11 Real-Life Horror Stories That Are Way More Terrifying Than Anything Hollywood Could Dream Up

Published October 23, 2019
Updated April 26, 2021

Albert Fish: The “Brooklyn Vampire” Who Tortured, Killed, And Ate Children

Albert Fish Walking

Charles Hoff/NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesAlbert Fish was a slight, frail man, often described as gray-faced and inconspicuous.

Before Albert Fish became known as the Brooklyn Vampire, the Werewolf of Wysteria, or most eerily, the Gray Man. He was born on May 19, 1870, into a family plagued by mental illness — and was promptly dumped in a New York orphanage.

The caretakers routinely beat children and encouraged violence among them. This is where Fish began associating pain with pleasure, which later included sexual gratification.

After his mother became self-sufficient again and finally removed Fish from the orphanage in 1880, he began beating himself. Soon enough, Fish was introduced to urolagnia and coprophagia by a telegraph boy. In simpler terms, he began eating and drinking his own waste. According to ThoughtCo, this sexual punishment, of sorts, later evolved into shoving needles into his groin and stomach while flagellating himself with a nail-ridden paddle.

Albert Fish Pelvis

Wikimedia CommonsAn x-ray of Albert Fish’s pelvis, where he had embedded 29 needles.

When 20-year-old Fish moved to the big city in 1890, his crimes against children firmly took hold. He worked as a prostitute and regularly lured children from their homes to torture, rape, and kill them. He initially used his nail-fitted paddle on them, but his bloodlust soon included eating their bodies.

Oddly enough, Fish got married in 1898 and fathered six children. When his wife ran off with another man in 1917, he started including his kids in his sadomasochistic practices. He made them paddle him until he bled, and press the needles into his body.

He soon began hunting children across state lines, targeting African American children, since authorities sadly paid more attention to missing white children. These innocent victims were forced to endure Fish’s so-called “instruments of hell,” which included meat cleavers and knives along with his paddle.

In 1928, Fish answered a classified ad from 18-year-old Edward Budd, who was looking for a job. This meeting set a series of events in motion that — years later — would lead to his arrest. Fish claimed he was a Long Island farmer named Frank Howard, and that he needed a worker like Budd to help out on his estate.

Official trailer for The Gray Man, based on Albert Fish.

Fish seemed gently and kind, and after a disarming lunch meeting the Budds completely trusted their new financial savior. Fish said that before he could take Edward to the farm, he first had to go to a children’s birthday party at his sister’s home, and that 10-year-old Grace Budd should tag along. The family agreed — and they never saw the little girl again.

The investigation into Grace’s disappearance went on for six years with no signs of concluding, until Mrs. Budd received a horrific letter on Nov. 11, 1934. It detailed the killing and cannibalism of her daughter, with the writer explaining he stripped her, strangled her, dismembered her, and ate her in an empty house in Worcester, New York.

The police traced the letter’s paper and quickly found their suspect in a flophouse. Albert Fish confessed to the murder of Grace Budd — and hundreds more — as he smiled and recounted how he’d killed them. Though he pled innocent by reason of insanity, the jury found him sane enough to kill.

He was electrocuted at Sing Sing prison on Jan. 16, 1936.

Marco Margaritoff
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff has also published work at outlets including People, VICE, and Complex, covering everything from film to finance to technology. He holds dual bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a master's degree from New York University.