Born in Kittery, Maine, and raised in Watertown, N.Y., Shawcross was an awkward child who frequently fought with other children, a practice that earned him a reputation as a bully. He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, and enlisted in the Army, serving a tour of duty in the Vietnam war.
Upon his return to the states, Shawcross moved back to Watertown. In 1972, he lured Jack Owen Blake, 10, into the woods and sexually assaulted and murdered the boy. Four months later, he raped and killed an 8-year-old girl named Karen Ann Hill.
Shawcross later confessed to these slayings, but avoided a life sentence by cutting a deal with the prosecutor. In return for leading police to the bodies and pleading guilty to killing Hill, he would receive a 25-year sentence and no charges for the Blake murder. Shawcross spent 15 years in prison before being released on parole in 1987.
The following year, he settled in Rochester, N.Y., and began a killing spree that would earn him the name: “The Genesee River Killer.”
From 1988 to 1990, Shawcross murdered 11 women: Patricia Ives, Frances Brown, June Cicero, Darlene Trippi, Anna Marie Steffen, Dorothy Blackburn, Kimberly Logan, June Stotts, Marie Welch, Elizabeth Gibson and Dorothy Keller. Most of his victims were strangled and beaten to death; several were also mutilated, their body parts consumed. The press gave Shawcross the ominous moniker because most of the women’s bodies were dumped near the Genesee River.
With the assistance of several FBI profilers and experts, the police set up surveillance on the body of the final victim and caught Shawcross hanging out near the dump site. He confessed to the killing spree while in custody, telling police he was “takin’ care of business,” but later pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
During the 13-week televised trial, the defense offered testimony from psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis that claimed Shawcross suffered from multiple personality disorder, brain damage and post-traumatic stress disorder. The jury didn’t buy the argument and found him guilty and sane after only 6 1/2 hours of deliberations. He was sentenced to 250 years in prison, one of the longest sentences ever handed down in New York state.
Shawcross’ crimes were chronicled in the 1992 book “Arthur Shawcross: The Genesee River Killer” by Joel Norris, which included a recording of his confession, and in the 1993 book, “The Misbegotten Son” by Jack Olsen. He was also featured in several programs dealing with serial killers as well as the 2003 HBO documentary, “Cannibal: The Real Hannibal Lecters.”
While behind bars, Shawcross married and later divorced Clara D. Neal. He also reconnected with his only daughter, Margaret Deming of Brooklyn, N.Y., and began painting portraits that were included in an annual inmate art show at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, N.Y. The “Corrections on Canvas” show, which had been staged for 35 years, was discontinued in 2002, after the public protested that Shawcross was profiting from the sale of his pictures.