John Leake,
Entering Hades: The Double Life of a Serial Killer
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007)

Author John Leake's Entering Hades: The Double Life of a Serial Killer profiles Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger. In the 1990s, Unterweger committed a series of sexual assaults and murders across Europe and the United States, confounding police due to the lack of centralized crime information and a general apathy about solving the murders of streetwalkers.

Unterweger had a criminal past, having been jailed for the murder of a German girl in 1976, but he had been pronounced "resocialized" and released after only 14 years of his prison sentence. During his tenure in jail, Unterweger authored stories, poems, plays and an autobiographic novel, making friends and contacts in academia. Upon his release in 1990, he traveled internationally as a journalist and public speaker. His travel diaries, however, revealed a correlation between his travels and the incidence of prostitute murders in the local area. Unterweger was a master manipulator of women, who lavished their life savings on him and were willing to follow him to the ends of the Earth.

Leake's research is exhaustive, but his narrative style is lacking at times. As the book opens, the action dances around, many characters are introduced, and cliff-hangers abound, but unless the reader is familiar with the subject matter, the early narrative is directionless. Leake never directly lays out his central thesis, which appears to be an expose of the egomaniacal serial killer's social delusions. The author is also prone to getting bogged down in details, rendering the details of Unterweger's second Austrian trial quite heavy-handedly. Leake does achieve his goal of presenting the dichotomy of Unterweger as a serial killer/womanizer, and the reader will most certainly be shocked and amazed by Unterweger's arrogance at committing his crimes and at facing the music for his evil deeds.

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
26 January 2008

It seems strange that Jack Unterweger is not known to the American public as well as Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. It might be because he was from Vienna, although he came to Los Angeles to commit some of his murders.

Unterweger is fascinating for combining a cultured facade with unusual viciousness. He wrote autobiographical novels, plays, one-man shows he appeared in and film scripts. He also killed 11 women, mostly prostitutes, after sexually assaulting them.

Parallels with the fictional Hannibal Lecter are evident. The Silence of the Lambs was Unterweger's favorite film.

The book begins with Unterweger's release from prison in 1990 for the murder of an 18-year-old girl. Small and innocent-looking, he was an expert at attracting and using women, and was not averse to being a pimp.

Unterweger had many supporters, but his crimes began to catch up to him, both from Europe and the U.S. The book ends with his final trial.

John Leake has obviously done exhaustive research on his subject. He does not shirk from describing the horror of the crimes, but the main focus is Unterweger himself. His parrying with the police is riveting, as his arrogance becomes increasingly desperate.

No book could truly explain why he became a serial killer, and despite Leake's efforts, Unterweger's childhood is something of a mystery (it is no surprise that Unterweger's writings are unreliable). But few books have captured a sociopathic personality as well as this one.

by Dave Howell
2 February 2008

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