The Gray Man
The worst thing that Police Lieutenant Samuel Dribben said to the Budds was that the
address that "Frank Howard" had given them for his sister's apartment was fictitious. The
kindly old man was a fraud. There was no Frank Howard, no farm in Farmingdale, Long
Island. None of it was true.
Police began the normal investigative activities. They checked out everything "Frank
Howard" had told the Budds. They also had the Budds go through their "rogue's gallery"
of photos and checked on all the known child molesters, mental patients, etc. It came to
nothing. No trace of Gracie.
On June 7, New York police mailed out 1,000 fliers to police stations throughout the
country with a photo of Gracie and a description of Mr. "Howard." This activity, along
with all the local publicity, guaranteed an epidemic of Gracie sightings and crank letters,
each of which had to be thoroughly investigated by the 20 plus detectives who had been
assigned to the case.
There were a couple of solid clues. Police found the Western Union office in Manhattan
from which "Frank Howard" had sent his message to the Budds, plus the original
handwritten message. From the writing and grammar, it was clear that "Howard" had
some education and refinement. Police also located the pushcart where "Howard" had
bought the pot cheese that he had given to the Budds. Both addresses were in East
Harlem, which then became a focal point of intense search and investigation.
The New York police were not strangers to child kidnapping. In fact, there was an oddly
similar case just the year before. On February 11, 1927, four-year-old Billy Gaffney
played in the hallway outside his apartment with his three-year-old neighbor who was also
named Billy. A twelve-year-old neighbor who was babysitting his sleeping baby sister
went to join the boys, but went back to his apartment quickly after hearing his sister cry.
A few minutes later, the older boy noticed that the two Billys were gone and told the
younger Billy's father. After a desperate search, the father found his three-year-old son
alone on the top floor of the building. His son had been up on the roof.
"Where's Billy Gaffney?" the man asked his son.
"The boogey man took him," the little boy replied.
The next day when a platoon of detectives came to investigate the disappearance of the
Gaffney boy, they ignored the three-year-old witness, who stuck to his simple explanation.
At first the police thought the boy had wandered outside into some of the factory buildings
in the neighborhood or, worse, had fallen into the Gowanus canal a few blocks away.
People in the community organized a search and the canal was dredged, but there was no
sign of little Billy.
Eventually, someone listened to the three-year-old witness who gave them a description of
the "boogey man." He was a slender old man with gray hair and a gray moustache. The
police paid no attention to the description and did not connect it to a crime that had been
committed by the "Gray Man" a few years earlier.
In July of 1924, eight-year-old Francis McDonnell played on the front porch of his home
in the pastoral Charlton Woods section of Staten Island. His mother sat nearby, nursing
her infant daughter when she saw a gaunt elderly man with gray hair and moustache in the
middle of the street. She stared at the strange shabby old man who constantly clenched
and unclenched his fists and mumbled to himself. The man tipped his dusty hat to her and
disappeared down the street.
Later that afternoon, the old man was seen again watching Francis and four other boys
play ball. The old man called Francis over to him. The other boys continued to play ball.
A few minutes later, both the old man and Francis had disappeared. A neighbor noticed a
boy that looked like Francis walking that afternoon into a wooded area with an elderly
gray-haired tramp behind him.
The disappearance of Francis was not noticed until he missed dinner. His father, a
policeman, organized a search. They found the boy in the woods under some branches.
He had been horribly assaulted. His clothes had been torn from his body and he had been
strangled with his suspenders. Francis had been beaten so badly that police doubted that
the "old" tramp could have really been as old and frail as he looked. The beating was so
severe that perhaps the old tramp had an accomplice who had the strength to maul the
In a short period of time, Manhattan fingerprint experts and police photographers were
enlisted in the case as well as some two hundred and fifty plainclothesman. The huge
manhunt yielded several promising suspects, except that none of them looked like the
gray-haired, moustached old tramp. His face was burned forever in the memory of Anna
McDonnell: "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 gray hair, his drooping gray moustache.
Everything about him seemed faded and gray."
Despite the massive efforts of the police and the community, the "Gray Man" had vanished
into thin air.
In November of 1934, the Budd case was officially still open although nobody ever
expected it to be solved. Only one man, William F. King, continued to pursue the case.
Every once in awhile, King would plant a phony item about a break in the case with
Walter Winchell. On November 2, 1934, Winchell took the bait once again:
"I checked on the Grace Budd mystery," Winchell wrote in his column. "She was eight
when she was kidnapped about six years ago. And it is safe to tell you that the Dep't of
Missing Persons will break the case, or they expect to, in four weeks."
Ten days later, Delia Budd received a letter that her lack of education fortunately
prevented her from reading. Her son Edward read it instead and ran out the door to get
Detective King. The letter was singularly barbarous:
"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 for 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 famine in China. Meat of any kind was from $1 to 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 girls behind which is the sweetest part of the body and sold as veal cutlet
brought the highest price.
John staid there so long he acquired a taste for human flesh. On his return to N.Y. he
stole two boys one 7 one 11. Took them to his home stripped them naked tied them in a
closet. 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, went the same way. At that time, I was living at 409 E 100 st., near --
right side. He told me so often how good Human flesh was I made up my mind to taste it.
On Sunday June the 3 --1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese --
strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to
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 a 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 my 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 tho I could of had I wished. She died a virgin."
Nobody wanted to believe that this letter was true. It had to be the ravings of some
perverted, sadistic crank. But, Detective King realized that the details of his meeting with
the Budds and Grace were accurate. Also, the handwriting on this horrible letter was
identical to the letter the elderly kidnapper had written for the Western Union messenger
six years earlier.
The envelope had an important clue: a small hexagonal emblem had the letters
N.Y.P.C.B.A. which stood for the New York Private Chauffeur's Benevolent Association.
With the cooperation of the president of the association, an emergency meeting of the
members was held. In the meantime, police checked out the handwritten membership
forms looking for handwriting similar to "Frank Howard's." Detective King then asked
the members -- all of whom had passed the handwriting test -- to report anybody who had
taken the association's stationery.
A young janitor came forward, admitting that he had taken a couple of sheets of paper and
a few envelopes. He had left the stationery in his old rooming house at 200 East 52nd
Street. The landlady was shocked when she was given "Frank Howard's" description. He
sounded just like the old man who had lived there for two months.
The old man who had checked out of her rooming house just a couple of days earlier.
The former tenant had called himself Albert H. Fish. The landlady mentioned that Fish
had told her to hold a letter that he was expecting from his son who worked for the
Civilian Conservation Corps in North Carolina. The son regularly sent money to his old
Finally, the post office told Detective King that it had intercepted a letter for Albert Fish.
Detective King was becoming worried that Fish had not contacted his former landlady.
The police worried that something had scared him away.
On December 13, 1934, the landlady called Detective King. Albert Fish was at the
rooming house looking for his letter. The old man was sitting with a teacup when King
opened the door. Fish stood up and nodded when King asked him if he was Albert Fish.
Suddenly, Fish reached into his pocket and produced a razor blade which he held in front
of him. Infuriated, King grabbed the old man's hand and twisted it sharply. "I've got you
now," he said triumphantly.
The confession of Albert Fish would be heard by many law enforcement officials and
psychiatrists. A severely edited version of it would appear in the newspapers. It was an
odyssey of perversion and unspeakable depravity which seemed unbelievable until detail
after detail was corroborated. It was all the more amazing considering how decrepit and
harmless Fish appeared. He was a stooped, frail-looking old man about 130 pounds and 5
feet 5 inches tall.
Detective King took the initial confession. Fish told him that in the summer of 1928 he
had been overcome by what he called his "blood thirst" -- his need to kill. When he
answered Edward Budd's ad for employment, it was the young man, not his sister Gracie,
that he intended to lure to a remote location, restrain him and cut off his penis, leaving him
to bleed to death.
After he left the Budd house the first time, Fish had purchased the tools he would need to
murder and mutilate the boys: a cleaver, saw and butcher knife. He wrapped up these
implements of destruction into a bundle which he left at a newsstand before he went the
the Budd home for the second and last time.
When Fish saw the strapping young Edward, the size of a full-grown man, and his friend
Willie, he convinced himself he could overpower the two of them. But then Fish had a
lot of experience in that regard.
It was only after seeing Gracie that he changed his mind and his plans. It was she he
desperately wanted to kill.
With the unsuspecting Gracie in tow, he stopped back at the newsstand to pick up his
bundle before taking a train to the Bronx and then to the village of Worthington in
Westchester. For Grace, he only bought a one-way ticket.
Grace was enthralled with the forty-minute ride into the countryside. Only twice in her
life had she been out of the city. This was a wonderful treat for her.
At the station in Worthington, Fish was so absorbed in his monstrous plan that he left his
bundle of tools on the train. Ironically, Grace noticed and reminded him to bring his
They walked along a remote road until they reached an abandoned two-story building
called Wisteria Cottage in the midst of a wooded area. While Grace entertained herself
outside with the various wildflowers, Fish went up to the second floor bedroom, opened
up his bundle of tools, and took off his clothes.
Then he called to Gracie to come upstairs.
With the wildflowers she had gathered arranged in a bouquet, Gracie came into the house
and up to the bedroom. When she saw the old man naked, she screamed for her mother
and tried to escape. But Fish had grabbed her by her throat and choked her to death. He
was sexually aroused by the act of strangling her.
He propped up her head on an old paint can and decapitated her, catching most of the
blood in the paint can. Afterwards he threw the bucket of blood out into the yard. He
undressed the headless child, then he went back to her body and cut it in two with the
butcher knife and cleaver.
Parts of her body he took with him wrapped in newspaper. The rest he left there until he
returned several days later when he threw the portions of her body over a stone wall in the
back of the house. He disposed of his tools in the same fashion. After his confession,
Detective King had a final question: What caused him to do this horrible thing?
"You know," Fish answered. "I never could account for it."
Captain John Stein asked him why he had written the letter to the Budds and Fish
responded that he didn't know why. "I just had a mania for writing."
That day, the police went to Wisteria Cottage and recovered the remains of Gracie.
Albert Fish stood nearby, completely without emotion of any kind.
That night at 10 P.M. Fish was interrogated by Assistant District Attorney P. Francis
Marro. When Marro asked Fish why he had murdered Gracie, he explained that "a sort of
blood thirst" had overwhelmed him. Once it was done, he was overcome with sorrow. "I
would have given my life within a half-hour after I done it to restore it to her."
Marro asked if he had raped Gracie and Fish was adamant: "It never entered my head."
Nothing was asked at that time nor was anything volunteered about the cannibalism
mentioned in Fish's letter to the Budds. The police may have considered it too insane to
be true. Or, perhaps, they were already thinking that including horrible details about
cannibalism would bolster the inevitable defense case for insanity.
That night the capture of Albert Fish had leaked to the newspapers and reporters
descended on the Budd apartment with the news. Shortly afterwards, Detective King
drove Mr. Budd and his son Edward to the police station to identify Fish.
Edward did more than identify Fish. He threw himself at the old man. "You old bastard!
Dirty son of a bitch!"
Mr. Budd was surprised at Fish's lack of emotion. "Don't you know me?" he asked the
"Yes," Fish answered politely. "You're Mr. Budd."
"And you're the man who came to my home as a guest and took my little girl away," he
said in tears.
Albert Fish, not surprisingly, was no stranger to police. His record stretched back to 1903
when he had been jailed for grand larceny. Since then, he had been arrested six times for
various petty crimes, such as sending obscene letters and petty theft. Half of those arrests
occurred around the time of Gracie's abduction. Each time, the charges were dismissed.
He had been in mental institutions more than once.
When asked about his background, Fish said: "I was born May 19, 1870, in Washington,
D.C. We lived on B Street, N.E., between Second and Third. My father was Captain
Randall Fish, 32nd-degree Mason, and he is buried in the Grand Lodge grounds of the
Congressional cemetery. He was a Potomac River boat captain, running from D.C. to
Marshall Hall, Virginia.
"My father dropped dead October 15, 1875, in the old Pennsylvania Station where
President Garfield was shot, and I was placed in St. John's Orphanage in Washington. I
was there till I was nearly nine, and that's where I got started wrong. We were
unmercifully whipped. I saw boys doing many things they should not have done. I sang in
the choir from 1880 to 1884 -- soprano, at St. John's. I came to New York. I was a
good painter -- interiors or anything.
"I got an apartment and brought my mother up from Washington. We lived at 76 West
101st Street, and that's where I met my wife. After our six children were born, she left
me. She took all the furniture and didn't even leave a mattress for the children to sleep on.
"I'm still worried about my children," he sniffled. His six children ranged from age 21 to
35. "You'd think they'd come to visit their old dad in jail, but they haven't."
Albert Fish was facing indictments in Manhattan and Westchester County. First
Westchester County indicted him on a charge of first degree murder, while Manhattan was
preparing an indictment for kidnapping.
Meanwhile police got a really major break. The motorman on the Brooklyn trolley line
saw a picture of Fish in the newspaper and came forward to identify Fish as the nervous
old man that he saw February 11, 1927, who was trying to quiet the little boy sitting with
him on the trolley. Joseph Meehan, the retired motorman, watched the two carefully. The
little boy, who didn't have a jacket or coat, was crying for his mother continuously and had
to be dragged by the old man on and off the trolley. The little boy, as it turned out, was
the kidnapped Billy Gaffney.
Ultimately, Fish did confess the unspeakable things he did to Billy Gaffney: "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."
Days later, a man from Staten Island came forward to identify Fish as the man who had
tried to lure his then eight-year-old daughter into the woods not far from where Francis
O'Donnell was murdered three days later in 1924. The girl, in her late teens, saw him in
his cell and recognized him. The "Gray Man" was found.
Fish was also tied to the 1932 murder of a fifteen-year-old girl named Mary O'Connor in
Far Rockaway. The girl's mauled body was found in some woods close to a house that
Fish had been painting.
With all of those indictments in different counties. There was very little chance that Albert
Fish was going to be acquitted. His only opportunity to beat the death penalty was to
have the alienists or forensic psychiatrists declare him insane.
Dr. Fredric Wertham in his book The Show of Violence describes his first meeting with
Albert Fish in his jail cell. He was shocked at how "meek, gentle, benevolent and polite"
Fish was. "If you wanted someone to entrust your children to, he would be the one you
Fish's attitude towards his situation was one of complete detachment. "I have no
particular desire to live. I have no particular desire to be killed. It is a matter of
indifference to me. I do not think I am altogether right."
When Dr. Wertham asked if he meant that he was insane. Fish answered, "Not exactly...I
never could understand myself."
Psychosis seemed to have galloped through Fish's family history from what Dr. Wertham
could ascertain: "One paternal uncle suffered from a religious psychosis and died in a
state hospital. A half brother also died in a state hospital. A younger brother was
feeble-minded and died of hydrocephalus. His mother was held to be 'very queer' and was
said to hear and see things. A paternal aunt was considered 'completely crazy.' A brother
suffered from chronic alcoholism. A sister had some sort of 'mental affliction.'
He claimed that his real name was Hamilton Fish, named after a distant relative who was
President Grant's Secretary of State. Tired of being teased about that name, he took the
name of Albert instead.
When he was twenty-six, he married a young woman of nineteen and had six children.
When the youngest was three, she ran off with another man, leaving Fish to raise the
children. Subsequently, he "married" three other times, although they were not legal since
he had never been divorced from his first wife.
Dr. Wertham considered Fish's unparalleled perversity unique in the annals of psychiatric
and criminal literature. "Sado-masochism directed against children, particularly boys, took
the lead in his sexually regressive development."
Fish told him: "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."
Wertham told "experiences with excreta of every imaginable kind were practiced by him,
actively and passively. He took bits of cotton, saturated them with alcohol, inserted them
into his rectum, and set fire to them. He also did that with his child victims."
Fish confided in Dr. Wertham a long history of preying on children -- "at least a hundred."
Fish would bribe them with money or candy. He usually chose African-American children
because he believed that the police did not pay much attention when they were hurt or
He never went back to the same neighborhood. He said that he had lived in at least 23
states and in each one he had killed at least one child. Sometimes, he lost his job as a
painter because he was suspiciously connected to these dead or mutilated children.
He had a compulsion to write obscene letters and did so frequently. According to Dr.
Wertham," they were not the typical obscene letters based on fantasies and daydreams to
supply a vicarious thrill. They were offers to practice his inclinations with the people he
wrote his graphic suggestions to."
Initially, Dr. Wertham had some concerns about whether Fish was lying to him, especially
when he told the psychiatrist that he had been sticking needles into his body for years in
the area between the rectum and the scrotum: "He told of doing it to other people too,
especially children. At first, he said, he had only stuck these needles in and pulled them
out again. Then he had stuck others in so far that he was unable to get them out, and they
stayed there." The doctor had him X-rayed and sure enough, there were at least
twenty-nine needles in his pelvic region.
About the age of fifty-five, Fish started to experience hallucinations and delusions. "He
had visions of Christ and His angels....he began to be engrossed in religious speculations
about purging himself of iniquities and sins, atonement by physical suffering and
self-torture, human sacrifices....He would go on endlessly with quotations from the Bible
all mixed up with his own sentences, such as ' Happy is he that taketh Thy little ones and
dasheth their heads against the stones."
Fish believed that God had ordered him to torment and castrate little boys. He had
actually done so a number of times.
Wertham was amazed as Fish described the horrible cannibalism of Billy Gaffney's body.
"His state of mind while he described these things in minute detail was a peculiar mixture.
He spoke in a matter-of-fact way, like a housewife describing her favorite methods of
cooking....But at times his voice and facial expression indicated a kind of satisfaction and
ecstatic thrill. I said to myself: However you define the medical and legal borders of
sanity, this certainly is beyond that border."
That Fish was suffering from some religious psychosis was a given as far as Dr. Wertham
was concerned. Fish's children had seen him "hitting himself on his nude body with a
nail-studded paddle until he was covered with blood. They also saw him stand alone on a
hill with his hands raised, shouting: 'I am Christ.'"
Fish told him: "What I did must have been right or an angel would have stopped me, just
as an angel stopped Abraham in the Bible [from sacrificing his son]."
Dr. Wertham, the defense alienist, believed that Fish was legally insane: "I characterized
his personality as introverted and extremely infantilistic...I outlined his abnormal mental
make-up, and his mental disease, which I diagnosed as paranoid psychosis....Because Fish
suffered from delusions and particularly was so mixed up about the questions of
punishment, sin, atonement, religion, torture, self-punishment, he had a perverted, a
distorted -- if you want, an insane -- knowledge of right and wrong. His test was that if it
had been wrong he would have been stopped, as Abraham was stopped, by an angel."
Wertham believed that Fish had actually killed fifteen children and mutilated about a
hundred others. "That figure was verified many times to me by police officials in later
Two other defense alienists testified that Fish was insane. The four alienists who were
called by the prosecution testified that Fish was sane. One of those prosecution alienists
was the head of the psychiatric hospital where Fish had been detailed for observation a
couple of years after the Budd and other murders and where he had been judged "both
harmless and sane."
The trial of Albert Fish for the premeditated murder of Grace Budd began on Monday,
March 11, 1935, in White Plains, N.Y. in Justice Frederick P. Close's court. Chief
Assistant District Attorney Elbert F. Gallagher was in charge of the prosecution and James
Dempsey was the defense attorney.
Dempsey planned to attack the competence of the Bellevue Hospital alienists who had
observed Fish in 1930 and declared him sane. He also planned to establish that Fish was
suffering from "lead colic," a dementia often suffered by house painters.
Gallagher's key strategy was summarized early in the trial: "Now in this case, there is a
presumption of sanity. The proof, briefly, will be that this defendant is legally sane and
that he knows the difference between right and wrong and the nature and quality of his
acts, that he is not defective mentally, that he had a wonderful memory for a man of his
age, that he has complete orientation as to his immediate surroundings, that there is no
mental deterioration, but that he is sexually abnormal, that he is known medically as a sex
pervert or a sex psychopath, that his acts were abnormal, but that when he took this girl
from her home on the third day of June, 1928, and in doing that act and in procuring the
tools with which he killed her, bringing her up here to Westchester County, and taking her
into this empty house surrounded by woods in the back of it, he knew it was wrong to do
that, and that he is legally sane and should answer for his acts."
Defense attorney Dempsey focused on Fish's strange life and the self-flagellation with
nail-studded paddles and needles. Then he brought up Fish's competence as a father and
his love for his children: "In spite of all these brutal, criminal and vicious proclivities,
there is another side to this defendant. He has been a very fine father. He never once in
his life laid a hand on one of his children. He says grace at every meal in his house. In
1917, when the youngest one of his six children was three, his wife left him. And from that
time down until shortly before the Grace Budd murder in 1928 he was a mother and father
to those children." He closed his remarks by reminding the jury that it was up to the
prosecution to prove that a man who killed and ate children was sane.
Grace's parents and brother Albert, Jr., testified. Dempsey seemed determined to make
the point that both Delia and Albert, Sr., gave their consent to Grace going to a birthday
party with Fish. When it came time for Grace's father to testify, he was overcome with
emotion and began to weep loudly.
On the third day of the trial, over the strenuous objections of the defense attorney, a box
of Grace Budd's remains was brought into the courtroom as evidence, while Detective
King recreated from Fish's confession how the girl was killed. Then Gallagher reached
into the box and held out the small skull of the dead girl. It was a very dramatic moment.
Dempsey sought a mistrial.
Dempsey focused on the cannibalism issue as a central part of the insanity defense. It was
clear that he was trying to establish that Fish had eaten parts of the girl's body --
something that no sane person would do. But he was unsuccessful in establishing and
proving that Fish actually did what he said he did with her body.
Fish appeared to be completely indifferent throughout the trial. Although, at one point,
he expressed to his attorney that he had a desire to life because "God still has work for me
Dempsey put several of Fish's children on the stand to testify to his bizarre behavior --
self-flagellation and sticking needles in his body, as well as his religious delusions. They
also testified that he was a good father who always provided for them and never physically
To further demonstrate Fish's correspondence.
strange behavior, Dempsey called to the stand a woman who had received several obscene
letters from Albert Fish. The courtroom was cleared of women as Dempsey read the
Another defense witness was Mary Nicholas, Fish's 17-year-old stepdaughter. She
described how Fish taught her and her brothers and sisters a game. "He went into his
room and he had a little pair of trunks, brown trunks, that he put on. He put those on and
came out into the front room, and he got down on his hands and knees, and he had a paint
stick that he stirred paint with."
"He would give the stick to one of us, and then he would get down on his hands and knees
and we would sit on his back, one at a time, with our back facing him, and then we would
put up so many fingers, and he was to tell how many fingers we had up, and if he guessed
right, which he never did, why, we weren't supposed to hit him. Sometimes, he would
even say more fingers than we really had. And if he never guessed right, why, we would
hit him as many fingers as we would have up."
Sometimes a hairbrush was used instead of the paint stick. He also stuck pins under his
fingernails in front of the children.
Eventually, Dempsey had a chance to attack the prosecution alienists. Dr. Charles
Lambert, after a three-hour interview with Fish," pronounced him a "psychopathic
personality without a psychosis."
Dempsey asked Lambert, "Assume that this man not only killed this girl but took her flesh
to eat it. Will you state that that man could for nine days eat that flesh and still not have a
Lambert answered, "Well, there is no accounting for taste, Mr. Dempsey."
Dempsey persisted: "Tell me how many cases in your experience you have seen people
who actually ate human feces."
"Oh, I know individuals prominent in society...one in particular that we all know who used
it as a side dish in his salad," Lambert remarked casually.
Dempsey had better luck with one of the other defense alienists, who could see sign of
psychosis in Fish's behavior.
The trial lasted ten days and the jury took less than an hour to reach its verdict.
"We find the defendant guilty as charged," the foreman said.
Fish was not happy with the verdict, but the prospect of being electrocuted had its appeal
to him. A Daily News reporter wrote, "his watery eyes gleamed at the thought of being
burned by a heat more intense than the flames with which he often seared his flesh to
gratify his lust."
Fish thanked the judge for his sentence of death by electrocution. On January 16, 1936,
Albert Fish was executed.