The Moon Man Albert Fish
With a long list of names that ranges from the Gray Man to the Brooklyn Vampire to the Moon Maniac, it is easy to imagine Albert Fish as some kind of preternatural human monster, enormously powerful and ugly, possessed with unnatural strength. However, a quick look at Albert Fish’s mug shot shows us a man who looks slender and meek and a face that could be found in any North American or European city. Fish’s legacy for terror and cruelty is just one more reminder that in our world, the most vicious monsters wear a human face.
Fish was born in 1870 to a rather troubled family. After his father died, his mother put him in an orphanage where he reported being beaten and whipped. According to his trial records, this was where he acquired a taste for pain, both his own and that of others. His mother removed him from the orphanage when he was ten, but not long after, he confessed to writing obscene letters to women whose names he pulled from the telephone directory.
In 1898, his mother arranged for his marriage to an older woman, but this did not prevent Fish from having affairs, mostly with young men. During this time he worked as a house painter, where he reportedly molested more than a hundred young boys. This was also the point where he became fascinated with genital mutilation. At this point, he may have engaged in an affair with a 19 year old mental disabled man. At an old farm house, he cut the man’s penis in half, and considered killing him, but had no idea how to dispose of the body. Instead he cleaned the wound, handed the man 10 dollars, and n Fish’s own words, “took first train I could get back home. Never heard what become of him, or tried to find out.”
His wife left, and Fish became a single parent. Though he reputedly never harmed his children, he did occasionally feed them raw meat and encourage them and their friends to strike him with a nail-studded paddle.
Between 1919 and 1930, Fish killed, mutilated and in some cases, ate perhaps 9 children. Three are confirmed, while reporting is sketchy on the rest. In that time, he claimed to have molested many children. He claimed that he chose his victims from among the destitute African-American families he knew or from the mentally ill, figuring that there would be no outcry when they went missing.
He was largely correct in this regard, given that it was not until the murder of Grace Budd, a white girl from a respectable family, that he was caught.
Fish had contacted an ad in the paper, posted by a teenage boy looking for work. Fish was interested in torturing or murdering the young man, but when he saw Grace Budd, he fixed his attention on her. He told her brother that there would be a delay in hiring, and told the Budd family that he was going to a niece’s birthday party. He took Grace along and her family never saw her again.
Six years later, an anonymous letter arrived for the Budd family, detailing a story of cannibalism in Asia before proceeding through a gruesome description of Grace Budd’s murder.
The envelope had a particular imprint on it, and it was eventually tracked back to Fish. Fish was put on trial in 1935, and there are reams of case documents regarding his testimony. He was declared sane but guilty, and the judge handed down the death sentence.
In 1936, Fish was executed by electric chair at Sing Sing Prison. He reportedly helped the executioner place electrodes on his body. His last words were “I don’t even know why I’m here.”