What Was Killer Albert Fish's Childhood Like?

American serial child killer Hamilton "Albert" Fish will go down in infamy as one of the worst pedophiles and cannibals the world may ever see. Known as the Gray Man and the Brooklyn Vampire, Fish only confessed to three murders and was put on trial and executed for only one of those victims, 10-year-old Grace Budd. However, during a pre-trial interview with Dr. Frederick Wertham of Belleview Hospital, Fish admitted to molesting more than 400 children and torturing over 100 (per Behavioral Health).

Fish was born in 1870 into a family with a history of mental illness that included mania, stays in mental hospitals, and hallucinations, according to Behavioral Health. Several relatives died in mental asylums and others were diagnosed but never treated. Although Fish itself was never formally diagnosed as a child, he spent time in and out of mental institutions throughout his life, with doctors classifying him as "abnormal" or having a psychopathic personality as well as being a religious fanatic. After his capture, Fish would tell a doctor he believed, "God had ordered him to torment and castrate little boys."

Fish's father was 70 years old when Albert was born and died of a heart attack just five years later. Overwhelmed by having to care for Albert and his siblings, Fish's mother dropped him at an orphanage, where he would be seriously abused for years to come (per ThoughtCo).

Fish spent five years at the Saint John's Orphanage in Washington, D.C.

There, he and other children were regularly abused. According to Behavioral Health, caretakers would take children's clothes off and whip or beat them in front of each other in a form of "shame punishment." Later on, Fish would tell a psychiatrist that this is when his desire to inflict pain (and suffer it himself) had started, as the beating at schools soon turned sexually arousing as he saw other children in pain.

School caretakers also encouraged children to hurt each other, a sadistic practice Fish would one day encourage in his own children. The orphanage provided no formal education for the children living there, so Fish had little mental or emotional escape from the abuse. Years later, he would tell a doctor (per ThoughtCo), "I was there 'til I was nearly 9, and that's where I got started wrong. We were unmercifully whipped."

By 1880, Ellen Fish was able to remove her son from the orphanage

Despite Fish going home to be with his mother once again a few years later, by the time he left the orphanage, a lot of the damage was irreparable. Before he was even 10 years old, Fish began to self-harm by beating himself with a nail-studded paddle and practicing piquerism, a psychosexual disorder where one can obtain pleasure from inserting sharp objects into the body. When Fish was arrested in 1934, an x-ray revealed he had 30 needles lodged in his groin, stomach, and the area around the scrotum (per Behavioral Health).

When Fish was only 12 years old, he engaged in a relationship with an older boy who introduced him to sexual pleasure through the drinking of urine and eating human feces (via ThoughtCo). He would also regularly visit public baths, where he would spend hours in the dressing rooms watching boys undress.

Fish moved to New York City when he was 20 years old, and it was here that he started raping young boys. There are no accounts of him abusing or killing anybody before then.