Arthur Shawcross, also known as "The Genesee River Killer," was responsible for the murders of 12 women in upstate New York from 1988 to 1990. This was not the first time that he killed. In 1972 he confessed to the sexual assault and murders of two children.
Arthur Shawcross was born on June 6, 1945, in Kittery, Maine. The family relocated to Watertown, New York, a few years later.
From early on, Shawcross was socially challenged and spent much of his time alone. His withdrawn behavior earned him the nickname "oddie" from his peers.
He was never a good student failing both behaviorally and academically during his short time at school. He would often miss classes, and when he was there, he regularly misbehaved and had the reputation of being a bully and picking fights with other students.
Shawcross dropped out of school after failing to pass the ninth grade. He was 16 years old. Over the next few years, his violent behavior intensified, and he was suspected of arson and burglary. He was placed on probation in 1963 for breaking the window of a store.
In 1964 Shawcross married and the next year he and his wife had a son. In November 1965 he was put on probation on a charge of unlawful entry. His wife filed for divorce soon afterward, stating that he was abusive. As part of the divorce, Shawcross gave up all paternal rights to his son and never saw the child again.
In April 1967 Shawcross was drafted into the Army. Right after receiving his draft papers he married for the second time.
He was sent to Vietnam from October 1967 until September 1968 and was then stationed at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. Shawcross later claimed that he killed 39 enemy soldiers during combat. Officials disputed it and attributed him with a combat kill of zero.
After his release from the Army, he and his wife returned to Clayton, New York. She divorced him shortly afterward citing abuse and his propensity to being a pyromaniac as her reasons.
Shawcross was sentenced to five years in prison for arson in 1969. He was released in October 1971, after serving just 22 months of his sentence.
He returned to Watertown, and by the following April, he was married for the third time and working for the Public Works Department. Like his previous marriages, the marriage was short and ended abruptly after he confessed to murdering two local children.
Jack Blake and Karen Ann Hill
Within six months of each other, two Watertown children went missing in September 1972. The first child was 10-year-old Jack Blake. His body was found a year later out in the woods. He had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death.
The second child was Karen Ann Hill, age 8, who was visiting Watertown with her mother for the Labor Day weekend. Her body was found under a bridge. According to autopsy reports, she had been raped and murdered, and dirt and leaves were found jammed down her throat.
Police investigators arrested Shawcross in October 1972 after he was identified as the man who was with Hill on the bridge right before she disappeared.
After working out a plea deal, Shawcross confessed to murdering Hill and Blake and agreed to divulge the location of Blake's body in exchange for a charge of manslaughter in the Hill case and no charges for murdering Blake. Since they had no solid evidence to convict him in the Blake case, prosecutors agreed, and he was found guilty and given a 25-year-sentence.
Shawcross was 27 years old, divorced for the third time and would be locked away until the age of 52, but after serving just 14 1/2 years, he was released from prison.
Being out of prison was challenging for Shawcross once word would get out about his criminal past. He had to be relocated to four different cities because of community protests. A decision was made to seal his records from public view, and he was moved one final time.
Rochester, New York
In June 1987, Shawcross and his new girlfriend, Rose Marie Walley, were relocated to Rochester, New York. This time there were no protests because Shawcross' parole officer failed to report to the local police department that a child rapist and murderer had just moved into town.
Life for Shawcross and Rose became routine. They got married, and Shawcross worked various low-skilled jobs. It did not take long for him to become bored with his new menial life.
In March 1988, Shawcross began cheating on his wife with a new girlfriend. He also was spending a lot of time with prostitutes. Unfortunately, over the next two-year, many of the prostitutes that he got to know would end up dead.
A Serial Killer on the Loose
Dorothy "Dotsie" Blackburn, 27, was a cocaine addict and prostitute who often worked on Lyell Avenue, a section in Rochester that was known for prostitution.
On March 18, 1998, Blackburn was reported missing by her sister. Six days later her body was pulled from the Genesee River Gorge. An autopsy revealed that she had suffered severe wounds from a blunt object. There were also human bite marks found all around her vagina. The cause of death was strangulation.
Blackburn's lifestyle opened up a broad range of possible suspects for case detectives to investigate, but with too few clues the case eventually went cold
In September, six months after Blackburn's body was found, the bones from another missing Lyell Avenue prostitute, Anna Marie Steffen, was found by a man who was collecting bottles to sell for cash.
Investigators were unable to identify the victim whose bones were found, so they hired an anthropologist to reconstruct the victim's facial features based on a skull that found on the scene.
Steffen's father saw the facial recreation and identified the victim as his daughter, Anna Marie. Dental records provided additional confirmation.
Six Weeks - More Bodies
The decapitated and decomposing remains of a homeless woman, 60-year-old Dorothy Keller, was found on October 21, 1989, in the Genesee River Gorge. She died from having her neck broken.
Another Lyell Avenue prostitute, Patricia "Patty" Ives, 25, was found strangled to death and buried under a pile of debris on October 27, 1989. She had been missing for nearly a month.
With the discovery of Patty Ives, investigators realized that it was a strong possibility that a serial killer was loose in Rochester.
They had the bodies of four women, all who went missing and were murdered within seven months of each other; three had been murdered within a few weeks of each other; three of the victims were prostitutes from Lyell Avenue, and all the victims had bite marks and had been strangled to death.
Investigators went from looking for individual killers to looking for a serial killer and the window of time between his kills was getting shorter.
The press also grew interested in the murders and dubbed the killer as the "Genesee River Killer," and the "Rochester Strangler."
On October 23, June Stott, 30, was reported missing by her boyfriend. Stott was mentally ill and would occasionally vanish without telling anyone. This, along with the fact that she was not a prostitute or drug user, kept her disappearance separated from the serial killer investigation.
Marie Welch, age 22 was a Lyell Avenue prostitute who was reported missing on November 5, 1989.
Frances "Franny" Brown, age 22, was last seen alive leaving Lyell Avenue on November 11, with a client known by some of the prostitutes as Mike or Mitch. Her body, nude except for her boots, was discovered three days later dumped in the Genesee River Gorge. She had been beaten and strangled to death.
Kimberly Logan, 30, another Lyell Avenue prostitute, was found dead on November 15, 1989. She had brutally kicked and beaten, and dirt and leaves were crammed down her throat, much like Shawcross did to 8-year-old, Karen Ann Hill. This one piece of evidence could have led the authorities right to Shawcross, had they known that he was living in Rochester.
Mike or Mitch
At the beginning of November, Jo Ann Van Nostrand told police about a client named Mitch who paid her to play dead and then he would try to strangle her, which she did not allow. Van Nostrand was a seasoned prostitute who had entertained men with all kinds of particularities, but this one - this "Mitch" - managed to give her the creeps.
This was the first real lead the investigators received. It was the second time that the man with the same physical description, named Mike or Mitch, had been mentioned in reference to the murders. Interviews with many of the Lyle prostitutes indicated that he was a regular and that he had the reputation of being violent.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 23, a man walking his dog discovered the body June Stott, the one missing person that the police did not connect to the serial killer.
Like the other women found, June Stott suffered a vicious beating before dying. But death did not end the killer's cruelty. An autopsy revealed that Stott had been strangled to death. The corpse was then anally mutilated, and the body was cut opened from the throat down to the crotch. It was noted that the labia had been cut off and that the killer likely had it in his possession.
For detectives, June Stott's murder sent the investigation into a tailspin. Stott was not a drug addict or a prostitute, and her body had been left in an area far from the other victims. Could it be that Rochester was being stalked by two serial killers?
It seemed as if each week another woman went missing and those found murdered were not close to being solved. It was at this point that the Rochester police decided to contact the F.B.I. for help.
The F.B.I. Agents sent to Rochester created a profile of the serial killer. They said that the killer showed characteristics of a man in his 30s, white, and who knew his victims. He was probably a local man familiar with the area, and he probably had a criminal record. Also, based on the lack of semen found on his victims, he was sexually dysfunctional and found gratification after his victims were dead. They also believed that the killer would return to mutilate the bodies of his victims when possible.
The body of Elizabeth "Liz" Gibson, 29, was found strangled to death on November 27, in another county. She was also a Lyell Avenue prostitute and was last seen by Jo Ann Van Nostrand with the "Mitch" client who she had reported to the police in October. Nostrand went to the police and gave them the information along with a description of the man's vehicle.
The F.B.I agents strongly suggested that when the next body was found, that investigators wait and watch to see if the killer returned to the body.
The End of a Bad Year
Had investigators hoped that the busy December holiday season and the cold temperatures might slow down the serial killer, they soon found out that they were wrong.
Three women disappeared, one right after the other:
- Darlene Trippi, 32, was known for pairing up for safety with veteran Jo Ann Van Nostrand, yet on December 15, she like others before her, disappeared off Lyell Avenue.
- June Cicero, 34, was a seasoned prostitute known for her good instincts and for always staying alert, yet on December 17 she also vanished.
- And as if to toast in the New Year, the serial killer attacked one more time on December 28, plucking 20-year-old Felicia Stephens off the streets. She too was never seen alive again.
In an effort to find the missing women, police organized an air search of the Genesee River Gorge. Road patrols were also sent out, and on New Year's Eve, they found a pair of black jeans belonging to Felicia Stephens. Her boots were found in another location after the patrol expanded the search.
On January 2, another air and ground search was organized and right before calling it off due to bad weather, the air team spotted what appeared to be the body of a half-nude female laying face down near the Salmon Creek. As they went down to get a closer look, they also spotted a man on the bridge above the body. He appeared to be urinating, but when he spotted the aircrew, he immediately fled the scene in his van.
The ground team was alerted and went in pursuit of the man in the van. The body, which was surrounded by fresh footprints in the snow, was that of June Cicero. She had been strangled to death, and there were bite marks covering what was left of her vagina which had been cut out.
The man from the bridge was apprehended at a nearby nursing home. He was identified as Arthur John Shawcross. When asked for his driver's license, he told the police that he did not have one because he had been convicted of manslaughter.
Shawcross and his girlfriend Clara Neal were brought to the police station for questioning. After hours of interrogation, Shawcross still maintained that he had nothing to do with any Rochester murders. He did, however, offer up more details about his childhood, his past murders and his experiences in Vietnam.
There is no definitive answer as to why Shawcross seemed to embellish the stories of what he did to his victims and what had been done to him throughout his childhood. He could have remained silent, yet it seemed he wanted to shock his interrogators, knowing that they could do nothing to him, regardless of how he described his crimes.
When discussing the murders of the two children in 1972, he told the detectives that Jack Blake had been bothering him, so he hit him, killing him by mistake. Once the boy was dead, he decided to eat his genitals.
He also admitted that he anally raped Karen Ann Hill before strangling her to death.
While in Vietnam, along with killing 39 men during combat (which was a proven lie) Shawcross also used the venue to describe in grotesque details how he murdered, then cooked and ate, two Vietnam women.
Shawcross also talked about his childhood, as if using the experience as a way to justify his horrific acts.
According to Shawcross, he did not get along with his parents and his mother was domineering and extremely abusive.
He also claimed that an aunt sexually molested him when he was 9 years old and that he acted out by sexually molesting his younger sister.
Shawcross also said that he had a homosexual relationship at age 11 and experimented with bestiality not long afterward.
Shawcross' family members strongly denied that he was abused and described his childhood as normal. His sister was equally vehement about never having had a sexual relationship with her brother.
As to his aunt sexually abusing him, It was later determined, that if he had been abused, he somehow blocked out his aunt's name because the name that he gave did not belong to any of his real aunts.
After listening to hours of his self-serving saga, investigators still were unable to get him to admit to any of the Rochester murders. With nothing to hold him on the police had to let him go, but not before taking his picture.
Jo Ann Van Nostrand along with other prostitutes identified the police picture of Shawcross as the same man they called Mike/Mitch. It turned out that he was a regular customer of many of the women on Lyell Avenue.
Shawcross was brought in for questioning a second time. After several hours of interrogation, he still denied having anything to do with the murdered women. It was not until the detectives threatened to bring his wife and his girlfriend Clara in together for questioning and that they could be implicated in the murders, did he begin to waver.
His first admission that he was involved in the murders was when he told police that Clara had nothing to do with it. Once his involvement was established, the details began to flow.
The detectives gave Shawcross a list of 16 women missing or murdered, and he immediately denied having anything to do with five of them. He then confessed to murdering the others.
With each victim that he confessed to the killing, he included what the victim had done to deserve what they got. One victim tried to steal his wallet, another wouldn't be quiet, another made fun of him, and yet another had nearly bitten off his penis.
He also blamed many of the victims for reminding him of his domineering and abusive mother, so much so that once he began to hit them, he couldn't stop.
When it came time to discuss June Stott, Shawcross appeared to become melancholy. Apparently, Stott was a friend and had been a guest in his home. He explained to the detectives that the reason he mutilated her body after killing her was a kind favor he extended to her so that she would decompose faster.
Reaching Through the Prison Bars
A common trait of serial killers is the desire to show they are still in control and can reach through the prison walls and still do damage to those outside.
When it came to Arthur Shawcross, this certainly appeared to be the case, because, throughout the years when interviewed, his answers to the questions seemed to change depending on who was doing the interviewing.
Female interviewers were often subjected to his long descriptions of how much he enjoyed eating the body parts and organs that he had cut out from his victims. Male interviewers often had to listen to his conquests in Vietnam. If he thought he sensed sympathy from the interviewer, he would add more details about how his mother would insert sticks into his anus or offer up specific details into exactly how his aunt took sexual advantage of him when he was just a child.
Shawcross was transparent, so much so that the interviewers, detectives, and doctors that listened to him, doubted much of what he said when he would describe his childhood abuse and his enjoyment of cutting up women and eating body parts.
Shawcross pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. During his trial, his lawyer tried to prove that Shawcross was a victim of multiple personality disorder stemming from his years of being abused as a child. Post-traumatic stress disorder from his year in Vietnam was also anted up as a reason why he went insane and murdered women.
The big problem with this defense was that there was no one who backed up his stories. His family completely denied his accusations of abuse.
The Army provided proof that Shawcross was never stationed near a jungle and that he never fought in combat, never burned down huts, was never caught behind a firebomb and never went on jungle patrol as he claimed.
As to his claims to have killed and devoured two Vietnam women, two psychiatrists that interviewed him agreed that Shawcross changed the story so often that it became unbelievable.
Extra Y Chromosome
It was discovered that Shawcross had an extra Y chromosome which some have suggested (although there is no proof) makes the person more violent.
A cyst found on Shawcross' right temporal lobe was said to have caused him to have behavioral seizures where he would display animalistic behavior, such as eating the body parts of his victims.
In the end, it came down to what the jury believed, and they weren't fooled for a moment. After deliberating for just one-half hour, they found him sane and guilty.
Shawcross was sentenced to 250 years in prison and received an additional life sentence after pleading guilty to the murder of Elizabeth Gibson in Wayne County.
On November 10, 2008, Shawcross died of cardiac arrest after being transferred from the Sullivan Correction Facility to an Albany, New York hospital. He was 63 years old.