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The gangster bride from Heutal

HOW VIRGINIA HILL CAME TO UNKEN

She must have been a stunning, bewitching woman – one to whom men flocked in droves.   We are talking about the American, Virginia Hill, drug smuggler, lover of the highest members of the “Honourable Society“ and, according to her, “the greatest gangster bride of all time“. That is one side of her story. She was also a loving mother and wife of the Salzburger ski pioneer Hans Hauser. Together with her little family, she also lived in the Unkener Heutal for a few years of her life until eventually both met their deaths.

Early on, men paid attention to the dark-haired Virginia Hill, who was born in Alabama in 1916. Those were the years of prohibition in the USA. Money was earned by the hundredweight and spent in the same way by the bosses in the liberal nightclubs in Chicago. Here begins the story of Virginia Hill, which will come to a sad conclusion on a dull spring day in 1966, not far from the city of Salzburg in Austria. 

Young, beautiful, demanding and equipped with all the attributes necessary to drive men crazy, she danced first into bed and then into the heart of Nat Coiner, the bookmaker king  and chief of finance of the Chicago mafia. Well-paid jobs in drug smuggling followed and made Hill a wealthy woman, who was called “Flamingo“ by her admirers for all of their lives. And as if that wasn’t enough, she became the lover of Godfather Bugsy Siegel, the man who founded Las Vegas.

Virginia Hill loved to enjoy herself, to wallow in luxury and to feel the admiring and jealous glances of society but in return for that she sank deep into the mafia swamp. In the summer people met up in the cities and on the beach; in the winter skiing in the mountains. Fate would have it that she got to know and fell in love with one of the best skiers of his time. Hans Hauser was an Austrian, originating from the Zistelalm above Mozart’s city and was the first Hahnenkamm winner in slalom and combination from Austria. He came to the USA as a ski instructor and worked with his friend and ski pioneer Otto Land in Sun Valley.  One day, a young, dark-haired beauty appeared in his ski class. It must have been love at first sight between the pair as a short time later, in spring 1950, wedding bells rang out. When son Peter came into the world in November of the same year the happiness of the young family seemed perfect.  

The noose tightens

1951 wasn’t a good year for the American mafia. The police and judiciary’s noose was tightening around the honourable society and when Virginia was called as a witness at the great Kefauver trial in New York, the “gentlemen“ suffered more and more sleepless nights. But Hill didn’t tell and the mafia’s thanks were ensured, for now at least. 

However, there was no rest for the family. In fact their problems were just beginning. The media hurled themselves at Hill and her “little“ ski instructor from faraway Austria.  A normal life was almost impossible. After being increasingly chased by the tax authorities and  being asked more and more questions which she could not answer, there was only one way out: the auctioning of her possessions, a hasty move to Europe, home to Hans’ mother on the Zistelalm on the Salzburger Gaisberg. 

The situation was anything but rosy and Virginia really wasn’t suited to life on an Austrian mountain farm. As a way out, she finally accepted an offer from Nat Coiner to work for him again.

A return to the old life?

However, in the States, things were becoming worse and worse for Virginia Hill. Now she was the mother of a son and the wife of a nobody. Her beauty had faded, youth had gone and other women of her type had taken her place. When Nat Coiner stopped paying her after just a short while, she boarded a plane and travelled destitute back to Salzburg  where she was received by Hans with open arms.

A letter to Coiner in 1963, in which she threatened to tell everything she knew in her memoirs, exposing Cosa Nostra’s involvement in drug trafficking, turned out to be anything other than the hoped for bonanza.  The mafia boss travelled to Salzburg immediately and arrived at the Austrian farm on the bank of the Salzach. A stroke of luck meant that on that day, a friend of the Hauser family, the chief porter, was on duty and raised the alarm in the Zistelalm.  The getaway began.

The years in Unken

And ended temporarily in the Unkener Heutal, or more exactly, at the foot of the Sonntaghorn, where Hans’ brother owned the Sigrist Hut. The little family settled in quickly, Hans enjoyed the life in the mountains and Peter seemed to lack nothing. Only Virginia lived in constant fear, hardly allowing the window shutters to be opened or the doors unlocked. She knew exactly what the mafia was capable of. Hans didn’t understand her fear and soon returned to the Zistelalm to continue his work. His wife stayed behind and started to put her story down on paper, for almost three years, in which she seldom showed her face, as some elderly inhabitants of Unken still narrate today. She didn’t really fit in here.  When she wasn’t writing, she was sunbathing in a bikini in front of the hut and enjoyed farmers ‘secretly’ watching her from the edge of the forest. After all, a leopard can’t change its spots. Very occasionally, when the seclusion of the alm became too much, she would suddenly appear in the Alpengasthof Heutal. She chatted with the landlady, Maria Pichler, in the kitchen and liked to drink red wine. There were also wild parties, where Hill not uncommonly  stood on the tables and began to dance wildly.

When she set out to return to Salzburg at the beginning of 1966, her last few months began and she bid farewell to Heutal forever. Now she made the worst mistake of her life: she contacted Lucky Luciano and Joe Adonis, powerful managers of the Cosa Nostra and former lovers of Virginia Hill.  Both were expelled from the USA in the mid-1950s and were living in Italy. At a meeting in Naples, she asked to return to the drug trafficking business. They entertained her hopes, knowing that she had blackmailed the honourable society with the publication of her memoirs. Jacky “Two Black Shoes” Tadori, a friend of Adonis, brought Virginia back to Salzburg: a gesture that she was still enjoying at the beginning of the journey. However, the mood soon turned sour when her driver informed her of his actual assignment. If she did not kill herself within one day with the 20 sleeping tablets he gave her for this purpose, he would take the lives of Hans and Peter. It was considered an honour inside the mafia to have the chance to end your own life.

An end out of the limelight

And so Virginia Hill’s fate was sealed. Even though she wasn’t the most virtuous person, she loved her two men above all else and she would never let anything happen to them. On 22nd March 1966, Virginia and Hans met for the last time. There wasn’t much to say. The few sentences concerned the education of their son, currently liftboy in the Hotel “Österreicher Hof“. Then they went their separate ways for ever.

We would love to report at this point that Virginia Hill escaped the noose again but unfortunately she didn’t. When the pensioner Franz Inzinger saw a person lying next to the Alterbach the next day, he thought they must be a drunk and thought nothing more of it. It was only the day after that he informed the police. 

The official cause of death is still suicide. The same applied to Hans Hauser who was found hanged 8 years after his wife in a restaurant in Salzburg’s old town. He had also tried to profit from Hill’s records. But you don’t mess around with the mafia.

More vulnerable history of the region can be found in the Regional Museum Unken:

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