Written By: Aurora Caskey
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Charles Manson. Ted Bundy. Jeffrey Dahmer. Our culture has a fascination with serial killers. But there’s one man who is relatively unknown who committed some of the most disturbing crimes.
Albert Fish, also known as “The Gray Man” was a serial killer who caused terror predominantly in the 1920s. Other possible nicknames for Fish included the “Werewolf of Wysteria” and the “Brooklyn Vampire”. His crimes consisted of child molestation, rape, murder and cannibalism. He confessed to just three murders and was executed for his crimes, but it is believed that he killed many more upon which the number is unknown. The span of his murders is estimated to have lasted between 1924 and 1934.
Time in the Orphanage
Albert was born in Washington, DC in 1870 to a mentally unstable mother. His father, who was 75 years old when Albert was born, died when Fish was 5 years old. Unable to care for him, Albert’s mother sent him to an orphanage where he suffered from physical abuse. His mother retrieved him from the orphanage when he was 9 years old, but by then he had grown to enjoy the beatings and had seen many sordid and cruel actions between other boys of the orphanage.
Fish moved to New York City around 1890 and continued to molest young boys. When Albert was in his 40s, he began a relationship with a young man named Thomas Kedden. Sources indicate that one day, Fish took Kedden to a farmhouse where he tortured him, before cutting off half his penis. In order to avoid discovery of his vice, rather than killing Kedden, Fish allegedly kissed him, gave him $10, and went home.
Throughout this time, Fish was a married family man and father of six children. When his wife left him in 1917, he was forced to raise his children alone. After she was gone, Albert’s mental state deteriorated. He began to self –harm; during his trial it was revealed that he had over 24 needles embedded in his pelvis.
The Murders Begin
Soon after, Fish escalated his crimes. He stabbed an intellectually disabled boy and attempted to kidnap a young girl from her family’s farm. Fish said he “chose people who were either mentally handicapped or African-American as his victims, explaining that he assumed these people would not be missed when killed.” His psychosis intensified; he thought he was chosen by God to torture and mutilate children.
Fish responded to a classified ad in 1928 that was posted by a family looking for work for their 18-year old son. He went to the family’s house, where he met their 10 year-old daughter Grace. He convinced Grace’s parents to let him take her to his niece’s birthday party. Grace left with Fish and never returned home.
Six years later, with the murder still remaining unsolved, the Budd family were sent an anonymous letter. It detailed the events of the day Grace was killed, along with Fish’s desire to taste human flesh. He claimed he strangled the girl to death before cutting her into pieces and eating her.
Capture & Execution
The envelope that Fish used to send the letter to the Budd Family was ultimately traced to a boarding house that Albert has recently vacated. However, prior to vacating the house, Fish had requested that an incoming check be held there for him. On December 13, 1934, when Fish returned to pick up the check, he was placed in custody and arrested. During his trial, Fish pleaded insanity as his defense to the charges of murder. A witness for the defense claimed Albert’s “obsession with religion and specifically his preoccupation with the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac” was responsible for his crimes. The witness said Fish truly believed that God wanted him to sacrifice a boy to repent for his sins and that angels would intercede to save the child if it was not God’s will. The jury agreed that Fish was truly insane, but nevertheless found cause to sentence him to death. Just a little over a year after his trial began, he was put to death in the electric chair at Sing Sing prison in New York. On January 16, 1936, Fish’s last words were “I don’t even know why I’m here.”
When Fish was arrested for his crimes, he was already in his late 60s. By some accounts, he welcomed being put to death via the electric chair, saying it would be “the supreme thrill” of his life. Even in death, Fish managed to find perverse gratification that he longed for.
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