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From the time he was incarcerated, Arthur Shawcross consistently refused to be interviewed and it took several years of spasmodic correspondence before he changed his mind. When he did, the confirmation came in the form of a blunt, handwritten note, which said simply: 'I will see you.'
As part of the preparation for the interview, I set about talking to everyone who had been involved with Arthur's life and crimes, particularly Clara Neal, who, in her wisdom, feels that ARt should be released.
'I will keep him on tablets so he won't murder again,' she promised. 'Besides, we are getting married soon. I really love him. He is such a wonderfully gentle man.'
At 10:15am, Monday, 19 December 1994, the first interview started at the Sullivan Correctional Facility. Before being admitted into the serial killer's presence, the guards explained to me that Shawcross ws still considered a highly dangerous and formidable killing machine.
'He can revert to type within a microsecond,' they said. 'Should his features whiten, then tighten up, or should he break into a sweat, then get out of his way as fast as you can. He is strong enough to rip your head right off.'
Weighing in at around 20 stone, Arthur Shawcross is 5ft 11in tall. With a potato-shaped head topped with thin, silvery hair, a bulbous nose and small, black, ever-watery, pig-like eyes set close together, he is quite an intimidating sight. Massive arms hang from immensely strong sloping shoulders, his chest merging in a pot-belly which hangs over his belt. From his waist down, the shape of Shawcross is reversed. From the rolls of fat that circumnavigate his middle, he has short, stumpy legs that terminate in very small feet. All in all, one gets the impression that he is top-heavy and could topple over at any moment.
For the first of four interviews, we came face to face in a small locked cubicle. No one else was present while Shawcross was engrossed with eating his lunch. He greedily stuffed the food into his mouth, and his eyes were furtive, darting around as if someone was about to snatch his food away.
After he wiped the grease and food particles from his mouth, he was asked why he had eaten the body pats of many of his victims. Shawcross smiled, and said, 'Yes, sir, I have. The human meat, well, ah, it tastes like pork. I eat meat, uncooked meat, and it's like that. I eat hamburgers raw. I eat steak raw, an' I eat pork raw. I don't know why I ate parts of peopole, but I just did. Period.'
For a long moment, Shawcross fell silent. His podgy fingers fiddled nervously with a Styrofoam cup. His eyes scanned the ceiling as if he was searching for an invisible fly, then he added, 'Yeah, an' I ate another one with the bone. I just remeebered that.'
God, I thought. How can someone 'just remembered that'?
Although the truth of the matter is that Shawcross never fired a gun in anger while serving in Vietnam, he nevertheless wanted to boast about his service career during this period. TAlking about his favourite subject was a good way of gaining his confidence and, true to form, Shawcross came up with the goods. He explained that he had killed up to 50 people while out on what he called 'search and destroy missions'. He claimed, that he was tasked to destroy any living human he came across.
Despite the improbability of Arthur's gruesome acts, Arthur obviously enjoyed talking about them if only to cause shock waves. When pressed, this intellectual pygmy came up with a multitude of often-conflicting reasons in his efforts to mitigate his heinous behaviour. These ranged from various types of child abuse, especially incest, to his self-perceived Rambo-type activities carried out in Vietnam: 'The Army taught me how to kill. but it didn't teach me how not to kill. I have been a god unto myself. I've been the judge, the jury and the executioner. I have murdered, butchered and totally destroyed 53 human beings in my lifetime. I just wanna know why.'
Arthur's excuse for murdering prostitutes was equally bizarre. AT first, he stated that he was ordered by God to murder them because they all had AIDS. When questioned about the obvious fact that he had also raped and killed two young children, and two quite decent women, he clammed up and could not provide an answer. And, as the interviews progressed, he tripped himself up at every turn.
He admitted that he had murdered many of the women after having had sex with them. On another occasion, he strangled his victim because she bit his penis during fellatio, all of which somewhat flies in the face of him being ordered to kill them because they had AIDS. Another luckless sould he battered to a pulp after she had accidentally trapped her head in the window of his car. He went further to say that after dragging her two blocks, he stopped, and she calmly climbed into the car and asked him if he wanted sex. But, then, he changed his excuse once again: 'I went out with 80 to 100 women, including hookers. I was trying to find out why I was impotent, something like that.'
One girl had been murdered because she allegedly accused Art of stealing her purse. Antoher was slaughtered because she had stolen money from his home, and then threatened to tell Mrs. Shawcross that her husband was having an affair. Then Arthur argued that he was suffering from a rare genetic disorder, and this was why he turned to serial homicide, changing tack almost immediately to blame his four wives for denying him sex so that he had to go out and find hookers to kill. Finally, he said that bright lights give him terrible headaches, and this is the cause of his problems.
In an effort to tap into the black abyss of Shawcross's mind, I questioned him about the emotions he experienced prior to, and during the acts of murder. True to form, he did not disappoint with his answer.
'It was a combination of the quietness of the area, the starlight, an' I got sweating an' stuff. I can't control that. I strangled most of them, an' it ain't like on TV where they just drop dead. In real life, they can hold their breath for three minutes, and up to seven minutes before they suscumm [sic]. One woman, well, just as I was strangling her, she said, "I know who you are." Then she went limp an' she didn't feel nothing. She just went limp.'
Asked why some of his victims' bodies bore multiple bruising while some had been disembowelled and other had had vegetation debris forced into their body orifices, he started to become agitated. His fingers and hands constantly fidgeted, and his eyes darted around the room.
After a few moments, he regained his composure, replying 'Yes, sir. Some of the bodies, yeah, they had bruises on them. That's where I knelt over them with my body weight, or I dragged 'em into the rushes down by the water's edge. I cut 'em open so's they'd rot a lot quicker that way. Kinda gutted 'em like fish an' stuff. The other stuff. Well, I just don't need to talk with you about this just yet.'
Then he had the gall to ask me to be the Best Man at his forthcoming marriage to Clara Neal!