ROCHESTER, NY — On January 5, 1990, serial killer Arthur J. Shawcross was arrested — just one day after the state police spotted him near the frozen body of one of his victims.
Shawcross was eventually convicted of raping, strangling, suffocating, or beating to death 11 women in the Rochester area over a 21-month period in the late 1980s. He was also was previously found guilty for the murder of two children in the Watertown area that took place years before the Rochester killings.
Shawcross, a ninth grade dropout, enlisted in the Army at age 19. He would later claim to have murdered two Vietnamese girls during his time in the war, but his claims were never proven. He even claimed to have cooked a piece of flesh from one of their thighs and eaten it.
After Vietnam, Shawcross married four times, but his marriages all broke down due to his bizarre behavior and criminal acts. He relocated to Watertown where, in May 1972, he murdered 10-year-old Jake Blake. He also extracted Blake’s heart and genitals and devoured them. He also later admitted to his prison psychiatrist’s that he had repeated post-mortem sex with the boy’s body.
Four months later, he raped and killed an eight-year-old girl named Karen Ann Hill. Shockingly, Shawcross was able to plead guilty to a charge of manslaughter instead of first-degree murder in the killing of Hill, and in a plea bargain, the charge of killing Jake Blake was dropped.
By 1987, after serving almost 15 years in prison, Shawcross was back out on the streets and living in Watertown. Soon, he was killing again. Over a 21-month period, he habitually cruised the area where he could pick up prostitutes and homeless women. He began to be known by the working women as “Mitch.”
On a rampage, he murdered Patricia Ives, 25; Frances Brown, 22; June Cicero, 34; Darlene Trippi, 32; Anne Marie Steffen, 28; Dorothy Blackburn, 27; Kimberly Logan, 30; June Stott, 30; Marie Welch, 22; Elizabeth Gibson, 29; Felicia Stephens, 20; and Dorothy Keeler, 59.
In some of these cases, Shawcross would mutilate the women, bite chunks from the victim’s sex organs, consume flesh from their bodies, and have sex with their corpses. Unlike many killers, Shawcross didn’t have a consistent MO, targeting both children and adults, sometimes sexually assaulting the bodies and sometimes not. Some of the victims were mutilated and some were not; some were bludgeoned, some were killed with knives, etc. He also crossed lines of gender and race with his victims, which makes him unusual.
The heartless killer was finally apprehended when he revisited the scene of one of the victims, June Cicero, most likely hoping to indulge in necrophiliac sex with the remains. He was spotted by a police helicopter which was in the area as authorities had also spotted the corpse and were searching the site. He had pulled his car over and was urinating in a bottle when the cops spotted him. The cops questioned him, but allowed him to go home. That night, they looked into his background, and learned he was on parole for the Watertown child murders. They were also able to have his photo identified as the “Mitch” known to the prostitutes, and found other suspicious evidence against him. The next day, they brought him in again.
On December 13, 1990, after a 13-week trial that was one of the longest — and most expensive — in the county’s history, Shawcross was sentenced to 250 years in prison. The jurors rejected the defense’s claim that he was insane at the time of the killings because of brain damage, childhood abuse, and traumatic experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. As part of his insanity defense, he would speak in different voices and claimed to be possessed by a cannibal from medieval England.
One of the psychiatrists involved with the trial, a Dr. Kraus, did report, however, that Shawcross was:
“an emotionally unstable, learning disabled, genetically impaired, biochemically disordered, neurologically damaged individual, psychologically alienated from significant others during his entire life, venting his frustration and rage, mixed with fear and defiance in a lifetime of ever more violent and destructive aggression, which ultimately turned to overpowering murderous fury.”
In October 1999, prison authorities sent Shawcross into nine months of solitary confinement after they found out he was selling autographs and paintings he had made in prison on eBay. Because of this controversy, in 2002, the prison’s annual inmate art show was canceled and art made in the prison was no longer allowed to be sold.
Shawcross died in 2008 while in prison. He was 63.
To learn more about Arthur Shawcross, watch the “Body Snatcher” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Evil, I on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Arthur Shawcross [Real Stories/YouTube screenshot]