House painter. Father. Sadomasochist. Murderer. Cannibal.
The Gray Man, The Boogey Man, Brooklyn Vampire, and Werewolf of Wysteria were just a few of the many nicknames given to one of the most notorious serial killers and cannibals in American history. From the outside, he appeared to be a frail old man that couldn’t harm a fly.
His graying hair and unassuming demeanor would later play a role in his eventual downfall. Neighbors and other acquaintances said he was the type of man they would trust to watch their children – without a second thought.
As the old adage goes, “Appearances can be deceiving”. In this case, so deceiving that the Albert Fish story will go down in history as one of the most horrific tales of cannibalism and religious psychosis!
The Nightmarish Albert Fish Story – Father & “Religious” Cannibal
Who Was The “Gray Man”?
The Gray Man was born only 9 years after the first american serial killer H.H. Holmes, but didn’t commit his most heinous acts until around 1924 (by most estimates). He was the child rapist, murderer, and cannibal that represents every parents darkest fears. He was self-loathing father of 6.
A sadomasochistic and self-flagellating man who took his religious upbringing at face value. At his own admittance, he became completely obsessed and consumed with reenacting very specific stories from the Bible.
On multiple occasions, several of his own children stumbled upon some of his homemade bloodstained self-torture devices (which we’ll cover in more detail below). After his wife and children left him, he claims that his fantasies and urges became much more frequent. (Of course, this isn’t to suggest that her leaving with the kids are to blame for his behavior. In fact, she was very wise in doing so.)
He became most obsessed with the stories centered around martyrdom and making the ultimate sacrifice. Was he mentally ill? A misguided religious fanatic? Is it possible that he used these stories to justify his own deviant compulsions?
“Psychopath” or Mentally Ill?
When it comes to examining the behavior of serial offenders like him, it’s hard to take anything at face value. On one hand, he could be drawing much of his inspiration directly from the religious symbolism described in various letters he had written. On the other, it’s also possible that he was using religious symbolism as a way to compartmentalize (or justify) his abhorrent behavior.
That being said, much of his behavior can be explained by modern psychology (hindsight’s 20/20). Many experts speculate that he was a cookie cutter example of someone with antisocial personality disorder (also known as a ‘psychopath’ in mainstream pop culture).
Religious Delusions & Psychosis
Others speculate that he suffered from what they call a ‘religious psychosis’. He describes seeing Jesus on multiple occasions. He not only describes seeing him, but also wrote about the violent commands that Jesus whispered into his ear. On one occasion he even claims to have seen Jesus with blood dripping from his sides.
Other psychologists believe that he may have suffered from what’s called ‘schizotypal personality disorder’. Someone plagued with schizotypal personality disorder doesn’t exactly exhibit the same symptoms as full-blown schizophrenia. (It might help to think of them as close cousins.) There is definitely some symptom overlap. Symptoms like hallucinations, religious preoccupation, and a generally paranoid view of the world are just a few similarities.
Regardless of which diagnosis his behavior should warrant, there’s absolutely no doubt that he was a very sick human being. (What an official mental health diagnosis doesn’t explain, is his lifelong pedophilic interest with young children.) Young children that he would lure into a secluded area with promises of raisins, money, and/or new clothes.
If that’s not enough to make you leave the lights on when you go to sleep tonight, wait until you see how he mutilated himself!
His Preferred Methods of Mutilation
There are various reasons why someone would turn to self-mutilation as a means of escape or self-punishment. In Fish’s case, he was trying to “rid himself of iniquity”. It seems as though he was literally trying to “beat the devil” out of himself.
His self-flagellation usually involved whipping himself with a nail-studded wooden board. This was his delusional mind once again drawing from the religious imagery of Jesus bleeding on the cross.
In a way, he viewed himself as a living, breathing god or savior. In his mind, Jesus saved the world through suffering and self-sacrifice, so he would do the same.
Textbook Sadomasochism & Its Consequences
In his younger years, he sometimes worked as a male prostitute. He had several paraphilias involving urine, feces, receiving pain, inflicting pain, voyeurism, pedophilia, and piquerism (just to name a few). On more than one occasion, he would find a sexual partner (usually male) and trade beatings back and forth. His sadomasochistic personality meant that he enjoyed inflicting pain as much as receiving it.
‘Piquerism’ is a paraphilia where someone derives sexual pleasure from using razors, needles, or other sharp objects to penetrate the skin of yourself or someone else. Since this was one of his main sexual interests, the Gray Man set a previously unprecedented record (in the worst way possible).
His pelvic x-ray, as seen below, showed a total of 29 needles completely embedded in his belly, legs, and hip. He would also shove sharp needles up and under his spine.
At one point, he stuck a needle in his scrotum until it became so painful he had to remove it. Doctors at the time had never seen anything quite like it and were extremely shocked. (Of course, their reaction isn’t very surprising.) There were so many needles in his body, that the people who witnessed his death thought the electrical shock would make his body smoke like a chimney. (You can read more about that below.)
When it comes to mutilating and consuming his victims, his actions were much more deviant and delusional. After he lured a victim to a secluded area, using the methods described above, he would begin the torture. Although he claims to have molested victims in all 50 states, only a few actual murders have been confirmed.
Once his predatory behavior started to escalate, he began luring victims with one goal in mind – to consume their flesh and drink their blood. Why? He believed that he was also consuming their soul and therefore transcending humankind. He believed he that each cannibalistic meal was bringing him closer to his final transformation towards becoming an actual god.
He spent multiple days and nights whipping and lashing the meat he would remove from their backside with a cat o’ nine tails. In his letters, he claimed he was “tenderizing” the meat and that it “tasted like veal”. In his own delusional mind, he had to consume their flesh and blood to not only save himself, but the souls of his victims.
Once again, he was acting out his religious psychosis. He perceived it as a literal holy communion or sacrament. In one of his letters, he claimed it was a religious sacrifice or ritual. The way he describes eating the meat of his victims in the documentary titled In Sin He Found Salvation suggests otherwise.
A Short Stay At The Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital
You’ve probably noticed that we’ve referenced his handwritten letters quite a bit so far. That’s because he had a ‘letter-writing’ compulsion. This compulsion is what led to him being temporarily held at the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in Manhattan, New York City.
He had sent a lewd letter to a woman looking for work in the classified section of the newspaper. She ended up reporting him to the authorities and he was arrested shortly after. How long was he held? After only 3 short months, he was found to be sane and released.
You might be wondering, “How could someone like him even appear to be sane?!”. Most experts agree that his release was largely based on his unassuming appearance. At the time, psychology didn’t have the knowledge or resources that they do now. He was clearly able to put on a straight face, probably apologize for the letter he’d written, and more or less ‘blend in’.
He was obviously extremely deceptive, withholding, or simply not even questioned about his paraphilias and perversions. The Brooklyn Vampire was back on the streets. Back on the streets, that is, until he was questioned about the death of a young girl named Grace Budd.
What Led To His Arrest?
As surprising as it might sound, he was arrested after sending an anonymous letter to the family of the victim. Throughout the letter that led to his arrest, he described his travels to China with a friend. He also describes witnessing the flesh of boys and girls under 12 being sold in the streets.
Here’s an excerpt from that letter:
“Part of the naked body of a boy or girl would be brought out and just what you wanted cut from it. A boy or girls behind which is the sweetest part of the body and sold as veal cutlet brought the highest price.”
Apparently, this is where he got the idea to start eating human flesh. Shortly after he got back to the States, he kidnapped two victims and used the same methods he had witnessed and prepared them to be eaten. Without going into too much detail, the anonymous confession was directly traced back to him.
In that letter, he specifically mentions Grace Budd by name and describes the night her parents let him take her “to a party”. Listen to another chilling excerpt from the letter that put the final nail in his coffin below:
Once the police put two and two together, they showed up at his doorstep and waited until he got back from being out for the day.
Upon being questioned outside his room, the Gray Man drew a razor blade and William F. King (the chief investigator) disarmed him. Once he was in custody, he made a full confession to the murder of Grace Budd. He also later confessed to two more unsolved murders after being identified by neighbors and several of the victims family members.
Prison Sentence, Death, and Estimated Body Count
It seems almost insane to think that a single handwritten letter would literally put an end to his madness. Better yet, a letter he wrote and sent himself! After confessing to 3 total murders, he was sentenced to death by electric chair. (If you remember, we briefly hinted at that above.)
He was eventually confirmed to have been involved in at least 5 murders and possibly up to 15! He also molested at least 100 people (most of which were young boys). Even though 5-15 murders and 100 molestations seems like an impossible amount of havoc to single-handedly carry out – many consider that to be a very low estimate!
Almost without missing a step, the Werewolf of Wysteria continued to self-mutilate while he awaited his death at the Sing Sing prison. He would whittle chicken bones from his meals into a needle-like shape and carry on with his self-flagellating behavior. The onlookers who attended his execution stood by and whispered about whether or not his body would start to smoke and catch fire.
They thought the needles embedded in his skin would catch the electrical current and cause some sort of abnormal reaction. While that may seem logical in theory, his electrocution was ‘business as usual’ and he was pronounced dead at the age of 65.
“Appearances Can Be Deceiving”
Looking back on his demented crimes against humanity, many experts make the argument that he was was completely incurable and far beyond saving. If he was never arrested and executed, it’s almost guaranteed that he would have continued to victimize children until he was stopped by old age, disease, or some other outside force. Reformation was completely out of the question.
Although no one except himself can accept the blame for his actions, the Albert Fish story puts an entirely new perspective on judging a book by its cover. Today, we have direct access to more information, news stories, and lessons from the past. Back then, society was generally far too trusting.
Also, keep in mind that this was long before the foundation of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (which was dramatized in the Netflix series titled Mindhunter). A highly-trained team of criminal profilers simply didn’t exist at that time. Here’s the scary reality – it’s very possible that there are at least a few other offenders just like him.
Walking by us on the street. Living next door. In your own house.
If nothing else, his life serves as a blaring reminder that we probably shouldn’t fully-trust everyone we meet just because it’s the ‘polite thing to do’. (Well, that and the fact that some monsters are real.)
Now that you know more (maybe more than you asked for) about the Werewolf of Wysteria – what do you think?
What insight can you gain from this gruesome tale? Is it wrong to think that we can learn something positive from his actions?
Leave a comment below and let us know what you think! Thanks for taking a short journey with us to the darker side of humanity – we look forward to hearing from you!