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The Misbegotten Son: The True Story of Arthur J. Shawcross Mass Market Paperback – September 1, 1993


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Island Books (September 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 044021646X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440216469
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 4 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 Publishers Weekly

An experienced and skilled writer, Olsen ( Predator ) proves himself equal to the formidable task of studying serial killer Arthur Shawcross. Born in 1945 in upstate New York, Shawcross was perceived as different even in childhood (his classmates dubbed him "Oddie," and elementary school officials called for mental health evaluations). In the early '70s he murdered two children and was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison; he served less than 15 years before he was paroled in 1987. He was difficult to place--townspeople drove him out as soon as his past became known. After three such episodes, parole officials sent him surreptitiously to Rochester, N.Y., where he killed at least 11 prostitutes. He was arrested in 1990 and eventually sentenced to 250 years in prison. During the trial, he claimed that he had been physically and sexually abused by his mother (untrue, the authorities concluded) and that he had committed horrible atrocities in Vietnam (probably untrue). He did not fit the classic pattern of the sociopath, nor did he seem either schizophrenic or paranoid. It remained for psychiatrist Richard Kraus to hypothesize that physiology was the basis for Shawcross's behavior--he diagnosed Shawcross as suffering from a metabolic ailment known as pyroluria and an abnormal genetic constitution. Told by Olsen with contributions from others affected by Shawcross's crimes, the story is a triumph of true-crime writing. Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club and True Crime Book Club selections; optioned for a TV miniseries; author tour.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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This book was excellently written.
Mary Beth Whatford
Particularly interesting to me was the evaluation done by Dr. Kraus.
J. Wilson
I highly recommend this book to whoever is keen on true crime.
Pignatti Sofia

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By sweetmolly on February 19, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Arthur Shawcross is to be pitied, but you just cannot. From the time he was a child, he knew he was "different," but never knew why, nor did he receive any insights by family or counselors. Shawcross grew up in a tiny village in upstate New York, quit school in the 9th grade after being held back twice, served in the Army and then his life fell apart. He brutally murdered 10-year old Jack Blake, for which he was suspected but never arrested. He subsequently murdered 8-year old Karen Hill and was convicted. After plea-bargaining, he received a 25-year sentence of which he served 14+ years and was released on parole.
Why was he released? Basically because he was cunning and shrewd. He did everything he could to be a model prisoner, and none of the mental health team could diagnose him. Though a few psychologists thought he should never be allowed to live in an open society, there was little they could do to hold him beyond 15 years. Shortly after his release, he began a two-year killing spree, murdering 11 prostitutes before being captured. I had the strong feeling there were many more murders that we will never know about.
Jack Olsen takes us through Arthur's life via an oral history and taped Q and A interview with Shawcross. The book is brilliant. By letting the people closest to Shawcross tell their stories in their own words, interwoven with dispassionate analysis, the author rivets our attention and interest. At the conclusion, a dogged psychiatrist finally uncovers that Arthur has a severe biological impairment, an extra Y chromosome and a little known compound that is a marker for violent behavior. The two together were biological dynamite.
Arthur Shawcross's story is fascinating. It brings to the forefront "nature vs. nurture" arguments. It appears Arthur would have been no different regardless of where and how he had been raised. Mr. Olson brings Arthur, his family and friends, and his victims brilliantly to life.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 12, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
...one of the best books, period! Jack Olson gathered an enormous amount of first person inteviews with victims, families, psychiatrists, and Shawcross himself. Instead of getting fancy with the order of events (a la Don Lasseter), he logically lays it out for the reader. Shawcross is one sick pup and you'll get to know him real well by th time you put this book down. Only drawback--no pictures! Check out one the the cable companies' serial killer profiles to see what Shawcross looks like and his venues of murder.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 5, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I found this book very disturbing and I have read many books on serial killers. I thought Arthur Shawcross was one of the most fascinating serial killers until I read this book. It is very well written and unfortunatley you get to know the families / friends of the victims which makes it very difficult to read without becoming emotional, especially concerning his child victims - God rest their souls - I take my hat off to Jack Olsen and the way he wrote a brilliant account, with victims and families in mind, of one very sick individual. Be ready to have your world rocked and faith in humanity almost lost. I will never read anything on Arthur Shawcross again - maybe this is in respect to his victims or just plain disgust with one man who was let loose on society thanks to an overcrowded prison system and parol officers who did not have enough information to make such a decision. You really feel for the victims in this one - very upsetting. A really, really good read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John B. Justice on September 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Raising as many questions as it answers, allowing its characters to speak in their own words/voices, and unflinchingly looking into the very worst of human behavior, Jack Olsen's The Misbegotten Son rings like Dostoevsky plopped down in upstate New York and in the presence of Arthur Shawcross. Olsen died recently, stripping true crime of a master bringer of news about murderers and rapists who, as it turns out, are always and despite their atrocities, human beings more similar to you and me than different. Olsen is a demon researcher and dug up a ton of first-person narratives having to do with the dozens of women and children Shawcross killed. Besides the words of Shawcross himself--whose pathology baffled plenty of shrinks--Olsen lets us hear from victims' relatives, cops, doctors, Shawcross's wives and girlfriends. Then Olsen arranges the material so that we never lose sight of those destroyed by Shawcross and, at the same time, spend a lot of time in Art's presence and listening to him and the women who loved him talk about things from their points of view. Olsen is too good to reduce evil to a single-shot cause--lousy childhood, no "role models," neuropathology--what's being turned over and meditated on in The Misbegotten Son is far more mysterious and complex and important to be turned into a pop-psych conclusion. Instead he takes us as far as he and we can go into the specifics of the horror, gives us what he knows to be worth some thought, and leaves it to us to draw lessons if we can. A tremendous book judged on any terms.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Pignatti Sofia on July 27, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The book is magistrally planned and written and kept me involved from page 1 to page 592.Jack Olsen is surely worth all the 5 stars for his professional style and knowledge. I highly recommend this book to whoever is keen on true crime.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin J. Siragusa on October 24, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Jack Olsen's ability to capture that incredible time of fear and disbelief ( as one who lived there when this horror unfolded )was beyond my wildest expectations. Often when writers focus on a small town, and a huge story within it, many of the details of the city and its denizens are lost to the story's villian, not so in "The Misbegotten Son".
I felt as though I was actually walking the streets of Watertown, NY as I did growing up in that pleasant community so many years ago. The names of the town officials, attorneys, and law enforcement were so startling accurate, it made the hunt for this serial killer renewed, and as frightening as it was those many years ago.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is prepared for a shocking look into the mind of a demented and lost soul. If you love a ghoulish look into human-kind, "The Misbegotten Son" is a must Read!
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