Biography of Albert Fish, Serial Killer

Fish was one of the most notorious serial child killers of all time

Mugshot of Albert Fish serial killer Mugshot Commons

Hamilton Howard "Albert" Fish was known for being one of the vilest pedophiles, serial child killers, and cannibals of all time. After his capture he admitted to molesting more than 400 children and torturing and killing several of them, though it wasn't known if his statement was true. He was also known as the Gray Man, the Werewolf of Wysteria, the Brooklyn Vampire, the Moon Maniac, and The Boogey Man.

Fish was a small, gentle-looking man who appeared kind and trusting, yet once alone with his victims, the monster inside him was unleashed, a monster so perverse and cruel that his crimes seem unbelievable. He eventually was executed and, according to rumors, turned his execution into a fantasy of pleasure.

Roots of Insanity

Fish was born on May 19, 1870, in Washington, D.C., to Randall and Ellen Fish. His family had a long history of mental illness. His uncle was diagnosed with mania,his brother was sent to a state mental institution, and his sister was diagnosed with a "mental affliction." His mother had visual hallucinations. Three other relatives were diagnosed with mental illness.

His parents abandoned him at a young age, and he was sent to an orphanage, a place of brutality, in Fish's memory, where he was exposed to regular beatings and sadistic acts of brutality. It was said that he began to look forward to the abuse because it brought him pleasure. When asked about the orphanage, Fish remarked, "I was there 'til 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."

Leaves the Orphanage

By 1880 Ellen Fish, now a widow, had a government job and soon removed Fish from the orphanage. He had very little formal education and grew up learning to work more with his hands than his brains. It wasn't long after Fish returned to live with his mother that he began a relationship with another boy who introduced him to drinking urine and eating feces.

According to Fish, in 1890 he relocated to New York, New York, and began his crimes against children. He made money working as a prostitute and started to molest boys. He lured children from their homes, tortured them in various ways—his favorite was using a paddle laced with sharp nails—and then raped them. As time went on, his sexual fantasies with children grew more fiendish and bizarre, often ending in murdering and cannibalizing them.

Father of Six

In 1898 he married and fathered six children. The kids led average lives until 1917, when Fish's wife ran off with another man. At that time they recalled Fish occasionally asking them to participate in his sadomasochistic games. In one such game he asked the children to paddle him with the nail-filled paddle until blood ran down his legs. He also enjoyed pushing needles deep into his skin.

After his marriage ended, Fish wrote to women listed in the personal columns of newspapers, describing in graphic detail the sexual acts he would like to share with them. The descriptions were so vile and disgusting that they were never made public, although they later were submitted as evidence in court.

According to Fish, no women ever responded to his letters asking them for their hand in administering pain.

Fish developed a skill for house painting and often worked in states across the country. Some believed he selected states largely populated with African-Americans because he thought police would spend less time searching for the killer of African-American children than of a Caucasian child. Thus, he selected Black children to endure his torture using his "instruments of hell," which included the paddle, a meat cleaver, and knives.

Polite Mr. Howard

In 1928, Fish answered an ad from 18-year-old Edward Budd, who was looking for part-time work to help with the family finances. Fish, who introduced himself as Mr. Frank Howard, met with Edward and his family to discuss Edward's future. Fish told the family that he was a Long Island farmer looking to pay a strong young worker $15 a week. The job seemed ideal, and the Budd family, excited by Edward's luck in finding the job, instantly trusted the gentle, polite Mr. Howard.

Fish told the Budd family that he would return the following week to take Edward and a friend of Edward's to his farm to begin working. Fish failed to appear on the day promised but sent a telegram apologizing and setting a new date to meet with the boys. When Fish arrived on June 4, as promised, he came bearing gifts for all the Budd children and visited with the family over lunch. To the Budds, Mr. Howard seemed like a typical loving grandfather.

After lunch, Fish explained that he had to attend a children's birthday party at his sister's home and would return later to pick up Eddie and his friend. He then suggested that the Budds allow him to take their oldest daughter, 10-year-old Grace, to the party. The unsuspecting parents agreed and dressed her in her Sunday best. Grace, excited about going to a party, left the house and was never seen alive again.

Six-Year Investigation

The investigation into Grace's disappearance went on for six years before detectives received a substantial break in the case. On November 11, 1934, Mrs. Budd received an anonymous letter giving grotesque details of the murder and cannibalism of her daughter.

The writer tortured Mrs. Budd with details about the empty house her daughter was taken to in Worcester, New York, how she was stripped of her clothing, strangled, and cut into pieces and eaten. As if to provide solace to Mrs. Budd, the writer stated emphatically that Grace had not been sexually assaulted.

Tracing the paper the letter was written on eventually led police to a flophouse where Fish was living. Fish was arrested and immediately confessed to killing Grace and other children. Fish, smiling as he described the grisly details of tortures and murders, appeared to the detectives as the devil himself.

Insanity Plea

On March 11, 1935, Fish's trial began, and he pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. He said voices in his head told him to kill children and commit other horrendous crimes. Despite the numerous psychiatrists who described Fish as insane, the jury found him sane and guilty after a 10-day trial. He was sentenced to die by electrocution.

On January 16, 1936, Fish was electrocuted at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York, reportedly a process Fish looked upon as "the ultimate sexual thrill," though later that assessment was dismissed as rumor.

Additional Source

View Article Sources
  1. Petrikowski, Nicki Peter. "Albert Fish." Cannibal Serial Killers. Enslow Publishing, 2015, pp. 50–54. 

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Montaldo, Charles. "Biography of Albert Fish, Serial Killer." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, September 8). Biography of Albert Fish, Serial Killer. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Biography of Albert Fish, Serial Killer." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).