Arthur Shawcross

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Arthur Shawcross
Mug shot of Shawcross
Arthur John Shawcross

(1945-06-06)June 6, 1945
Kittery, Maine, United States
DiedNovember 10, 2008(2008-11-10) (aged 63)
Other names
  • The Genesee River Killer
  • The Monster of the Rivers
  • The Rochester Strangler
Height6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)
Conviction(s)Arson, Burglary, Manslaughter, Second degree murder
Criminal penaltyLife in prison without parole (or a term amounting to 250 years)
Span of crimes
May 7, 1972–December 28, 1989
CountryUnited States
State(s)New York
Date apprehended
January 5, 1990

Arthur John Shawcross (June 6, 1945 – November 10, 2008), also known as the Genesee River Killer, was an American serial killer active in Rochester, New York.

His first known murders were in 1972 when he killed a young boy and a girl in his hometown of Watertown, New York. Under the terms of a plea bargain, Shawcross was allowed to plead guilty to one charge of manslaughter, for which he served 14 years of a 25-year sentence. He killed most of his victims in 1988 and 1989 after being paroled early which led to criticism of the justice system. A food service worker, Shawcross trawled the streets of Rochester in his girlfriend's 1984 sky blue Dodge Omni (later using her blue-grey 1987 Chevy Celebrity), looking for sex workers to kill.

63-year old Shawcross died on 10 November 2008, while serving a prison sentence of 250 years for his crimes. According to news, he went into cardiac arrest and died soon after. Dr. Michael H. Stone, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, and an authority on violent behavior, identified Shawcross as "one of the most egregious examples of the unwarranted release of a prisoner" in his book, The Anatomy of Evil.[1]

Early life[edit]

Shawcross was born in Kittery, Maine, the first of four children of Arthur Roy Shawcross and Elizabeth "Bessie" ("Betty") Yerakes Shawcross. His family moved to Watertown, New York 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 IQ of 86, signifying low average intelligence.

Shawcross said throughout his childhood, he was a frequent bed-wetter (which is one part of the Macdonald triad). He later claimed his mother performed oral sex on him for several years starting when he was 7, and that during junior high school he had sexual relations with his sister. Shawcross had a reputation at school as a bully and would frequently act out violently. He dropped out of high school in 1960.

In April 1967, at age 21, he was drafted by the Army. At this time, Shawcross divorced his first wife and gave up his rights to their 18-month-old son, whom he never saw again.[2] He served one tour of duty in Vietnam, where he boasted of grotesque combat exploits, such as "beheading mama-sans and nailing their heads to trees as a warning to the Vietcong"; in reality he never served in a combat position.[1]

After Vietnam he was stationed at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma as an armorer.[2] His second wife Linda experienced several aspects of his disturbing behavior, especially his penchant for starting fires; an Army psychiatrist told her that Shawcross derived "sexual enjoyment" from fire starting.[2]

Return to New York[edit]

After his discharge from the Army, Shawcross moved with his wife from Oklahoma to Clayton, New York. His wife would soon divorce him, and he began committing crimes such as arson and burglary.[2] His offenses earned him a five-year sentence at Attica Correctional Facility, and later Auburn Correctional Facility. After serving 22 months, he was granted an early release in October 1971, in part due to his role in the rescue of a correctional officer during a prison riot.[2]

Shawcross returned to Watertown, eventually getting a job with the Watertown Public Works Department, and marrying for the third time.[2] On May 7, 1972, he raped and killed his first known victim, 10-year-old Jack Owen Blake, after luring the boy into a wooded area in Watertown. Blake's body was not found until authorities received a tip by phone on September 5.[3]

On September 2, just prior to the body's discovery, he raped and killed eight-year-old Karen Ann Hill, who had been visiting Watertown with her mother for the Labor Day weekend. Shawcross was arrested the next day.[4] A grand jury indicted Shawcross for murder in Hill's death. On October 17, he was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of first degree manslaughter for both deaths and was sentenced to an indeterminate term with a maximum of 25 years at Attica.[5]

Jefferson County District Attorney William McClusky explained the plea by stating that other than Shawcross' confession to police there was no direct evidence linking Blake and Shawcross. McClusky also suggested Shawcross could have argued at trial that he was under "extreme emotional disturbance," and a jury would have been likely to arrive at a verdict of manslaughter.[5] In November, he was transferred from Attica to Green Haven Correctional Facility.[6]

After 14 years, inexperienced prison staff and social workers concluded that Shawcross was "no longer dangerous",[7] disregarding the warnings of psychiatrists, who had assessed Shawcross as a "schizoid psychopath." He was released on parole in April 1987.[2] He had difficulty settling down in communities as the neighbors would protest his presence and employers would fire him.[2]

He first moved into Binghamton, New York, then relocated to Delhi, New York, with his girlfriend, Rose Marie Walley. When Delhi residents became aware of Shawcross' presence, the couple moved to nearby Fleischmanns, New York, only to be met with hostility there as well.[2] In late June 1987, Shawcross' parole officer moved him and Walley into a transient hotel in Rochester, New York, but failed to notify Rochester authorities of this action.[2] In mid-October, Shawcross and Walley found more permanent lodgings at 241 Alexander Street in Rochester.[2]

Second series of murders[edit]

In March 1988, Shawcross began murdering again, primarily sex workers 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:[8]

# 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 33[9] 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.[2]

On January 5, 1990, two days after June Cicero's body was discovered by aerial surveillance, police arrested Shawcross. He had been spotted by an eyewitness and police surveillance team standing near his car apparently urinating on a bridge over Salmon Creek where the body of his final victim had been dumped.[2]

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 forensic psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis that he had brain damage, multiple personality disorder (now known as dissociative identity disorder) and post-traumatic stress disorder, and had been sexually abused as a child.[10] Lewis also claimed that Shawcross moved into a separate internal personality named "Bessie" when he killed, arguing for Shawcross to be institutionalized rather than being returned to the prisons system.[11]

Shawcross, who had served in Vietnam with the 4th Supply and Transport Company of the 4th Infantry Division, had told many outlandish tales of murderous activities (including cannibalism), often perpetrated while alone in the jungle.[2] From the time Shawcross returned from his tour of duty, he told acquaintances of seeing American soldiers "skinned from their neck to their ankles," and claimed to have decapitated two women he had victimized, "placing" their heads on poles.[2]

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." Prosecution psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz said Shawcross had antisocial personality disorder.[12]


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 vulvae of three victims, but refused to discuss his earlier claim of eating the genitals of his first victim, Jack Blake.[2]

It was later determined that Shawcross had a cyst pressing on the temporal lobe of his brain, as well as scarring on his frontal lobes - areas that are responsible for decision-making and self-control. [14]


Officials said 63-year old Shawcross complained of a pain in his leg on the afternoon of 10 November 2008, his date of death. He was taken to Albany Medical Center where he went into cardiac arrest, and died shortly after. He was pronounced dead at 9:50 p.m.


  1. ^ a b Stone, Michael H. (July 28, 2009). The Anatomy of Evil. Prometheus Books. p. 347. ISBN 978-1591027263.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Olsen, Jack (February 1, 1993). The Misbegotten Son. Delacorte Press. ISBN 978-0385299367.
  3. ^ "Boy's Body Found In Woods". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. September 8, 1972. Retrieved June 21, 2019 – via (subscription required)
  4. ^ "City Girl Strangled, Man Held". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. September 4, 1972. Retrieved June 21, 2019 – via (subscription required)
  5. ^ a b Strom, Bob (October 18, 1972). "Shawcross Sent to Attica In Child's Death". The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. Retrieved June 21, 2019 – via (subscription required)
  6. ^ "Shawcross Transferred". The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. November 21, 1972. Retrieved June 21, 2019 – via (subscription required)
  7. ^ "Inside The Mind Of Arthur Shawcross, The 300-Pound 'Genesee River Killer'". All That's Interesting. March 22, 2018. Retrieved September 12, 2018.
  8. ^ "Serial killer profile: Arthur Shawcross". Archived from the original on December 15, 2015.
  9. ^ "June Cicero (1956-1989)". Find a Grave.
  10. ^ Foderaro, Lisa W. (December 2, 1990). "A Serial-Murder Trial, On TV, Grips Rochester". The New York Times.
  11. ^ "He Should Suffer: Why Was Serial Killer Arthur Shawcross Paroled Before Murder Spree?". Oxygen. 20 November 2020. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  12. ^ Ressler, Robert K.; Shachtman, Tom (May 1, 1992). Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0312078836.
  13. ^ "Serial killer Arthur Shawcross dead at 63". NBC News. November 11, 2008.
  14. ^ "Is this why Ted Bundy became a murderer?". Vanity Fair. November 20, 2020.

See also[edit]