What Was Serial Killer Arthur Shawcross' Childhood Like?

The "why" behind the atrocities committed by history's serial killers is a question that will likely never be fully answered. While many killers experience traumatic events that seem unquestionably tied to their dark crimes, the complexity of life and the human brain makes it almost impossible to determine the true cause of their depravity.

Researchers have uncovered some answers. Per Psychiatry Adviser, criminologist Dr. Adrian Raine believes that both genetics and environment work in tandem to influence violent behavior. Some data suggests that childhood abuse is linked to serial killers who are primarily driven by lust, and psychological abuse is driven by the same passion with additional links to a penchant for torture.

The upbringing of serial killer Arthur Shawcross could support these kinds of links. As reported by Biography, Shawcross made many disturbing claims about his childhood: he said he had sexual relations with his younger sister, claimed that he was molested by his aunt at just 9 years old, and said he had an early homosexual experience. Eventually, he found his way to bestiality.

But while they might intuitively sound plausible, Shawcross' claims could be complete fabrications.

Shawcross' claims are disputed by his family

Shawcross' parents and siblings pushed back against his claims of childhood abuse. To this day, Biography noted that there is no hard evidence to prove who was telling the truth. But the serial killer had a habit of changing his stories during the course of the probes into his crimes, which has shed doubt on the veracity of his claims.

Like childhood abuse, lying could also be a predictor of troubling behavior. According to forensic psychologist Joni Johnston, pathological liars — distinct from people who tell occasional harmless lies — fabricate stories to create a false image of themselves. This image, she says, is often designed as a means to an end. "While pathological lying is not a mental disorder in itself, someone who habitually uses deception to gain an advantage over or exploit others invariably has other disturbing personality traits and behaviors," she wrote in her blog.

Even if it is someday confirmed Shawcross was lying about his childhood, it will likely remain a mystery why he would do so. Perhaps he wanted to provide himself an excuse for the atrocities he committed. Or maybe — like some of the most infamous killers — he did so because he enjoyed the thrill.