Book Review: 'The Shawcross Letters'
Everyone has a dark side. Wicked, cruel, or perverse thoughts are filtered through and expunged from most of us by the ethical teachings of our parents, society, or other authority figures. Most of us.
Arthur Shawcross, known as the Genesee River Killer, terrorized Rochester, New York from 1972 to 1989, murdering (and at times cannibalizing) 14 women. In The Shawcross Letters: My Journey into the Mind of Evil, murderabilia aficionado and dealer John Paul Fay (co-written with Brian Whitney) reveals the pen pal friendship he developed with Arthur Shawcross while divulging his own inner demons and violent urges. This first-person account delves into the mind of an individual plagued with the unfiltered thoughts from his dark side and how his uncanny relationship with the Genesee River Killer gave him a sense of belonging.
The Shawcross Letters is not a biography of Arthur Shawcross; it is not an analysis of the criminal mind or an examination of Shawcross’ reign of terror. Instead, this story is Fay’s honest effort to shed light on the darker side of his personality and macabre fascinations (and, he admits, to help pay for his shrunken head collection). Fay’s friendship with Shawcross is the perfect conduit to illustrate, not only his own violent inclinations, but the loneliness produced by his murderous tendencies. It was with Shawcross that Fay felt able to speak freely and candidly of his own thoughts, dreams, and desires which had only proved to drive so many others away.
The Shawcross Letters is not for the faint of heart, and readers may be surprised by the lyrical and poetic descriptions of Fay’s malicious day dreams and self-expression. While Fay never asks for sympathy (for himself or especially for Shawcross), this read is suggested for hardcore fans of true crime or those with their own fascination with serial killers and the macabre.
Fay’s account of a volatile childhood filled with abuse and isolation, spiraling into a world of drugs, alcohol, black magic, and an obsession with death is accented with unedited letters from Shawcross during his time at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York. The letters are disturbing, even when they ramble on with mundane comments, because underneath each word is an unapologetic madman who continued to feel the thrill of his kills and hinted to Fay to follow his malignant urges: “Be good or be good at it” is how many of the letters are punctuated. In sharing the letters to him from Shawcross, Fay opens a Pandora Box, disclosing his most guarded thoughts, shameful deeds, and painful memories.
The Shawcross Letters is an eye-opening; hard to put down read that doesn’t just explore the mind of a madman, but takes the reader into it.
Cover photo courtesy of WildBlue Press