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Arthur Shawcross

Mug shot of Shawcross
Background information
Birth name: Arthur John Shawcross
Also known as: The Genesee River Killer
Born: June 6, 1945(1945-06-06)
Kittery, Maine
Died: November 10, 2008 (aged 63)
Cause of death: cardiac arrest
Conviction: Arson
Sentence: 250 years
Number of 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 "Art" 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

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 A's and B's in his first two years of grade school.[1] His IQ was tested to be "low-normal" (between 86 and 92) when he was in the fifth grade.[2] Shawcross was prone to behaviors such as bullying, chronic bed wetting until at least the age of twelve,[3] and physical violence.[citation needed] He dropped out of high school in 1960, and when he was 21 he was drafted by the Army, in April 1967.[4][5] At this time he divorced his first wife and gave up the rights to their eighteen-month-old son, whom he never saw again.[6]

After his tour of duty in Vietnam ended in September 1968, Shawcross was assigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma as an armorer.[7] His second wife Linda experienced several aspects of his disturbing behavior, especially a penchant for starting fires; an Army psychiatrist told her that Art gained "sexual enjoyment" from the act.[8] Linda Shawcross also witnessed her husband kill their six-month-old puppy in a sudden fit of rage by throwing him against a wall.[9] Shawcross was honorably discharged in the spring of 1969.[10]

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.[11] His offenses earned him a five-year sentence to be served in Attica, but he was eventually transferred to the Auburn Correctional Facility, and would serve a total of twenty-two months.[12] Paroled in October 1971, he returned to Watertown, eventually getting a job with the Watertown Public Works Department, and marrying for a third time.[13] In May 1972, Shawcross sexually assaulted and murdered 10-year-old Jack Owen Blake after luring the boy into some woods. Four months later, 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 he was to reveal where he laid Jack's body. He plead guilty to killing Hill on a charge of manslaughter and the charges relating to Jack Blake were dropped. He was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment.

Shawcross served 14 1/2 years in prison before he was released on parole in April 1987.[14] He had difficulty settling down as he was chased out of homes and fired from workplaces as soon as neighbors and employers found out about his criminal record. His parole officer had him relocated to Rochester, New York in late June 1987.[15]

Second series of murders

In March 1988, Shawcross began murdering again, primarily prostitutes in the area, 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 Found
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 Stotts 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.

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.[17] He was stopped in Spencerport on January 3, 1990, taken into custody and was later arrested. He eventually confessed in custody.

Trial and conviction

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[18] had told many outlandish tales of committing gruesome crimes (including cannibalism), often perpetrated while alone in the jungle.[19] From the time Shawcross returned from his tour of duty, he told acquaintances of seeing American soldiers "skinned from their neck to their ankles",[20][21] and claimed to have decapitated two women he had victimized, "placing" their heads on poles.[22] 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."[23]

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 was held at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York until he died on November 10, 2008.[16]

In 2003, Shawcross was interviewed by a British reporter, Katherine English, for a documentary on cannibalism. He bragged about slicing out and eating the vaginas of three victims, but refused to discuss his earlier claim of eating the genitals of his first victim, Jack Blake.[24]

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

In 2006, he 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' claims of not being in control during the prostitute murders.


Officials said he complained of a pain in his leg on the afternoon of November 10, 2008, his date of death. It is reported that Shawcross had also been complaining of leg pains on November 7, but was denied the use of a wheelchair because the medical staff and the Sergeant on duty at Sullivan Correctional Facility did not feel he had a valid complaint.[citation needed] He was taken to the Albany Medical Center, where he went into cardiac arrest and died at 9:50 p.m.[25]

Arthur Shawcross was privately cremated and his ashes are in the care of his daughter.


  1. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 167-168)
  2. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 175)
  3. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 171)
  4. ^ ("Paroled Killer Charged Again'")
  5. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 52)
  6. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 52-53)
  7. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 56)
  8. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 58-59)
  9. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 60)
  10. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 61)
  11. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 192-193)
  12. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 193-194)
  13. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 194)
  14. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 208)
  15. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 224)
  16. ^ a b ("'Serial Killer Arthur Shawcross Dead'")
  17. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 379)
  18. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 189)
  19. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 446)
  20. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 192)
  21. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 55)
  22. ^ (Olsen 1993, pp. 190-191)
  23. ^ (Ressler, Schactman 1992, p. 276)
  24. ^ (Olsen 1993, p. 485)
  25. ^ ("'Upstate New York Serial Killer Dies'")


Further reading and External links

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