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"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. A child molester and cannibal, he boasted that he had "had children in every state," 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.

Early life

He was born as Hamilton Fish in Washington, D.C.marker, 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 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 psychopathology, 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. 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.marker 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.

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. 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.


By 1890, Fish had arrived in New York Citymarker, 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 his junior. They had six children: Albert, Anna, Gertrude, Eugene, John, and Henry Fish.

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, his screaming frightened Fish who then fled after leaving him a ten dollar note. Fish then increased the frequency of his visits to brothels where he could be whipped and beaten. In 1903 he was arrested for embezzlement and was sentenced to incarceration in Sing Singmarker.

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. 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. 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. Later 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.

At the age of 55, Fish began to experience delusions and hallucinations that God commanded him to torment and castrate little boys. 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 (named Thomas Bedden) in Wilmington, Delawaremarker. Later, he stabbed a mentally challenged boy around 1919 in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.marker. Consistently, many of his intended victims would be either mentally challenged or African Americans, because he believed they would not be missed.

On July 11, 1924, Fish found eight-year-old Beatrice Kiel playing alone on her parents' Staten Islandmarker 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 Manhattanmarker, New York Citymarker under the pretense of hiring Edward. He introduced himself as Frank Howard, a farmer from Farmingdale, New Yorkmarker. 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.

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.

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:

Mrs. Budd was illiterate and could not read the letter herself, so she had her son read it instead. Fish had told the police, when asked, that it "never even entered his head" to rape the girl, 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.


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 Fish 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.

Postcapture discoveries

Billy Gaffney

A child named Billy Gaffney was playing in the hallway outside of his family's apartment in Brooklynmarker 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 Brooklynmarker 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. Gaffney's mother visited Fish in Sing Sing to try to get more details of her son's death. Fish confessed the following:

Second incarceration

Fish married on February 6, 1930, in Waterloo, New Yorkmarker, to "Mrs. Estella Wilcox" and divorced after one week. Fish had been arrested in May 1930 for "sending an obscene letter to a woman who answered an advertisement for a maid." He had been sent to the Bellevue psychiatric hospitalmarker 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 March 11, 1935, in White Plains, New Yorkmarker 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.

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. 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". 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 Dr Menas Gregory, the former head of the Bellevue psychiatric hospitalmarker 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 Tombsmarker 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.

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 Islandmarker. McDonnell was playing on the front porch of his home near Port Richmond, Staten Islandmarker 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.

Fish arrived in March 1935, and was executed on January 16, 1936, in the electric chair at Sing Singmarker. 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." According to one witness present, it took two jolts before Fish died, creating the legend that the apparatus was short-circuited by the needles Fish previously inserted into his body.

Many years later, Dr. 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.



  • 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
  • Mary Ellen O'Connor, age 16, February 15, 1932
  • Benjamin Collings, age 17, December 15, 1932

See also


  1. 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. ; 1870 US Census; Washington, D.C.
  4. Wilson, Colin and Donald Seaman. The Serial Killers. Virgin Publishing Ltd. 2004. p. 176.
  5. 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.
  6. 1920 US Census; Manhattan
  7. "Wife Accuses Caretaker as Abductor Who Vanished With Girl Two Years Ago." New York Times. September 5, 1930. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  8. "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.
  9. Schechter, Harold and David Everitt. The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, Pocket Books, 2006. Page 163
  10. Wilson, Colin and Donald Seaman. The Serial Killers. Virgin Publishing Ltd. 2004. p. 70.
  11. Wilson, Colin and Donald Seaman. The Serial Killers. Virgin Publishing Ltd. 2004, page 69.
  12. "William King Dead." New York Times. July 16, 1944. Retrieved on February 14, 2007.
  13. 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."
  14. Billy Gaffney's parents were Elizabeth and Edward Gaffney.
  15. " Albert Fish." The Life of a Cannibal. Retrieved February 14, 2007
  16. New York Times. December 14, 1934, pg 3. Retrieved February 14, 2007
  17. New York Times. December 15, 1934, pg 1. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  18. New York Times. March 13, 1935, pg 40. Retrieved February 14, 2007
  19. "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
  20. "Fish Denies Guilt in Gaffney Crime." New York Times. December 17, 1934. Retrieved February 14, 2007
  21. "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.
  22. Wilson, Colin and Donald Seaman. The Serial Killers. Virgin Publishing Ltd. 2004, page 173.
  23. "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.

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