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Albert Fish
May 19, 1870 – January 16, 1936
 


Albert Fish is the man who some believe to be the "most deranged killer in American history." So much so, that the character, Hannibal Lector in the movie Silence of the Lambs is partially based on him. Murder was not the only thing that Albert Fish indulged in. He also dabbed in cannibalism, fetishism, pedophilia, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and masochism.
 

 

Albert Hamilton Fish was an American sado-masochistic pedophile, torture murderer, serial killer and cannibal. He was also known as the Gray Man, the Werewolf of Wysteria, the Brooklyn Vampire, and The Boogeyman. He boasted that he had "had children in every state," putting the figure at around 100, although it is not clear whether he was talking about molestation or cannibalization, less still as to whether it was true or not. He was a suspect in at least five killings in his lifetime. Fish confessed to three murders that police were able to trace to a known homicide, and confessed to stabbing at least two other people. He was put on trial for the kidnap and murder of Grace Budd, and was convicted and executed via electric chair.


Early life

He was born as Hamy Fish in Washington, D.C., to Randall Fish (1795-1875). He said he had been named after Hamilton Fish, a distant relative. His father was 43 years older than his mother. Fish was the youngest child and had three living siblings: Walter, Annie, and Edwin Fish. He wished to be called "Albert" after a dead sibling, and to escape the nickname 'Ham and Eggs' that he was given at an orphanage in which he spent many of his early years.

Many members of his family had mental illness, and one suffered from religious mania. His father was a river boat captain, but by 1870 he was a fertilizer manufacturer. The elder Fish died of a heart attack at the Sixth Street Station of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1875 in Washington, D.C. Fish's mother put him into an orphanage where he was frequently whipped and beaten, and eventually discovered that he enjoyed physical pain. The beatings would often give him erections, for which the other orphans teased him.

By 1880, his mother got a government job and was able to look after him. However, his various experiences before this had affected him. He started a homosexual relationship in 1882, at the age of 12, with a telegraph boy. The youth also introduced Fish to such practices as drinking urine and coprophagia. Fish began visiting public baths where he could watch boys undress, and spent a great portion of his weekends on these visits.

By 1890, Fish had arrived in New York City, and he said he became a male prostitute. He also said he began raping young boys, a crime he kept committing even after his mother arranged a marriage. In 1898, he was married to a woman nine years his junior. They had six children: Albert, Anna, Gertrude, Eugene, John, and Henry Fish.

Throughout 1898 he worked as a house painter, and he said he continued molesting children, mostly boys under six. He later recounted an incident in which a male lover took him to a waxworks museum, where Fish was fascinated by a bisection of a penis; soon after, he developed a morbid interest in castration. During a relationship with a mentally retarded man, Fish attempted to castrate him after tying him up. The man became frightened and fled. Fish then began intensifying his visits to brothels where he could be whipped and beaten more often. He was arrested for embezzlement and was sentenced to incarceration in Sing Sing in 1903. He regularly had sex with men while in prison.

In January 1917, his wife left him for John Straube, a handyman who boarded with the Fish family. Following this rejection, Fish began to hear voices; for example, he once wrapped himself up in a carpet, explaining that he was following the instructions of John the Apostle. It was around this time that Fish developed a desire for masochism. He took cotton balls, soaked them in alcohol, and set them on fire in his anus. He also hit himself repeatedly with a nail-studded paddle and would shove needles into his body. He would place these between his rectum and his scrotum. Normally, he would remove them afterwards, but soon he began to insert them so deep that they were impossible to take out. Later x-rays revealed that Fish had 27 needles lodged in his pelvic region.

At the age of 55, Fish began to experience delusions and hallucinations. He said that he believed God had ordered him to torment and castrate little boys. Doctors said he suffered from a religious psychosis. It is believed that this bizarre mental state led him to the murders and mutilations he performed.


Early attacks and attempted abductions

Fish committed what may have been his first attack on a child named Thomas Bedden in Wilmington, Delaware in 1910. Later, he stabbed a mentally challenged boy around 1919 in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Consistently, many of his intended victims would be either mentally challenged or African-American, because he believed they would not be missed.

On July 11, 1924, Fish found eight-year-old Beatrice Kiel playing alone on her parents' Staten Island farm. He offered her money to come and help him look for rhubarb in the neighbouring fields. She was about to leave the farm when her mother chased Fish away. Fish left, but returned later to the Kiels' barn where he tried to sleep for the night before being discovered by Hans Kiel and told to leave.


Grace Budd (1918-1928)

On May 25, 1928, Edward Budd put a classified ad in the Sunday edition of the New York World that read: "Young man, 18, wishes position in country. Edward Budd, 406 West 15th Street." On May 28, 1928, Fish, then 58 years old, visited the Budd family in Manhattan, New York City under the pretense of hiring Edward. He introduced himself as Frank Howard, a farmer from Farmingdale, New York. When he arrived, Fish met Budd's younger sister, 10-year-old Grace. Fish promised to hire Budd and said he would send for him in a few days. On his second visit he agreed to hire Budd, then convinced the parents, Delia Flanagan and Albert Budd I, to let Grace accompany him to a birthday party that evening at his sister's home. The elder Albert Budd was a porter for the Equitable Life Assurance Society. Grace had a sister, Beatrice; and two other brothers, Albert Budd II; and George Budd. Grace left with Fish that day, but never came back.

The police arrested Charles Edward Pope on September 5, 1930 as a suspect in the kidnapping. He was a 66-year-old apartment house superintendent, and was accused by his estranged wife. He spent 108 days in jail between his arrest and trial on December 22, 1930. He was found not guilty.


The letter

Six years later, in November 1934, an anonymous letter was sent to the girl's parents which led the police to Albert Fish. The letter is quoted here, with all of Fish's misspellings and grammatical errors:

"Dear Mrs. Budd. In 1894 a friend of mine shipped as a deck hand on the Steamer Tacoma, Capt. John Davis. They sailed from San Francisco for Hong Kong, China. On arriving there he and two others went ashore and got drunk. When they returned the boat was gone. At that time there was famine in China. Meat of any kind was from $1-3 per pound. So great was the suffering among the very poor that all children under 12 were sold for food in order to keep others from starving. A boy or girl under 14 was not safe in the street. You could go in any shop and ask for steak—chops—or stew meat. Part of the naked body of a boy or girl would be brought out and just what you wanted cut from it. A boy or girl's behind which is the sweetest part of the body and sold as veal cutlet brought the highest price. John staid there so long he acquired a taste for human flesh. On his return to N.Y. he stole two boys, one 7 and one 11. Took them to his home stripped them naked tied them in a closet. Then burned everything they had on. Several times every day and night he spanked them – tortured them – to make their meat good and tender. First he killed the 11 year old boy, because he had the fattest ass and of course the most meat on it. Every part of his body was cooked and eaten except the head—bones and guts. He was roasted in the oven (all of his ass), boiled, broiled, fried and stewed. The little boy was next, went the same way. At that time, I was living at 409 E 100 St. near—right side. He told me so often how good human flesh was I made up my mind to taste it. On Sunday June the 3, 1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese—strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her. On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them. When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma. First I stripped her naked. How she did kick – bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did not fuck her tho I could of had I wished. She died a virgin."

Mrs. Budd was illiterate and could not read the letter herself, so she had her son read it instead. Fish later admitted to his attorney that he did indeed rape Grace. Fish was a compulsive liar, however, so this may be untrue. He had told the police, when asked, that it "never even entered his head" to rape the girl.


Capture

The letter was delivered in an envelope that had a small hexagonal emblem with the letters "N.Y.P.C.B.A." standing for "New York Private Chauffeur's Benevolent Association". A janitor at the company told police he had taken some of the stationery home but left it at his rooming house at 200 East 52nd Street when he moved out. The landlady of the rooming house said that Fish had checked out of that room a few days earlier. She said that Fish's son sent him money and he had asked her to hold his next check for him. William F. King, the lead investigator, waited outside the room until Fish returned. He agreed to go to the headquarters for questioning, but at the street door Fish lunged at King with a razor in each hand. King disarmed Fish and took him to police headquarters. Fish made no attempt to deny the Grace Budd murder, saying that he had meant to go to the house to kill Edward Budd, Grace's brother.


Postcapture discoveries

Billy Gaffney

A child named Billy Gaffney was playing in the hallway outside of his family's apartment in Brooklyn with his friend, Billy Beaton, on February 11, 1927. Both of the boys disappeared, but the friend was found on the roof of the apartment house. When asked what happened to Gaffney, Beaton said "the boogey man took him." Initially Peter Kudzinowski was a suspect in the murder of Billy Gaffney. Then, Joseph Meehan, a motorman on a Brooklyn trolley, saw a picture of Fish in the newspaper and identified him as the old man that he saw February 11, 1927, who was trying to quiet a little boy sitting with him on the trolley. The boy wasn't wearing a jacket and was crying for his mother and was dragged by the man on and off the trolley. Police matched the description of the child to Billy Gaffney. Gaffney's body was never recovered. Gaffney's mother visited Fish in Sing Sing to try to get more details of her son's death. Fish confessed the following:

"I brought him to the Riker Ave. dumps. There is a house that stands alone, not far from where I took him. I took the boy there. Stripped him naked and tied his hands and feet and gagged him with a piece of dirty rag I picked out of the dump. Then I burned his clothes. Threw his shoes in the dump. Then I walked back and took the trolley to 59 St. at 2 A.M. and walked from there home. Next day about 2 P.M., I took tools, a good heavy cat-of-nine tails. Home made. Short handle. Cut one of my belts in half, slit these halves in six strips about 8 inches long. I whipped his bare behind till the blood ran from his legs. I cut off his ears - nose - slit his mouth from ear to ear. Gouged out his eyes. He was dead then. I stuck the knife in his belly and held my mouth to his body and drank his blood. I picked up four old potato sacks and gathered a pile of stones. Then I cut him up. I had a grip with me. I put his nose, ears and a few slices of his belly in the grip. Then I cut him through the middle of his body. Just below the belly button. Then through his legs about 2 inches below his behind. I put this in my grip with a lot of paper. I cut off the head - feet - arms - hands and the legs below the knee. This I put in sacks weighed with stones, tied the ends and threw them into the pools of slimy water you will see all along the road going to North Beach. I came home with my meat. I had the front of his body I liked best. His monkey and pee wees and a nice little fat behind to roast in the oven and eat. I made a stew out of his ears -- nose -- pieces of his face and belly. I put onions, carrots, turnips, celery, salt and pepper. It was good. Then I split the cheeks of his behind open, cut off his monkey and pee wees and washed them first. I put strips of bacon on each cheek of his behind and put them in the oven. Then I picked 4 onions and when the meat had roasted about 1/4 hour, I poured about a pint of water over it for gravy and put in the onions. At frequent intervals I basted his behind with a wooden spoon. So the meat would be nice and juicy. In about 2 hours, it was nice and brown, cooked through. I never ate any roast turkey that tasted half as good as his sweet fat little behind did. I ate every bit of the meat in about four days. His little monkey was a sweet as a nut, but his pee-wees I could not chew. Threw them in the toilet."


Second incarceration

Fish married on February 6, 1930, in Waterloo, New York, to "Mrs. Estella Wilcox" and divorced after one week. Fish had been arrested in May 1930 for "sending an obscene letter to a woman who answered an advertisement for a maid." He had been sent to the Bellevue psychiatric hospital in 1930 and 1931 for observation, following his arrests.


Trial and execution

The trial of Albert Fish for the premeditated murder of Grace Budd began on Monday, March 11, 1935, in White Plains, New York with Frederick P. Close as judge, and Chief Assistant District Attorney, Elbert F. Gallagher, as the prosecuting attorney. James Dempsey was Fish's defense attorney. The trial lasted for ten days. Fish pleaded insanity, and claimed to have heard voices from God telling him to kill children. Several psychiatrists testified about Fish's sexual fetishes, including coprophilia, urophilia, pedophilia and masochism, but there was disagreement as to whether these activities meant he was insane. The defense's chief expert witness was Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist with a focus on child development who conducted psychiatric examinations for the New York criminal courts; Wertham stated that Fish was insane. Another defense witness was Mary Nicholas, Fish's 17-year-old stepdaughter. She described how Fish taught her and her brothers and sisters a "game" involving overtones of masochism and child molestation. The jury found him to be sane and guilty, and the judge ordered the death sentence. After being sentenced, Fish confessed to the murder of eight-year-old Francis X. McDonnell, killed on Staten Island. McDonnell was playing on the front porch of his home near Port Richmond, Staten Island in July 15, 1924. His mother saw an "old man" walk by clenching and unclenching his fists. He walked past without saying anything. Later in the day, the old man was seen again, but this time he was watching McDonnell and his friends play. McDonnell's body was found in the woods near where a neighbour had seen the "old man" taking the boy earlier that afternoon. He had been assaulted and strangled with his suspenders.

Fish arrived in March 1935, and was executed on January 16, 1936, in the electric chair at Sing Sing. He entered the chamber at 11:06 p.m. and was pronounced dead three minutes later. He was buried in the Sing Sing Prison Cemetery. He was recorded to have said that electrocution would be "the supreme thrill of my life". Just before the switch was flipped, he stated "I don't even know why I am here." According to one witness present, it took two jolts before Fish died, creating the legend that the apparatus was short-circuited by the needles Fish previously inserted into his body.
 


Victims

* Francis X. McDonnell, age 8, July 15, 1924
* Billy Gaffney, age 8, February 11, 1927
* Yetta Abramowitz, age 12, 1927
* Grace Budd, age 10, June 3, 1928
* Mary Ellen O'Connor, age 16, February 15, 1932
* Benjamin Collings, age 17, 1932
 


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Albert Fish Biography

Fish was born on May 19,1870 in Washington, D.C. and was placed in an orphanage at age five after his father passed away. During his stay at the orphanage, Fish observed and experienced numerous acts of perversions including forced masturbation in front of other children and brutal beatings. Albert would become sexually aroused by these acts, which helped to further his obsession with sado-masochism. Fish would later say, "That place ruined my mind." Finally, at age 7, Fish was reunited with his mother. Shortly thereafter, he fell from a cherry tree causing severe head trauma causing him dizzy spells and severe headaches. After graduating from high school, Fish started working odd jobs and traveling around the country. This gave him perfect opportunity to commit crimes.

In 1910, Fish committed his first murder in which he mutilated and tortured his victim. From that point on, he set his sights on children as he saw them as easy targets. Fish travelled from state to state in the 1920's leaving a trail of victims from molestation to cases of children disappearing. Fish would torture, mutilate and eventually murder his victims using what he called his "Implements of Hell" which consisted of a meat cleaver, a butcher knife, and a saw. Fish also like to inflict pain on himself; he would insert needles far into his body to where they would get stuck. He also liked to have people paddle him with a paddle that had nail sticking out of the end so that it would make him bleed.
During his reign of terror, Fish was arrested and detained by police on several different occasions. He was charged with everything from sending obscene mail to being mentally ill. During fits of rage he would stand around screaming at the sky yelling that he was Christ. He even told anyone that would listen that GOD told him to kill. Albert has several stays in mental hospitals but was released because they determined that although he was a little weird, he was sane.

In 1928, Fish went to the Budd family house under the alias, Frank Howard, offering the younger boys of the family jobs. His real reason for going to the Budd family house was to get to their daughter, Grace. After spending some time with the family and gaining their trust, he asked if he could take Grace to his niece's birthday party, which they allowed. Grace never made it to the party, as it was a lie to get Grace alone. The Budd family never saw Grace again. Fish took Grace to an abandoned cottage where he strangled and ate her. Six years later, Albert mailed a letter to the Budd family describing in lurid detail what came of their daughter. The authorities were able to track him down by the postmark and he was arrested, tried and convicted. During the trial, Albert Fish pleads insanity but the jury did not believe him and sentenced him to death. On January 16, 1936, he was electrocuted at the Sing Sing Prison. It took two full electrical charges to finally kill Fish. The second charge actually shorted out the electric chair. After his execution, a prison x-ray revealed 29 different needles in his groin, some eroded from time. It was said that after his wife left him, he would stick these needles in his groin as well as taking an alcohol soaked cotton ball, placing it in his anus and lighting it with a match for sexual pleasure.


Albert Fish Early 1900's

Albert Fish was labeled a "masochist, a child molester, and a cannibal" with his primary victims being children, namely young boys. In 1910, Fish started his torturous, mutilating murder spree, which continued until he was caught on December 13, 1934. Fish earned himself the nickname, `Brooklyn Vampire' by murdering four children from 1932-1934. There are conflicting resources over the actual number of murders and molestations Fish committed but he was suspected of at least fifteen murders and molested between one hundred to three hundred children.

Who or what is to blame for Albert Fish's psychopathic behaviour? Some say that it is genetics. But can someone be born with the "kill gene"? Actually, there's no such gene. If there were, we would have whole families of serial killers. One killer, by the name of Richard Speck used the, "I have an extra chromosome" defense. This was not proven. There's not much evidence that links the X or Y chromosome to serial killers. High testosterone by itself is not dangerous, but when combined with low levels of serotonin, (the chemical that mellows you), you may have a serial killer in the making. We all know that testosterone is associated with the need for control/dominance so when that is high and your serotonin level is low; you have a frustrated, aggressive person that uses violence as an outlet. There have also been studies to show that high levels of metal toxins such as manganese, lead, cadmium and copper can lead to aggressive behavior and the use of alcohol increases this behaviour. There have been a few serial killers that are known to have had some sort of head trauma. Albert Fish, Leonard Lake, David Berkowitz, Kenneth Bianchi, John Wayne Gacy, and Carl Panzram all had head injuries. Different injuries and diseases to the brain can cause someone to have a lack of emotion, aggressiveness, violent tendencies, and sexual perversions. Most people don't even realize they have a problem with the brain that medication can fix. Last is Sensory deprivation. It is said that the lack of physical touch can be harmful to the child's development. Some serial killers had been separated from their parents at an early age or were denied their mother's love and physical touch. Looking at Albert Fish's life, we can say that he was destined to become a serial murderer. What we know to be true is that he fell out of tree resulting in a head injury and that he was separated from his mother at an early age. I don't believe that either of these two things alone caused him to become who he was but the consequences of both together makes for a picture perfect serial murderer.


 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 24 December, 2008