The Terrifying Truth About Albert Fish

From the time Albert Fish was a young boy growing up in Washington, D.C., he seemed fated for a life of horrors. Many in his family — including both of his parents and at least one sibling — suffered severe mental illness. And when his father died in 1875, his mother left him in an orphanage, where he (and many of the other children) were severely abused physically, psychologically, and sexually. "I was there 'til I was nearly nine, and that's where I got started wrong," Fish later recalled, according to ThoughtCo. "We were unmercifully whipped. I saw boys doing many things they should not have done."

By the time his mother was able to find work, get back on her feet, and reclaim her son from the orphanage, the damage was done. However, for all that damage, few could predict that Albert Fish would become so depraved, so criminally sexually deviant, that he would end up stalking, murdering, and cannibalizing several children who could not possibly defend themselves.

The sexual education of young Albert Fish

As Fish reached puberty, he began having sex with a telegraphy boy, who introduced him to ingesting human excrement, as a sexual practice. Fish also began visiting public bath houses, so he could watch other boys and men undress, according to The Lineup. By the time he reached the age of 20 in 1890, Fish left Washington for New York City, where he worked as a prostitute, and began physically and sexually assaulting young boys, as noted by All That's Interesting. He would regularly target disabled and black children, making the cold-hearted calculation that nobody would miss them and the police wouldn't likely exert any great effort in finding them.

To the outside world, Fish seemed a normal man. He worked as a house painter, and he soon married a woman named Anna Mary Hoffman, arranged by his mother. They would have six children together. But Fish continued to satisfy his appetite, which only seemed to grow. While on a job in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1910, Fish met a teenager named Thomas Kedden. The exact circumstances are unclear, but the two began a sadomasochistic relationship. Fish eventually took Kedden to a farm and tortured him for two weeks, including severing half his penis. "I shall never forget his scream, or the look he gave me," Fish later recalled, according to Albert Fish in His Own Words. Fish doused the wound with peroxide, wrapped it up, kissed Kedden, left $10, and went on his way. 

Albert Fish loses his wife and his deviance ramps up

Before long, Fish's wife left him for another man and took all of their possessions from the house. It was around this time Fish began to engage in sexual acts of self-harm, as All Things Interesting points out. He regularly flogged himself with a nail-studded paddle, ate his own feces, and burned himself with hot irons. He would also embed sewing needles into his pelvic area. Nearly 30 needles were later found in his groin area (pictured above), after he informed a psychiatrist of what he had done, according to History.com. This carried on for more than a decade before he raised the stakes once again.

In June 1928, Fish would carry out an act that would top his most depraved habits. It was a case that gripped the country for years, when Albert Fish kidnapped, murdered, butchered, and cooked 10-year-old Grace Budd, before turning her into a meal. Police needed six years, some lucky breaks, and even help from Fish himself before they were finally able to catch him.

Albert Fish ratted himself out

That help came in the form of a letter Fish sent to the Budd family, in which he detailed what he had done to her. The letter [via Rare] read, in part: "I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. . . . When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down stairs. . . . I choked her to death then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms, cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little a** was roasted in the oven."

Fish's confession, along with the chilling letters he wrote to the Budd family, led investigators to the abandoned Westchester house, the New York Daily News reported. There, they found the remains of Grace Budd, as well as several other children. Law enforcement suspected he killed as many as 10 other children, but they could only prove three of them.

Fish claims insanity, but is executed anyway

In a 10-day trial, Fish claimed insanity, saying that God had told him to kill children. The jury believed him, but ultimately decided Fish deserved to be executed. On January 16, 1936, at the age of 65, Fish was executed by electric chair at Sing Sing prison. As he was led to his death, he used the moment to assert one final perversity, according to History.com, telling the guards of his execution, "It will be the supreme thrill, the only one I haven't tried."

As horrific as the discovery of Fish's crimes for which he was prosecuted were, the totality of his acts were apparently much, much worse. Following the execution, Fish's lawyer told reporters he was in possession of his client's final statement. They reportedly chronicled, in grizzly detail, all of his crimes over the years. Even after everything the public had learned about Fish, his lawyer refused to show the statement. "I will never show it to anyone," he said, according to Vintage News Daily. "It was the most filthy string of obscenities that I have ever read."