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I always had a desire to inflict pain on others and to have others inflict pain on me. I always seemed to enjoy everything that hurt.

Hamilton Howard "Albert" Fish, a.k.a. "The Gray Man", was an American (possibly prolific) "vampirist"-type pedophilic and cannibalistic serial killer, serial rapist, lonely hearts killer, abductor, and one-time enucleator who brutally tortured and killed at least three children between 1924 and 1928.


Fish was born the youngest of four children on May 19, 1870, in Washington, D.C. The others were named Walter, Annie, and Edwin. His father Randall was a boat captain who operated on the Potomac River and suffered from religious mania. His mother told him that he was named after Hamilton Fish, the then-U.S. Secretary of State, to whom he was allegedly distantly related. When Randall Fish died of a heart attack, aged 80, when Fish was five, his mother was left without her husband's financial support and couldn't afford to care for her youngest son. She left him at the Saint John's orphanage in Washington, where the teachers regularly punished the boys living, thereby making them strip naked and whip and beat them in front of each other. Because of this treatment, Fish developed a taste for sadomasochism and would get erections and even derive pleasure from the beatings. This only led to the other boys bullying him more. He wanted to be named "Albert" after a dead relative, in part to escape his nickname "Ham and Eggs", and later adopted the name as his own. He became a bed wetter and frequently escaped, only to end up back at the orphanage again every time. In 1880, Mrs. Fish got a government job and took back Albert, aged nine. In 1882, a twelve-year-old Fish began a relationship with a telegraph boy who introduced him to coprophagia (consumption of feces) and urolagnia (drinking urine). He began spending his weekends at local public baths, where he would watch boys younger than himself undress. He also became a prolific writer of obscene letters to women, finding targets in classified ads.

He left school at the age of 15 and became a painter and decorator, proving to be extremely skilled at it. He would go on to stay in this line of work for the rest of his life. By 1890, the Fish family had moved to New York City, where Albert claimed to have become a male prostitute. He also claimed to have started raping young boys at this age and to have kept doing so even after he, after an arrangement made by his mother, married a woman five years younger than him in 1898. They had six children together: Albert Jr., Anna, Gertrude, Eugene, John, and Henry. Working as a house-painter, Fish later claimed to have continued molesting children, mostly boys under the age of six, during this time and to have committed his first murder in Delaware in 1910, fatally stabbing a child named Thomas Bedden. In 1903, he went to prison for the first time, being sentenced to time in Sing-Sing for grand larceny. He had extramarital relationships with men, among them a mentally retarded man whom he tried to castrate. In 1917, his wife ran off with John Straube, a handyman who had done work at the family home, and his behavior became increasingly irregular. He began hearing voices and suffering from religious delusions. When at the family summer house in Westchester, he would climb to the top of a mountain, shake his fist at the sky and declare himself Christ before asking his children to hit his buttocks. His growing obsession with pain manifested itself as self-harm, most infamously pushing needles into his groin, eventually pushing them so deep inside that they couldn't be retrieved.

Killings, Capture, and Execution

After Fish's eldest son, unable to put up with his father's bizarre behavior any longer, threw him out, he became a drifter and was arrested several times for minor offenses such as vagrancy and petty theft and also for sending his usual obscene letters. On February 26, 1924, he married an Estella Wilcox, though the marriage only lasted a week and wasn't legal since he and his first wife hadn't filed for divorce. On July 11, 1924, Fish attempted to abduct Beatrice Kiel, 8, from her parents' farm on Staten Island. He approached her and asked for her help in picking rhubarbs, only to be chased away by Mrs. Kiel. On July 15 the same year, he committed his first confirmed murder, abducting and killing Francis X. McDonnell on Long Island. On October 5, 1926, some sources state that he killed a 5-year old girl named Emma Richardson (this particular murder is very undocumented and isn't mentioned in many sources). On February 11, 1927, he abducted Billy Gaffney, 4, while he was playing hide-and-seek with his three-year-old friend, Billy Beaton, and Beaton's 12-year old brother. When Billy Beaton was asked by the police what happened to Gaffney, he said "the boogeyman" took him. Fish took Gaffney to a house at the Riker Avenue dumps and held him captive there until the next day, when he returned at ca. 2 P.M. and tortured him to death, dismembered the head, arms and the legs below the knees, put the parts in weighted sacks and threw them in nearby ponds. He then cannibalized the thighs and torso over the next four days.

NYPD Circular

NYPD circular distributed after Grace Budd abduction.

On May 28, 1928, Fish answered a classified ad made by Edward Budd, 18, asking for work and mentioning his address. He visited the family's home under the pretense of considering hiring Edward, calling himself "Frank Howard", a prosperous farmer from Farmingdale, New York. Fish later claimed that his original plan was to kill Edward, but felt that he was too fit to be subdued and changed his mind when he met Edward's 10-year old younger sister, Grace. He said he would hire Budd and left the house, saying he would send for him within the next few days. When he failed to do so, he apologized in a telegram and set a later date. When he returned on June 3, bringing a gift of pot cheese and strawberries which he claimed came from his farm, he said he would hire Edward, but had to pick him up later that day as he had to attend his sister's birthday party in an apartment house at 137th Street and Columbus, a fake address. He managed to convince Mr. and Mrs. Budd to let him bring Grace along and left with her. That was the last moment she was ever seen alive. Fish brought her to a pre-selected house in Rochester and went inside while she was outside picking flowers. He undressed so he wouldn't get blood on his clothes, called her upstairs, stripped her as well and choked her to death, cannibalizing her remains over the next nine days. The investigation of her disappearance, led by Detective William F. King, went on fruitlessly for five years. At this point, Fish made the fatal mistake of writing one of his usual obscene letters to Mrs. Budd, bragging about killing her daughter and describing the murder in detail.

Fish arrest

Fish (center) after being arrested by Detective William F. King (left).

Though the letter was completely anonymous, the envelope was marked with an emblem reading "NYPCBA", short for New York Private Chauffeur's Benevolent Association. A janitor there explained that he had taken some stationery from the company shortly before leaving and had left it in his apartment, into which Fish then moved. King waited outside the room until Fish returned. Upon being approached, Fish initially agreed to come along quietly, but then produced a razor blade and tried to attack King with it, but was subdued and arrested. He then confessed to the Budd murder as well as the McDonnell and Gaffney murders. A big issue raised before the 10-day long trial for his kidnapping and murder of Grace Budd was whether or not he was insane. It was noted that Fish was something of a psychiatric marvel, as no single person had ever displayed so many sexual abnormalities and paraphilias. Though psychiatrists and Fish's defense all agreed that he was mad, the jury, after an hour of delegation, found him sane and guilty and he was sentenced to death by electric chair. Though he was unhappy with the sentence, he was thrilled with the notion of being electrocuted to death and even thanked the judge for it. On January 16, 1936, the sentence was carried out at Sing Sing, where Fish had previously been incarcerated. His last words before the switch were pulled were reported: "I don't even know why I'm here". It took two attempts to kill him. Legend has it that the first attempt failed because the device was short-circuited by the many needles that Fish had inserted into his groin over the years. He was pronounced dead at 11:06 p.m. and buried at the prison cemetery. He was 65 at the time of his death.

Modus Operandi

Police search

Police officers searching for Grace Budd's remains.

"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 8 inches long. I whipped his bare behind till the blood ran from between his legs."

Fish targeted children of both sexes aged between 4 and 10. He would abduct them using a ruse and take them someplace secluded, where he would mercilessly torture and mutilate them with a meat cleaver, a butcher knife, and a small handsaw, which he referred to as his "implements of Hell". While McDonnell and Budd both died of strangulation, Gaffney, based on Fish's graphic description of the murder, apparently died of the torture itself. Both of his male victims were also raped before being killed. Post-mortem, he would dismember and mutilate the bodies and cannibalize the remains until there was nothing edible left on the bodies. He also wrote that he drank Gaffney's blood while torturing him.


Fish was a genuine cornucopia of sexual abnormalities and mental disorders. Not only was he a masochist who derived pleasure from torturing himself, but he was also a pedophile and a cannibal and suffered from religious delusions and hallucinations. His sexual type was young boys (he claimed that it never even crossed his mind to rape Grace Budd). He practiced a wide range of sexual paraphilias, including urophilia, and coprophilia, and he enjoyed writing obscene letters to women. Psychiatrists believed that there was no perversion that Fish did not partake in.

Known Victims


Grace Budd

Grace Budd, Fish's last victim.

  • Unspecified dates: Numerous unnamed women (sent obscene letters only)
  • Unspecified date in c.1903: Unnamed man (attempted to castrate)
  • Unspecified dates: Numerous arrests, including for vagrancy, petty theft, and sending obscene letters
  • 1924:
    • July 11, New York City, New York: Beatrice Kiel, 8 (attempted to abduct)
    • July 15, Long Island, New York: Francis X. McDonnell, 8 (physically and sexually assaulted, then strangled with a pair of suspenders)
  • February 12, 1927, New York City, New York: Billy Gaffney, 4 (tortured, cut off his ears and nose, slit his mouth from ear to ear, removed his eyes, and died from the torture he suffered; disemboweled, decapitated, dismembered, and castrated post-mortem; also drank some of his blood)
  • 1928:
    • Unspecified date and location: Cyril Quinn (molested and attempted to mutilate; he escaped)
    • June 3, New York City, New York:
      • Edward Budd, 18 (intended to tie up, mutilate, and leave for dead; targeted Grace instead when Edward failed to show up)
      • Grace Budd, 10 (Edward's sister; manually strangled; decapitated and dismembered post-mortem, and also ate her entire body)
  • December 3, 1934, unspecified location: Detective William F. King (attempted; tried to kill with a razor)


  • Unspecified date in 1910, Wilmington, Delaware: Thomas Bedden, 19 (allegedly tortured for two weeks and cut half of his penis off)
  • Unspecified date in 1919, Washington, D.C.: Unnamed boy (allegedly stabbed like the previous victim)
  • October 3, 1926, unspecified location: Emma Richardson, 5[1]
  • Unspecified date and location in 1927: Yetta Abramowitz, 12 (strangled and fatally beaten)
  • July 13, 1930, unspecified location: Emil Aalling, 4
  • May 2, 1931, unspecified location: Robin Jane Liu, 6
  • 1932, unspecified locations:
    • February 15: Mary Ellen O'Connor, 16 (mutilated post-mortem)
    • December 15: Benjamin Collings, 17
  • Notes: Fish also claimed to have raped at least a hundred boys, most of whom were African-Americans or developmentally disabled. He said he chose them because he figured that the police wouldn't investigate attacks on them thoroughly. He also claimed to have killed at least one child in each of the 23 states in which he had lived.

On Criminal Minds

  • Season Two
    • "The Last Word" - While Fish was not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, the fact that he was active at the same time as another independent serial killer, Peter Kudzinowski, may have been an inspiration for the episode's two unsubs, The Hollow Man and The Mill Creek Killer.
  • Season Five
  • Season Six
    • "Compromising Positions" - Fish was mentioned again as an example of serial killers who were piquerists, i.e. derived pleasure from stabbing when it was believed the unsub, who would stab the women he killed, was a piquerist. The latter comparison is partially incorrect as it referred to him injecting needles into his genitals, which is not characteristic of piquerism.



  1. Some sources list her as one of Fish's victims, but some don't even mention her