L-R victim Karen Hill, Shawcross with his “adopted” daughter Margaret Deming and granddaughter, Arthur Shawcross, and victim Jack Blake
WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS GRAPHIC VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL MATERIAL THAT IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR ALL READERS.
It is time to make up for lost time. I’ve promised to post 4 articles every month and I’m determined to post this article and one more before the first of September. Watch me!
Today I am writing about a killer close to my my original home, Rochester, New York. Only the people who lived in the Monroe County New York region or the Thousand Island/St. Lawrence River area, or who are obsessed with true crime probably recognize the name Arthur Shawcross. In 2008 he died in prison of heart failure at age 63 while serving a life sentence for killing 12 women in Rochester.
Arthur, called “Artie” by his mother, was the oldest of four children born at a Naval hospital in Kittery Maine. He grew up in northern central New York State in the small city of Watertown, near the 1000 Islands area of the St. Lawrence River that borders the U.S. and Canada. He was known as a peculiar child who spoke baby talk until he was 14 and hid under radiators and the teacher’s desk although he was a bully at school. Although he earned As and Bs in kindergarten, his reported IQ was 86 a below average score and he repeated at least three elementary grades and dropped out of school in 9th grade. He was a suspect in several burglary and arson cases and in 1963 was arrested and placed on probation for breaking a shop window. While family members dispute his accusations, he claimed he was sexually molested by his mother and aunt and had sex with his sisters. He mauled small animals, wet his bed, and was a suspect in several arson and burglary cases, characteristics known as the MacDonald Triad, common childhood traits of serial killers.
Despite his rough ways, Shawcross seemed to be popular with the ladies. In 1964 when he was 20, he married Sarah Chatterton and they had a son together. He continued to get involved in illegal activities and Sarah divorced him in 1966; Arthur readily gave up his parental rights. In September 1967 he married his second wife, Linda Neary. It may have been her good fortune that Shawcross was drafted into the military the following month, where he served for more than a year in Vietnam. Years later he claimed to have killed more than 40 Vietnamese, describing abuse and torture he inflicted in graphic detail. His army records indicated that he was a supply clerk and did not kill anyone during his service. He was discharged in 1969, then convicted of arson for burning down Crowley’s Cheese factory and Knowlton Brothers Paper Mill and sentenced to five years in Attica prison. Neary divorced him.
His killing did not begin in 1988 when he murdered and mutilated the first of a 10 prostitutes and a mentally impaired neighbor. He had been a dangerous man since 1972 when at age 27 he was convicted of sexually abusing and killing 11-year-old Jack Black and 8-year-old Karen Hill in Watertown where his mother Bessie had settled with her children while their father completed his military service.
Jack Blake was a neighborhood child whom Artie often took fishing in a meandering local stream. Witnesses saw them together at their regular spot on April 7, 1972. That was the last time anyone saw Jack alive. Later Artie was observed eating ice cream on the bridge where they regularly fished. Blake’s body was not found until five months later. The small boy had been sexually molested and asphyxiated. On April 22nd, Shawcross married his third wife Penny Sherbino, a girl he had known in high school. She was pregnant with his child at the time but miscarried four months later.
About a month after the discovery of Blake’s body, on September 2nd, 8-year-old Karen Hill was reported missing. Her mother questioned Shawcross repeatedly because she knew her daughter talked to him and was seen in his company frequently. His answers were vague but when she told police they seemed disinterested. Her body was discovered later that month under a bridge that crossed the Black River, a place Shawcross was frequently seen. She had been sexually molested and her mouth and clothing stuffed with mud and leaves.
Shawcross was soon picked up for questioning. At first he denied knowledge of either case but quickly confessed to both killings. Fearing he would not be convicted of the Jack Blake murder due to lack of corroborating evidence, the district attorney offered him a plea: If he accepted a sentence of 25 years for the murder of Karen Hill and agreed to show police where he had buried Jack Blake’s body, he would not be prosecuted for the Blake case. He accepted the plea and served 14 1/2 years of his sentence. He had been a model prisoner during his incarceration, earning his GED and passing a horticulture class, and was given excellent references by prison staff. He was paroled in April 1987. Well-publicized attempts to resettle in Watertown and then in Binghamton NY were not successful and the parole board finally decided to seal his criminal records and relocate him with his girlfriend, Rose Whalley, a few hundred miles south and east in Rochester New York. Apparently their relationship did not meet his needs and he soon acquired a girlfriend, Clara Neal. Nonetheless he married Rose, who became his fourth wife, in 1989. [He later married Clara, wife number five, during his final incarceration.]
Shawcross worked a number of short-lived menial jobs, the last as a salad maker for a produce company. In spite of having a wife, a girlfriend, and a job, he was able to make time to cruise Rochester’s “red light district” on run-down Lyell Avenue. Pretty 27-year-old Dorothy Blackburn was one of them. She disappeared on March 24, 1988 and was discovered dumped in the Genesee River after she had been viciously attacked, bitten in the groin, and strangled. On September 11th the body of prostitute Anna Steffen was discovered near the Blackburn dump site, and on October 21st, the asphyxiated body of a homeless woman 59-year-old Dorothy Keeler was discovered. The body of Patty Ives, sexually abused and strangled, was found 6 days later, on October 27th. While prostitutes were often involved with drugs and found themselves in dangerous situations, Rochester police were now convinced they were looking for a serial killer. They warned the women who cruised the Lake-Lyell avenues to be cautious of strangers and travel in pairs. Arthur Shawcross, though, was a well-known figure to the girls who worked the streets and they did not consider him dangerous.
June Stotts, age 30, was Arthur’s friend. She was neither a prostitute nor a drug-user. He picked her up on the street on October 23rd and they drove to a nearby beach where they had sex, then argued. Stotts was strangled, anally abused postmortem, then her body split open from neck to crotch, and partially eviscerated; her body was discovered on Thanksgiving Day. After June’s slaying, Shawcross strangled and mutilated Frances Brown, Maria Welch, Elizabeth Gibson, Darlene Trippi, Felicia Stevens, and June Cicero.
On January 3, 1990, a police helicopter covering route 31 near Northampton Park where a wallet and boots belonging to Felicia Stevens had been discovered, saw a car stopped on a bridge over Salmon Creek. The occupant was outside the passenger side of the vehicle and below him, frozen in the creek ice, was the nude body of a woman later identified as June Cicero. This was not the first time Shawcross had visited her body, he told police. Two days after the murder he had returned to the scene with a hand saw, cut out her vagina, and ate it. While the vagina had been cut, the cannibalism allegation was never proven Arthur Shawcross had been her last trick on the night of December 18th. She had bragged to police earlier that day that the killer didn’t worry her. She could take care of herself. He should be afraid of her, she had claimed.
Arthur Shawcross justified every murder he committed except the murders of the children, Those he repeatedly refused to discuss. In one videotaped interview, however, he told the questioner that he did not want to talk about the children because he regretted those crimes and felt shame. For the other victims, he always found an excuse. The prostitutes made fun of his inability to perform sexually, he claimed. Several tried to steal his wallet. One bit his penis during oral sex. His written confession was 80 pages long.
He never expressed remorse for any of his crimes and in fact said he was unable to feel any emotion about them. In November 1990 he was tried for 10 cases of second degree murder (one occurred in an adjacent county and was tried separately) and sentenced to 250 years in New York State’s Sullivan Correctional Facility. On November 8, 2008 he complained of leg pains and was transferred to an Albany hospital where he died the same day.