In my last article on the subject of psychopathic narcissists, we looked at the example of Harold Shipman, who was responsible for the deaths of over two hundred people. His narcissistic traits were arguably evident from his teenage years, and then transmuted into something altogether far more sinister and horrifying as he reached adulthood. His method of extracting "narcissistic supply" was feeling like God, by having the ultimate power over the life and death of his patients, whist simultaneously having the status as a well-respected doctor in the tight-knit local community.
Another serial killer, this time the Austrian Jack Unterweger, was an altogether different creature. As we shall see, his narcissism took more flamboyant and public form (and therefore shocking in a different way). Unterweger's story was one that appeared to belong in the realms of Hollywood crime thrillers and the tales of "glamour" crime writers; almost stranger than fiction.
Unterweger was born as the (probably unwanted) child of his Viennese barmaid mother and an American soldier, in the years following the Second World War. It was said she was also a prostitute. His mother was an ineffective and unreliable figure for her son, who was quickly given to the protection of his grand-father. However, his grand-father was little better. The young Jack lived in his grand-father's cabin, which his grand-father regularly brought prostitutes to. There being no proper privacy, the young Jack was forced to see and hear everything. The grand-father was also an abusive alcoholic.
As an adolescent and young adult he was a petty offender, and a repeat sex offender, which involved long spells in prison. By his early twenties he was effectively a callous criminal and social parasite. In 1974, his crimes took an even darker turn. While in Germany, he killed a young German woman, and was extradited to Austria to serve his life sentence.
It was at this point, during his time in prison, that Jack appeared to undergo a transformative social change. Being able to effectively immerse himself into the world of literature and learning for the first time in his life, he sought to turn his life around, reform himself and go through a process of psychological re-birth. Like the infamous character "Alex" from "A Clockwork Orange", he had all the appearances of being a genuine case of the positive, powerful effect that social re-wiring and positive education can have on rehabilitation.
While in prison, he wrote and got published a biography of his life and his time in prison, that stood as a powerful telling of the effect that social conditions in prison have on the psyche. It was also made into a film, while Unterweger was still incarcerated. At the same time, he wrote and had published children's stories and poetry, and clearly sought to use his time in prison to re-educate and re-invent his life. His case and his rehabilitation were taken on board by influential figures in Austrian society, which, by early 1990, led to Unterweger being released from prison after the minimum term possible to be served for murder - fifteen years.
By this point, Unterweger had become a minor celebrity: he was forty years old; a well-dressed, handsome, larger-than-life figure, who had regular television appearances, discussing issues such a criminal rehabilitation, and had roles on national TV as a reporter and correspondent. He was a media darling and an object of fascination for many of Vienna's intelligensia. He lived in a well-to-do part of Vienna, with a smart flat and soon had a doting coterie of fans, many of them female. It was not long before he had a devoted girlfriend.
It was at this time that a spate of murders appeared in the Vienna area over the period of months, all of them prostitutes killed in the same way: strangulation, using the same type of knot. As an interested party, Unterweger took it upon himself to make some casual investigations into the case and its effect on that seedier side of society. Later, he went to Los Angeles and did similar work with the police to compare the differing vice cultures between countries. It happened that while Unterweger was in Los Angeles, three prostitutes were also murdered in the same way.
A detective who had known Unterweger since his murder case of fifteen years earlier recognised similarities between the way the prostitutes in Vienna had been killed, and the way that Unterweger had killed his female victim in 1974. Eventually, police put him under surveillance, given the apparent similarities in the M.O., in spite of the lack of clear motive, and Unterweger's "celebrity" profile.
When the police did then go to arrest Unterweger nearly two years after his first release from prison, he got wind of the police's plans, and fled the country, eventually ending up with his girlfriend in Florida, via Switzerland, Paris and New York. With the police investigation ongoing, Unterweger went to ground with his girlfriend in Florida. While he was trying to rally his supporters in Vienna against the (to his fans' minds, absurd) allegations, he cajoled his girlfriend to take up lap-dancing to support them both.
In fact, Unterweger's relationship with his partner was almost entirely parasitic. The money he had made from his career as "Jack the writer" was nowhere near as profitable as appeared, and he relied on his partner to help fund his larger-than-life existence. Indeed, his whole lifestyle was a sham, that had been financed on the moral support and wrangled pity of others. Playing the charmer and the manipulator as he had successfully with his partner and Viennese high society, he was now trying to make himself appear as the wronged victim.
Eventually he was extradited back to Austria, where his trial took place in 1994. The evidence against him was compelling, and it was then that all the dots could finally be joined. Not long after his release from prison, Unterweger had gone to Prague. It was during this time that a prostitute was strangled, using the same knot that would be seen in the Austrian killings. The prostitutes killed in Los Angeles when Unterweger was there were also killed in the same way. Likewise, a woman who had been killed elsewhere in Austria was killed at the same time that Unterweger had been attending a public event in the area.
Now it was clear what kind of monster Austria was dealing with. Unterweger had never "rehabilitated" at all: he had simply used the time in prison to get smarter. He was manipulator and parasite, reveling in the attention he had been getting as a "celebrity" (a sign of cerebral narcissism), while at the same time no doubt getting further boosts to his ego that he was killing women undetected. The sojourn to Los Angeles was surely "the icing on the cake" for Unterweger's dark, twisted narcissism: enjoying the protection and attention of the LA police, while at the same time sharing time with them as they investigated the murders that he had committed himself.
The motive for his murders can never be known, but again the "God" complex may have been a factor, as well a probable deep-seated hatred of his mother, who had been in all likelihood a prostitute herself. The narcissist in Unterweger may have seen these murders as some kind of way to "get back" at her. As said elsewhere, psychopathic narcissists like Unterweger are also misogynists (in the same way that PUAs also rationalise their behaviour), seeing women as objects to be used - "toys" to play with, and discard at will. These are all signs of objectifying others, as the narcissist - and a psychopathic narcissist such Unterweger - is incapable of empathising with others.
While in custody, psychological testing confirmed that he met the criteria for NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). After sentencing, Unterweger carried out another act that confirmed his ultimate narcissism: unable to tolerate the thought of going back to prison, he hung himself. Living the life of a "celebrity" serial killer, perhaps he also felt it would also fitting to go out in a final, unambiguous ending.