"You put me away, because if I'm ever released, just as sure as you're sitting here, I'm going to kill again."
Childhood and Early Adulthood
Arthur Shawcross was born in Kittery, Maine on June 6, 1945. He was the first of four children born to Arthur Roy Shawcross and Bessie 'Betty' Yerakes Shawcross. He has two sisters, Donna and Jeannie, and one brother, James. The family moved to Watertown, NY shortly after Arthur's birth and he would be raised there.
Arthur was a strange boy from a very young age. He was a hypochondriac, and was always pretending to have an illness for attention. He was also a compulsive masturbater from age 8. His mother repeatedly tried to discourage this behavior, often punishing him physically when she caught him doing it. He was called 'Oddie' by the neighborhood kids, and had no friends. He also did very poorly in school, eventually dropping out of school at age 17 when he was in the 9th grade.
Arthur began stealing from from local businesses and neighborhood cottages as a juvenile but was never arrested.
In 1963 Arthur was arrested for the first time for burglarizing a Sears department store. He was sentenced to 18 months probation as a Youthful Offender.
In 1965 he was again arrested for second degree burglary and sentenced to 6 months of additional probation.
In September 1964 Arthur married local girl Sarah Louise Chatterton. She divorced him shortly after their son Michael was born (10/2/65). Sarah remarried and her new husband adopted Michael. Arthur never saw his son again.
In 1965 Arthur was drafted into the Army. He served from 4/67 (10/67 - 9/68 overseas) until he was honorably discharged in 1969 with a rank of Spec. 4. Arthur's low IQ (tested at 88) and lack of motivation made him unsuitable for many military jobs. He served most of his time as a supply clerk. Upon his return from Vietnam (and later after his arrest) Shawcross would claim that he was a member of an elite detachment and that he was personally sent to "take out" whole villages. Shawcross would claim that this was his introduction to murder and that he would invent gruesome ways to torture and kill his victims, including men, women, and children. However, there is nothing that supports that Arthur was involved in any type of combat, especially not anything like he describes, and his military career was unremarkable.
Return from Vietnam and his first trip to prison
While on a 30 day furlough in September 1967 before being deployed to Vietnam, Shawcross met Linda Ruth Neary. Both she and Shawcross believed that there was a good chance that he would be killed while in Vietnam and so they married. Upon his return Shawcross reunited with his wife but began to be violent and angry. He was seen by a military psychologist who evaluated him and requested that Linda sign the papers to have him committed as he felt Arthur was possibly dangerous. Linda, who hardly knew her husband, asked his mother Bessie what she thought. Bessie refused to answer saying it was Linda's choice. Linda chose not to (one of the reasons being she was a strict Christian Scientist) and the Army decided they did not have enough cause to commit him themselves. Shortly thereafter Linda left Shawcross after he beat her so badly that she miscarried. Their divorce would be finalized in 1971.
Shortly after his return, Shawcross returned to his criminal ways, and became increasingly threatening. In 1969 he was convicted for the burglary of a local gas station and 3 separate arson counts (including over $250,000 damage to Knowlton Specialty Papers, and damage to Crowley's Foodmart). He was sentenced to 5 years in prison. He served 22 months was paroled in 1972.
The First Murders
Upon his release from prison, Shawcross met and married Penny Nichol Sherbino on April 22, 1972. She would later divorce him.
Shawcross lacked direction in his life and began walking long distances around Jefferson County. He would go fishing nearly every day along the Black River. It was during one of his fishing trips that he met an befriended a local 10 year old boy, Jack Owen Blake
. On one of their fishing trips together, Shawcross' violent fantasies came to a head and on June 4, 1972 Shawcross strangled the boy to death. He buried the boy somewhere in swampland off of Route 81
just north of Watertown. Shawcross was questioned about the killings, but was not high on the suspect list, despite concerns by Blake's mother.
On September 2, 1972, Shawcross encountered Karen Ann Hill, age 8, playing by the river. She was not from Watertown, and was there that day only because her mother was visiting a friend. Shawcross raped and strangled the little girl. He was questioned shortly afterwards and confessed to the killing. He would then tell investigators where to find Jack Blake's body.
The District Attorney, William McClusky, cut a deal with Shawcross and his attorney. He would plead to manslaughter in the Hill case and they would close the Blake case without a conviction. Shawcross took the deal and as sentenced to 25 years.
Shawcross was not a behavior problem in prison, however, he was diagnosed by by psychiatrist as a "psychosexual maniac" and the experts believed that he was threat to others should he be released. However, others labeled him as a "model prisoner" and felt that he had been rehabilitated. Shawcross appeared in front of the parole board 9 times. He was denied parole the first 8, but on try #9 he was granted parole. He left prison in April 1987 after serving 14 years, 6 months.
Release from Prison and a new set of murders
After his release from prison his family did not want him back in Watertown, where, being a small town, his history was well known and he was a great embarrassment to the family. So parole officials settled him in Binghamton. However, just days after he moved in, his history was discovered by local media and he was driven out of town shortly after by the media and outraged citizens. After he was driven similarly out of 2 other communities, parole officials moved him to Rochester in the middle of the night without even warning local law enforcement.
Shawcross settled into life in Rochester, marrying his prison pen pal Rose Marie Wallace and keeping a mistress, Clara Neal. However, Shawcross later admitted that much of his time in prison had involved fantasizing about murder, and, in less then a year, Shawcross began murdering again.
From 1988-1990, Shawcross would methodically murder 11 prostitutes. All but one victim was strangled to death, the other one was shot. Arthur stalked the streets of Rochester choosing whatever prostitute approached him. Shawcross had virtually no concern about getting caught, and used the same car and drove the same streets night after night. He would then drive her to a remote location and attempt to have sex with her, but often had trouble achieving orgasm unless he was choking them and they were dying. At times, he would have a prostitute play dead so that he could get an erection. If she did, he would not kill her. If she refused or made fun of him, she was as good as dead. Shawcross typically would strangle her with his hands and them dump her near the Genesse River.
Investigation and Arrest
Shawcross' case is often cited as the first that the FBI's profiling unit helped catch. The were called in by local law enforcement who was having no luck in catching the killer despite many hours of investigation by the Rochester PD. After looking at the crimes, profilers - including John Douglas - believed that the killer was mature, as there was no sign of the offender panicking at any time during the murders. Profilers also noted that several victims had been mutilated after their death indicating that the offender spent time with victim after her death. At least one woman had her vagina cut out of her body after she was frozen, indicating that the offender had left and then returned hours or days later. Douglas recommended that they stake out the area that the latest body had been dumped. Within hours, Shawcross returned to the scene and began to masturbate over the body.
After his arrest, police asked Shawcross to show them any bodies that they had not located, and he complied, taking them to each dump site and showing them the bodies. Eventually 11 were found:
Dorothy Blackburn, age 27
Anna Marie Steffen, age 28
Dorothy Keller, age 59
Patricia Ives, age 25
Maria Welsh, age 22
Frances M Brown, age 22
June Stott, age 30
Elizabeth A. Gibson, age 29
June Cicero, age 34
Darlene Trippi, age 32
Felicia Stephens, age 20
Shawcross pled not guilty by reason of insanity. However, he was convicted of all but one of the murders and was sentenced to 10 life terms in prison with no possibility of parole. He is currently housed in Sullivan Correctional Facility.
Points of Interest
Arthur Shawcross received 10 write in votes during New York's 1990 gubernatorial election.
In a physical exam after the arrest, Shawcross was found to have the XYY chromosomal pattern, also known as the 'Supermale Chromosome'. In the past, medical experts believed that this pattern led to violent behavior. Indeed, this chromosomal pattern has been linked to increased risk for criminal activity, although, interestingly enough, the most recent research has linked XYY to increased risk to commit property crimes (such as burglary), NOT crimes of violence. No one knows why this is.
A day after Dorothy Blackburn was murdered, two Rochester cops stopped Shawcross who was driving Clara Neal's car. He was ticketed for driving without a license and for having 2 unrestrained children in the back seat (2 of Clara's kids). Not only did the cops not notice the bloodstained seats, but they didn't bother to run Shawcross' name through the computer. If they had, they would have discovered that he was on parole for manslaughter, and that his conditions prohibited him from having ANY contact with children under age 16. Had his parole been violated as it should have, they may have discovered that he was the killer of Dorothy - or at the very least he would have been sent back to prison for the violation, and the rest of the murders may never had happened.
A Serial Killer Dies
On November 9th, 2008 Arthur Shawcross complained of leg pains and was taken to an Albany hospital for medical attention, where he died.
For further information:
THE MISBEGOTTEN SON By: Jack Olsen
c. 1993 Delacort Press
COMPULSION TO KILL Part of the Time-Life True Crime Series
c. 1992 Time-Life Books
THE MIND OF A SERIAL KILLER
Narrated by: Patrick Stewart
From the television special sponsored by NOVA c. 1992
ARTHUR SHAWCROSS: THE GENESSE RIVER KILLER
By: Dr. Joel Norris
c. 1992 Pinnacle Books
I HAVE LIVED IN THE MONSTER: A REPORT FROM THE ABYSS
By: Robert K. Ressler & Tom Shachtman
c. 1997 St. Martin's Press
Notorious Jefferson County Crime