Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Arthur Shawcross, the Genessee River Strangler

The Heat Is On

June Cicero was one of the most streetwise hookers in Rochester, and Darlene Trippi had partnered with Jo Ann Van Nostrand for safety.  Of late, both had not been seen by anyone.  In fact, just before she had disappeared, June Cicero had bragged to the cops about how she wasn't afraid of the man.  It was he who ought to be afraid of her.  They had believed her.

So now there were those two, a black prostitute named Felicia Stephens, and the long-missing Maria Welch.  It was time to get some 'copters up in the air to search for likely dumpsites for them.

On December 31, the morning of New Year's Eve, a trooper on road patrol in a rural area outside Rochester spotted a pair of black jeans discarded and frozen along the roadside.  He stopped to investigate and went through the pockets.  He found an identification card with the name of Felicia Stephens.  With this discovery, everyone assumed that she was dead.  It was also clear, since the jeans had been found not far from Salmon Creek, that the killer was returning to former dumping grounds.  Then Stephens' boots were found in separate areas.  She could not get along in the freezing temperatures without those.

Yet a thorough search was nearly impossible at that time of year, even with search dogs.  Everything was under snow or frozen over, and trying to walk out on the water proved treacherous.  Four missing women, and no one had found a body.  It was frustrating.  This guy was now getting away with something like one killing a week and even after hundreds of hours of surveillance and detective work, they could not stop him.  Would he keep up the pace?  Get worse?  Make any mistakes?

Nothing happened on New Year's Day, but the next day, January 2, 1990, the State Police resumed the search for a body by air and ground.  When winds came up from Lake Ontario, making it impossible to see in the blowing snow, they had to abort it.  But the following morning, they were at it again.

Yet after hours spent covering the same ditches, canals, and creeks, the search was beginning to seem futile.  They had looked everywhere.  Wherever these women were, they were likely under snow.  No one was going to find them until after a thaw.

Then one team took off from Northampton Park for a final flight along Highway 31, where the clothing had been found, and back toward the city.  Almost two years earlier, the first of eight victims had been discovered there, so they decided to have one last go.

They flew low over Salmon Creek, scanning back and forth, alert for anything unusual.  Suddenly they saw something near a bridge.  They flew closer and saw what appeared to be a human figure lying splayed out and facedown on the surface of the ice.  She was wearing a white top, like Felicia Stephens was reported to have worn when last seen, but nothing else. 

They hovered for a closer look and made out a female with darkish skin but not black.  It could not be Felicia Stephens, but they had three other missing women, so this could be one of them.  But then they noticed a Chevy Celebrity on the bridge, so they radioed to patrol units on the ground to check it out.  A large overweight man was there and he appeared to be urinating.  Then he got into his car and drove away.

On the documentary, The Mind of a Serial Killer, the footage of the body from overhead is striking.  From all appearances, it could have only been one of the missing women—the tough, streetwise prostitute, June Cicero, who was rumored to avoid all cars she did not know well.  Indeed, it turned out to be her.  She had accepted one final trick for the night on the last evening she'd spoken with the cops, and it had turned out to be a fatal mistake.  She had been asphyxiated by strangulation and then mutilated postmortem.  Her genital area had been sawed clean through, probably while she was frozen.

Now the investigators had to learn who this man was who had been on the bridge and find out what he had to say for himself.  Perhaps he'd seen something that would help.

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