The Double Life of a Serial Killer
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An international killer of prostitutes, who was also a distinguished author, gets his 15 minutes of fame in this grisly account.

Johann “Jack” Unterweger (1950–1994), a slender, stylishly dressed Viennese lover of fine clothes and cars, didn’t fit the typical serial-killer profile—until he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a German teenager in 1974, who he’d strangled with her own brassiere. To the surprise of prison officials, Unterweger proved remarkably prolific behind bars, penning several plays, poems and the well-received biographic opus Purgatory. The book—which spawned a film adaptation—was deemed a work of altruistic atonement, and Unterweger was released from prison after serving only 14 years of his life sentence. Within the first year after his release, he murdered at least six more Austrian prostitutes. The bodies were discovered as he traveled to Los Angeles, posing as a journalist reporting on Hollywood’s seedy underside. As crime-scene DNA and forensic evidence mounted, both U.S. and international authorities solidified their case against Unterweger, who fled when a warrant for his arrest was issued. After chasing him through Europe and parts of Canada, police finally caught him in Miami, and he was extradited to Austria. On the night of his conviction, the killer hung himself with the same materials he used for his murders: a thin metal wire and cloth straps. Leake’s report spares no particulars. The raw, graphic details of his subject’s intricately calculated murders will surely be a draw for fans of Cold Case Files, especially Unterweger’s penchant for telephoning his victim’s relatives to chant, “I am an executioner…Tonight I have completed my work.” The author posits that Unterweger’s “inner urge to assault” may have stemmed from a tumultuous childhood during which his mother, a Viennese prostitute, relegated him to the care of her corporally abusive, alcoholic father.

Impeccably researched, memorably gruesome.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-374-14845-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2007