Albert Fish confessed to a hundred crimes after his arrest, each one of them more depraved than the next.
In November of 1934, Albert Fish sent a letter to a woman he had called on six years prior.
“Dear Mrs. Budd, … On June 3, 1928, I called on you at 406 W. 15 St. and brought you pot cheese and strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat on my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her.”
The letter that Mrs. Delia Flanagan Budd received on that cold November evening that began with the tale of a Chinese deckhand with a taste for human flesh, had ended with a harrowing and detailed description of her daughter’s murder.
The story of the deckhand was never verified, but the part concerning her daughter proved all too true. Fish, who had introduced himself to the Budd family as Frank Howard, had killed another child, bringing his believed total of victims up to roughly 100.
Hamilton Howard “Albert” Fish, the Brooklyn Vampire, the Werewolf of Wysteria, the Grey Man. Call him what you want, the man behind the name remained the same. Small, quiet, and unassuming with a face that blended in with the crowd.
And a demeanor that could frighten even the most hardened criminals.
As a child, Fish was plagued by mental illness, as was his whole family. A brother in an asylum, an uncle with mania, a mother with hallucinations, and a father who was 75 years older than him made for a tumultuous childhood, which is why Fish eventually found himself in an orphanage.
It was there that his thirst for torture began.
The caretakers at the orphanage regularly beat the children and even encouraged the children to hurt each other. However, whereas the other children lived in fear of the pain, Fish grew to enjoy it, eventually relating pain with pleasure. Even when his mother removed him from the orphanage and brought him to live with her, Fish’s depravity continued.
In 1882, he began a relationship with a telegraph boy, who introduced him to the sexual practices of urolagnia and coprophagia, or the consuming of human waste. Eventually, his fascination with obscene sexual desires led him to an obsession with sexual self-mutilation. He would regularly embed needles into his groin and abdomen and flog himself with a nail-studded ping-pong paddle.
At some point along the way, self-mutilation became too boring for Fish. He no longer got off on his own pain and therefore began to seek out others to inflict it on.
In 1910, while working as a house painter in Delaware, Albert Fish met Thomas Kedden. Fish and Kedden began a sadomasochistic relationship, though it is unknown how much of it Kedden actually consented to.
Ten days after meeting Kedden, however, Fish decided that a consensual relationship, or even a coerced one, wasn’t enough for him. He invited Kedden to an abandoned farmhouse under the guise of a meeting and locked him inside.
For two weeks Fish tortured Kedden, mutilating his body and cutting off his penis. Then, as suddenly as he arrived, Fish left, leaving Kedden with a $10 bill for his trouble.
Around 1917, Fish himself began to fall victim to the mental illness that had plagued his family. He began having auditory hallucinations, at one point even wrapping himself in a carpet claiming to be following the words of John the Apostle. It is thought that his penchant for self-harm was related to his insanity.
Despite his depravities, Fish managed to marry and have six children. Though his own claim he never abused them, during their lifetimes he continuously abused other young children, mostly boys. Around the time his children were young, he also developed an obsession with cannibalism, often preparing meals of raw meat that he shared with his children.
By 1919 his obsession with torture and cannibalism had escalated, and he began to plan an actual murder. He began to look for vulnerable children, such as mentally handicapped orphans or homeless black children. He claimed that God was speaking him and commanding him to torture young children.
He began to read advertisements in local papers for homes with children looking for housework, or for young men looking for work themselves.
It was through one of these advertisements that he found young Grace Budd.
Grace had not always been Albert Fish’s intended target. In fact, it was her older brother that he had his sights set on. The brother, Edward, had placed an ad looking for work on a farm or in the country. Fish had planned on “hiring” him and bringing him out to his country house to torture him.
Under the guise of Frank Howard, Fish called on the Budd family’s Manhattan home. He claimed to have some farm work upstate and that he was looking for some help around the house. Then, he noticed the young girl standing behind her parents. Instantly he changed his victim, focusing instead on little Grace.
He mentioned in passing as he was discussing his farm that he was in town to visit his niece and attend her birthday party. Somehow, despite meeting the family just moments before, he convinced Delia and Albert Budd to let him take their daughter along to his niece’s birthday party.
They never saw her again.
Fish had taken Grace, dressed in her Sunday best, to his farm upstate, the same one he had intended to use as a torture chamber for her brother.
According to the letter sent to Delia Budd, along with his confession, Fish had hidden in an upstairs bedroom – naked, so as not to get blood on his clothing – while she picked wildflowers in the yard. Then, he’d called her inside. When she screamed at the sight of him, he killed her, strangling her as she fled. He then cut her body into pieces and ate her after subjecting her to horrific torture.
The letter, which had clearly been intended to cause panic within the Budd home, as well as serve as a macabre brag for Fish, ended up being his downfall.
The paper that the letter was written on happened to be a piece of stationery from the New York Private Chauffeur’s Benevolent Association. Police inquired with the company and found that the paper had been left behind by a janitor from the company at a rooming house he’d been staying at.
At the same rooming house, a man named Albert Fish was renting a place. Upon learning that Fish bore a strong resemblance to Frank Howard, Grace Budd’s kidnapper, the police set up an interview.
To their surprise, Fish confessed in an instant, practically tripping over himself to reveal the precise details of what he’d done to Grace Budd – as well as dozens of other children. However, in the end, only three children could be concretely proven to be his victims.
Before long, the police attributed numerous crimes to Fish, who was found to be insane. However, his insanity was not enough to save him, as his guilt was firmly declared by the members of the jury. In March of 1935, he was sentenced to death, but not before being allowed to write a series of notes on his crimes to be handed over to journalists working on the case.
They took one look at the notes and refused to publish them.
“I will never show it to anyone,” one writer said. “It was the most filthy string of obscenities that I have ever read.”