Known equally as the Werewolf of Wysteria and the Brooklyn Vampire, Albert Fish is one of America’s most terrifying serial killers. The child rapist and cannibal claimed to have “children in every state” and boasted that he had killed, raped or eaten around 100 people.
The Early Years
Hamilton Howard ‘Albert’ Fish was born on May 19th 1870. He was the youngest of three children to a father who was 75 years old at the time of his birth and a mother who was 32.
There was a long history of mental illness in his family, though the unreliable and primitive nature of mental healthcare at the time makes this information vague. As well as an uncle who suffered from mania and a brother confined to a state mental institution, Fish had a number of relatives who were diagnosed with mental illnesses. These included his mother, who suffered from hallucinations, and his sister, who was diagnosed with an uninformative ‘mental affliction’. Later on in life, Fish would have auditory hallucinations similar to his mother’s. His childhood was, to say the least, troubled.
The Murder Years
Although Fish’s first confirmed murder was committed as late as 1919, his crimes began much, much sooner. He moved to New York in 1880 at the age of 15, where he earned a living as a sex worker. Being away from his family, he had the freedom to explore his darker urges, which manifested in both violent sadomasochistic relationships and the molestation of young boys.
In 1898, when he was 33, his mother arranged for him to marry a woman nine years younger than he was.
No one knows what became of Thomas Kedden.
In 1910, at the age of 19, Kedden met Fish in Delaware and the two became involved in a sadomasochistic sexual relationship. It is not clear whether or not it began consensually. By Fish’s own testimony, it is suggested that Kedden had learning disabilities to the extent that even if he was convinced him to agree, he may not have been able to truly consent. After just ten days together, Fish took Kedden to what he described as “an old farm house” and tortured him for two weeks.
In his confession many years later, Fish claimed that his original plan was to kill him, cut up his body and take it home. He changed his mind when he worried that the hot weather would speed up the decomposition process and the smell would give him away. Instead, Fish tied Kedden up and cut his penis in half. He poured peroxide on the wound and wrapped it in a handkerchief, then abandoned him in the farm house, leaving behind a ten dollar bill and goodbye kiss.
He made no attempt to find out what happened to Redden.
Beatrice Kiel and Francis McDonnell
As his deviations escalated, so did his crimes.
He became obsessed with cannibalism and filled his diet with raw meat, occasionally also feeding it to his children. He believed that he was being instructed by God to torture, murder and sexually mutilate children. He used what he called his “implements of Hell” – a meat cleaver, a butcher knife and a small handsaw. He targeted people that he believed would not be missed if they disappeared, choosing to primarily attack African-Americans and the disabled. At least one of Fish’s potential victims managed to evade his grasp: eight-year-old Beatrice Kiel.
In 1924, Fish offered Beatrice Kiel money to help him look for rhubarb in an attempt to lure her away from her parents’ farm where she playing alone. She was on her way to join him, and may have never returned, when her mother saw her and chased Fish away.
Fish returned to the farm later, where he tried to sleep in the barn, perhaps in a renewed attempt to abduct the girl. Again, he was chased away, this time by Beatrice’s father Hans Kiel. In the same year, a nine-year-old boy called Francis McDonnell was reported missing after he didn’t come home from a game of catch with his friends.
Another legend sprung up around Fish in 1927 when he abducted a four-year-old boy called Billy Gaffney in Brooklyn. Billy had been playing with another little boy when Fish led him away. When he spoke to the police, the boy said that “the bogeyman” took Billy.
Billy was last seen by a motorman called Joseph Meehan, who reported seeing a boy who matched Billy’s description crying on a Brooklyn trolley while being dragged around by an old man he later identified as Fish.
The mother of Grace Budd received a similar letter after Fish took her daughter.
Fish was introduced to the Budd family after responding to a classified ad posted by the 18-year-old Edward Budd looking for work in the countryside. Under a false identity, Fish interviewed Edward, later explaining that his plan was to tie him up, mutilate him and leave him to bleed to death.
Before Edward was due to start his anticipated employment, Fish went to visited the Budd family, where he met Edward’s younger sister, the ten-year-old Grace. He convinced Grace’s parents to allow him to take the girl to the fictional birthday party of his niece that evening.
It was the letter to Mrs Budd, sent in 1934, more than six years after Grace’s death, that led to Fish’s capture. It was delivered in an envelope with the logo of the New York Private Chauffeur’s Benevolent Association emblazoned on it.
The police used this to launch their investigation, following its origins to a janitor who worked at the NYPCBA. The janitor had indeed owned the stationery, but had left it in a rooming house that was subsequently rented by Fish.