“The Boogey Man Took Him”: The Cannibalistic Serial Killer Albert Fish

Albert Fish | Courtesy of Getty Images

Winner of the Spring 2018 StMU History Media Award for

Best Article in the Category of “Crime”

Article with the Best Introduction

 

In today’s society, we are taught at a young age to never speak to strangers without our parents around or by ourselves in general. However, in the late 1920s, it was a different time of danger and being more aggressive in hate crimes and violence. Sadly, those “norms” would erupt in a rise of terror and isolation within Brooklyn, New York. On February 11, 1927, two boys, Billy Gaffney and Billy Beaton, were having fun within their apartment, unsupervised. A few hours passed, both boys could not be found, until someone found Billy Beaton alone on the apartment roof. When asked where Billy Gaffney had gone, he responded with, “The boogey man took him.”1

This “boogey man” who took Billy Gaffney was indeed one’s worst nightmare. Calling him a man certainly does not do justice to the true monster that this “boogey man” Albert Fish was. At fifty-six years old, Albert Fish already had quite a life before that February day in 1927. He had been born on May 19, 1870 in Washington D.C. Originally named Hamilton Fish, Albert was the youngest of his three siblings. However, Fish had no clue as to who he would become. He was raised in a family whose members had mental health issues. His family was mostly illiterate, and to make matters worse, his own mother, when he was at the age of five, put him in an orphanage due to financial problems. Albert’s time in St. Johns Orphanage sparked a dangerous set of behaviors. He was frequently abused and beaten at the orphanage, but he soon developed something of an enjoyment of the feeling of physical pain, often giving him erections.1 In 1879, Albert’s mother was back on her feet financially and able to support Fish again. But Fish went from the abusive environment of the orphanage to a crowd of neighborhood youths who introduced the nine-year-old Fish to the practices of drinking urine, as well as to coprophagia (the act of eating feces or dung). He also started visiting public bath houses to watch young boys undress. Poor Fish’s mother had no idea that in her absence, her son was developing disturbing behaviors.

By 1890, twenty-year-old Fish had moved to New York City. In this part of Fish’s life, his behaviors escalated to rape, sodomy, and then to castration, mostly on male individuals of lower social status, such as African-American males and disadvantage males whom he believed would not be missed.3 He continued his acts of complete horror even after being arranged into a marriage in 1898 with his wife.4

During his marriage, he and his wife had six children together. He never abused his own children in any way, but he did became a house painter and usually targeted homes with young boys aged around six and continued with molestation and a morbid and horrid interest in castration.5 He was then incarcerated in 1903 for embezzlement, which then led to Fish regularly having sex with men in prison. However, his actions led to his divorce from his wife in 1917, who left him for a handyman named John Straube, and taking all of their children. That only made Fish become more sunk into a hole of obsession and terror.6 He began having morbid and frightening thoughts, and developing cravings such as cannibalism in which he enacted upon his victims in murdering them. Surprisingly, he had never been caught committing any of these murders, and if he were ever close to getting caught, he would flee the city. That is, up until Fish made a big mistake, which later helped solve the mysterious disappearance and murder of Billy Gaffney. This was possible through the unfortunately more famous case of the murder of a young girl, Grace Budd.

Flyers sent out by police to find Grace Budd but resulted as unsuccessful | Courtesy of New York Daily News

Grace Budd was an eleven-year-old girl who lived in a farmhouse with her brother, mother, and father. In a newspaper advertisement, Albert Fish found a man by the name of Edward Budd looking for a job. Fish then marked Edward Budd to be his next victim.7 Soon after, Fish responded to the newspaper ad by posing as a wealthy farmer named Frank Howard in need of help on his farm, and he began to be friendly with the Budd family.8 Fish’s plans, however, had switched after he discovered Edward Budd had a younger sister Grace, who seemed to be far more vulnerable than Edward had been. This is when Fish began to create a disgusting and horrible scheme to capture the young Grace Budd. Fish convinced the parents to let Grace accompany him to his sisters’ birthday party, which he completely fabricated.9 Fish took Grace and she never returned home after that day. Only after seven years, on November 11, 1934, were the details to what had happened to innocent Grace discovered. Fish sent a letter to the parents of Grace Budd detailing what he had done to her.8 To their horror, he confessed that he cooked parts of her to taste her flesh. He detailed her last moments, describing the torture and truly horrid acts Fish had committed upon her before Grace Budds’ final moments on earth. One would hope that Fish would end the letter on that horrifying and heart breaking note; however, he then described the process of preparing her body to feast upon, the parts of the body he had used, the taste of their daughters’ flesh and how he found her taste so satisfying. He then included at the end of the letter how he left her a virgin, as if that would lighten the terrible acts that he had committed on the young and innocent Grace Budd and her family.11

It was only through this tragic incident that justice came about for Albert Fish’s horrendous act of murder. Fish’s letter to the Budd family was just enough evidence to find and capture him. Detective William King helped track down and arrest Albert Fish using symbols on the stationary he used to write to the Budd family, “N.Y.P.C.B.A.” standing for “New York Private Chauffeur’s Benevolent Association.” King successfully located where it had come from, tracing it back to a room at 200 East 52nd Street from a janitor who had moved from there. This location was the exact place where Fish came frequently to receive his mail. Finally, this helped investigator William F. King pinpoint exactly where Albert Fish would be; waiting right outside of his room.12

Detectives uncover remains of bones of Grace Budd in location where Albert Fish confessed to | Courtesy of New York Daily News

Fish was captured and taken in for questioning. During questioning, Fish admitted to murdering Grace Budd and confessed to the investigators exactly where he had buried the remains of Grace Budd. They were able to locate Grace Budd’s bones, which were located behind Wisteria Cottage, an abandoned house in Westchester County.  Fish then confessed to eating parts of Budd’s body, as well as to the murder of Billy Gaffney, including the torment he had done to Billy.8 After Fish’s arrest, he did not care for the consequences and looked very much forward to having his penalty be death. In March 1935, Fish pleaded sane but guilty.14 The court decided that he was sane, and accepted his plea of guilt.15.

Albert Fish before his court trial 3/12/1935 | Courtesy of Bettmann/CORBIS

Fish was executed on January 16, 1938 in the electric chair in Sing Sing Prison. Even to his death he continued his bizarre behavior, exclaiming that being electrocuted would be “the supreme thrill” of his life.9. Therefore, Albert Fish had never really suffered any consequences. Even to his death, Albert Fish took pleasure in his morbid thoughts and ultimately met the peak of his horrid obsession.

  1. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  2. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  3. Martin Fido, True Crime: The Infamous Villains of  Modern History and Their Hideous Crimes (United Kingdom: Carlton Publishing Group, 2013), 186.
  4. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  5. “Evil serial killer known as the Brooklyn Vampire who kidnapped children and cut them up and ATE them, known as the Gray Man and the Werewolf of Wisteria murderer Albert Fish was one of the most twisted serial killers,” Daily Mirror, The: Web Edition Articles (September 2017): 9.
  6. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  7. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  8. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  9. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
  10. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  11. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  12. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  13. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  14. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish,” by Bernadette L. Bosky.
  15. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science, 2013, s.v. “Irresistible impulse rule.” By Mario Morelli.
  16. Murderpedia: The Encyclopedia of Murderers, June 2017, s.v. “Albert Fish” by Juan Ignacio Blanco.
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176 Comments

  • This article was well-written and very interesting. I like how your article flowed and how you describe the letter Albert Fisher wrote to Grace family. I just can’t believe he killed that innocent girl and he had the nerve to send her parents a letter of what he did to her and how he did it. What made it worse to me was when he had the nerve to say that she was still a virgin when she died, like that was not going to make them feel no better. I also felt bad for the little boy as well especially since the two little boys were home alone, their parents shouldn’t have left them home alone and make them watch each other. It’s just crazy how people could do this to innocent people, mainly children.

  • This article was very interesting to read. There must have been something off with him emotionally. It is scary to think how many people are out there who are willing to do such terrible things. To be so mentally disturbed from past experiences and trauma definitely drove him to commit that heinous act. He definitely needed help before it ever got to this point.

  • This article was very intriguing. I was not familiar with this particular case prior to reading this article, however, I have heard of very similar cases that have happened throughout history. Reading these types of articles, and cases, makes me wonder how sick a person must have been to commit such horrendous crimes. The things that he did were very disturbing and I can only imagine what the family must have experienced from this. To think that we have people like this in the world is unsettling, I am thankful that they are not as common as some people make them seem. The article points out that he had a disturbed childhood, and I do believe that may have been one of the causes for him to have done this. But as I said before this man had to have been seriously disturbed.

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