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Albert H. Fish (May 19, 1870 – January 16, 1936) was an American serial killer and cannibal. He was also known as the Moon Maniac, the Gray Man, the Werewolf of Wysteria and the Brooklyn Vampire.

Over the course of his criminal career, he murdered several children (some of whom he claimed to have eaten) and tortured others across the United States. It is believed that he may have killed adults as well.


Early life and crimes

Albert Fish was born as Hamilton Fish in Washington, D.C., to a family with an extensive history of mental illness, Fish grew up in an orphanage where he was ruthlessly whipped and beaten. He said that he was the only child who looked forward to the beatings. In 1898, he was married to a woman nine years his junior, with whom he had six children, but was a known homosexual.

Fish, a painter, drifted across the United States. He later claimed to have had a murder victim in each of the twenty-three states he had visited, as well as other victims. Most of his victims came from poor black families who were not likely to be able to do much about his actions. Reputed to be a sadomasochist, Fish reportedly indulged in self-mutilation, driving needles into his body, mostly around his genitals. He said he tried sticking a needle in his scrotum but it was too painful, and there were needles in his pelvis that were permanently embedded. He would stuff cotton balls soaked with lighter fluid into his rectum and set fire to them. He is said to have consumed not only the flesh of his victims but also their urine, blood, and excrement. He attributed these tendencies to the abuse he suffered in childhood. He also claimed God sent him on "missions" to kill. His murders often involved slow torture. He would tie children up and whip them with a belt cut in half with nails sticking through to tenderize the flesh for cooking. Fish called his weapons "instruments of hell."


Grace Budd

On May 28, 1928, then aged fifty-eight, Fish visited the Budd family in Manhattan, New York City. He was responding to a work wanted ad placed by 18-year-old Edward Budd. At the Budd's apartment, Fish found Edward perfect, but then met his younger sister, ten-year-old Grace. Fish promised to hire Edward and that he would send for him in a few days, and in the meantime he convinced Mr. and Mrs. Budd to let Grace accompany him to a party that evening at his home. Fish left with Grace Budd that day, but never came back.


The letter

(This letter has been observed from other sources with different content, therefore the accuracy in relation to the original document may be disputed.)

In November of 1934, an anonymous letter was sent to the girl's parents which led the police to Albert Fish. The letter is reprinted here, with all of Fish's misspellings and grammatical errors:

Dear Mrs. Budd. In 1894 a friend of mine shipped as a deck hand on the Steamer Tacoma, Capt. John Davis. They sailed from San Francisco for Hong Kong, China. On arriving there he and two others went ashore and got drunk. When they returned the boat was gone. At that time there was famine in China. Meat of any kind was from $1-3 per pound. So great was the suffering among the very poor that all children under 12 were sold for food in order to keep others from starving. A boy or girl under 14 was not safe in the street. You could go in any shop and ask for steak—chops—or stew meat. 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 girl's behind which is the sweetest part of the body and sold as veal cutlet brought the highest price. John stayed there so long he acquired a taste for human flesh. On his return to N.Y. he stole two boys, one 7 and one 11. Took them to his home stripped them naked tied them in a closet. Then burned everything they had on. Several times every day and night he spanked them—tortured them—to make their meat good and tender. First he killed the 11 year old boy, because he had the fattest ass and of course the most meat on it. Every part of his body was cooked and eaten except the head—bones and guts. He was roasted in the oven (all of his ass), boiled, broiled, fried and stewed. The little boy was next, went the same way. At that time, I was living at 409 E 100 St. near—right side. He told me so often how good human flesh was I made up my mind to taste it. On Sunday June the 3, 1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese—strawberries. We had lunch. 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. You said yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them. When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma. First I stripped her naked. How she did kick—bite and scratch. I 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 tho I could of had I wished. She died a virgin.

Trial

At his trial, which opened on March 11, 1935, Fish pleaded insanity. He claimed to have heard voices from God telling him to kill children. Several psychiatrists took the stand to talk of Fish's many sexual fetishes, including coprophilia, urophilia, pedophilia and masochism, but there was disagreement as to whether these activities necessarily meant someone was insane. The defense's chief expert witness was Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist with a focus on child development who conducted psychiatric examinations for the New York criminal courts; Wertham stated flatly that Fish was insane. The trial lasted for ten days. The jury found him to be sane and guilty, and the judge ordered the death sentence.


Execution

Fish was executed on January 16, 1936, in the electric chair at Sing Sing. It is believed by some that he spoke of the prospect of electrocution as the "supreme thrill" and even helped the executioners fasten the straps that held his body in place. A Daily News reporter who covered the trial wrote that Fish's "watery eyes gleamed at the thought of being burned by a heat more intense than the flames with which he often seared his flesh to gratify his lust," though others thought that Fish did not want to die.

His last words are said to have been "I don't know why I'm here". It was reported that the first jolt of electricity did not kill him, and that a second jolt was needed. A few wrote, facetiously, that the 27 needles Fish had inserted into his body over the years had caused a short circuit. However, this is generally considered to be erroneous, as guards insist that the first jolt did indeed kill him and that all executed prisoners receive a second jolt as a precaution. He is reported loosely to have said after the first attempt to execute him, "is that all you've got?". He is buried in Sing-Sing Prison Cemetery.


Paraphilia

Paraphilia - which literally means "abnormal love" - is the technical term for sexual deviation. According to the psychiatric experts who examined him, Albert Fish had spent his life indulging in every known form of paraphilia, plus a few aberrations that were unknown at the time. For example, he would insert a long-stemmed rose into his penis and look at himself in the mirror, then he would remove the rose and eat it. His other sexual deviations included sadism, masochism, flagellation, exhibitionism, voyeurism, piquerism, pedophilia, coprophagia, undinism, fetishism, urolagnia, and cannibalism.


Legacy

Fish's crimes are recounted in Harold Schecter's Deranged and The Serial Killer Files. He is mentioned in Stephen King and Peter Straub's novel Black House, and some of his letters are quoted. In Caleb Carr's novel The Alienist, a letter similar to that he sent to Grace Budd's parents appears, written by the killer, although about a young boy. In Rob Zombie's horror movie House of 1000 Corpses, he has a vocal appearance and one as a puppet. Marilyn Manson drummer Ginger Fish's stage name was derived in part from Albert Fish. 'Murder metal' band Macabre have written three songs about him, namely "Albert was Worse than any Fish in the Sea", "Mr. Albert Fish Was Children Your Favorite Dish" and "Fishtales". Fish has also been mentioned as one of the influences for Hannibal Lecter from the Thomas Harris novels.