flimsy to serve as proof.

On a positive note, Unterwegers legacy was that Austria set up a system like the FBIs VICAP program, with Geiger and Mueller guiding it. Officials there had been impressed with how it improved law enforcement and brought killers to justice.

As for Jack Unterweger, he was a rare and clever offender, but his case may demonstrate what McCrary likes to say: When you educate a psychopath, all you get is an educated psychopath.

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