The Misbegotten Son: The True Story of Arthur J. Shawcross

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9780440216469: The Misbegotten Son: The True Story of Arthur J. Shawcross

An account of the life and crimes of convicted killer Arthur Shawcross describes how Shawcross, after being found guilty of the murders of two children, was released only to murder eleven prostitutes. Reprint.

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Review:

Accounts of more famous serial killers like Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer may have ghoulish entertainment value, but I agree with writer Darcy O'Brien that this meticulously factual study of child sex-murderer Arthur Shawcross "comes closer to capturing the psychology of a serial killer than anything else I've ever read." The strength of this book (semi-finalist for a 1994 Edgar Award) comes first from the quality of the materials--including first-person interviews with the killer's wives, girlfriends, co-workers, police officers, therapists, and even a prostitute who "played dead" for Shawcross--and second, from Olsen's ability to weave the information into a highly readable story that reveals, above all, the ineffectiveness of our system of rehabilitation and parole. Not only should it have been obvious to everyone, long before he killed anyone, that Shawcross was a ticking bomb of sexual sadism, but he should never have been released from prison to kill again.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Mesmerizing, mournful portrait of serial-killer/rapist Arthur Shawcross--who also practiced necrophilia and cannibalism--that digs deep to lay his tortured psyche bare. Olsen has profiled numerous madmen before (Predator, 1991, etc.) but rarely with such diligence--or one so heinous. He presents Shawcross's story in oral-history form, binding together testimony from the killer (mostly Q&A transcripts), cops, psychiatrists, relatives of Shawcross's victims, etc., with his own extensive narration. An expert storyteller, Olsen begins with high melodrama: the disappearance in 1972 in Watertown, New York, of ten-year-old Jack Blake--Shawcross's first victim, raped, mutilated, and killed. Despite the insistence of Jack's mother that neighbor Shawcross--then a notably eccentric 27-year-old Vietnam vet--had slain her boy, it took a second killing, of a local girl, to put Shawcross behind bars for a presumed 25 years. But after 14 years, the killer convinced a parole board of his rehabilitation and was freed. Moving to Rochester and marrying a prison pen-pal, Shawcross went on a years'-long spree of killing prostitutes. Dogged police work and a lucky break finally did him in. Olsen closely details Shawcross's gruesome crimes and the cops' counterpoint, but his focus is on motivation: What made Shawcross kill? The author excavates the murderer's early years, uncovering an unhappy home but no striking abuse; explores Shawcross's own rational--that he became a killer in Vietnam--and finds his stories of jungle savagery to be tall tales; and locates only a few clues in Shawcross's accounts of his murders. The unexpected answer is revealed at book's end, in testimony from a psychiatrist who discovered behind the killer's compulsion a terrible biological imperative: an extra Y chromosome and a rare chemical imbalance. Olsen explains Shawcross without excusing him, creating an unforgettable portrait, horrifying yet compassionate, of a doomed modern-day monster. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Olsen, Jack
Published by Island Books (1993)
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