One of the most disturbing qualities of serial killers is that they look so
normal. Ted Bundy and BTK stepped it up a notch - they were intelligent,
married, and had social skills that allowed them to blend easily into the
community. High-functioning psychopath Jack Unterweger takes it to the next
level as he fools public perception, prison staff, psychiatrists and, for some
time, even the police.
story begins in L.A. with the discovery of the strangled and brutalized bodies
of three prostitutes. Police quickly realize they have a serial killer on their
hands and, with no clues to help solve the case, brace themselves for another
tragedy. Strangely, nothing happens, and the murder spree is over as quickly as
In Vienna, Jack Unterweger is viewed as a criminal rehabilitation success story. At age twenty-four he is given a life sentence for the murder of a young girl but quickly makes a positive impression on prison staff. While in jail he writes seven books including Purgatory, an autobiography that was made into a film. In the book, Unterweger describes being abandoned by his mother, raised by a monster grandfather, and later on meeting his prostitute aunt who then is brutally murdered. The story culminates in Unterweger murdering a girl who reminds him of his mother, which drove him temporarily insane.
Because of his literary talents, his apparent self-awareness and repentance, he gained tremendous public support and was released from prison. When caught a year and a half later, he had murdered eleven women, including the three in L.A.
As the story progresses, contradictions in every facet of his life are revealed in excruciating detail. Many were obvious and shockingly easy to check out but ignored for a long time. The fact is decent people who wanted to believe a bad man could change into a good one looked the other way every time his name popped up as a possible suspect. This reluctance allowed Unterweger to not only evade justice and flee the country but to brazenly challenge those questioning him. When finally captured, he is smug and confident with police while simultaneously acting persecuted for the public.
Trials in Austria are conducted in a slightly different way than the in the United States in that the defendant is allowed to ask witnesses questions and make statements during the proceedings. That definitely made things more interesting.
This is not your usual true crime story. So many of them are ruined by ponderous and unnecessary detail, but Entering Hades gives just enough background information and then keeps the story moving along. Instead of revealing everything, author John Leake leaves surprises for the reader up to the very end. People unfamiliar with this case as I was will experience the wow factor completely missing in other true-crime books.
Entering Hades is not only a well-told story about a manipulative serial killer but also one about people who dearly want to believe in criminal rehabilitation. Although that is an ideal we hope and strive for, tragedy can occur when people take too much at face value and cease to act with caution.
John Leake has narrated documentaries for A&E “Biography” and the Discovery Channel. Entering Hades is his first book.