Portrait of a Killer and Pathological Liar
Florida Institute of Technology
June 16, 2012
Serial killer Arthur John Shawcross, also called the Rochester Strangler or the Genesee River Killer, was prolific in the short time that he was an active killer. From March 1988 to December 1989, Shawcross is believed to have killed 12 women, mostly prostitutes in the Rochester, New York, area and then dumping most of the bodies nearby in areas where he liked to hunt and fish. Interestingly, the initial profile of the killer was extremely accurate once compared to Shawcross, but police were stymied in finding him because of bureaucratic snafus that hid the fact that they had a convicted violent sex offender living in the neighborhood where the attacks occurred. This discussion is intended to look at the psychology of the serial killer, focusing on Shawcross in particular, and evaluate how well various media relayed his story after the fact. Furthermore, this paper will look at the traits of male killers and how they relate to Shawcross' case, as well as typology; biological and/or environmental factors may have contributed to this individual’s behavior; psychogenetics; as well as paraphilia’s and victimology he exhibited. It is hoped, that this writing will give the reader some insight to the life of this monster as well as the realization that these killers walk and live among us, possibly right next door or working beside you, or teaching your children.
One of the reasons for psychologists to study Arthur Shawcross is that they did everything right in profiling and identifying this serial killer, but he eluded police for a year, hunting and killing almost literally right under their noses, because of a flawed judicial/prison system. Perhaps the best understanding of Shawcross comes from the true crime novel The Misbegotten Son by Jack Olsen. Olsen conducted dozens of interviews with Shawcross, his family and friends and his victims' families. Though his serial killing spree may perhaps be blamed on the New York prison system that let him out on parole after serving 14 years of a 25 year sentence, he is a perfect case study for psychologists, especially those in profiling, because he adheres to many of the metaphors and beliefs about where serial killers come from. Background
Over the course of his interviews with psychologists during his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and even dating back to his original conviction for manslaughter, Shawcross saw the value of claiming that he had all the background behaviors that psychologists associate with mental illness. At various points, he claimed to have been molested, to molesting a younger sister, to bed-wetting, homosexuality, bestiality and more (Olsen, 1993; Yuku, 1999). "Arthur Shawcross' parents dispute his claims that he was molested as a child, but it's clear that he was troubled," (Biography.com, n.d.). What seems equally likely is that Shawcross, who proved to be a master at manipulation and deceit, was aware of the developmental risk factors for adult anti-social behavior and claimed to have exhibited them as an attempt to get away with his behaviors. In their book Criminal Behavior: A Psychological Approach, Curt Bartol and Anne Bartol list more than a dozen risk factors for anti-social behavior (2011, p. 42). Physical and emotional abuses are considered family risks and low IQ scores, which Shawcross had as verified by his school records, can be earlier indicators of a future problem (Bartol & Bartol, 2011). One analyst argues that Shawcross is almost a perfect argument for nature versus nurture, believing that his stories of abuse were just that, stories, and that the serial killer developed from a typical, "normal" childhood, (Yuku, 1999). What is verifiable from outside sources is that Shawcross was a slow learner, held...