The Werewolf of Wysteria, the Brooklyn Vampire, the Moon Maniac. Whatever you want to call him, Albert Fish was one of the most perverted and sadistic serial killers to have ever lived. Not only was he a child murderer, cannibal, and pedophile, but Fish also had a penchant for extreme torture and mutilation – on both himself and others.
While Fish is mostly known for his murder of Grace Budd, his crimes – and his bizarre antics – actually extend much further. The life of Albert Fish, from his abusive childhood right up to his execution, was rife with shocking occurrences that seem even too strange for fiction. Here are 15 horrifying Albert Fish serial killer facts that might just keep you up at night.
1. A Childhood Straight Out Of A Nightmare
Born Hamilton Howard Albert Fish to parents Randall and Ellen Fish in 1870, Fish was thrust into a life of misery the moment he left the womb. His mother was 32 years old when Fish was born, but his father, a riverboat captain, was 75. Only five years later, Fish’s father passed away, and so Fish’s mother was forced to place her son in care due to a lack of finances.
She sent Fish to Saint John’s orphanage in Washington, where he was exposed to scenes that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Fish was subject to harsh discipline at the hands of cruel orphanage owners and claimed to have been “mercifully whipped” during his time there. This exposure to violence and pain helped mold him into the serial killer Albert Fish eventually became.
2. He Began To Enjoy The Pain
When Fish was 10 years old, his mother was able to withdraw her children from the orphanage due to finally landing a job. However, the trauma that Fish had endured during his time in care had already done irreparable damage to his mind and his view of the world. The orphanage owners not only tormented the children themselves but encouraged the children to attack each other too.
When Fish returned home in 1880, he’d come to rely on this pain as an outlet for his misery. Now without anyone to discipline him, Fish turned to self-mutilation. He would cut, pierce and paddle himself with any sufficient implements he could find at home. This soon progressed into a psycho-sexual fixation on the correlation between pleasure and pain which would plague his later years.
3. Mental Illness Ran In The Fish Family
Albert Fish wasn’t the only person in his family with a warped mind. Mental illness was rife amongst his blood relatives, with at least seven of the Fish family members having been identified as suffering from severe mental illness with two of them reportedly dying in mental asylums.
Fish’s uncle suffered from regular bouts of religious mania. His sister and one of his brothers were both diagnosed with various mental afflictions, and Fish’s mother also suffered from extreme visual hallucinations. In some ways, it was inevitable that Fish would also suffer some kind of mental illness too, only Fish’s was also combined with severe childhood trauma.
4. He Had An Arranged Marriage
At the age of 20, Fish left Washington and moved to New York City. Eight years later, Fish’s mother arranged for Fish to marry a Brooklyn woman named Anna Mary Hoffman. Fish happily went through the process, marrying the 19-year-old Anna in 1898. The couple went on to have six children together: Albert, Anna, Gertrude, Eugene, John, and Henry Fish.
But Anna ended up leaving in 1917, abandoning Fish and their six children. This left Fish as a single parent who, in stark contrast to his perceived character, did everything he could to ensure his kids were cared for. Fish’s married life didn’t end there, as he later went on to marry two more women, but both ended abruptly.
5. He Was Prone To Violent Outbursts
Despite Fish’s subsequent marriages, his separation from Anna took its toll on the Gray Man. Shortly after Anna left, Fish’s behavior drastically changed, and his children began to notice more and more sudden outbursts of rage in their father. One of his sons mentioned that during a family outing, Fish climbed the Westchester hills, dropped to his knees, and shouted “I am Christ!”
The same son later described that around the same time, Fish began to consume raw meat. Often he would find his father eating steak completely raw, which Fish later claimed he only did during a full moon. He also mentioned how he’d often find his father naked, beating himself with wooden boards and paddles. Fish allegedly also made his own children spank him as part of a sick game.
6. His First Victim Was A Disabled Teenager
In 1910, Fish met a man named Thomas Kedden. Kedden was a mentally-disabled 19-year-old who’d lived most of his life on trains going up and down New York. Fish took advantage of Kedden’s vulnerabilities and he and soon Fish entered into a sadomasochistic relationship.
Fish took Kedden to an isolated farmhouse, restrained him, and acted out his utmost depraved fantasies. Fish castrated Kedden, later saying he would “never forget the screams.” Fish intended on killing and dismembering Kedden but feared the summer heat would give away the location of the body. Instead, Fish left Kedden with $10 and fled, never contacting him again.
7. Albert Fish Loved Young Boys
The “Moon Maniac” suffered from a cocktail of bizarre fetishes and sexual impulses, but the one thing he loved more than anything was young boys. In July 1924, 8-year-old Francis McDonnell from Staten Island vanished after playing with his friends. Several days later, McDonnell’s body was found hanging from a tree, one leg stripped of its flesh.
In February 1927, 4-year-old Billy Gaffney disappeared from outside of his home in Brooklyn, with Gaffney’s brother telling police that “the boogeyman took him.” Fish later detailed the events in a sadistic letter, claiming that he tortured Gaffney before cooking and eating him. According to Fish, he “never ate roast turkey that tasted half as good as his behind did.”
If you want to get in the mind of a serial killer – check out these five other disturbing Albert Fish quotes.
8. He Changed His Mind On A Victim
In May 1928, The Brooklyn Vampire found an ad in the New York World from an 18-year-old young man named Edward Budd. Budd was looking for manual labor work and so Fish visited him under the pretense of hiring him. In reality, Fish wanted to abduct Budd, tie him up and bleed him out. Fish arrived at the Budd family home, introducing himself as house painter Frank Howard, but then had a change of heart.
Fish thought Edward was too old for him, so set his sights on his younger sister, Grace, instead. Fish convinced Grace’s parents to let him take her to his niece’s birthday party that same day, and the parents agreed. However, Grace Budd never returned home.
9. Documented Grace’s Murder In A Letter
Fish took Grace to an empty house where he killed and cannibalized her. Grace was reported missing and police desperately searched for her for six years. In 1934, a very bizarre lead popped up – directly from Fish himself. He sent a letter to Grace’s parents describing her ordeal in gruesome detail.
“Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her, on the pretense of taking her to a party… I removed all my clothes, choked her to death then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms, cook, and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did not fuck her, though, I could of had I wished. She died a virgin.”
10. His Mistakes Led To His Capture
Police tracked the address of the sender to an apartment East 52nd Street in New York, where they found that a man named Albert Fish had checked out several days before. Chief investigator William King waited outside the apartment for Fish to return, and when he did, arrested him immediately.
Fish confessed everything, from his murder of Grace Budd to the disabled young boy he’d castrated years before. Fish spared no details, describing his desire to kill children and his lust for younger boys, eager to paint himself as the most vicious child slayer the world had ever seen.
11. He Claimed To Have Had 100 Victims
In his interviews, the “Werewolf of Wysteria” claimed to have killed over 100 other children in addition to the ones police had evidence for. He claimed that he had “children in every state,” however, this boast remains unconfirmed. In total, police only had enough evidence to charge Fish with three of the murders he confessed to: Francis McDonnell, Billy Gaffney, and Grace Budd.
He was suspected of many more, but despite the police’s best attempts, they couldn’t physically connect Fish to these suspected slayings. Even so, this was enough to award him a death sentence. In March 1935, Fish was sentenced to die in the electric chair.
12. He Was Considered A Psychiatric Phenomenon
Many psychologists evaluated Fish after his capture, and one described the Gray Man as a ‘psychiatric phenomenon.’ Fish’s defense lawyer claimed that nowhere in the history of legal or medical records was there someone who boasted so many mental abnormalities. Fish’s list of diagnosed perversions included sadism, masochism, flagellation, cannibalism, coprophagia (consuming feces), urophilia (drinking urine), and necrophilia.
Fish was also found to have suffered from religious mania, the same affliction suffered by his uncle. Fish saw himself as a devout Christian, and by murdering these children he was saving them from sinning. Fish took great pleasure in the fact he didn’t sexually assault these children while he was alive, believing it allowed them to die pure.
13. An X-Ray Showed Needles In His Anus
Fish was one of the most masochistic people in human history, often subjecting himself to levels of torment that could fatally wound someone with a lower pain threshold. In addition to beating himself with a nail-studded paddle and setting himself alight, one of Fish’s most famous forays into masochism involve the use of needles.
After his arrest, an x-ray discovered 29 needles lodged in Fish’s pelvic region. Over the years, Fish had been inserted needles into himself anally, many of which had taken up permanent residence inside his body. The x-ray was introduced at Fish’s trial as evidence of his insanity.
14. Fish’s Final Statement Has Never Been Read
Fish wrote plenty of letters and confessions during his time, and the contents of most of them have been published for the world to see at some point. However, there’s one letter of Fish’s which was only ever read by a single person and was then immediately destroyed.
Just before his execution by electric chair, Fish sent his lawyer his ‘final statement,’ which he’d also written moments before his death. His lawyer was urged by the media to release the contents but claimed that he would never show it to anyone. “It was the most filthy string of obscenities that I have ever read,” he later said.