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Serial killer Arthur Shawcross murdered 11 women from 1988 to 1990 in upstate New York, earning the nickname "The Genessee River Killer."
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On his return from military duty in 1968, he landed in trouble yet again when he was caught and convicted for an arson attack. Shawcross served two years of a five-year jail term. He was released in October 1971 and returned to Watertown again. A year later, on April 7, 1972, he claimed his first victim: 10-year-old neighbor Jack Blake. Shawcross took him fishing just a few days before he disappeared, but denied any knowledge of the disappearance. Several weeks later on April 22, 1972,
he married his third wife, Penny Sherbino, who was pregnant with his child.
Five months later, his victim's body was finally located. He had been sexually assaulted and suffocated, but police had no leads to the identity of the killer. Jack Blake would be the first of many more victims.
In September 1972, the body of 8-year-old Karen Ann Hill was found under a bridge. She had been raped and murdered. Police found mud, leaves and other debris had been forced down her throat and inside her clothing. Neighbors remembered that Shawcross had been seen with Karen in the vicinity of the bridge before her disappearance, and he had a history of minor run-ins with local children. Shawcross came under immediate suspicion.
He was arrested on October 3, 1972, and finally confessed to both killings, although he was only charged with Karen Hill's killing, given the lack of evidence tying him to Jack Blake's death. He received a 25-year jail sentence, and third wife Penny divorced him shortly thereafter.
After serving less than 15 years of this sentence, he was released on parole in April 1987. The well-publicized resettlement of a child killer in the Binghamton area of New York State was greeted by a public outcry, and he was forced to leave the area after a few months along with his new girlfriend, Rose Whalley.
His past meant that he would be unwelcome almost anywhere, and the authorities made the decision to seal his criminal record in order to prevent a recurrence of the public alarm in Binghamton. They moved Shawcross and Whalley to Rochester, New York, where she became his fourth wife. In Rochester, Shawcross took on a succession of menial jobs. His lackluster marriage to Whalley meant that he was soon seeking solace elsewhere, both from prostitutes as well as his new girlfriend, Clara Neal.
It did not take long for Shawcross to return to his murderous ways. Hunters discovered his next victim, 27-year-old prostitute Dorothy Blackburn, on March 24, 1988. Her body was found in the Genessee River, dumped there following a vicious attack, which included bite marks in the groin area and strangulation.
With little evidence, and no public impetus to solve the murder of a prostitute, her case languished for over a year. There were other murders of prostitutes in that time but, given the danger of the profession, nothing untoward was noticed that linked any of the cases.
The discovery of the body of another prostitute, Anna Steffen, on September 9, 1989, linked several of the victims.
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