Albert Fish: Serial Killer Cannibal Who Ate Kids And Wrote To Their Parents About It (The Brooklyn Vampire)

People | November 28, 2020

(Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Albert Fish was a gray man living in a gray world. Known as the Brooklyn Vampire, he was a cannibal, real-life Bluebeard, and child predator who created the template for the boogeyman. Not satiated by infanticide, Fish found a sick pleasure in telling the parents of his victims exactly how their children died. The life and crimes of Albert Fish are full of unadulterated depravity, and once you've spent time with this real-life monster, you'll never be the same.

A Monster Is Born

On May 19, 1870, Albert Fish was born in Washington, D.C. into less-than-ideal circumstances. Many members of Fish's family suffered from mental illness, including an uncle who was diagnosed with mania and a mother who regularly dealt with visual hallucinations. When Fish was five years old, his elderly father passed away, leaving Fish and his three siblings with no one but their troubled mother to care for them.

Consequently, she left them to the state, and during his time at various New York City orphanages, Fish was routinely beaten by his caretakers. When they tired of assaulting the children, they turned them against each other. Fish credited these experiences with warping his senses of pain and pleasure. In 1880, when Fish was 10 years old, his mother removed him from the orphanage and brought him home, but he was already too far gone. 

(Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Masochism And Marriage

Normalcy escaped Fish after his time in the orphanage. At the age of 12, he began a strange sexual relationship with a telegraph boy who introduced the young Albert to the concept of urine and feces play. As much as Fish delighted in these pursuits, he preferred self-mutilation above anything. In his teenage years, he spent his free time spanking himself with a nail-studded paddle and jamming needles into his genitals and abdomen. When Fish moved back to New York City after his 20th birthday, his sadistic lust grew out of control. He spent a brief period of time as a sex worker, but only to meet other young men to torture in his home with his nail-studded paddle.

At the age of 28, something remarkable happened: Albert Fish got married. After his mother introduced him to Anna Mary Hoffman, a woman nine years his junior, the two fell in something like love and Fish fathered six children: Albert, Anna, Gertrude, Eugene, John, and Henry Fish. Throughout their lives, Fish's children were steadfast that their father never harmed them, but he did continue to assault and molest children while playing the part of the family man.

After about seven years of marriage, Fish's visual and auditory hallucinations as well as his growing penchant for sadomasochism proved too much for Hoffman, who left Fish for another man. It appears that his marriage was Fish's last tether to the real world. Shortly after Hoffman left, Fish began eating raw meat and inviting his children to take part in his feasts, particularly when the Moon was full.

(Unknown author)

Thomas Kedden And Grace Budd

In 1910, Fish met Thomas Kedden while working as a painter across New England. Kedden may have been intellectually disabled, although it's unclear if Fish fabricated that detail to make the story worse, as he was known to do. Whatever the case, the two men entered into an abusive relationship that began when Fish locked Kedden in an abandoned building and ended when he severed half of Kedden's penis and left the man $10 for his troubles a few weeks later. Fish said of the brutal crime, "I shall never forget his scream or the look he gave me."

Fish claimed that by 1919, God began speaking to him, ordering him to give into his most base desires. He initially intended to target an orphan, reasoning that they wouldn't be missed, but he quickly changed his mind after hiring the young Edward Budd to "work" for him at his country house. Using the name Frank Howard, Fish met the Budd family at their home in Manhattan and offered their son some work upstate, but while Edward mulled over whether he wanted to work for a gray old man in the middle of nowhere, Fish noticed Edward's young sister, Grace. He asked to take Grace to his niece's birthday party, and for some reason, the family said yes.

They never saw their daughter again. Fish took Grace Budd to the house he intended to use as Edward's torture chamber, where he asked her to pick flowers while he stripped nude and waited for her inside. We know this because Fish wrote it all in his letter to Budd's father, where he also detailed how he'd strangled the girl to death as she'd struggled to free herself and then "cut her into small pieces so I could take the meat to my rooms, cook, and eat it," a task that took him nine days to complete.

(RavenWolf Films/Wikimedia Commons)

Conviction And Death

The commitment to horror that led Fish to write the letter to the Budd family ended up being what brought him down. The letter was written on stationery from the New York Private Chauffeur's Benevolent Association, which police found out had been left behind by a janitor from the company at a boarding house where Fish had also booked a room. When they approached Fish, he gave himself up instantly, all too willing to divulge the gory details of his crimes. He claimed to have killed and eaten dozens of children, but police never recovered evidence of more than two additional victims. After they linked him to the murder of a four-year-old boy named Billy Gaffney who went missing on February 11, 1927, Fish said of the boy's death:

I took tools, a good heavy cat-of-nine tails. Homemade. Short handle. Cut one of my belts in half, slit these halves in six strips about eight inches long. I whipped his bare behind 'til the blood ran from his legs. I cut off his ears—nose—slit his mouth from ear to ear. Gouged out his eyes. He was dead then. I stuck the knife in his belly and held my mouth to his body and drank his blood.

The only other murder that Fish was definitely tied to was a boy named Francis McDonnell whose body was found in the woods on Staten Island, strangled by his suspenders. Fish later claimed that he planned on dismembering the boy but fled when he thought he heard someone approaching.

Fish went to trial on March 11, 1935 and pleaded innocent by reason of insanity, explaining that he heard voices and had visual hallucinations. The whole trial took 10 days, and regardless of his claims of insanity, he was sentenced to death by electric chair. While awaiting his fate in Sing-Sing, Fish wrote a memoir of sorts that included firsthand accounts of his crimes and the exceedingly unlikely claim that he "had a child in every state." The memoirs have never been released. "I will never show it to anyone," his attorney, Jack Dempsey, said. "It was the most filthy string of obscenities that I have ever read.” Fish was executed on January 16, 1936.

Tags: cannibalism | crime | murder

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.