The Misbegotten Son

Jack Olsen, Author Delacorte Press $21.95 (520p) ISBN 978-0-385-29936-7
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. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1993
Release date: 02/01/1993
Genre: Nonfiction
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