There is no doubt that anyone who preys upon another human with intent to do harm is a monster. When the prey is a child, the crime becomes even more heinous. On this edition of True Crime Corner, I take a look at notorious child killer Albert Fish.
Long before Freddy Krueger stalked the dreams of kids in the fictional town of Springwood, Albert Fish was the stuff of nightmares to the children of the 20’s and 30’s. He was born Hamilton Fish, the son of Randall and Ellen Fish on May 19, 1870. He was from a prominent family, although several family members suffered from mental illness, some severe enough to be committed. He was named after a distant relative, but hated his first name. Often taunted as “Ham and Eggs” by his peers, he changed his name to Albert as a teen.
He lived with his parents until his father’s death when he was around five years old. Unable to provide for him as a new widow, his mother placed him into an orphanage, until she secured a job and was better able to care for him. Four years elapsed before she was able to take her son back into her custody.
Young Fish endured and saw many horrors in the years spent away from his mother. It was in the orphanage where he received the beatings that he began to enjoy so much. He found great pleasure in pain, which led to sadomasochism and bizarre paraphilias as he got older.
He worked as a painter as an adult. He had three wives, the first giving him six children. She was younger than Fish by nine years. She had an affair and left her husband, leaving him to raise the children. It’s not known if he ever abused his own children, but it’s believed that he became even more unhinged around the time his family fell apart. He was still obsessed with pain, inserting over twenty needles into his groin. He also enjoyed flagellation with a cat-o’-nine tails.
Fish thought that God wanted him to harm children. He took his depravity out on them, molesting and killing them, bragging that he had tallied victims in every state. His most well-known victim, who led to his eventual deserved fate, was 10-year-old Grace Budd. In 1928 Fish took the persona of a fictional farm owner he called Mr. Frank Howard, when he visited the Budd home. He was answering the advertisement Grace’s brother Edward had placed looking for work. The young man sought a position on a farm in the country. Mr. Howard’s offer seemed just the thing and they agreed on employment terms. When Mr. Howard returned a few days later to drive Edward to his farm, he was not at home. His mother invited him in to wait for her son. Edward Budd was his intended victim, but Fish’s plans changed when he met his younger sister Grace, a much easier target. He was so enamored with the child that he asked permission to take her to a birthday party that afternoon. They would be gone only a few hours and would return later for Edward. Her parents had their reservations, but the old man seemed harmless enough, so they let her go with him. Little did they know it would be the last time they saw their little girl.
Fish took her to an abandoned home where he choked her to death, and mutilated her small body to be devoured later. In addition to being a child molester/rapist/killer, he was also a cannibal. Several years passed before Grace Budd’s case was solved. The killer had a penchant for sending obscene mail to people and one such anonymous letter became his undoing, leading to his arrest. It was addressed to the girl’s mother, dated in 1934, and explained in horrific detail what happened to her daughter, going so far as to tell her that he was the person who took her child on the pretense of going to a birthday party.
Albert Fish was tried and convicted in the murder of young Grace Budd. His insanity defense failed, and he was condemned to die, electrocuted on January 16, 1936, at Sing Sing, a New York correctional facility. His last words were believed to be “I don’t even know why I’m here.” It’s unclear how many young lives he took, but there are at least two more confirmed child victims in addition to the Budd girl. Like most serial killers, Fish was known to lie, so his exact number of victims will never be known. Perhaps his execution brought some measure of closure to some of their families. At least the sadistic killer would never harm anyone again.
If you’re interested in a book about the child killer, there’s John Borowski’s Albert Fish In His Own Words: The Shocking Confessions of the Child Killing Cannibal, and released in 2016, is Robert Keller’s Confessions of a Cannibal: The Shocking True Story of Depraved Child Killer Albert Fish.