Even in the darkest annals of the most bizarre and upsetting serial killers, Albert Fish — aka “The Gray Man,” “The Werewolf of Wysteria,” “The Brooklyn Vampire,” “The Moon Maniac,” and “The Boogey Man” — stands out among the most hideous and heinous.
On January 16, 1936, the State of New York executed Albert Fish by way of the electric chair nicknamed “Old Sparky” at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining. His parting words, reportedly, were “I don’t even know why I’m here.”
A judge and jury had ordered Fish into that hot seat following his trial the previous year for the 1928 kidnapping and murder of 10-year-old Grace Budd on Long Island. The crime remained unsolved until 1934, when Fish mailed a letter to Grace’s mother, graphically describing the horrors to which he subjected her daughter.
The correspondence ended with Fish writing, “It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did not f— her, though, I could of [sic] had I wished. She died a virgin.”
Police traced the stationery to Fish’s rooming house. He confessed to the crime — as well as a litany of other atrocities.
Fish claimed to have “had children in every state.” He has since been proven to have raped and strangled Francis X. McDonnell, age 8, and tortured and eaten Billy Gaffney, age 4.
After Billy Gaffney disappeared while playing in his apartment hallway, a child witness described what happened by saying, “The Boogey Man took him.” Later, it was discovered that Fish wrote in depth about how he savaged the toddler and then cooked and consumed Billy’s flesh.
In addition to those established crimes, Fish is suspected in five more torture-murders, with victims ranging in age from 5 to 17. He repeatedly indicated he committed even more killings.
Albert Fish was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up severely abused in St. John’s Orphanage. At 12, an older boy introduced Fish to fetish-oriented sexual practices.
By his late teens, Fish said he worked as a prostitute and sexually abused numerous male children. He also grew fascinated with genital mutilation and self-flagellation, habitually sticking needles into his groin and otherwise injuring himself, usually within a sexual context.
It’s believed that in 1910, Fish cut his sadomasochistic lover’s penis off after two weeks of torturing him, but the victim survived.
In 1919, Fish reportedly stabbed a boy with developmental disabilities. He continued to attack weak and destitute youngsters throughout the 1920s.
Justifying his transgressions, Fish claimed to be hearing messages from God ordering him to rape and mutilate children. Fish employed what he deemed “implements of Hell”: a knife, a saw, and a meat cleaver.
Finally, Fish’s letter to Grace Budd’s mother brought about his downfall. Upon his being arrested, Fish revealed he had 29 needles embedded in his pelvis and perineum.
At the start of his March 1935 trial in White Plains, New York, Fish pleaded insanity. James Dempsey, a former prosecutor and successful politician, served as Fish’s defense attorney.
Numerous psychiatric experts testified that Fish was not responsible for his actions due to mental illness. Among them was Dr. Frederic Werthem, a renowned child psychiatrist who would author the anti-comic-book 1954 bestseller, Seduction of the Innocent.
The prosecution countered with their own analysts, including Menas Gregory, who treated Fish at New York’s Bellevue psychiatric hospital.
They argued that Fish’s sexual peccadilloes (particularly his obsessions with human waste) and religious fanaticism did not make him “mentally sick” — that, in fact, millions of otherwise socially adept individuals shared these characteristics without breaking the law.
Ultimately, the court acknowledged Fish’s abnormal beliefs and sexual proclivities, but ruled he was legally sane, knowing that what he did was wrong (to put it mildly) and committing the abominations anyway.
Following the execution, defense head Dempsey told the press that Fish had given him a hand-written final statement, but that he’d take it to his grave, saying, “I will never show it to anyone. It was the most filthy string of obscenities I have ever read.”
Given Fish’s previous horrifying way with words, that claim really was saying something.
Main photos: Albert Fish, 1903 mugshot [WikiMedia Commons]