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 – sexual perversions involving human excrement. By age 20, he had moved to New York City and started working as a prostitute, but in his free time, he sexually assaulted young boys.
In 1898, a bout of forced normalcy arrived when Fish’s mother arranged a marriage for him. He and his wife conceived six children. But the hardworking family man could not keep the darkness at bay.
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 brought Kedden to an abandoned barn and proceeded to torture him for two weeks.
The culmination? Fish tied up Kedden and cut off half of his penis.
He recounts: “I shall never forget his scream, or the look he gave me.”
Fish had planned to kill Kedden and cut his body into pieces, but the fear of being caught overtook him. Instead, he disinfected the wound, covered it with petroleum jelly, gave Kedden a kiss, and fled. 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 wandered the house swaddled in carpets and 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.
He selected victims he felt no one would miss. They mainly included mentally handicapped and African-American children, whom he tortured with his “implements from Hell.”
By this point, Fish was a full-blown psychotic, believing 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 answered an ad in the paper from a young man named Edward Budd, who was looking for work in the country. Fish visited the family home in Manhattan. He introduced himself as a farmer and asked for Edward – whom he planned to lure away and slaughter. Fish quickly 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 an anonymous letter riddled with spelling errors that detailed a man’s descent into madness and cannibalism. The letter’s author spoke of a seaman he once knew who traveled to China. It was there that this man 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 Boogeyman was busted.
Although no one 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 8-year-old Francis McDonnell, who was found in Staten Island, and 4-year-old Billy Gaffney, of Brooklyn, whose body was never found. Of Billy’s disappearance, his friend said, “the boogeyman took him.”
Images: Wikimedia Commons; Hulton Archive/Getty; Murderpedia