Albert Fish owns the special distinction of being one of America’s most gruesome serial killers. The fact that he not only killed but also ate children cemented his place in American history as the human version of the Boogie Man. Fish claimed to have killed more than 100 children but in reality, he was only ever convicted of killing one: Grace Budd. It was the murder of Grace Budd that sent Albert Fish to the electric chair.
A Monster Is Born
Albert Fish was born Hamilton Howard “Albert” Fish on May 19, 1870. His father, Randall, was 75 years old at the time. His mother, Ellen, was 43 years younger than her husband. Albert was the youngest of 4 living children. He took on the name Albert after a deceased sibling, after he grew tired of other children calling him “Ham and Eggs” when he was a child.
By the time Albert was 5, his elderly father had passed away. His mother was faced with the difficult decision to put her children in an orphanage until she could find a way to support them on her own. Fish’s time spent in Saint John’s orphanage helped to shape him into the monster he became later in life. Fish was frequently subjected to physical abuse. Instead of turning from the pain, young Albert realized he enjoyed the pain inflicted upon him. When Albert was 10, his mother had secured a government job and was able to return to for her children, removing them from the orphanage. It was too little too late for Fish. The abuse had left it’s mark on the boy, both physically and mentally.
At the age of 12, Albert Fish formed a relationship with a local telegraph boy. This young man introduced Fish to some disgusting practices such as urolagnia, drinking urine, and coprophagia, the act of eating feces. Fish would spend his weekends visiting public bath houses where he would spy on other young boys as they undressed. He frequently answered mail order classified ads placed by women seeking marriage proposals with vulgar, obscene letters. Fish’s youthful pastimes were clear evidence of his mental illness, however, during that time in history, there wasn’t a lot of information available for classifying and identifying serial killers in the making.
A Serial Killer Hones His Skills
By the time Fish was 20, he was living in New York City and working as a prostitute. It was during this time in his life that he starting raping young boys. As mothers tended to do during this time in history, Albert’s mother arranged a marriage for him. It was a fruitful marriage. Although 9 years younger than Fish, Anna Mary Hoffman gave him six children.
In an attempt to live a normal, respectable life, Fish found work as a house painter. His employment did not stop his gross behavior though. He continued to rape young boys. He once told the story of a male lover who took him to a wax museum. It was there that Fish became fascinated with penis bisection. Sexual mutilation became an obsession that drove Fish to desperate attempts to fulfill his sick fantasies.
It was in Wilmington, Delaware in 1910 that Fish committed his first mutilation. Albert met and formed a sadomasochistic relationship with a young man named Thomas Kedden. Kedden was only 19 years old and impressionable. It has been suggested that Fish took advantage of the young man, forcing him into the relationship. Fish eventually took the boy to an old farmhouse where he kept him and tortured him for two weeks. By the end of the two weeks of hell, Kedden found himself tied up while Albert Fish cut off half of his penis.
Fish later said of the young man, "I shall never forget his scream or the look he gave me”. Fish’s plan to kill the boy, cut him up, and take his body back to his home was spoiled by the hot weather. Fish was afraid the meat would spoil. So instead, he poured peroxide over the gruesome wound, slathered it in vaseline, planed a rag over it, handed Kedden a $10 bill, kissed him goodbye and fled the scene. Fish claimed he never knew what became of the boy after he took his leave of the gruesome scene.
Albert Fish Becomes A Father
In 1917, Anna Mary left Albert and their children for a slightly feeble-minded handyman by the name of John Straube. Straube had once rented a room with the Fish family. Anna Mary and Straube fled the home with all the furnishing while Fish was at work. When he came home, he found his wife gone, his home empty, and his children dependent solely on him. Not much long after she fled the home, Mrs. Fish and her lover returned to her family home, begging for a place to stay. Albert said Anna Mary could stay but her lover had to leave.
It didn’t take Fish long to discover Straube hiding out in the attic. Anna Mary had been sneaking food up to him as well as sneaking up to spend time with him. Once discovered, Fish told his estranged wide she could stay, but her lover had to leave. Both Mrs. Fish and Straube fled. The Fish children never saw their mother place a foot in the family home again.
After the drama created by his wife had ended, Albert began to act strangely. It is said this was when he began to suffer auditory hallucinations. He also began to experiment with self-harm. Fish would push needles into his groin. He enjoyed hitting himself with a nail-studded wooden paddle. It was reported that he would frequently insert a lighter fluid soaked wooden dowel into his anus and set in on fire. For fun. He went as far as to encourage his children and their friends to hit him with his nail-studded paddle.
It was during this time that he began to experiment with cannibalism. Like sexual mutilation, cannibalism became an obsession of Albert Fish’s. He would often prepare entire meals made of raw meat for his family in an attempt to quell his desire for human flesh.
Throughout the dark period following the departure of his wife and before committing his first murder, Fish was evaluated by psychiatric hospitals numerous times. Each time he was declared sane and released into society. It was also during this time when Fish began to amass his collection of torture devices, a meat cleaver, a small handsaw, and a butcher knife.
Fish Targets The Handicapped
Around 1919, Albert Fish began stabbing young men who were either mentally handicapped or African American as he felt these people wouldn’t be missed. Fish was fond of paying children to help him catch other children so he could torture and murder them. None of these murders were verified with actual proof. Albert Fish made a lot of claims after his eventual arrest. Although there was no proof, Albert Fish victims numbered in the hundreds according to him.
By 1924, Albert Fish was suffering from full-on psychosis. He truly believed God was commanding him to torture and murder children, although he had been evaluated by professionals numerous times. In July of the same year, Fish spotted young Beatrice Kiel playing alone on her families’ farm. Her mother noticed Fish lurking about and chased him off, saving the life of the 8-year-old girl. Later that night, Fish returned to the Kiel farm and slept in the barn. He was discovered and promptly chased off by Hans Kiel, young Beatrice’s father.
Albert Fish’s next attempt was targeted at Cyril Quinn, a young boy he had been molesting. Fish offered the boys lunch in order to lure them into his home. While waiting for sandwiches, the boys wrested on Fish’s bed. The mattress overturned, revealing Fish’s “implements of hell”, the knife, handsaw, and cleaver. The boys fled the home in fear for their lives. Once again, Fish’s mission to kill and consume a child had failed. This caused Fish to up his game a little.
Grace BuddIn 1928, Albert Fish answered an ad seeking work for 18-year-old Edward Budd. The Budd family struggled financially, therefore Edward was hoping to find employment to take some of the burdens off his father. Albert Fish answered the ad by showing up at the Budd family home. He portrayed himself as an average, not at all psychopathic, sweet old man looking for help around his home. The Budd family never suspected they were dealing with a deranged murderer.
Albert Fish introduced himself to the Budd Family as Frank Howard, a Long Island farmer who was willing to pay $15 per week for Edward Budd’s help around his home. The Budd family could not believe their good fortune. They bought Fish’s story, hook, line, and sinker. Meanwhile, Fish planned to tie Edward up, mutilate him, and leave him to bleed to death before consuming him. Fish made arrangements with the Budd family to return a week later for Edward.
When Fish returned to the Budd home as planned, he met little Grace. Albert became so captivated with Grace Budd that he changed his plans. Instead of Edward, his intended victim became the young girl. Albert’s new plans included a story about a niece”s birthday party that he wanted to take Grace to. Because the Budd parents were so enamored with the old man, they agreed. Grace Budd left with Albert Fish and never returned to her family.
Albert Fish was not initially a suspect in the disappearance of Grace Budd. Police wrongly arrested superintendent Charles Edward Pope. He spent 108 days in jail before he was found not guilty of the crimes against little Grace. An anonymous letter received by Grace’s parents became the key to solving the disappearance of Grace.
Albert Fish Letter
In November of 1934, a letter arrived at the Budd home. Mrs. Budd was unable to read the letter herself so her son, Edward, read the chilling words to his mother. Here are a few excerpts from the letter, written by Fish himself, that eventually led to the arrest of Albert Fish.
“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 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 stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mama. First I stripped her naked. How she did kick – bite and scratch. I choked her to death then cut her into 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, though, I could of [sic] had I wished.”
Grace Budd’s family were forced to hear these words, from the hand of the man who tortured and murdered their little Grace. Parts of the Albert Fish letter were verified by police. Other parts of the letter were not. Facts surrounding the murder of Grace were accurate, although claims that Fish ate pieces of Grace were never confirmed.
Albert Fish is Arrested
Fish overlooked important evidence on the envelope he used to send his gruesome letter to the Budd family. There was a small hexagon shaped emblem in the corner that read “N.Y.P.C.B.A.”. Those letters stood for the New York Private Chauffeur's Benevolent Association. After some questioning by the police, it was discovered an employee took some envelopes home to his boarding house room. He left them behind when he moved out. Police were able to track down Albert Fish, the next tenant to occupy the room. When Fish returned to his room, police were waiting. Fish pulled a switchblade on the police after his arrest, to no avail. Fish never denied murdering Grace Budd. He did deny raping her, although he admitting to having several strong orgasms while strangling the young girl.
Other Albert Fish Victims
After being arrested for the murder of Grace Budd, Albert Fish admitted to a few other killings. Francis McDonnell was only 9 years when he encountered the sick Albert Fish. The young resident of Staten Island never returned home after a day spent playing catch with friends. After a brief search, the boy’s body was found hanging from a tree. He had been strangled with his suspenders after suffering sexual assault. Fish later admitted to attempting to castrate the boy but took off when he heard people approaching the gruesome scene.
This crime earned Fish the moniker “The Gray Man” after McDonnell’s friends reported seeing a man with a thick gray mustache and shaggy gray hair. He was reported as looking “faded and gray”. The murder of Francis McDonnell remained unsolved until Fish confessed after being arrested for the murder of Grace Budd.
Fish also confessed to the murder of 4-year-old Billy Gaffney after being arrested for the murder of Grace Budd. He confessed via a letter to his lawyer. Here are some especially horrendous excepts from the letter, written by Fish himself.
“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.”
“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.”
Trial and ExecutionIt is no wonder Fish was dubbed “the most vicious child-slayer in criminal history”. The trial for the murder of Grace Budd lasted 11 days. Fish was found guilty and eventually put to death via electrocution. It was reported that Fish helped the executioner place the electrodes on his body. There were rumors stating the needles Fish had inserted into his body caused the electric chair to short circuit, thus requiring twice the normal jolts of electricity to finish the job. These claims have since been refuted. After Fish was put to death, his lawyer stated he had final words from Fish, amounting to nothing more than handwritten notes. The lawyer refused to read them, stating “I will never show it to anyone. It was the most filthy string of obscenities that I have ever read”. Fish was a vile human being, right up to the end of his life.
Albert Fish Movie and Documentary
Like all horrible serial killer stories, Albert Fish’s tale has been made into a movie. It is easy to see how such a terrible story would make a captivating movie for fans of serial killer tales. 2007’s The Gray Man stars Patrick Bauchau as Fish. The movie centers around the frantic search for the man accused of killing Grace Budd and then torturing her family with his cruel letter.
In addition to The Gray Man, there is a 2007 documentary entitled Albert Fish: In Sin He Found Salvation. This Albert FIsh documentary offers a more in-depth look into the mind of America’s most gruesome child murderer. It explores Fish’s obsession with the bible and how he believed God was instructing him to commit his horrible crimes. It stars Too Brezina as Albert Fish. Both the movie and the documentary offer a glance into the mind of Albert Fish.
Albert Fish Quotes
As we have seen before, all serial killers leave behind chilling quotes regarding their crimes. Albert Fish was no different in this way. Here are some especially chilling words from Fish himself.
"What a thrill that will be if I have to die in the electric chair. It will be the supreme thrill. The only one I haven't tried."
“I always had a desire to inflict pain on others and to have others inflict pain on me. I always seemed to enjoy everything that hurt.”
“I like children they are tasty.”
“Misery leads to crime. I saw so many boys whipped it ruined my mind.”
Albert Fish will always remain one of America’s worst child killers. Few serial killers have achieved the brutality he is famous for, especially against children. Whether Albert Fish’s time in the orphanage turned him into a serial killer or not remains to be seen. With someone as horrible as Fish, one has to wonder if he was born to be a killer or did his circumstances turn him evil. Like most serial killers, it seems to be a little of both nurture and nature. While he claims to have killed hundreds of children, ‘one in every state”, he was only ever found to have killed 3. Those three killing were so gruesome they cemented Fish’s place in history as the worst killer of children in all of American history.