Albert Hamilton Fish (May 19, 1870 – January 16, 1936) was an American sado-masochistic serial killer and cannibal. He was also known as the Gray Man, the Werewolf of Wysteria and possibly the Brooklyn Vampire.
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.
He was born as Hamilton 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 he 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. He was frequently whipped and beaten there, and eventually discovered that he enjoyed physical pain. The beatings would often give him erections, for which the other orphans teased him.
By 1879, 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. He was arrested for embezzlement and was sentenced to incarceration in Sing Sing in 1903. He regularly had sex with men while in prison.
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.
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.
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. Afterward, he stabbed a mentally retarded boy around 1919 in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.. Consistently, many of his intended victims would be either mentally retarded or African-American, because, he believed, these 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 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.
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. Albert senior was a porter for the Equitable Life Assurance Society. Grace had a sister, Beatrice; and two other brothers, Albert Budd II; and George Budd. Fish left with Grace that day, but never came back.
The police arrested Charles Edward Pope on September 5, 1930 as a suspect of the kidnapping. He was a 66-year-old apartment house superintendent, and he was accused by his estranged wife. He spent 108 days in jail between his arrest and trial on December 22, 1930.
Seven 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:
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.
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 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.
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. Billy's mother visited Fish in Sing Sing to try and get more details of her son's death. Fish confessed the following:
Fish married on February 6, 1930 at 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 an African American 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. Francis was playing on the front porch of his home near Port Richmond, Staten Island in July 15, 1924. Francis's 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 Francis and his friends play. Francis' body was found in the woods near where a neighbor had seen Francis and the "old man" going earlier that afternoon. He had been assaulted and strangled with his suspenders.
Fish arrived in March of 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." Legend has it, that his execution took longer, due to the numerous needles inserted into his privates which disrupted the flow of electricity.
Other possible victims
Fish denied involvement with any other murders. However he was a suspect in three other murders. Detective William King believed Fish may have been the "Brooklyn vampire", a rapist and murderer who mainly preyed on children. They were: