The Genesee River Serial Killer was a man who had previously spent more than 14 years in prison for the murder of two children – and then was released to kill again.
Arthur Shawcross was released from prison in 1987 after serving 14 1/2 years for the murder of two children. Initially, he was sent by the state parole board to live in Binghamton, N.Y., but when the parole board informed police that Shawcross would be living in the city, he was harassed and hounded. The parole board moved him. The pattern continued in every city until he was moved to Rochester. N.Y.
Shawcross wasn’t harassed in Rochester because no one knew he had moved into town. His arrival was never announced to the police department.
Shawcross was able to settle there with his fourth wife, Rose. He met Rose while in prison for the murder of the children, and the two soon were married.
Bodies of Prostitutes Are Found Dead
Before long, the murders began, starting in February of 1988 with prostitute Dorothy Blackburn. Shawcross claimed he had never visited prostitutes in the past and hadn’t planned to start, but couldn’t resist them once introduced.
“You meet a prostitute on the street and it’s like a kid in a candy store,” Shawcross told A&E’s Biography during an episode about him.
Shawcross was a regular by 1988, and killed Blackburn because she bit him, Shawcross said. In retaliation he strangled her and put her body in the creek. A fisherman found her body within a week, police said.
“Things like that, where I did something wrong, I put it on a shelf and I close the door,” Shawcross told Biography. “I forget about it.”
During the next two years the murders would continue and become more frequent until Shawcross was picked up by police in on Jan. 5, 1990. He had committed his 14th and last murder the previous day when he strangled prostitute Felicia Stevens with the automatic window on his car, he said. Shawcross was never charged with Stevens murder.
Shawcross Enters Plea: Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity
In Oct. 1990, ten months after his arrest, Shawcross plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Defense psychologist Dorothy Ortnow Lewis testified that Shawcross suffered from dissociative disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his service in the Vietnam War.
Her testimony wasn’t enough to send Shawcross to a mental hospital instead of jail, though. After only 12 hours, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts for Shawcross. He was sentenced to 250 years in prison at Sullivan Correctional Facility in New York.
After his conviction, Shawcross showed very little remorse for the murders, telling Biography “I feel sorry for a lot of things and I don’t feel sorry for other things.”
Murders Could Have Been Prevented
After 18 years in prison, Shawcross died of cardiac arrest at the age of 63 on Nov. 10, 2008. Even after his death, there are those in the community who feel the last twelve of Shawcross’ murders could have been avoided if he had been kept in jail after the murders of two children in 1972. Prosecuting attorney Charles Siragusa is one of those critics.
“It certainly raises questions,” Sigarusa told Biography. “If he had been held responsible for the murder and received the maximum sentence of 25 to life, he would never have been out on the streets to commit the crimes in Rochester.”
Read about Arthur Shawcross‘ first murders, background, and childhood.
- Arthur Shawcross. Biography. Season 1, Episode 43. A&E Full Length Episode on Hulu.com
- Ramsland, Katherine. The Genessee River Strangler. CrimeTv.com