None of us are saints.— Hamilton Howard Fish
I’m going to start by talking about the events that lead to his arrest, and then I’ll get into the his backstory. Get your beverage of choice and some snacks.
This blog is about ‘The Gray Man‘, also known as ‘The Werewolf of Wisteria‘, ‘The Brooklyn Vampire‘, ‘Moon Maniac‘ and ‘The Bogey Man‘.
On July 11th 1924, 8 year old Beatrice Kiel was sat alone on her parents farm when a middle aged man approached her, asking if she wanted to help him find some rhubarb with the reward of some money. She got up and went with him until her Mother came out of the house and chased the man away. The man did return and tried to sleep on the Kiel farm until Beatrice’s dad Hans forced the man to leave.
Three days later, during the night of July 14th 1924, eight year old Francis McDonnell was playing on his front porch in Charlton Woods area of Staten Island. His mom was sitting nearby and feeding her baby daughter. When she looked up she saw a gaunt old man with grey hair and a grey moustache acting a little strange, mumbling to himself and constantly clenching and unclenching his fists. When he walked past their house, he tipped his hat in her direction and continued down the road and out of sight. Several hours later someone else noticed an old man with the same description watching a group of boys, including Francis playing football. In a few minutes the boys noticed that the man had vanished, and so had their friend Francis.
A neighbour of Francis said that he saw a boy that looked like Francis and an old man walk into the woods, when the parents went searching for their son, they found him under some branches. He had been stripped down, beaten badly and strangled with his own suspenders. He was actually beaten so badly that the police doubted the man who did it was the elderly man people were reporting. Francis’s dad was a police officer, so over two hundred plain clothed police joined him in helping him find the man responsible.
His Mom told the police “He came shuffling down the street, mumbling to himself, making queer motions with his hands. I’ll never forget those hands. I shuddered when I looked at them, how they opened and shut, opened and shut, opened and shut. I saw him look toward Francis and the others. I saw his thick grey hair, his drooping grey moustache. Everything about him seemed faded and grey.”
Despite the manhunt, there was no trace of the man known as ‘Grey Man’.
On February 11th, 1927, 3 year old Billy Beaton and his twelve year old brother were playing in an apartment in Brooklyn with 4 year old Billy Gaffney. When the twelve-year-old left for the apartment, the younger boys went missing. Beaton was soon found on the apartments roof, when he was asked what happened to Gaffney, he said “the bogeyman took him”. Peter Kudzinowski was a suspect in Billy’s murder – it was found out afterwards that he was in fact a serial killer.
The police believed that Billy had just wandered off into some of the empty buildings, some were factories – or maybe he had fallen into the canal nearby. Volunteers joined the search but despite their best efforts there was no sign of Billy. Eventually, someone questioned Beaton again. When asked again he repeated that the bogey man had taken Gaffney. He was then asked to describe the “bogey man”. He said he was a slender old man who had grey hair and a grey moustache. But the police failed to make any connection with this grey man and the grey man who was involved in an abduction a few years previously with Francis.
On 25th May 1928, there was an AD in the New York World that read, “Young man, 18, wishes position in country. Edward Budd, 406 West 15th Street” and three days later, the AD was answered by an elderly man, he said his name was Frank Howard and that he was a farmer. He told the family that his wife had left him with their six children and now he needed help with the farm. Edward had his friend Willie with him, and Frank offered him a position too. They accepted the offer and Frank said he would be back a few days later to bring them to the farm with him.
Frank didn’t turn up when he said he would, but they did get a telegram from him apologising and set a new date. When Frank arrived back at the house on 3rd June, he came with gifts – strawberries and cheese, products from his farm. Edward was not home so his Mom Delia invited him in for dinner to wait for her son and his friend. Frank asked if they had thrown his telegram away, and when they said it was on the mantlepiece, he got up from the sofa and put it in his pocket. He talked endlessly about his farm and the family admired Frank for his obvious hard work. As they sat down to eat, straight from church, Edwards little sister, Grace came into the dining room and greeted Frank.
Now Grace was ten years old, but Frank could not keep his eyes off her, he made comments about how she was going to be a heartbreaker one day. He then went on to see “how good of a counter” Grace was and took out a bunch of money which impressed the Budd family. He gave her some of the money to buy herself some sweets and as she went out, Edward and Willie walked in. At this point Frank got to his feet and explained that his sister unexpectedly invited him to his niece’s birthday party to which he had to go to. He said he would come back after the party that day and take the young boys with him to the farm. As he was walking out, he turned to ask Delia and Albert if they thought their daughter Grace would like to attend the party with him. He gave them the address of the party and assured them that she was in safe hands. Delia walked them outside and watched the old man and her ten year old daughter walk down the street and round the corner out of sight – the last time she would ever see her daughter.
Delia and Albert Budd were ridden with panic – their 10 year old was at a party with an old man they barely knew and it was coming onto 11pm and she wasn’t home yet. They tried to remain somewhat calm and assumed that maybe the party went on a little later than expected and they were spending the night at Frank’s sisters house. But by the morning, there was still no sign of Frank or Grace. Albert Budd didn’t waste anymore time and went to Frank’s sisters address himself, but no address existed. He still wanted to believe that Frank was simply mistaken when he gave them the address – but he wasn’t going to take the risk. He sent Edward to the police station so he could put in a missing person’s report, a short time later four detectives arrived at the Budd’s house and they were concerned right from the beginning.
After the parents were interviewed, the detectives dispatched to make thorough searches of all the local rooming houses. They then took Edward and Willie down to the local police station to look at mug shots. Two more detectives were assigned to the case because they realised just how serious this missing case was. One of those detectives checked out names and addresses at the Motor Vehicle Bureau to see if there was a match for anyone by the name of Frank Howard. The other went about tracing the message sent by Frank to Eddie through the Western Union. This was when the abduction of Grace Budd made the newspapers.
From all the investigations the detectives did, they could not track down a Frank Howard or the farm he claimed he owned in Farmingdale, Long Island. They couldn’t even find anything that belonged to him or anyone that fit the description. The man that called himself Frank Howard, didn’t seem to exist. The search for Grace Budd was even more vital now, and everything that Frank had told the Budd family – none of it was true.
Whilst looking into everything, they took Delia and Albert to the police station to look at mug shots just like they did with Edward and Willie, these mug shots were of known rogues and child molesters, but they didn’t recognise any of the people in the pictures. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and they still found no trace of Grace. They only thing they knew was that Frank Howard had covered his tracks extremely well. Albert Budd remembered that Frank went as far to take back the telegram he had sent to the Budd’s house, saying he was going to complain to the Western Union as it was addressed wrong. The detectives got onto the Western Union and asked them to check all copies, to see if they could find the one that Frank had sent. Three clerks that worked for Western Union put in over fifteen hours searching until they finally found the telegram that Frank had sent and the only clue, they got from it was that it was sent from an office in East Harlem.
They wanted to send officers to check every single home in that area, but knew it was going to be physically impossible, it would take too long and too many man hours, they weren’t sure if Frank would still be in that area anymore. Instead they went on a different slim chance – the pot of cheese and strawberries that Frank gifted to the Budd family, if they hadn’t come from his farm, he had to have bought them from somewhere. After searching the East Harlem area, they found the two stores and had themselves a lead. The peddler who sold him the strawberries described Frank in detail but couldn’t remember anything else, and that was the end of that lead.
Without wanting to give up so easily, they made sure all the newspapers had details of Grace and Frank on the front page every day, they printed out flyers and distributed them around and they were able to gather up loads of tips and leads. The same with every other case, they got some sightings that were a dud but were genuinely honest and then some were people calling up and giving them false hope for a bit of fun.
September 5th 1930, two years after Grace went missing, a 66-year old Superintendent Charles Edward Pope was arrested as a suspect for Grace’s murder, his ex-wife called in the tip saying he fit the description and that he phoned her one day to meet up, when she did, he met her with a little girl. He spent 108 days in jail between his arrest and his trial which was on December 22nd 1930 and was found not guilty.
It seemed to be a hopeless case, none of these tips were leads and the man they had as their main suspect wasn’t guilty.
Warden J.S. Blitch was a prison warden in Florida, he had seen one of the flyers, he got in touch with the police and told them he thought he recognised the man but he knew him as conman Albert E. Corthell. He has been released from prison in 1926 for embezzlement. He was in his late fifties, small, slight, grey haired, quick witted and real smooth talker. He would often passed himself off as a medical practitioner. In the course of his many scams Corthell would hire young girls to pose as his children. The more Blitch thought about it the more he convinced himself that Corthell was Frank Howard. He opened his prison file and looked at the prisoner’s photograph again before sending his statement and the photograph to the New York City Police Commissioner, Joseph A. Warren.
At the same time, another man called William L. Vetter also had an interesting story to tell the police. Vetter was the assistant superintendent of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Brooklyn. His story was that a couple of days before the Budd kidnapping, he was approached by a man who matched the description of Frank Howard. The man was interested in adopting a six year old girl. There was something about him that just didn’t feel right, so Vetter set up a second interview with him. But this time the grey haired man never turned up. He was invited to the police headquarters and asked to go through a number of possible suspects. He picked one out. It was the photograph of the con man Albert Corthell that they had just received from Warden Blitch.
In November 1934, seven years later, the Budd family received an anonymous letter. Ellen was illiterate and wasn’t about to read, so she passed the letter to her son Edward to read out.
“My Dear Mrs.
Budd,In 1894, a friend of mine shipped as a deck hand on the steamer Tacoma, Capt. John Davis. They sailed from San Francisco to Hong Kong, China. On arriving there, he and two others went ashore and got drunk. When they returned, the boat was gone.
At that time, there was a famine in China. Meat of any kind was 1-3 dollars a pound. So great was the suffering among the very poor that all children under 12 were sold for food in order to keep others from starving. A boy or girl under 14 was not safe in the street. You could go in any shop and ask for steak, chops, or stew meat. Part of the naked body of a boy or girl would be brought out and just what you wanted cut from it. A boy or girl’s behind, which is the sweetest part of the body and is sold as veal cutlets, brings the highest price.
John stayed there so long that he acquired a taste for human flesh. On his return to N.Y., he stole two boys — one 7, one 11. He took them to his home, stripped them naked, and tied them up in a closet, and then burned everything they had on. Several times every day and night he spanked them — tortured them — to make their meat good and tender.
First, he killed the 11-year-old boy, because he had the fattest ass and of course the most meat on it. Every part of his body was cooked and eaten except the head, bones, and guts. He was roasted in the oven (all of his ass), boiled, broiled, fried, and stewed. The little boy was next, and he went the same way. At that time, I was living at 409 E. 100 St. He told me so often how good human flesh was, and I made up my mind to taste it.
On June 3, 1928, I called on you at 406 W. 15 St. and brought you pot cheese and strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat on my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her.
On the pretense of taking her to a party, you said yes, she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them.
When all was ready, I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in the closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma.
First, I stripped her naked. How she did kick, bite, and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take the meat to my rooms, cook, and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did not fuck her, though I could have if I wished. She died a virgin.”
The police took the letter as evidence and began investigating. In the letter, it said that there was famine in Honk Kong which couldn’t be verified. The part of the letter that concerned Grace Budd’s murder was found to be accurate, but in this letter it was said that anonymous had eaten Grace’s body, which they wasn’t able to confirm or deny.
The letter came in an envelope which had a small emblem with the letters “N.Y.P.C.B.A” on which stood for “New York Private Chauffeur’s Benevolent Association”. When they went to check it out, a janitor that worked their told the police that he had taken some of the stationary home with him and left it at the rooming house at 200 East 52nd Street when he moved out.
The police spoke to the landlady at the rooming house that said a man named Albert Fish checked out of that room a few days earlier but his son sent him money and Albert had asked the landlady to hold the cheque for him. William F. King was the chief investigator on the case and he decided to wait outside the room when Albert Fish returned for his cheque.
Fish volunteered to go to the station for questioning but then he took out a razor blade and attempted to attack King who managed to disarm him and take him to the station. Fish didn’t bother denying murdering Grace but told them when he went to the house, her brother Edward was his initial victim, but that very day he met Grace, she was going to be his victim. He confessed to everything. He told them he lead Grace to a place called Wisteria Cottage and left her outside of the empty house, picking wild flowers. He went inside and got naked before calling her upstairs, she screamed and tried to run when Albert grabbed her and strangled her to death.
The police needed to find Grace’s body, so they went to Wisteria Cottage with Albert Fish, who showed no emotion what so ever – everything he had told the police appeared to be true. They got a statement from Fish that same day and on that night, he was interrogated, people wanted to know why he would kill Grace, his response was that it was “a sort of blood thirst” and it overwhelmed him. He said that once it was done, he was overcome with sadness and even said, “I would have given my life within a half-hour after I done it to restore it to her.”
This was when Albert Fish confessed to the murders of Francis McDonnell and Billy Gaffney, even writing a letter to the Gaffney family.
“I brought him to the Riker Ave. dumps. There is a house that stands alone, not far from where I took him….I took the boy there. Stripped him naked and tied his hands and feet and gagged him with a piece of dirty rag I picked out of the dump. Then I burned his clothes. Threw his shoes in the dump. Then I walked back and took the trolley to 59 St. at 2 A.M. and walked from there home.
Next day about 2 P.M., I took tools, a good heavy cat-of-nine tails. Home made. 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 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.
I picked up four old potato sacks and gathered a pile of stones. Then I cut him up. I had a grip with me. I put his nose, ears and a few slices of his belly in the grip. Then I cut him through the middle of his body. Just below the belly button. Then through his legs about 2 inches below his behind. I put this in my grip with a lot of paper. I cut off the head — feet — arms– hands and the legs below the knee. This I put in sacks weighed with stones, tied the ends and threw them into the pools of slimy water you will see all along the road going to North Beach.
I came home with my meat. I had the front of his body I liked best. His monkey and pee wees and a nice little fat behind to roast in the oven and eat. I made a stew out of his ears — nose — pieces of his face and belly. I put onions, carrots, turnips, celery, salt and pepper. It was good.
Then I split the cheeks of his behind open, cut off his monkey and pee wees and washed them first. I put strips of bacon on each cheek of his behind and put them in the oven. Then I picked 4 onions and when the meat had roasted about 1/4 hour, I poured about a pint of water over it for gravy and put in the onions. At frequent intervals I basted his behind with a wooden spoon. So the meat would be nice and juicy.
In about 2 hours, it was nice and brown, cooked through. I never ate any roast turkey that tasted half as good as his sweet fat little behind did. I ate every bit of the meat in about four days. His little monkey was a sweet as a nut, but his pee-wees I could not chew. Threw them in the toilet.”
The capture of Albert Fish was on the front page of the newspapers and on his trial day, Albert and Edward Budd had to be escorted inside when Albert saw Fish, he lunged forward and grabbed him by the neck screaming at him, calling him a son of a bitch and if he knew who he was. Fish simply replied, “Yes you’re Mr.Budd” and Albert shouted at him again saying that he was the man that came into his home and took away his little girl away.
Albert Fish’s trial for the murder of Grace Budd began on March 11, 1935. The trial lasted for 10 days. Fish pleaded insanity, and claimed to have heard voices from God telling him to kill children. During two days of testimony, the defence explained Fish’s obsession with religion, it was said that Fish believed that “sacrificing” a boy would be penance for his own sins and that even if the act itself was wrong, angels would prevent it if God didn’t approve. Edward Budd was the intended victim, but he turned out to be larger than expected so he settled on Grace. Although he knew Grace was female, he saw her as a boy. The defence said that due to Fish’s background, he was insane.
Albert Fish was born Hamilton Howard Fish on May 19th 1870 and when he was born his dad, Randall Fish was already seventy-five years old and his Mom, Ellen Fish was thirty-two years old, so there was a good forty three years age difference between his parents.
There wasn’t a whole bunch of information about Ellen Fish, but his dad, Randall was a riverboat captain before he became a fertilizer manufacturer but when Hamilton was only five years old in 1875, his Dad died from a heart attack.
Now Hamilton wasn’t an only child, he had three older living siblings; Walter, Annie and Edwin. So when Randall passed away, Ellen found it really hard to cope with her children on her and with the grief and stress, she began hallucinating. Because of this, she took Hamilton to Saint John’s Orphanage in Washington, D.C.
This is where his name changed, due to being called “Ham & Eggs”, he asked that people called him Albert after his dead brother.
It was at Saint John’s Orphanage that Albert began to be treated horrifically. In fact he was later quoted saying, “That place ruined my mind.” It was in this orphanage that Albert experienced brutal beatings and I mean brutal. He was also witnessing the other kids in the orphanage being beaten too. Soon enough Albert had gotten so used to the pain that he started to like it, to the point of being sexually aroused by these beatings.
In 1880, Ellen – Albert’s Mom, got herself a crusty job in the Government and was able to take Albert out of the orphanage and back home with her, this made him ten years old. Which meant he spent five years of his life in an abusive orphanage, where he was beaten almost daily.
When Albert was twelve years old, he got into a relationship with a telegraph boy, I couldn’t find his name though. But he introduced Albert into drinking urine and eating faeces. Nice… It wasn’t long after this that Albert started visiting public baths to watch all the boys undress, and he made this a weekend thing, so he would go almost every weekend.
Skipping ahead some years, to 1890 when he was twenty, Albert moved to New York and to make money, he became a prostitute and this is where he began molesting young boys. He continued with the sex work up until his Mom Ellen arranged a marriage between himself and a woman named Anna Mary Hoffman who was nine years younger than he was. This is when he changed jobs to become a house painter, him and Anna went on to have six children together. That didn’t mean he stopped molesting young boys however.
A male lover of his took him to a waxworks museum and Albert became pretty much obsessed with sexual mutilation from that point.
In 1910, Albert was working on a house in Delaware where he met nineteen year old Thomas Kedden and started a sadomasochistic relationship with him. Albert later confessed that Thomas was “intellectually disabled” and after ten days of their relationship, he took Thomas to an old farm house and tortured him for two whole weeks. His original plan was to kill him, cut him up and take him home but due to the hot weather he didn’t want to draw attention to himself and instead, tied Thomas up and cut off his genitals. He poured peroxide over the wound, wrapped it in a Vaseline covered handkerchief, placed ten dollars beside him and then kissed him goodbye. He never knew what happened to Thomas and didn’t much care for finding out either.
In January 1917, Anna left Albert for another man, which left Albert a single parent and this was when he began hearing voices, much like what happened to his own Mom. It was about this time that Albert began self-harming, he would embed needles into his groin and stomach to the point that he wasn’t able to get them back out. He would insert wool doused in lighter fluid into his anus and set it alight and he would so hit himself with a nail studded paddle – which he would get his children and their friends hit him with too. It wasn’t ever known if he ever abused his children.
He became obsessed with the idea of cannibalism when he started eating raw meat and serving it to his children.
In 1919 he stabbed a mentally handicapped boy. He then began torturing, multilating and murdering young boys with a meat cleaver, butcher knife and a small handsaw. That’s when he saw little Beatrice Kiel on her farm, and thankfully forced to leave without the little girl.
1924 Fish was suffering with psychosis and felt that God was telling him to sexually mutilate young boys. That’s when he saw the AD in the paper and contacted the Budd family.
None of the jurors doubted that he was insane, but felt he should be executed anyway. They said he was sane and guilty, and the judge ordered the death sentence. Fish arrived at prison in March 1935, and was executed on January 16, 1936, in the electric chair at Sing Sing. He entered the chamber at 11:06 p.m. and was pronounced dead three minutes later. He was buried in the Sing Sing Prison Cemetery. Fish is said to have helped the executioner position the electrodes on his body. His last words were reportedly, “I don’t even know why I’m here.”
He was executed for the murders of all;
Francis McDonnel, Aged 8, July 15th 1924
Billy Gaffney, age 4, February 11, 1927
Grace Budd, age 10, June 3, 1928
And was suspected of killing;
Emma Richardson, age 5, October 3, 1926
Yetta Abramowitz, age 12, 1927
Robin Jane Liu, age 6, May 2, 1931
Mary Ellen O’Connor, age 16, February 15, 1932
Benjamin Collings, age 17, December 15, 1932