WHEN journalist Jack Unterweger arrived in LA, to investigate the city’s sex industry, local police helped him out and even took him on patrol in the red light district.
But the charming Austrian was actually a sadistic killer who had left a string of bodies behind in his home country – and was on the hunt for new victims.
Over his brief stay, in 1991, three prostitutes were found dead, all beaten, sexually assaulted with the branch of a tree and strangled with their own bras – using a signature knot Unterweger had already used on nine other victims.
Chillingly, the cold-blooded killer chose to stay at the Cecil Hotel as a tribute to ‘Night Stalker’ Richard Rodriguez, who had carried out a string of random murders in the city while living there and stashed his bloody clothes in the basement.
The episode is one of many in the dark past of the Skid Row hotel, which features in the hit Netflix documentary Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.
Focusing on the 2013 disappearance of 21-year-old student Elisa Lam – later found dead in a water tank on the roof – the programme also skims over the murders, suicides and drug overdoses linked to the infamous Cecil.
Few are more chilling than the sinister crimes of Jack Unterweger who charmed his way into literary society even after his first murder conviction – and turned a second chance into a killing spree.
Drinking at five, pimp at 15
The twisted seeds of Unterweger’s murderous rampage were sewn as a child when his mother, thought to have been a sex worker, was sent to prison for fraud.
Sent to live with a violent, abusive grandfather, he was drinking alcohol at five and was jailed for robbery in his teens.
By the age of 16, he was an accomplished pimp, later boasting: “I wielded my steel rod among the prostitutes of Hamburg, Munich and Marseilles.
“I had enemies and conquered them through my inner hatred.”
His first murder victim was 18-year-old Margaret Schafer, strangled with her own bra after being sexually assaulted, in 1974, and dumped in the woods.
He would later claim he saw his mother’s face in Margaret and it brought back his feelings of abandonment as a child.
Sentenced to life in prison, the illiterate killer became a talented writer, winning acclaim for his autobiography Purgatory and a string of poems, which earned him the name the Poet of Death.
Despite disturbing lines in his verse – including one which read, “No theme is more poetic than the death of a beautiful woman”, Austria’s literary circles were convinced he was a reformed man and launched a campaign which saw him released from jail after 15 years, in 1990.
He became the toast of talk shows as well as writing for magazines. But behind his new celebrity status, the murders continued.
Sadistic knot to revive and choke again and again
Four months after he stepped from the shadow of the jail and into the limelight, a Czech woman, Blanka Bockova, was found strangled in Prague.
Although Unterweger had been visiting, police found no concrete evidence to link him to the crime.
In the year following his release, seven more Austrian women – Brunhilde Masser, 39, Heidi Hammerer, 31, Elfriede Schrempf, 35, Silvia Zagler, 23, Sabine Moitzl, 25, Karin Eroglu-Sladky, 25 and Regina Prem, 32 – were found dead.
Most had been strangled by their own bras tied in a distinctive knot which allowed the killer to choke them until they blacked out then repeatedly revive and choke them again.
The victims were all sexually assaulted before he finally killed them and dumped them in woods.
Incredibly, in his new role as a reporter, Unterweger even covered the deaths of the Austrian prostitutes, interviewing the chief of police of Vienna about the brutal crimes.
Before Austrian police had linked him to the crimes, Unterweger flew to LA – after being hired by a magazine to write an article on crime against sex worker in the city.
Lured to Cecil Hotel and raped with tree branches
As well as charming the police into showing him the red light districts, Unterweger now had the perfect cover story to meet prostitutes.
The women he spoke to would be familiar with the Cecil Hotel – where cheap rooms had long been used by LA’s sex workers to entertain clients – and readily agreed to come to his room to aid his investigation.
Once there, they were beaten, sexually assaulted with the branch of a tree and repeatedly choked with their bras using his signature knot.
Three sex worker — Shannon Exley, Irene Rodriguez, and Peggy Jean Booth, who also used the name Sherri Long — died this way during the summer he spent at the Cecil.
With evidence and bodies stacking up, police in both Austria and the US began to match the timelines and Unterweger went on the run – first to Switzerland, then Paris and Miami.
The FBI finally caught up with him by posing as reporters from a US mag, offering him £8,000 to tell his side of the story.
He was extradited back to Austria where he was found guilty of nine murders and sentenced to life without parole, in 1994.
On the night of his sentencing, he made use of his deadly knot for the final time – tying shoelaces together to hang himself in his cell.
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