Nick Name: The Bogeyman, The Brooklyn Vampire, Moon Maniac, Werewolf of Wysteria, Gray Man
Birthday: May 19, 1870
Died At Age: 65
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Hamilton Howard Fish
Born Country: United States
Born in: Washington, D.C., United States
Notorious As: Serial Killer
Height: 1.65 m
Spouse/Ex-: Estella Wilcox
father: Randall (1795 – October 16, 1875)
mother: Ellen (née Howell; 1838–c. 1903)
siblings: Annie Fish, Edwin Fish, Walter Winchell Fish
children: Albert Fish Jr., Anna Fish, Eugene Fish, Gertrude Fish, Henry Fish, John Fish
Died on: January 16, 1936
Who was Albert Fish?
Hamilton Howard ‘Albert’ Fish was an American serial killer, paedophile and cannibal. His terrifying crimes earned him monikers like ‘Gray Man’, ‘The Bogey Man’, ‘Werewolf of Wysteria’, ‘Brooklyn Vampire’ and ‘Moon Maniac’. He presented himself as an unassuming and harmless old man, but his bone chilling crimes put him on the list of one of the most deranged and brutal killers of all time. He once claimed that he had one victim in every state of the United States and that his victims were close to a hundred children. However, he was also known to be a compulsive liar who couldn’t separate fact from fiction. Nevertheless, he was executed for the kidnapping and murder of Grace Budd. He confessed to two more murders, giving chilling accounts of how he abused his victims and later killed them for his sexual fetishes. He was put to death in the electric execution chair at the Sing Sing prison facility.
Childhood & Early Life
Albert Fish was born on May 19, 1870, in Washington, D.C., to Randall and Ellen Fish. His father had English roots, while his mother was of Scottish and Irish descent. His father, who was 43 years older than his mother, was 75 when Fish was born. His father passed away when Fish was only five years old.
He was the youngest of his surviving siblings. He had two brothers, named Walter Fish and Edwin Fish; and a sister called Annie Fish. He started calling himself “Albert” after one of his dead siblings.
Many of his family members suffered from mental health issues; including his mother who had visual hallucinations. His uncle suffered from ‘mania’, his brother was sent to a mental asylum and his sister also suffered from ‘mental afflictions’. There were other relatives too who were dealing with several mental illnesses.
His father Randall Fish initially worked as a river boat captain, and he later became a fertilizer manufacturer. He died of a heart attack at Washington’s Sixth Street Station in 1875. Owing to his mother’s mental health issues, Fish was sent to Saint John’s Orphanage in Washington where he was often brutally beaten and tortured.
Since he was frequently exposed to brutality, harsh beatings and torture during his growing up years, he began to associate these with pleasure. He was aroused by unmerciful whipping and flogging and began looking forward to it.
Around 1880, his mother managed to get a stable government job and brought him home from the orphanage. Fish never received any formal education. At the age of 12, he got involved in a relationship with a telegraph boy, who introduced him to paraphilic practices, such as urolagnia and coprophagia.
As a young boy, he started visiting public baths to watch boys undress. He also started writing salacious and vulgar letters to women from classified advertisements and matrimonial agencies.
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Albert Fish moved to New York City in his early 20s and started working as a male prostitute. Around this time, he began to rape young boys.
He first lured them and then tortured them by smacking with paddles embedded with nails, eventually raping them. It was the beginning of his perverted obsession with children, which ultimately led to him becoming one of the most feared serial killers of all time.
In 1898, his mother arranged for him to marry Anna Mary Hoffman, with whom he went on to father six children; namely Albert, Anna, Gertrude, Eugene, John and Henry Fish.
He worked as a house painter in the year 1898. In 1903, he was arrested for grand larceny and incarcerated in Sing Sing prison. He regularly had sex with the prison inmates there.
Fish continued molesting children even after he was married and became a father. He admitted to being obsessed with mutilation after his male lover took him to a wax museum where he saw the bisection of a penis. He then became involved in self-mutilation, often putting needles in his groin and flogging himself with a nail paddle.
In 1910, when he was working in Wilmington, Delaware, he met a young man named Thomas Kedden. Fish and Kedden started engaging in a sadomasochistic relationship. While it is still unknown whether their relationship was consensual or not, he confessed to the fact that Kedden was intellectually disabled.
Fish lured Kedden to an old farmhouse to torture him under the pretence of a rendezvous. He kept him tied up for two weeks and cut half of his penis. “I shall never forget his scream and the look he gave me,” Fish recalled in his confession.
Initially, he intended to kill Kedden, but decided against it when he thought that it would bring unwanted attention towards him. He instead lathered peroxide on his wound, covered it with a handkerchief and left a $10 bill for his troubles. He never saw Kedden again.
By 1917, Fish had become severely mentally ill, and his wife left him for a man named John Straube. She left behind their six children under his care. Following her departure, he started to have auditory hallucinations. In his confession, he recalled wrapping himself in a carpet and saying that he was instructed by John the Apostle.
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Albert Fish committed his first attack on a boy named Thomas Kedden in Delaware in 1910. Later, around 1919, he stabbed an intellectually disabled boy in Georgetown, Washington.
He specifically targeted victims who were either mentally challenged or of African-American descent because he assumed that these people would not be missed as much.
On July 11, 1924, he saw Beatrice Kiel, an eight years old girl, playing on her parents’ farm in Staten Island. To lure her, he offered money to help him look for rhubarb in the fields. Fortunately, her mother saw him and chased him away. He came back to the farm and was found trying to sleep in the barn. The girl’s parents forced him to leave.
Disappearance of Grace Budd
On May 25, 1928, Albert Fish saw a classified advertisement in the ‘New York World’ placed by an Edward Budd, who wanted a working position in the country. Two days later, 58-year-old Fish met with the Budd family under the guise of hiring Edward and his friend Willie.
He introduced himself as Frank Howard, a farmer from Farmingdale, New York. His intended victim was Edward Budd but when he arrived at his house in Manhattan for the second time, his gaze shifted to Grace Budd.
Fish persuaded her parents Albert and Delia Budd to let her accompany him to his niece’s birthday party that evening at his sister’s home. He left with Grace, only never to be found again.
The police arrested Charles Edward Pope on September 5, 1930, on suspicion of kidnapping Grace Budd. The 66-year old apartment superintendent was arrested after his estranged wife tipped the police off. After remaining in jail for 108 days, he was found not guilty.
The investigation continued for six long years because no concrete evidence was found against Charles or any other suspect. Fish was apprehended only in November 1934 when Mrs. Budd received a letter with barbaric details of Grace’s disappearance and murder.
In his letter, Fish revealed that he took Grace to his house upstate where he orchestrated her murder while she was picking wildflowers in the yard. He reportedly choked her to death before eating her flesh.
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The police caught him using the details found on the envelope that he used to send the chilling letter. The chief investigator, William F. King, was waiting for him at his home’s door when Fish charged at him with a razor blade. During his questioning, Fish never denied Grace’s murder.
After Albert Fish was arrested in Grace Budd’s disappearance case, he was linked to several other cases of murders, molestation and kidnapping. Among other suspected victims, he confessed to killing Francis McDonnell and Billy Gaffney.
It was only after his trial for Grace Budd and Billy Gaffney had ended that Fish admitted to raping and murdering Francis McDonnell.
Francis McDonnell was reported missing on 14th July, 1924. His body was found hanging by a tree in the woods near his house. The autopsy revealed that he was severely beaten, sexually assaulted and ultimately choked with his own suspenders.
Billy Gaffney was playing in his apartment’s hallway with Billy Beaton and his brother. Beaton’s brother briefly left to check on his sister, and when he returned, the two young boys had disappeared. Billy Beaton was later found on the roof of the apartment, but Billy Gaffney was never found.
When asked about Billy Gaffney, Beaton said “the bogeyman took him”. Not much was assumed of his statement until an eyewitness came forward and identified Fish. The descriptions given by both Beaton and the eyewitness pointed toward Fish.
Police discovered that Fish was working a few miles away from Gaffney’s disappearance spot. Later, Fish provided a gruesome and detailed account of Billy Gaffney’s murder to his attorney.
Trial & Execution
On March 11, 1935, Albert Fish’s trial for Grace’s murder began in White Plains, New York. His trial lasted for 10 days with Frederick P. Close presiding as judge, Elbert F. Gallagher as District Attorney and James Dempsey the defence attorney.
In his insanity plea, Fish claimed that he heard voices from God who instructed him to kill children.
Many psychiatrists were consulted by the court to lend their expert opinions on Fish’s condition. Dempsey, through these testimonies, wanted to establish Fish as ‘insane’ and a ‘psychiatric phenomenon’.
There were several rebuttal witnesses who testified Fish to be abnormal but sane. Many experts said that Fish’s perversions were “socially perfectly alright” and he was “punishing himself to get sexual gratification”. They agreed that he was not mentally sick and didn’t suffer from psychosis.
His step-daughter Mary Nicholas was also one of the witnesses who testified that he often made her brothers and sisters play games that were sadomasochistic in nature.
The jury declared him to be sane and guilty, and the judge announced his death sentence. He was executed on January 16, 1936, in the electric chair at the Sing Sing prison. His final words were,”I don’t even know why I’m here”.