Arthur John Shawcross killed 14 women between March 1988 and December 1989 after he was allowed an early release from prison in March 1987, having been found “fit to re-enter society”. He was serving time for manslaughter to which he had pleaded guilty under a plea bargain deal. Barely a year later, he began killing. Again. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the story of the infamous Genesee River Killer.
Karen had been seen with Arthur right before her disappearance, and when someone told the police that Arthur had also been seen eating ice-cream near the place where the body had been found, the police interrogated Arthur for an entire day. Arthur struck a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Karen Ann Hill, for which he was later awarded a prison sentence of twenty-five years. However, Arthur was never held to account for the murder and mutilation of Jack Blake.
Arthur Shawcross had taken Jack Blake into the woods, and after stripping him, he had made him run before sexually molesting him and strangling him to death. Arthur also admitted to cutting out the boy’s heart and genitals and eating them. He would also tell the prison psychiatrists that he had returned to the body several times to engage in sexual acts with the body. However, despite being a suspect, Arthur was not charged for want of evidence. Due to advanced decomposition, it was unclear if Jack had been sexually assaulted or mutilated although he had been clearly strangulated.
During his jail term in Green Haven Correctional Facility, New York, Arthur spent the first eight years guarding against harm from other inmates, many of whom considered killers of children deserving of violent, in-prison correction by fellow inmates. Arthur’s initial prison record reflects the struggle with numerous reports of fighting and refusals to leave cell. The term being lengthy, Arthur eventually settled in and came to be considered a “model prisoner”.
Not all psychiatrists reported as favourably though. In 1976, Dr. Michael Boccia found that Arthur was yet to come to terms with what he had done and continued to deflect blame elsewhere. In June 1977, Dr. Haveliwala found Arthur to have a schizoid personality and unresolved “psychosexual conflicts”. In the meanwhile, Arthur trained as a locksmith and had also taken a course in horticulture and had started preparing for General Equivalency Diploma. Ironically, he had also started counseling patients with mental health issues. Two years later, another psychiatric report found Arthur “of abnormal character traits with psychosexual tendencies”.
Although Arthur had been released, his parole conditions were stringent. He had to stay within Broome county and indoors between 11:00 p.m. and 07:00 a.m., had to stay clear of alcoholic beverage, anyone below the age of eighteen and schools or any such place where he could come in contact with children. If Arthur was unsafe without such conditions, the society was better off with him locked away. As it turned out, the society was not really willing to take Arthur back anyway. The residents of Watertown refused to let Arthur live in their midst. So, he was placed in the Binghamton area, but the residents objected to his presence.
He was then moved to Delhi, New York, where he moved into the apartment of his pen-pal Rosy Walley. Once again, the residents of the area asked Arthur to leave. He along with Rosy, who was by now his girlfriend, moved to the basement of the Baptist church in Delhi for such time as it might take to find them a suitable place. Later, Arthur and Rosy moved to Fleischmanns, New York, but Arthur was again recognized at the local post office and an angry mob led by the mayor of the town came to his house and demanded Arthur’s immediate departure.
They had to move again and after shuttling around for some time, they got an apartment in Rochester, New York. According to Arthur, they got tired of the parole board’s interference and found an apartment for themselves, got jobs and settled. Arthur’s new job was to pack boxes of salad for a company.
Until Christmas 1987, Arthur lived a normal life. For Christmas, he asked his family to visit them in Rochester. His family refused and when his sister told him that the family had visited her in Virginia and had told her that they had returned his Christmas presents, Arthur was livid. Soon after Arthur got into a relationship with Clara Neal and borrowed her car frequently. He maintained both the relationships and told Rosy that he was just being good to Clara so that he could borrow her car.
In February 1988, he rode on his bike to Clara’s place one evening and borrowed her car. He drove around aimlessly until he reached Lake Avenue, which was in an industrial area where one could easily find drugs and cheap prostitutes.
Arthur was driving down slowly when Dorothy “Dotsie” Blackburn gestured him to stop and asked if he wanted a “date”, which Arthur agreed to. The two went to a car park behind a warehouse, where Arthur paid Dotsie thirty dollars for mutual oral sex. However, during the act, Dotsie bit him on the penis hard enough to draw blood, Arthur claimed. He retaliated by biting on her vagina and then held her by the throat and squeezed until she was unconscious. He tried to stop the bleeding from his penis and tied Dotsie up with her own clothes. He drove away from the place, out of town and along State Route 104 until he reached Salmon River in Northampton Park. This was one of his favourite places for fishing.
She regained consciousness. When Arthur told her that he was going to rape her, she called him names and hurled taunts at him, which incensed Arthur. He threatened to kill her, but she carried on hurling abuses at him. Angered further, he strangled her to death. He waited until midnight in the car with the dead body and then carried the body to the bridge over the river and dropped it into the river. He drove back to Rochester and kept driving around Lake Avenue checking if anybody suspected that the woman he had just killed had gone missing. No such sign. Assured, he went to a coffee shop to relax. An hour later he came back to the car, grabbed the dead woman’s clothing and other things and dumped them in a garbage bin.
The next morning, he cleaned the car up and drove it back to Clara and rode back home on his bike. Since his behaviour had always been a bit erratic, his acting strange was not strange at all. So, neither of the two women suspected anything. Lake Avenue became Arthur’s hunting ground in the following months. He became a regular and was known as “Mitch” among the prostitutes of the area, who trusted him. Blackburn’s body was found on March 24, 1988. The cold had preserved the body but flowing water had washed off all forensic evidence. Notably, part of her vagina had been cut away.
He killed next in June 1989, but the victim this time was not a prostitute but a 58-year-old, homeless Dorothy Keller, who worked at a diner Arthur frequented, which was where he befriended her. The friendship turned into an affair quickly. One day, she accompanied Arthur for fishing. They spent a large part of the day fishing and making love. Around midday, it started raining and the two took cover under a temporary shelter Arthur had build some time back. They got into an argument about her stealing money and about the other two women – Clara and Rosy – in Arthur’s life. Arthur later told that when Keller threatened to tell Clara and Rosy about their affair, he got angry and hit her on the head with a small log. She fell dead. He hid her body under a fallen tree before getting back home. He later returned to the body and took off her head and dumped it into the river. The remains were later found by fishermen, but Arthur could never be connected to Keller’s death and was not prosecuted for the offence.
Patty Ives, another prostitute from Lake Avenue, was the next victim. Arthur claimed that she offered sex for twenty-dollars and the two went to a construction. While the two were having sex, Arthur said, he found her taking his wallet. He pressed her down to the ground hard, and when she started crying, he raped her anally and started strangling her and kept on until she was dead. He placed the body under the construction material lying around and waited until it was dark before leaving for home.
Frances Brown, another Lake Avenue prostitute, was Arthur’s next victim. The circumstances were much the same except that Arthur claimed to have killed Brown by choking her with his penis as he had oral sex with her and continued to have oral sex with her body post-mortem. He cast her body down an embankment nearby and while he did not care to hide the body, the body dragged so much of debris with it that it looked like it had been concealed.
By this time media had started calling the serial killer “The Rochester Nightstalker”, “The Rochester Strangler” and “The Genesee River Killer”. June Stotts, a friend of both Arthur and Rosy, was Arthur’s next victim. She was mildly retarded. Arthur spotted her by the river on a November day and on Arthur’s suggestion the two went for a ride together. The two drove down to a beach where they enjoyed the beach for a while before walking to a nearby deserted area and had sex. While they were at it, Arthur claims, he made a passing remark about her not being a virgin, which triggered something in her and she started screaming. To prevent her from screaming, Arthur pressed his hand on her mouth keeping the pressure on until she stopped screaming. She was dead. To facilitate quicker decomposition, Arthur cut her up and placed a blanket over her, and left. He also claimed that he had cut out her vagina and some other organs and eaten them.
Maria Welch, another prostitute, was picked by Arthur from Lake Avenue and taken to the banks of the Genesee River, where they agreed on a price and started having sex. Welch, Arthur said, tried stealing his wallet. Enraged, he strangled her. The story did not remain consistent. At another point, Arthur told the investigators that he got angry on discovering she was menstruating and killed her in rage. He dumped Welch’s body in the bushes near the river.
On November 23, 1988, Arthur picked Darlene Trippi from Lake Avenue and drove to a deserted parking lot. He paid her for oral sex, but had an erectile dysfunction. She eventually got frustrated and started calling him names, which, Arthur claimed, angered him. He choked her to death and discarded her body in the wooded area making no effort to conceal it.
In December 1988, Arthur killed Elizabeth Gibson similarly, and later claimed she was trying to steal his wallet. He drove down to Wayne County to dump her body so that she was found away from his usual dumping grounds. Two weeks later, despite police presence and increased vigilance, Arthur picked June Cicero. They went to a deserted area to have sex, but Arthur failed to perform. He strangled her to death and dropped the body from a bridge on the Salmon River. He returned to the site two days later with a handsaw, cut her vagina out and ate it. Felicia Stephens was Arthur’s last victim, but Arthur said he could not recall much about her except that she was black and he had strangled her to death before dumping her body where he had discarded the bodies of Cicero and Blackburn. His tendency to revisit the bodies led to his capture.
On January 3, 1990, Arthur decided to pay a visit to Cicero’s body at Salmon Creek in Northampton Park, and have lunch there. He prepared a salad at work and proceeded. Since he had not been following the developments in the investigation, he did not know of increased surveillance. He saw no cars parked, and stopped to have lunch looking at Jean’s body. He was spotted by a police helicopter, which alerted the ground patrol and followed Arthur until the ground police caught up and began questioning Arthur. Eventually, Arthur confessed and provided the details.
Trial, Conviction and Sentence
Arthur, on the advice of his court-appointed lawyers, pleaded not-guilty. The only defence that Arthur’s attorneys pleaded with any force was childhood trauma, which remained unresolved during adulthood, compounded by his war experience in Vietnam leading to Arthur’s psychotic breakdown resulting in the crimes he committed. Prosecution, on the other hand, brought one forensic psychiatrist after another to prove that Arthur had no real defence. Arthur sat expressionless throughout the trial perhaps to impress upon the jury that he was in advanced psychosis. The jury did not find the need to deliberate for too long and returned with a unanimous verdict in just six-and-a-half hours finding Arthur guilty. He was awarded two hundred and fifty years in prison in February 1991. He served the sentence at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York, until he died of cardiac arrest at 9:50 p.m. on November 10, 2008.