Arthur Shawcross

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Arthur Shawcross
Mug shot of Shawcross
Born (1945-06-06)June 6, 1945
Kittery, Maine
Died November 10, 2008(2008-11-10) (aged 63)
Other names The Genesee River Killer,
The Monster of the Rivers,
The Rochester Strangler
Criminal penalty
Life in prison without parole
Conviction(s) Arson,
Second degree murder
Victims 14
Span of killings
May 7, 1972–December 28, 1989
Country United States
State(s) Rochester, New York
Watertown, New York
Date apprehended
January 5, 1990

Arthur John Shawcross (June 6, 1945 – November 10, 2008) was an American serial killer, also known as the Genesee River Killer in Rochester, New York. He claimed most of his victims after being paroled early following a conviction in the manslaughter of two children, which led to criticism of the justice system.

Early life[edit]

Shawcross was born in Kittery, Maine, but his family moved to Watertown in New York State when he was young. While several later tests showed Shawcross' intelligence to be sub-normal or even "borderline retarded", he received As and Bs in his first two years of grade school, but was later tested to have an I.Q. of 86, signifying low average intelligence. However, when tested in the army, Shawcross scored above average in intelligence tests.[1] Shawcross said throughout his childhood, he was a frequent bed-wetter and had a domineering mother. He later claimed his mother would stick foreign objects in his anus, that his aunt performed oral sex on him when he was 9, and that during middle school and junior high he had sexual relations with his sister. There is no evidence to substantiate these claims. Shawcross had a reputation at school as a bully and would oppose the school in violent ways. He dropped out of high school in 1960.

He was drafted at age 21 by the Army in April 1967.[2] At this time, Shawcross divorced his first wife and gave up the rights to their eighteen-month-old son, whom he never saw again.[3] After his tour of duty in Vietnam ended in September 1968, the Army assigned Shawcross to Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma as an armorer.[4] His second wife Linda experienced several aspects of his disturbing behavior, especially a penchant for starting fires; an Army psychiatrist told her that Shawcross gained "sexual enjoyment" from fire starting.[5]

Return to New York[edit]

Shawcross moved with his wife (who would soon divorce him) from Oklahoma to Clayton, New York, and he began committing crimes such as arson and burglary.[6] His offenses earned him a five-year sentence to be served in Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York. Shawcross was later transferred to the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York, and would serve a total of twenty-two months in prison, having been given early release due to having saved a prison guard's life during a riot.[7]

Paroled in October 1971, Shawcross returned to Watertown, eventually getting a job with the Watertown Public Works Department, and marrying for a third time.[8] On May 7, 1972, Shawcross sexually assaulted and murdered 10-year-old Jack Owen Blake after luring the boy into some woods in Watertown. On September 2, 1972, he raped and killed eight-year-old Karen Ann Hill, who was visiting Watertown with her mother for the Labor Day weekend.

Arrested for these crimes, Shawcross confessed to both murders. Under a plea bargain deal, he revealed the location of Blake's body. Shawcross then pled guilty to killing Hill on a charge of manslaughter and the Blake murder charges were dropped. Shawcross was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.

Shawcross served 14½ years in state prison before he was released on parole in April 1987.[9] He had difficulty settling down in communities as the neighbors would protest his presence and employers would fire him. He first moved into Binghamton, New York, then relocated to Delhi, New York, with his girlfriend, Rose Marie Walley. When Shawcross' presence became known in Delhi, the couple moved to nearby Fleischmanns, New York, only to be met with hostility there.[10] Finally, Shawcross' parole officer moved him to Rochester, New York in late June 1987, and moved him and Walley into the Cadillac Hotel, a hotel for transients, in central Rochester.[11] The parole officer failed to notify anyone in the Rochester law enforcement community that a child molester/killer now lived in their city. In mid-October 1987, Shawcross and Walley found more permanent lodgings in the Normandie Brownstone Apartments, at 253 Alexander Street in Rochester.[12]

Second series of murders[edit]

In March 1988, Shawcross began murdering again, primarily prostitutes in the area (apart from June Stott, who was a local and was the first one of his victims to be mutilated after her death), before his capture less than two years later. He was convicted of 11 murders, with a 12th not officially charged to him. The victims were:[13]

# Name Age Disappeared Discovered
1. Dorothy "Dotsie" Blackburn 27 March 18, 1988 March 24, 1988
2. Anna Marie Steffen 28 July 9, 1988 September 11, 1988
3. Dorothy Keeler 59 July 29, 1989 October 21, 1989
4. Patricia "Patty" Ives 25 September 29, 1989 October 27, 1989
5. June Stott 30 October 23, 1989 November 23, 1989
6. Marie Welch 22 November 5, 1989 January 5, 1990
7. Frances "Franny" Brown 22 November 11, 1989 November 15, 1989
8. Kimberly Logan 30 November 15, 1989 November 15, 1989
9. Elizabeth "Liz" Gibson 29 November 25, 1989 November 27, 1989
10. Darlene Trippi 32 December 15, 1989 January 5, 1990
11. June Cicero 34 December 17, 1989 January 3, 1990
12. Felicia Stephens 20 December 28, 1989 December 31, 1989

All the victims were murdered in Monroe County, except for Gibson, who was killed in neighboring Wayne County. The retired detective Robert Keppel has argued that the detectives investigating the case over-relied on the concept of modus operandi, at times searching for multiple suspects due to small differences in the profiles of each victim.[14]

June Cicero's body was discovered by aerial surveillance on January 3, 1990.

Shawcross was spotted by the surveillance team (and by an eyewitness) standing near his car, apparently urinating, on a bridge over Salmon Creek; upon whose frozen waters the body of his final victim was dumped.[15] He was stopped in Spencerport, New York on January 3, 1990, taken into custody and was later arrested. Shawcross eventually confessed in custody.

On October 29 and 30, 1990, Dr. Jerid M. Fisher, Forensic Neuropsychologist, saw Shawcross at Neurorehab Associates, Inc. for an evaluation. Dr. Fisher was asked to assess Arthur Shawcross' neuropsychological status and whether a brain injury could account for his criminal behavior. Shawcross’ defense attorney later decided not to call Dr. Fisher at the time of the trial.

Trial and conviction[edit]

In November 1990, Shawcross was tried by Monroe County First Assistant District Attorney Charles J. Siragusa for the 10 murders in Monroe County. Shawcross pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, with testimony from psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis that he suffered from multiple personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and possible child abuse.[citation needed] Shawcross, who had served in Vietnam with the 4th Supply and Transport Company of the 4th Infantry Division,[16] had told many outlandish tales of committing gruesome crimes (including cannibalism), often perpetrated while alone in the jungle.[17] From the time Shawcross returned from his tour of duty, he told acquaintances of seeing American soldiers "skinned from their neck to their ankles",[18][19] and claimed to have decapitated two women he had victimized, "placing" their heads on poles.[20] FBI criminal profiler Robert K. Ressler reviewed the PTSD claim on behalf of the prosecution before the trial. Ressler wrote that "his claim of having witnessed wartime atrocities was patently outrageous and untrue."[21] Prosecution psychiatrist Dr Park Dietz said Shawcross had antisocial personality disorder.[22] Shawcross was found guilty of 10 counts of second degree murder, and was sentenced to 250 years to life in prison for the Monroe County killings.

A few months later, Shawcross was taken to Wayne County to be tried for Gibson's murder. He pleaded guilty and was given a life sentence.

In 1992, true crime author Joel Norris wrote a book about the case. The paperback came with a tape that contained "the live confessions of Arthur Shawcross and his hideous crimes!" This drew some criticism that Norris was sensationalizing the case.


Shawcross with his daughter (left) and granddaughter at the Sullivan Correctional Facility, 2002

Shawcross was held at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York, until he died on November 10, 2008 at the Albany Medical Center.[13]

In 2003, Shawcross was interviewed by British reporter Katherine English for a documentary on cannibalism. Shawcross bragged about slicing out and eating the vulvas of three victims, but refused to discuss his earlier claim of eating the genitals of his first victim, Jack Blake.[23]

In 2006, Shawcross was interviewed by Columbia University forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone for the Discovery Channel series Most Evil. In the interview, Arthur Shawcross claimed to have been sexually abused as a child by his mother, and also admitted sexually abusing his younger sister as a child. He also claimed to murder the prostitutes in revenge for supposedly having sex with an HIV-positive prostitute, and to eat the body parts in order to speed up the process of death (he had assumed he was infected). Stone agreed with the jury's conclusion and did not believe Shawcross's claims of being out of control during the prostitute murders.


Officials said Shawcross complained of a pain in his leg on the afternoon of November 10, 2008, his date of death. He was taken to Albany Medical Center, where he went into cardiac arrest. Shawcross died at 9:50 p.m.[24]

Arthur Shawcross was privately cremated.

References to Arthur Shawcross in popular media[edit]

  • On their 1992 album Tomb of the Mutilated, American death metal band Cannibal Corpse features a song called "Addicted to Vaginal Skin", in which there is an intro that uses an excerpt from the interview with Arthur Shawcross and Katherine English.
  • Featured in 2012 on Investigation Discovery television show Evil, I episode 1, "Body Snatcher".
  • 2007 fiction novel "The Almost Moon" by Alice Sebold references a true-crime book about a serial killer named Arthur Shawcross.


  1. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 209)
  2. ^ ("Paroled Killer Charged Again'")
  3. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 52–53)
  4. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 56)
  5. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 58–59)
  6. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 192–193)
  7. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 193–194)
  8. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 194)
  9. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 208)
  10. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 246–249)
  11. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 249)
  12. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 255)
  13. ^ a b ("'Serial Killer Arthur Shawcross Dead'")
  14. ^ (Keppel 2011, pp. 3)
  15. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 379)
  16. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 189)
  17. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 446)
  18. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 192)
  19. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 55)
  20. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 190–191)
  21. ^ (Ressler, Schactman 1992, p. 276)
  22. ^ MPD as an organic disorder
  23. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 485)
  24. ^ ("'Upstate New York Serial Killer Dies'")


Further reading and External links[edit]