The story of Albert Fish: The first serial killer in America
Have you ever heard of Albert Fish? He was a vicious murderer that made Hannibal Lecter look like a playground bully. As the nation’s first serial killer, Fish set a precedent for violence, terror, and psychopathy throughout America. From a tortured child to a terrifying adult, Fish was known as the real-life “bogeyman.” Read on to see why he has been called “the most vicious child slayer in criminal history.”
Born as Hamilton Howard Fish on May 19, 1870, he was the youngest of four children. Raised in Washinton, DC, he changed his name to “Albert” after a deceased sibling to avoid his childhood nickname of “Ham and Eggs.” Growing up with a mentally unstable mother and an elderly father, Fish’s family greatly struggled when their patriarch passed away on Oct. 16, 1875.
As a result, his mother gave him up to Saint John’s Orphanage in Washington state. Once there, he was publically beaten by his teachers in front of the other boys. About his stay, he said, “I was there ’til I was nearly nine, and that’s where I got started wrong. We were unmercifully whipped. I saw boys doing many things they should not have done.”
When he was 10 years old, his mother finally attained a good government job and picked him up from the orphanage. But by then, the psychological damage had been done. In 1890, Fish relocated to New York City to start his journey into adulthood. By 1898, an arranged marriage was set up for him by his mother. That same year, he wed Anna Mary Hoffman. The two had six children together.
Fish started out his new life as a family man in 1898. His career as a house painter paid the bills for his large household. He appeared to be a normal person by all means, except for a few instances of crime. By 1903, he committed grand larceny and was sent to Sing Sing prison.
In 1910, he began a relationship with a 19-year-old mentally challenged man named Thomas Kedden. Within ten days of their meeting, Fish lured Kedden to “an old farmhouse” where he was tortured for over two weeks straight. Although he had planned to kill Kedden, he changed his mind; instead choosing to bandage Kedden’s wounds, give him $10, and to leave him there to die. Regarding the Kedden incident, Fish stated that he “took the first train I could get back home. Never heard what become of him, or tried to find out.”
At the beginning of 1917, Fish’s bride stepped out on him with another man, leaving him as a single parent. When she abandoned him, she took almost everything that the family had in their possession. It was then that Fish began to suffer from auditory delusions, rolling himself up in a carpet at the supposed request of John the Apostle. At this time, he dove even deeper into a world of hallucinations.
The Grey Man
Fish was reading the newspaper on May 25, 1928, when he came across an advertisement that said, “Young man, 18, wishes position in country. Edward Budd, 406 West 15th Street.” Three days later, Fish showed up at Edward Budd’s door in Manhatten, New York. He said that he wanted to hire Edward, hiding his true intent to torture him and leave him for dead. A few days later, he returned to collect Edward for work. During his second visit, he met Edward’s 10-year-old sister Grace Budd.
Convincing the little girl’s parents that he had to rush off to a party, he asked their permission to bring young Grace with him. They obliged, and the two headed out the door. But Grace never came back home again. After the police falsely arrested Charles Edward Pope as another suspect, Pope was found not guilty after spending 108 days in detainment. It took over two years for the police to crack the case.
At the end of 1934, the parents of poor Grace Budd received an anonymous letter. In it, the author described their little girl’s last moments, her demise, and her sad fate. However, police were able to trace the sick letter back to Fish due to the stationary that he wrote the vile words upon. They waited outside of his boarding room and arrested him on the spot.
Once detained, Fish confessed to the murders of two other children: four-year-old, Billy Gaffney and eight-year-old, Francis McDonnell. On the day of McDonnell’s murder, the little boy’s mother witnessed Fish. She later testified that “he came shuffling down the street mumbling to himself and making queer motions with his hands … I saw his thick grey hair and his drooping grey mustache. Everything about him seemed faded and grey.” This statement is what gave him the nickname “The Grey Man.”
The jury deliberated over Albert Fish’s trial for a period of 10 days. During the case, there were testimonies from four rebuttal witnesses. Although Fish’s lawyer insisted upon an insanity plea, the four experts were quick to declare Fish perfectly sane. Even though the jurors thought that he was insane, they decided to execute him regardless. Soon afterward, he was found guilty in the Grace Budd murder trial and sentenced to death by jurors. Fish managed to rack up a slew of secondary charges and earn two death sentences. On January 16, 1936, Fish was electrocuted. His last words were: “I don’t even know why I’m here.”