Jack Unterweger: Guest of the Cecil Hotel
One of the nefarious characters in the history of this haunting hotel
With the recent Netflix documentary, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, public interest has risen yet again at this chilling landmark. The documentary focuses on the case of Elisa Lam, but it does mention some of the other horrific events in the history of the hotel. The story that fascinates me is the story of Jack Unterweger.
At the Cecil Hotel
In 1991, Jack Unterweger checked into the notorious Cecil Hotel. Some theorize that he chose the Cecil Hotel based upon his admiration for the other serial killer Robert Ramirez, the Night Stalker, who had supposedly spent time there as well (although I did not find evidence to back that up). Jack was an Austrian journalist who was doing some reporting on the red-light districts in the United States. At that time, the Cecil Hotel was right in the middle of Skid Row, an area known for prostitution, drugs, and other criminal activities. Unterweger spent time on the streets interviewing people for his stories. It is said that he was seen with several prostitutes and their pimps, even possibly inviting them to his room. He even arranged several ride alongs with the LA police to learn more about the area where he was staying. During this time he also arranged interviews with other Austrian figures that were now making their homes in the United States. He even tried to pitch his autobiography to a film-maker for a movie deal.
Unterweger’s autobiography had already made him famous in his native Austria. Jack Unterweger‘s mother was a sex worker. His father was an unknown American soldier named Jack. His mother was in and out of prison throughout most of his life. When she wasn’t around, Jack grew up with his alcoholic grandfather who would beat the boy severely. He would also expect Jack to help him steal. Jack followed his mother’s footsteps and was in jail several times before he even reached adulthood.
In 1976, Jack was convicted of murdering a young girl by strangling her with her own bra. He was convicted to life in prison. Jack spent his time in jail learning how to write. He wrote a collection of poetry, short stories, and then his autobiography. His work gained the attention of many intellectuals. They soon started a campaign to get him released from jail. Jack was the perfect example of the reformation a person can obtain in prison. They were sure he was a changed man.
After several years, Jack Unterweger was pardoned. He was released from the Austrian prison in 1990.
Just before Unterweger traveled to the United States for his journalistic project. There had been a string of six murders of sex workers in Austria. They all had been strangled by their own bras tied in a very particular knot. Luckily, one of the investigators in his conviction in the 1970s case recognized the methods. There was no solid evidence, but the Austrian authorities started watching him a little closer. Ironically, the press was asking for his opinions on some of the murders. He was giving his advice on what kind of person could be capable of the crimes.
The investigators noticed that when Unterweger took his trip to Los Angeles, there were no further murders. That raised their suspicions even more. When they contacted the LAPD, they found that there had been three murders with the same MO during the time of Jack Unterweger’s visit.
By the time the authorities had enough evidence to make an arrest in 1992, Unterweger had already fled Austria. He led Interpol on a chase that eventually ended in Miami, Florida. As he was fleeing, he was in contact with the Austrian media trying to paint himself as an innocent victim. He was finally arrested and extradited to Austria on 11 murder charges (which included the three murders in California). The psychiatric evaluation found him to be suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In 1994, Unterweger was found guilty of nine counts of murder and sentenced to life without parole. The two cases that he was not found guilty of were due to lack of evidence since the bodies were reduced to skeletons when they were discovered and the cause of death was undetermined.
The next morning, the correctional officers found Jack Unterweger dead in his cell. Ironically, he had used the drawstring in his sweatpants to form the same kind of knot that he used on his victims to hang himself.
I find his time in the United States (at the Cecil Hotel) quite interesting. He was not trying to fly under the radar at all. He was actively working with the police department to conduct his interviews. This behavior does seem to be consistent with what I know about people that have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They really like to draw attention to themselves and consider their intellect superior to others. Jack always thought he was a step ahead of the authorities, and his death seems to be one final act of slipping through their fingers.
Jack Unterweger | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers
Johann "Jack" UNTERWEGER A.K.A.: "Vienna Woods Killer" Classification: Serial killer Characteristics: Rape Number of…