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.
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. His IQ was tested to be "low-normal" (between 86 and 92) when he was in the fifth grade. Shawcross was prone to behaviors such as bullying, and chronic bed wetting until at least age twelve, and physical violence. Shawcross dropped out of high school in 1960. He was drafted at age 21 by the Army in April 1967. At this time, Shawcross divorced his first wife and gave up the rights to their eighteen-month-old son, whom he never saw again.
After his tour of duty in Vietnam ended in September 1968, the Army assigned Shawcross to Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma as an armorer. 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. Linda Shawcross also witnessed her husband kill their six-month-old puppy in a sudden fit of rage by throwing him against a wall. Shawcross was honorably discharged in the spring of 1969.
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. 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.
Paroled in October 1971, Shawcross returned to Watertown, eventually getting a job with the Watertown Public Works Department, and marrying for a third time. In May 1972, Shawcross sexually assaulted and murdered 10-year-old Jack Owen Blake after luring the boy into some woods in Watertown. 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 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. 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. Finally, Shawcross' parole officer relocated him to Rochester, New York in late June 1987, and moved him and Walley into the Cadillac Hotel, a hotel for transients, in downtown Rochester. 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 an apartment building at 241 Alexander Street in Rochester. Some reports have placed Shawcross in the Normandie Brownstone Apartments, at 253 Alexander Street. Despite the difference in the numbers, the buildings are next door to each other, which may be part of the confusion regarding Shawcross' residence on Alexander Street.
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:
1. Dorothy Blackburn, age 27, disappeared March 18, found 1988 March 24, 1988
2. Anna Steffen, age 28, disappeared July 9, 1988, found September 11, 1988
3. Dorothy Keeler, age 59, disappeared July 29, 1989, found October 21, 1989
4. Patricia Ives, age 25, disappeared September 29, 1989, found October 27, 1989
5. June Stotts, age 30, disappeared October 23, 1989, found November 23, 1989
6. Marie Welch, age 22, disappeared November 5, 1989, found January 5, 1990
7. Frances Brown, age 22, disappeared November 11, 1989, found November 15, 1989
8. Kimberly Logan, age 30, disappeared November 15, 1989, found November 15, 1989
9. Elizabeth Gibson, age 29, disappeared November 25, 1989, found November 27, 1989
10. Darlene Trippi, age 32, disappeared December 15, 1989, found January 5, 1990
11. June Cicero, age 34, disappeared December 17, 1989, found January 3, 1990
12. Felicia Stephens, age 20, disappeared December 28, 1989, found December 31, 1989
All the victims were murdered in Monroe County, except for Gibson, who was killed in neighboring Wayne County.
Shawcross was spotted by the surveillance team (and by an eyewitness) standing near his car on a bridge over Salmon Creek, upon whose frozen waters the body of his final victim was dumped. He was stopped in Spencerport, New York on January 3, 1990, taken into custody and was later arrested. Shawcross eventually confessed in custody.
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. Shawcross, who had served in Vietnam with the 4th Supply and Transport Company of the 4th Infantry Division, had told many outlandish tales of committing gruesome crimes (including cannibalism), often perpetrated while alone in the jungle. 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. 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." 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.
Shawcross was held at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York, until he died on November 10, 2008 at the Albany Medical Center.
In 2003, Shawcross was interviewed by British reporter Katherine English for a documentary on cannibalism. Shawcross 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.
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.
Arthur Shawcross was privately cremated and his ashes are in the care of his daughter.