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Serial killer Arthur Shawcross dead at 63

Serial killer Arthur Shawcross, who was serving life in prison for strangling 11 women in the Rochester area, has died at 63.
Image: Arthur Shawcross
Arthur J. Shawcross, then 44, is shown in this police booking photo in 1990.AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Serial killer Arthur Shawcross, who was serving life in prison for strangling 11 women in the Rochester area, has died at 63.

Shawcross died late Monday at an Albany hospital, where he had been taken after complaining of leg pain earlier in the day at the Sullivan Correctional Facility, Corrections Department spokesman Erik Kriss said Tuesday. The cause of death was still under investigation, he said.

Shawcross' 13-week trial in 10 of the killings included graphic testimony about mutilation and cannibalism.

Shawcross, also known as the Genessee River Killer, was blamed for a wave of slayings discovered between 1988 and 1990 in the downtown Rochester area. Authorities said he preyed primarily upon prostitutes, raping and mutilating his victims before dumping their bodies in out-of-the-way locations throughout the city.

At the time, he was on parole after serving 15 years in prison for killing two children in northern New York's Watertown in 1972.

Shawcross was arrested in January 1990, a day after state police spotted him near the frozen body of one of his victims.

In December 1990, he was convicted of killing 10 of the women after jurors deliberated only 6 1/2 hours. Jurors rejected defense arguments that he was legally insane at the time of the killings because of brain damage, abuse during childhood and his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam.

Three months later, Shawcross pleaded guilty to strangling a woman whose body was found Nov. 27, 1989, in woods in neighboring Wayne County.

Faking mental illness?
He did not testify during his trial, but jurors were shown videotapes of him being interviewed under hypnosis by a defense psychiatrist, Dr. Dorothy Lewis. He switched in and out of a high-pitched woman's voice and told Lewis he had once been a cannibal in medieval England. He also described childhood incestuous relations with a sister and wartime atrocities and cannibalism in Vietnam.

Image: Shawcross
Arthur J. Shawcross is returned to Jefferson County after pleading guilty on first degree manslaughter in the deaths of two children, aged 8 and 10, in Watertown, N.Y. on Oct. 17, 1972. Shawcross was sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in Attica State Correctional Facility. He is escorted by an unidentified sheriff's deputy. (AP Photo)

He told Lewis his mother's voice told him to kill his victims, and that she "helped him" strangle and mutilate one of the women.

But in videotaped interviews with a prosecution psychiatrist, Dr. Park Dietz, Shawcross said he never heard voices or had different personalities. Dietz argued that Shawcross was faking mental illness to avoid prison.

In 2002, protests over Shawcross profiting from his prison artwork prompted the state Corrections Department to discontinue its annual inmate art show and ban the sale of art produced in prisons.

Inmates bought their own art supplies and kept half the proceeds from their sales, with the other half going to the state Crime Victims Board. A portrait of the late Princess Diana was among 10 sketches and paintings by Shawcross that sold for as much as $540 each in 2001.