Hamilton Howard "Albert" Fish was an American serial killer. He was also known as the Gray Man, the Werewolf of Wysteria, the Brooklyn Vampire, the Moon Maniac and The Boogey Man.
He was born Hamilton Howard Fish in Washington, D.C. on May 19, 1870, to Ellen and Randall Fish (1795–1875). His mother was born in Ireland. He said he had been named after Hamilton Fish, a distant relative. His father was 43 years older than his mother and 75 years old at the time of his birth. 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 & Eggs" that he was given at an orphanage in which he spent much of his childhood. His family had a history of mental illness. His uncle suffered from religious mania. A brother was placed in the state mental hospital. His sister was diagnosed with a "mental affliction". Three other relatives were diagnosed with mental illnesses and his mother had "aural and/or visual hallucinations". His father had been a river boat captain, but by 1870 he was a fertilizer manufacturer. The elder Fish died in 1875 at the Sixth Street Station of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Washington, D.C. of a myocardial infarction. Fish's mother then put him into Saint John's Orphanage in Washington, where he was frequently treated sadistically. He began to enjoy the physical pain that the beatings brought. Of his time at the orphanage, Fish remarked, "I was there till I was nearly nine, and that's where I got started wrong. We were unmercifully whipped. I saw boys doing many things they should not have done."
By 1880, his mother had a government job and was able to remove Fish from the orphanage. In 1882, at age 12, he began a relationship with a telegraph boy. The youth introduced Fish to such practices as drinking urine and eating feces. Fish began visiting public baths where he could watch other boys undress, and spent a great portion of his weekends on these visits. Throughout his life he would write obscene letters to women whose names he acquired from classified advertising and matrimonial agencies. 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, Fish was married to a woman nine years younger than him. They had six children: Albert, Anna, Gertrude, Eugene, John, and Henry Fish
Throughout 1898 he worked as a house painter. He said he continued molesting children, mostly young boys under the age of 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. After that he became obsessed with castration. At the age of forty-one, during his stay in St. Louis, Albert Fish began a relationship with a mentally retarded man named Kedden. Fish attempted to castrate the nineteen-year-old with a pair of scissors after tying him up, but the agonized look on the man's face frightened Fish and he fled the city after binding the wound and leaving him a $10 bill. Fish then increased the frequency of his visits to brothels, where he engaged in sadomasochism. In 1903, he was arrested for grand larceny and was sentenced to incarceration in Sing Sing.
In January of 1917, Fish's wife left him for John Straube, a handyman who boarded with the Fish family. Fish then had to raise his children as a single parent. After that he began to have auditory hallucinations. He once wrapped himself up in an area rug, saying that he was following the instructions of John the Apostle. It was around this time that Fish began to indulge in self-harm. He would self-embed needles into his groin and abdomen. After his arrest, X-rays revealed that Fish had at least 29 needles lodged in his pelvic region. He also hit himself repeatedly with a nail-studded paddle and inserted wool doused with lighter fluid into his anus and set it on fire.
In 1924, at the age of 55, Fish, suffering from religious psychosis, felt that God was commanding him to torture and castrate children. Shortly before his abduction of Grace Budd, Albert Fish attempted to test his "implements of Hell" on a child acquaintance named Cyril Quinn. Cyril and his friend were playing boxball on the side-walk when Fish asked them if they had eaten lunch. When they said that they had not, he invited them into his apartment for sandwiches. However, while the two boys were wrestling in Fish's bedroom, they discovered Fish's "implements of Hell" hidden under his bed. They became frightened and ran out of the apartment. Fish remarried on February 6, 1930, in Waterloo, New York, to Estella Wilcox, but divorced after only one week. Fish was later arrested in May 1930 for "sending an obscene letter to a woman who answered an advertisement for a maid." Following that arrest and one in 1931, he was sent to the Bellevue psychiatric hospital for observation.
On May 25, 1928, Fish saw 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 under the pretense of hiring Edward; he later confessed that he had planned to tie Edward up, castrate him, and leave him to bleed to death. He introduced himself as Frank Howard, a farmer from Farmingdale, New York. Fish promised to hire Budd and his friend Willie, and said he would send for them in a few days. However, he failed to show up but sent a telegraph to the Budd family apologizing and set a later date. When Fish returned, he met Grace Budd. He apparently changed his intended victim from Edward Budd to Grace Budd, and quickly made up a story about having to attend his niece's birthday party. He convinced the parents, Delia Flanagan and Albert Budd I, to let Grace accompany him to the party that evening. The elder Albert Budd was a porter for the United States Equitable Life Assurance Society. Grace had a younger sister, Beatrice, two older brothers, Edward and George Budd, and a younger brother, Albert Budd II. Grace left with Fish that day, but never returned home. 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.
Six years later, in November 1934, an anonymous letter was sent to the girl's parents that led the police to Albert Fish. Mrs. Budd was illiterate and could not read the letter herself, so she had her son read it to her. The unaltered letter is presented below verbatim, complete with 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."
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 the 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 was the lead investigator for the case. He waited outside the room until Fish returned. Fish agreed to go to headquarters for questioning, then brandished a razor blade. 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. Fish said it "never even entered [his] head" to rape the girl, but he later admitted to his attorney that, while kneeling on Grace's chest and strangling her, he did have two involuntary ejaculations. This information was used at trial to make the claim the kidnapping was sexually motivated, thus avoiding any mention of cannibalism.
A 4-year-old child named Billy Gaffney was playing in the hallway outside his family's apartment in Brooklyn with his 3-year-old friend, Billy Beaton, and Billy's 12-year-old brother on February 11, 1927. When the 12-year-old withdrew into the Beatons' apartment, both of the younger boys disappeared; Billy Beaton was soon found on the roof of the apartment house. When asked what happened to Gaffney, Beaton said "the boogey man took him." Gaffney's body was never recovered. Initially, serial killer Peter Kudzinowski was a suspect in the boy's murder. 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 was not wearing a jacket and was crying for his mother and was dragged by the man on and off the trolley. The younger Beaton had described the "boogey man" as an elderly man with a slim build, gray hair and a gray moustache, which matched Fish's description. Police matched the description of the child to Billy Gaffney. Detectives of the Manhattan Missing Persons Bureau were able to establish that Fish had been employed as a housepainter by a Brooklyn real estate firm during February 1927 and that on the day of Billy Gaffney's disappearance he had been working at a location only a few miles away from where the boy had been abducted. Fish confessed the following in a letter to his attorney:
"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 G 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 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 half in six strips about 8 in. 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 thru the middle of his body. Just below his belly button. Then thru his legs about 2 in. 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. Water is 3 to 4 ft. deep. They sank at once. 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 in the oven. Then I picked 4 onions and when meat had roasted about 1/4 hr., 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 hr., it was nice and brown, cooked thru. 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 as sweet as a nut, but his pee-wees I could not chew. Threw them in the toilet."
Elizabeth Gaffney, along with Detective King and two other men, visited Fish in Sing Sing to speak to him personally about her son's death, but Fish refused to speak to her. He then began to weep, and asked to be left alone. After two hours of asking him questions through his lawyer, James Dempsey, Mrs. Gaffney gave up, still unconvinced that Albert Fish was her son's killer.
During the night of July 14, 1924 8-year-old Francis McDonnell was reported missing by his parents. He had failed to return home after playing catch with friends in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Staten Island. A search was organized and his body was found in a wooded area near his home. He had been sexually assaulted then strangled with his suspenders. Fish later stated that he had intended to dismember the boy, but heard someone approaching and fled. McDonnell's friends told the police that he had been taken by an elderly man with a grey moustache. A neighbor also told the police he had observed the boy with a similar looking man walking along a grassy path into the nearby woods. Francis’s mother, Anna McDonnell, said she had seen the same man earlier that day. She told the reporters:
"He came shuffling down the street mumbling to himself and making queer motions with his hands ... I saw his thick grey hair and his drooping gray moustache. Everything about him seemed faded and grey."
This led to the mysterious stranger becoming known as "The Gray Man". The murder would remain unsolved until the murder of Grace Budd. When several eyewitnesses, among them the Staten Island farmer Hans Kiel, positively identified Albert Fish as the odd stranger seen around Port Richmond on the day of Francis McDonnell’s disappearance, Richmond County District Attorney Thomas J. Walsh announced his intention to seek an indictment against Fish for the boy’s murder. At first Fish denied the charges. It was only in March of 1935, after the conclusion of his trial for the Budd murder and his confession to the killing of Billy Gaffney, that Fish confirmed to investigators that he had also murdered Francis McDonnell. When news of this disclosure broke the New York Daily Mirror would state that it solidified Fish as "the most vicious child-slayer in criminal history".
The trial of Albert Fish for the murder of Grace Budd began on March 11, 1935, in White Plains, New York with Frederick P. Close presiding as judge, and Westchester County Chief Assistant District Attorney, Elbert F. Gallagher, as prosecuting attorney. Fish's defense counsel would be James Dempsey, a former prosecutor and the one-time Mayor of Peekskill, New York (1932–1933). The trial lasted for 10 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, which included sadism, masochism, cunnilingus, anilingus, fellatio, flagellation, exhibitionism, voyeurism, piquerism, cannibalism, coprophagia, urophilia, pedophilia and infibulation. Dempsey in his summation noted that Fish was a "psychiatric phenomenon" and that nowhere in legal or medical records was there another individual who possessed so many sexual abnormalities.
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. Over two days of testimony, Wertham explained Fish's obsession with religion and specifically his preoccupation with the story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:1-24). Wertham said that Fish believed that similarly "sacrificing" a boy would be penance for his own sins and that even if the act itself was wrong, angels would prevent it if God did not approve. Fish had already attempted the sacrifice once before but had been thwarted when a car drove past. Edward Budd had been the next intended victim, but he turned out to be larger than expected so he settled on Grace. Although he knew Grace was female, it is known that Fish perceived her as a boy. Wertham then detailed Fish's cannibalism, which in his mind he associated with communion. The last question Dempsey asked Wertham was 15,000 words long, detailed Fish's life and ended with asking how the doctor considered his mental condition based on this life. Wertham simply answered "He is insane". Gallagher cross-examined Wertham on whether Fish knew the difference between right and wrong. He responded that he did know but that it was a perverted knowledge based on his views of sin, atonement and religion and thus was an "insane knowledge". The defense then called two more psychiatrists, who supported Wertham's findings.
The first of four rebuttal witnesses was Menas Gregory, the former head of the Bellevue psychiatric hospital, where Fish had been treated in 1930. He testified that Fish was abnormal but sane. Under cross examination, Dempsey asked if coprophilia, urophilia and pedophilia indicated a sane or insane person. Gregory replied that such a person was not "mentally sick" and that these were common perversions that were "socially perfectly alright" and that Fish was "no different from millions of other people", some very prominent and successful, who suffered from the "very same" perversions. The next witness was the resident physician at The Tombs, Perry Lichtenstein. Dempsey objected to a doctor with no training in psychiatry testifying on the issue of sanity, but Justice Close overruled on the grounds that the jury could decide what weight to give a prison doctor. When asked whether Fish's causing himself pain indicated a mental condition, Lichtenstein replied, "That is not masochism", as he was only "punishing himself to get sexual gratification". The next witness, Charles Lambert, testified that coprophilia was a common practice and that religious cannibalism may be psychopathic but "was a matter of taste" and not evidence of a psychosis. The last witness, James Vavasour, repeated Lambert's opinion.
Another defense witness was Mary Nicholas, Fish's 17-year-old stepdaughter. She described how Fish taught her and her brothers and sisters several games involving overtones of masochism and child molestation. None of the jurors doubted that Fish was insane. But ultimately, as one later explained, they felt he should be executed anyway. They found him to be sane and guilty, and the judge ordered the death sentence. Fish arrived at prison 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. Fish is said to have helped the executioner position the electrodes on his body. His last words were reportedly:
"I don't even know why I'm here."
At a meeting with reporters following the execution, Fish's lawyer, James Dempsey, revealed that he was in possession of his now deceased client's "final statement". This amounted to several pages of hand-written notes that Fish had apparently penned in the hours just prior to his death. When pressed by the assembled journalists to reveal the document's contents, Dempsey refused, stating:
"I will never show it to anyone, it was the most filthy string of obscenities that I have ever read."
If you want to watch a documentary on Albert Fish then just check out the video below: