American Boogeyman: The Disturbing Case of Albert Fish

Sadistic cannibal killer Albert Fish had an uncontrollable hunger.

By Steven Casale
American Boogeyman: The Disturbing Case of Albert Fish

Remember those dark nights from your childhood when you were afraid of the boogeyman? He never did leap out of your closet, but that doesn’t mean all monsters are make-believe.

Meet Albert Fish: a real-life nightmare, who preyed upon children as if they were food.

This turn-of-the-century cannibal was born in Washington D.C. on May 19, 1870. He was christened Hamilton Fish but went by Albert, the name of a dead brother.

His father was 75 years old at the time of his birth, and his mother was 32. For unclear reasons, Fish spent his early childhood in an orphanage until his mother removed him around age 10.

Two years later, Fish’s dark side emerged.

He began a clandestine relationship with another boy, who introduced Fish to paraphilia–a sexual condition characterized by abnormal desires, often involving dangerous behavior. By age 20, he had moved to New York City and started working as a prostitute. In his free time, he sexually assaulted young boys.

In 1898, a bout of forced normalcy arrived when Fish’s mother arranged for her son to be married. Albert and his wife conceived six children. But the hardworking family man could not keep the darkness at bay.

albert fish manhattan

Photo: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

In 1910, Fish fell into a sadomasochistic relationship with a 19-year-old man by the name of Thomas Kedden. It wasn’t long before Fish took things too far. He lured Kedden to an abandoned barn and tortured him for days on end, culminating in sexual mutilation.

Fish had planned to kill Kedden and cut his body into pieces. Yet the fear of being caught overtook him. Instead, he disinfected the wound, covered it with petroleum jelly, and then fled the scene. Whatever became of Kedden is unknown.

In 1917, Fish’s wife left him for another man, sending Albert into a tailspin. The now-single parent took to self-harm. He would press multiple needles into his abdomen, whack himself with a nail-studded paddle, even stuff wool drenched with lighter fluid into his anus and set it ablaze.

It was at this time that Fish developed a taste for raw meat, often preparing it for dinner. The bloody meals opened the door to Fish’s final perversion–cannibalism.

By this point, Fish had detached completely from reality. He believed that God demanded he torture and mutilate his victims with meat cleavers and handsaws. Many escaped Albert’s grasp, but others did not.

In 1928, a 58-year-old Fish stumbled upon a classified ad posted by young Edward Budd. Budd was looking for employment in the country. Fish responded to the ad, visiting the Budd family home in Manhattan. He introduced himself as a farmer in need of a farmhand and asked for Edward–whom he planned to lure away and slaughter. Fish changed plans, however, when he met young Grace Budd.

The little girl was just 10 years old. He told the Budd family that he would love to take their daughter to his niece’s birthday party, and they obliged.

Off went Grace with Albert. She was never heard from again.

Six years later, the Budd family received a disturbed anonymous letter riddled with spelling errors. The letter’s author spoke of a seaman he once knew who traveled to China. It was there that this sailor claimed to have encountered famine-stricken people killing and consuming children to survive. The sailor developed such an appetite for young flesh that upon his return to New York, he abducted two children, killed them, and cooked them.

The letter’s author became curious, as well. In the letter’s disturbing final paragraph, he graphically recounts abducting Grace Budd, killing her, and consuming her flesh.

The letter bore no signature–yet its details clearly proved the author was Grace’s killer. Police traced the stationary back to a boarding house, where they found Albert Fish.

It didn’t take long before he confessed to the murder. The Boogey Man was busted.

While few doubted his insanity, Fish was deemed mentally fit to stand trial. He was handed the death penalty and executed in 1936 by electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York. He boasted of having “had a child in every state.”

It’s believed that Fish had between three and nine victims total, including eight-year-old Francis McDonnell, who was found in Staten Island, and four-year-old Billy Gaffney, of Brooklyn, whose body was never found. Of Billy’s disappearance, his friend said, “the boogeyman took him.”

[via Wikipedia and Murderpedia]

Featured Photo: Wikimedia Commons