Arthur Shawcross

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Arthur Shawcross
Mug shot of Shawcross
Born Arthur John Shawcross
(1945-06-06)June 6, 1945
Kittery, Maine
Died November 10, 2008(2008-11-10) (aged 63)
Albany Medical Center in Albany, New York
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. 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."[1]

Early life[edit]

Shawcross was born in Kittery, Maine, the first of four children of Arthur Roy Shawcross and Elizabeth (née Yerakes) Shawcross. 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 just above average in intelligence tests, scoring 105 upon entry and 108 at discharge. This was also the case with the intelligence tests he underwent while on trial in 1990, scoring 107.[2] Shawcross said throughout his childhood, he was a frequent bed-wetter. 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 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 he was drafted by the Army at age 21.[3] At this time, Shawcross divorced his first wife and gave up the rights to their 18-month-old son, whom he never saw again.[4] 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" — though in fact he never saw combat.[5] After Vietnam he was stationed at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma as an armorer.[6] 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.[7]

Return to New York[edit]

After his discharge from the Army, Shawcross moved with his wife (who would soon divorce him) from Oklahoma to Clayton, New York, where he began committing crimes such as arson and burglary.[8] His offenses earned him a five-year sentence at Attica Correctional Facility, and later Auburn Correctional Facility. After serving 22 months he was granted early release in October 1971, in part due to his role in the rescue of a prison guard during a riot.[9]

Shawcross returned to Watertown, eventually getting a job with the Watertown Public Works Department, and marrying for a third time.[10] On May 7, 1972, he sexually assaulted and murdered 10-year-old Jack Owen Blake after luring the boy into some woods in Watertown. Four months later, on September 2, he raped and killed eight-year-old Karen Ann Hill, who was visiting Watertown with her mother for the Labor Day weekend. Arrested in October, he confessed to both murders. Under the terms of a plea bargain he agreed to reveal the location of Blake's body; in return he was permitted to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter in the Hill case, all other charges were dropped, and he received a 25-year sentence at Green Haven Correctional Facility.

After twelve years, inexperienced prison staff and social workers disregarded the warnings of psychiatrists, who had assessed Shawcross as a "schizoid psychopath", and concluded that he was "no longer dangerous".[11] He was released on parole in April 1987.[12] 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 Delhi residents became aware of Shawcross's presence the couple moved to nearby Fleischmanns, New York, only to be met with hostility there.[13] Finally, in late June 1987, Shawcross's parole officer moved him and Walley into a transient hotel in Rochester, New York, but failed to notify Rochester authorities of his action.[14] In mid-October Shawcross and Walley found more permanent lodgings at 241 Alexander Street in Rochester.[15]

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:[16]

# 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.[17]

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.[18] 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, forensic neuropsychologist Dr. Jerid M. Fisher saw Shawcross at Neurorehab Associates, Inc., for an evaluation. Dr. Fisher was asked to assess Shawcross' neuropsychological status and whether a brain injury could account for his criminal behavior. Shawcross’s 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 child abuse.[citation needed] Shawcross, who had served in Vietnam with the 4th Supply and Transport Company of the 4th Infantry Division,[19] had told many outlandish tales of murderous activities (including cannibalism), often perpetrated while alone in the jungle.[20] From the time Shawcross returned from his tour of duty, he told acquaintances of seeing American soldiers "skinned from their neck to their ankles",[21][22] and claimed to have decapitated two women he had victimized, "placing" their heads on poles.[23] 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."[24] Prosecution psychiatrist Dr Park Dietz said Shawcross had antisocial personality disorder.[25] 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.[16]

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.[26]

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.[27]

Arthur Shawcross was privately cremated.


  1. ^ Stone, MH. The Anatomy of Evil. Prometheus (2009), p. 347. ISBN 1591027268.
  2. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 209
  3. ^ "Paroled Killer Charged Again'"
  4. ^ Olsen 1993, pp. 52–53
  5. ^ Stone (2009), p. 347.
  6. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 56
  7. ^ Olsen 1993, pp. 58–59
  8. ^ Olsen 1993, pp. 192–193
  9. ^ Olsen 1993, pp. 193–194
  10. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 194
  11. ^ Stone (2009), pp. 347-8.
  12. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 208
  13. ^ Olsen 1993, pp. 246–249
  14. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 249
  15. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 255
  16. ^ a b "'Serial Killer Arthur Shawcross Dead'"
  17. ^ Keppel 2011, pp. 3
  18. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 379
  19. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 189
  20. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 446
  21. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 192
  22. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 55
  23. ^ Olsen 1993, pp. 190–191
  24. ^ Ressler, Schactman 1992, p. 276
  25. ^ MPD as an organic disorder
  26. ^ Olsen 1993, p. 485
  27. ^ "'Upstate New York Serial Killer Dies'"


Further reading and External links[edit]