Leake, John 1970-

views updated

Leake, John 1970-

PERSONAL:

Born July 9, 1970, in Dallas, TX. Education: Boston University, B.A., M.A.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Vienna, Austria; Dallas, TX. Agent—Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists, 2100 Kramer Ln., Ste. 300, Austin, TX 78758.

CAREER:

Freelance writer. Formerly worked as an editor and translator.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Won a graduate fellowship to Vienna, Austria.

WRITINGS:

Entering Hades: The Double Life of a Serial Killer, Farrar (New York, NY), 2007.

ADAPTATIONS:

Entering Hades: The Double Life of a Serial Killer was adapted for the stage as Seduction and Despair, by John Malkovich, and premiered at Barnum Hall Theater in Santa Monica, CA, 2008.

SIDELIGHTS:

Freelance writer John Leake was born July 9, 1970, in Dallas, Texas. He went on to attend Boston University, where he graduated with an undergraduate degree in history and a master's degree in philosophy. He has worked variously as both an editor and as a translator, but is perhaps best known for his book, Entering Hades: The Double Life of a Serial Killer. A part-time resident of Vienna, Austria, for nearly a decade, since he won a fellowship to study there, Leake was initially attracted to the seedier sides of the city through the film based on writer Graham Greene's novel The Third Man, which is set in Vienna at the time of World War II when it had been seriously bombed and was something of a shell of its pre-war state. Keeping that sense of mystery and shadow in mind as he explored the city, Leake was in tune to any odd occurrences when he first read an article about Jack Unterweger, a serial killer, in a local newspaper in 2002. Unterweger's disturbing tale intrigued Leake, and he set out to explore the story further. Unterweger was a particularly notable case in that he was one of very few serial killers known to have chosen his victims on an international scale. Over a four-year period, Leake researched the man, his victims, and the people in his life, conducting numerous interviews as well as delving into court records, Unterweger's own letters and diaries, and any documents he could find from family members, police records, and so on. Included in the people that Leake interviewed are the Chief of Police in Vienna, who had been the lead investigator on the Unterweger case at the time of his arrest, and Unterweger's last girlfriend, Bianca Mrak, a woman who supported his innocence until the last and wrote a number of books on the subject.

Jack Unterweger was a native Austrian who worked as a journalist and author, and who managed to keep his murderous habits undetected for years, despite having killed people in three different countries and on two continents. He even had the sheer nerve to cover the murders he committed as a journalist. His first murders took place in the 1970s, but in 1976, he was arrested and tried for a single murder. Convicted, he spent his jail time productively, writing a book that increased his fame. In 1990, he was released from prison, supposedly having been rehabilitated. In reality, however, he began to murder people again almost as soon as he attained his freedom. Following his trail and reading books written about Unterweger, Leake determined that the killer was unusually charismatic, as evidenced by the fact that he was able to lure women in, to convince them they were in love with him, even as he was on trial for murdering another woman. "I thought he must have been a really seductive, manipulative guy," Leake remarked in an interview with Michael E. Young for the Guide Live Web site. Leake continued: "Here you have a serial murderer who's kind of a celebrity in his own right. He isn't trying to stay in the background. He's right in the middle of the stage! I think it was that aspect of his story that made me think it was worthy of a book."

Leake's research delved deeply into the life of Unterweger, the son of a G.I. he never knew and a prostitute who left him as a young child to be raised by his grandfather, who was an alcoholic who taught him how to cheat at cards. He trailed Unterweger from Vienna to Los Angeles, where he also killed several young women, resulting in another stack of police reports for Leake to analyze. Leake also read Unterweger's own book, Purgatory, which was ultimately responsible for providing him with a more refined image that left people reluctant to focus on the truth of his crimes, choosing instead to see him as misunderstood.

In the mid-1990s, Unterweger was arrested once again for murder, and this time he was convicted of the deaths of nine people. He committed suicide after the conviction was announced, somehow using the laces from his shoes and the drawstring from his pants to create a long enough noose to successfully strangle himself. It is Leake's research and book that brings out the reality of his actions and his equally odd reactions. Reviews were generally favorable, though a few were less enthusiastic, such as Janet Maslin writing for the New York Times, who commented that "in his awkward new book about a particularly unappetizing criminal, John Leake struggles to make a case for the egomaniac he has studied." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book "impeccably researched, memorably gruesome." Robert Macfarlane, in a review for the New York Times Book Review, referred to the book as "a finely scrupulous account of Unterweger's repugnant career." He went on to conclude that "Leake has written the definitive book—dispassionate, superbly detailed—on Jack Unterweger. Of its subject, no more now needs saying."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Biography, January 1, 2008, review of Entering Hades: The Double Life of a Serial Killer, p. 210.

Booklist, September 15, 2007, Mike Tribby, review of Entering Hades, p. 7.

Dallas Morning News, November 14, 2007, "Chronicling a Killer: Dallas Native Takes on a Notoriously Charming, Chilling Killer."

Entertainment Weekly, December 7, 2007, Tina Jordan, review of Entering Hades, p. 79.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2007, review of Entering Hades.

New York Times, November 26, 2007, Janet Maslin, "From Vienna, a Killer in a Cowboy Suit," p. 4.

New York Times Book Review, January 13, 2008, Robert Macfarlane, "A Murderous Talent," p. 26.

Publishers Weekly, August 13, 2007, review of Entering Hades, p. 53.

ONLINE

Clews: The Historic True Crime Blog,http://laurajames.typepad.com/clews/ (July 22, 2008), Laura James, "Clews Interviews True Crime Author John Leake."

Entering Hades Home Page,http://www.enteringhades.com (July 22, 2008).

Guide Live,http://www.guidelive.com/ (November 11, 2007), Michael E. Young, "Serial Killer's Tale Lures First-time Author."

In Cold Blog,http://incoldblogger.blogspot.com/ (July 22, 2008), "Best True Crime Book of 2007."

Los Angeles Times Online,http://www.latimes.com/ (May 2, 2008), David Ng, "John Malkovich's ‘Seduction and Despair’ Project."

Texas Book Festival,http://www.texasbookfestival.org/ (July 22, 2008), author profile.

About this article

Leake, John 1970-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article