Albert Fish

Albert Fish

Albert Fish

Mugshot from 1903
Background information
Birth name: Hamilton Fish
Also known as: Gray Man, the Werewolf of Wysteria, Brooklyn Vampire
Born: May 19, 1870(1870-05-19)
Washington, D.C.
Died: January 16, 1936 (aged 65)
Cause of death: Electric chair, Sing Sing Correctional Facility
Sentence: Death
Number of victims: 3 (known)
Span of killings: 1924–1932
Country: USA
State(s): New York
Date apprehended: 1934

“Albert” Hamilton Fish (May 19, 1870 – January 16, 1936) was an American serial killer. He was also known as the Gray Man, the Werewolf of Wysteria, the Brooklyn Vampire, and The Boogeyman.[1] A child molester and cannibal, he boasted that he had “had children in every state,”[1] and at one time put the figure at around 100. However, it is not clear whether he was talking about molestation or cannibalization, less still as to whether he was telling the truth. He was a suspect in at least five murders 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 kidnapping and murder of Grace Budd, and was convicted and executed via electric chair.


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Early life

He was born as Hamilton Fish in Washington, D.C., to Randall Fish (1795–1875).[2] He said he had been named after Hamilton Fish, a distant relative. His father was 43 years older than his mother[3] 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 confined in the state mental hospital, another brother had died of hydrocephalus and his sister had a “mental affliction”. Three other close relatives suffered from severe mental illnesses and his mother was believed to suffer frequent aural and/or visual hallucinations.[4][5] His father was a river boat captain, but by 1870 he was a fertilizer manufacturer.[3] 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, who was now forced to find work and not able to care for her son, put him into Saint John’s orphanage in Washington where he was frequently stripped naked along with other boys who would then be whipped and beaten in front of each other by teachers. He eventually came to enjoy physical pain and the communal beatings would often cause erections, for which the other orphans teased him.[6]

By 1880, his mother got a government job and was able to look after him. In 1882, at age 12, he began a relationship with a telegraph boy. The youth introduced Fish to such practices as drinking urine and coprophagia. Fish began visiting public baths where he could watch other boys undress
, and spent a great portion of his weekends on these visits.[6] Throughout his life he was also a profligate and compulsive writer of obscene letters to women whose names he acquired from classified advertisements and matrimonial agencies.[4]


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.[citation needed]

In 1898, Fish was married to a woman nine years his junior. They had six children: Albert, Anna, Gertrude, Eugene, John, and Henry Fish.[citation needed]

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, but the man’s screaming frightened Fish, who fled after leaving him a $10 bill. Fish then increased the frequency of his visits to brothels where he could be whipped and beaten.[6] In 1903 he was arrested for embezzlement and was sentenced to incarceration in Sing Sing.

Over a dozen needles Fish self-embedded into his pelvis and perineum.

In January 1917, Fish’s wife left him for John Straube, a handyman who boarded with the Fish family, leaving him to look after his children on his own.[7] 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.[6] It was around this time that Fish began deliberately harming himself. He would self-embed needles into his groin, which he normally would remove afterwards, but soon he began to insert them so deeply that they were impossible to take out.[5] Later x-rays revealed that Fish had at least 29 needles lodged in his pelvic region.[5] He also hit himself repeatedly with a nail-studded paddle.

At the age of 55, Fish began to experience delusions and hallucinations that God commanded him to torture and castrate little boys.[5] Doctors said he suffered from a religious psychosis.

Early attacks and attempted abductions

In 1910, Fish committed what may have been his first attack on a child (Thomas Bedden) in Wilmington, Delaware.[8] Later, he stabbed a mentally challenged boy around 1919 in Georgetown, Washington, D.C..[9] Consistently, many of his intended victims would be either mentally challenged or African Americans, because he believed they would not be missed.[10]

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 neighboring 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

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.[11]

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.[12] He spent 108 days in jail between his arrest and trial on December 22, 1930.[13] 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 jus
t 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 [sic] 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.[5]

Mrs. Budd was illiterate and could not read the letter herself, so she had her son read it instead.[14] Fish had told the police, when asked, that it “never even entered his head” to rape the girl,[15] but he later admitted to his attorney that he did have two involuntary ejaculations which was used at trial to make the claim the kidnapping was sexually motivated and thus avoid mention of cannibalism.[16]


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,[17] 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.[4] 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.[18]

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 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. Police matched the description of the child to Billy Gaffney. Gaffney’s body was never recovered.[19] Gaffney’s mother visited Fish in Sing Sing to try to get more details of her son’s death.[20] 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.[5]

Second incarceration

Fish married on February 6, 1930, in Waterloo, New York, to “Mrs. Estella Wilcox” and divorced after one week.[21] Fish had been arrested in May 1930 for “sending an obscene letter to a woman who answered an advertisement for a maid.”[22] He had been sent to the Bellevue psychiatric hospital in 1930 and 1931 for observation, following his arrests.[23]

Trial and execution

The trial of Albert Fish for the premeditated murder of Grace Budd began on 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 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 coprophilia, urophilia, pedophilia and masochism. 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.[4]

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 by similarly “sacrificing” a boy it 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.[4] 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 answered “He is insane”.[4] 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”.[4] The defense then called two more psychiatrists who supported Wertham’s findings.

The first of four rebuttal witnesses was Dr Menas Gregory, the former head of the Bellevue psychiatric hospital who had treated Fish 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, that suffered from the “very same” perversions. The next witness was The Tombs resident doctor, Dr Perry Lichtenstein. Dempsey objected to a doctor with no training in psychiatry testifying on the issue of sanity but justice Close overuled on the grounds that the jury could decide what weight to give a prison doctor. When asked if Fish 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, Dr 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, Dr James Vavasour, repeated Lamberts opinion.[4]

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.[5]

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 neighbor had seen the “old man” taking the boy earlier that afternoon. He had been assaulted and strangled with his suspenders.[9][24]

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.[25] 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”.[26] 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 rumor that the apparatus was short-circuited by the needles Fish previously inserted into his body.[15]

Many years later, Wertham heavily criticized the prosecution’s psychiatric witnesses for making “extraordinary statements under oath” that served to give a “black eye to psychiatry”. He maintained that society would have been better served by understanding what made Fish who he was.[4]



  • Francis X. McDonnell, age 8, July 15, 1924
  • Billy Gaffney, age 4, February 11, 1927
  • Grace Budd, age 10, June 3, 1928


  • Yetta Abramowitz, age 12, 1927[27]
  • Mary Ellen O’Connor, age 16, February 15, 1932[28]
  • Benjamin Collings, age 17, December 15, 1932[29]

See also

  • Lonely hearts killer
  • Peter Kudzinowski, a serial killer who committed his crimes against children in the same timeframe and location


  1. ^ a b Kray, Kate. The World’s 20 Worst Crimes: true stories of 20 killers and their 1000 victims.
  2. ^ The records of the Congressional Cemetery show that Randall died on October 16, 1875; and was buried on October 19, 1875 in grave R96/89. Randall was married to Ellen (1838–?) of Ireland.
  3. ^ a b Albert Fish; 1870 US Census; Washington, D.C.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Schechter, Harold (1998). Deranged: The Shocking True Story of America’s Most Fiendish Killer. Pocket Books. ISBN 0671678752. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Albert Fish“. Crime Library. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  6. ^ a b c d Wilson, Colin and Donald Seaman. The Serial Killers. Virgin Publishing Ltd. 2004. p. 176.
  7. ^ Taylor, Troy. Albert Fish: The Life & Crimes of One of America’s Most Deranged Killers.” Dead Men Do Tell Tales. 2004. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  8. ^ “No record of Bedden case”. New York Times. March 26, 1935. “Wilmington, Delaware… police said today that they had no record of an attack being made on a Thomas Bedden, as related by Albert H. Fish, convicted slayer …” 
  9. ^ a b “Fish is Sentenced; Admits New Crimes; Death in Electric Chair Fixed for Week of April 29, 1935. Move to Set Aside Verdict Denied.” New York Times. March 26, 1935. White Plains, New York. March 25, 1935. As Albert H. Fish was sentenced to die in the electric chair at Sing Sing, Westchester authorities revealed today that he had confessed to a series of other crimes in various parts of the country. Retrieved February 14, 2007
  10. ^ Albert Fish: real life Hannibal Lecter“. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  11. ^ Grace Budd 1920 US Census; Manhattan
  12. ^ “Wife Accuses Caretaker as Abductor Who Vanished With Girl Two Years Ago.” New York Times. September 5, 1930. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  13. ^ “Charles Edward Pope, who has spent the last 108 days in jail after his arrest in connection with the disappearance of Grace Budd, 10 years old, who was last seen at her parents’ home, 406 West Fifteenth Street, on June 3, 1928, will go on trial today before Judge Allen in General Sessions on a charge of kidnapping the missing girl.” New York Times. December 22, 1930. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  14. ^ Schechter, Harold and David Everitt. The A to Z Encyclop
    edia of Serial Killers
    , Pocket Books, 2006. Page 163
  15. ^ a b Wilson, Colin and Donald Seaman. The Serial Killers. Virgin Publishing Ltd. 2004. p. 70.
  16. ^ Wilson, Colin and Donald Seaman. The Serial Killers. Virgin Publishing Ltd. 2004, page 69.
  17. ^ “William King Dead.” New York Times. July 16, 1944. Retrieved on February 14, 2007.
  18. ^ Fish supplied the following biographical information in captivity: “I was born May 19, 1870, in Washington, D.C.. We lived on B Street, N.E., between Second and Third. My father was Captain Randall Fish, 32nd-degree Mason, and he is buried in the Grand Lodge grounds of the Congressional Cemetery. He was a Potomac River boat captain, running from D.C. to Marshall Hall, Virginia [sic]. My father dropped dead October 15, 1875, in the old Pennsylvania Station where President Garfield was shot, and I was placed in St. John’s Orphanage in Washington. 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. I sang in the choir from 1880 to 1884, soprano, at St. John’s. I came to New York. I was a good painter, interiors or anything. I got an apartment and brought my mother up from Washington. We lived at 76 West 101st Street, and that’s where I met my wife. After our six children were born, she left me. She took all the furniture and didn’t even leave a mattress for the children to sleep on. I’m still worried about my children, you’d think they’d come to visit their old dad in jail, but they haven’t.”
  19. ^ Billy Gaffney’s parents were Elizabeth and Edward Gaffney.
  20. ^ ” Albert Fish.” The Life of a Cannibal. Retrieved February 14, 2007
  21. ^ New York Times. December 14, 1934, pg 3. Retrieved February 14, 2007
  22. ^ New York Times. December 15, 1934, pg 1. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  23. ^ New York Times. March 13, 1935, pg 40. Retrieved February 14, 2007
  24. ^ “Fish Denies Guilt in Gaffney Crime.” New York Times. December 17, 1934. Retrieved February 14, 2007
  25. ^ “Albert Fish, 65, Pays Penalty at Sing Sing. Bronx Negro Also Is Put to Death.” New York Times. January 17, 1936. Ossining, New York, January 16, 1936. Albert Fish, 65 years old, of 55 East 128th Street, Manhattan, a house painter who murdered Grace Budd, 6, after attacking her in a Westchester farmhouse in 1928, was put to death tonight in the electric chair at Sing Sing prison. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  26. ^ Wilson, Colin and Donald Seaman. The Serial Killers. Virgin Publishing Ltd. 2004, page 173.
  27. ^ Howard, Amanda; Martin Smith (2004). River of Blood: Serial Killers and Their Victims. Universal-Publishers. p. 116. ISBN 1581125186. 
  28. ^ Scott, Gini Graham (2007). American Murder. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0275983889. 
  29. ^ “Police Try To Link Budd Girl’s Slayer To 3 Other Crimes; Fish Questioned On O’Connor, Collings And Gaffney Cases. He Denies Part In Them.” New York Times. December 15, 1934. Retrieved on February 14, 2007.

External links

NAME Fish, Albert
DATE OF BIRTH May 19, 1870
PLACE OF BIRTH Washington, D.C., United States
DATE OF DEATH January 16, 1936

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