Arthur Shawcross' horrifying criminal streak began with arson. But, before long, the 300-pound monster would be known as one of the scariest serial killers in history.
No matter how you look at it, Arthur Shawcross was a troubled person. He frequently lied about what he did. He went into fits of rage that led to broken windows and beat-up wives. Shawcross also killed 13 people over the course of 17 years.
How the deaths happened are the gruesome part of Shawcross’ story.
The serial killer, also known as the Monster of the Rivers, the Genesee River Strangler and the Genesee River Killer, was not a small man. He weighed 300 pounds and stood six feet tall. He could overpower people with this strength which pretty much sums up his murder methods.
Shawcross was born in Maine in 1945 and he grew up an unhappy kid. He claims he was molested by an aunt at age nine, but his family disputes that claim. Allegedly, the youngster then began experimenting with this sexuality in many ways, including homosexuality and bestiality, by age 11.
It’s hard to corroborate his stories as later in life Shawcross frequently changed his stories from one moment to the next. He was a pathological liar and it was difficult to determine what was truth and what was not.
No matter what happened to Shawcross as a child, his adulthood was horrible. Before being drafted to serve in Vietnam in October of 1967, Shawcross married and divorced twice. Both marriages saw patterns of spousal abuse and violence perpetrated by Shawcross.
In 1968, Shawcross ended up in jail for arson and served two years of a five-year sentence. Then his violent tendencies got worse and the arsonist became a cold-blooded murderer.
On April 7, 1972, he took a 10-year-old boy named Jack Blake, a neighbor at the time, fishing. Jack was never heard from again. Just three weeks later, Shawcross married his third wife who was pregnant with his child.
Authorities didn’t find Jack’s body for five months, but analysis showed the boy suffered from a sexual assault before his death. At around the same time, Shawcross murdered eight-year-old Karen Ann Hill. He was caught after neighbors witnessed the murderer with the girl near a bridge shortly before her death. Karen showed signs of rape.
Shawcross was sentenced to 25 years in prison but served less than 15 years. After his release on parole in April of 1987, Shawcross simply could not stop his murderous tendencies.
After relocating due to the public’s outcry of his release, he moved to Rochester with his fourth wife. The judicial system then thought it was wise to seal Shawcross’ records to prevent panic wherever he lived. This grave mistake led to the murders of 12 more people, all of them in Rochester.
Shawcross killed again in March of 1988, less than a year after getting out of jail. This victim was Dorothy Blackburn, a 27-year-old prostitute he strangled to death on March 24, 1988. Hunters found her body in the Genesee River.
The next strangulation murder happened in September of 1989. Then there were two in late October of that year, followed by a fourth on Thanksgiving Day.
All of these murders were unsolved. Local authorities discovered patterns of behavior regarding the killer, which led them to ask FBI profilers for assistance. The strangulation and bodies dumped in rivers formed some workable theories as to the killer’s identity.
Profilers also determined that the killer returned to the scene of his crimes to either conceal the body or to derive pleasure from the attack while viewing the fresh kill.
Three more bodies turned up between December of 1989 and January of 1990. All were young women and all were prostitutes. Authorities ran criminal background checks on possible suspects, but sealing Shawcross’ previous records meant they didn’t show up in any checks.
On Jan. 2, 1990, there was finally a breakthrough in the case. A police helicopter searching for a body along the river spotted a man on a bridge near one of the murder victims. There was a small van nearby. Despite officials on the ground, Shawcross got away.
A background check on the van’s plates led to the killer’s arrest on Jan. 4. The arrest marked an end to a 21-month killing spree that turned up 12 bodies.
The serial killer agreed to cooperate with police. He admitted to 11 murders (he was not officially charged with a 12th), and his confession was an astounding 80 pages long. During the trial, Shawcross’ defense attorneys tried to say he was insane but the court didn’t agree. A judge sentenced the murderer to 250 years in prison. This time, Shawcross wasn’t getting out of prison.
One particular murder stood out to investigators who gave interviews after Shawcross went to jail.
The serial killer strangled June Stott, who was 26 at the time of her death, before Shawcross cut her body open from the throat to the vagina like she was a wild animal. In this television interview, Shawcross said that murder was out of anger because allegedly Stott was going to go to the police and rat him out. Shawcross says he snapped her neck before cutting her open.
The serial killer recounts Stott’s murder as if he’s reciting instructions on how to bake a cake. There is simply no remorse, no emotion and no feeling behind Shawcross’ voice.
Arthur Shawcross died in prison in 2008 at the age of 63. He didn’t waste all of his time there. The mass murderer took up painting bright visages of butterflies, wildlife and water features. New York governor George Pataki called Shawcross’ works of art “sickening” because the gentle paintings didn’t reveal the monster underneath.
Shawcross’ paintings in prison bring new meaning to the phrase “still waters run deep.” If the Arthur Shawcross developed a love of art earlier on instead of killing, perhaps his paintings of rivers and lakes would have been a healthier outlet for his emotions.
Now that you’ve read about Arthur Shawcross, read about serial killer Edmund Kemper, whose story is almost too gross to be real. Then learn the horrifying story of Rodney Alcala, the serial killer who won ‘The Dating Game’ during his murder spree.