Albert Fish, The Grey Man and Serial Killer

Albert Fish: Overview

If every single creepy story ever told by the campfire or within the confinement of anonymous Internet forums could come to life, it would probably take the shape of Albert Fish. With his record of kidnapping, murder, grand larceny, and overall deviant behavior, the man wrote himself into the history of the most infamous and criminally dangerous people to ever wander the earth – or, at the very least, the United States (Lyon & Tan, 2015).

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Despite the undebatable despicability of his actions, the fact that he reportedly viewed his execution as a source of perverted enjoyment rather than dreadful punishment put the idea of a lifelong sentence on the legal map of the U.S. as a more suitable alternative to a death sentence.

Troubled childhood may have become a cliché for describing the factors behind the development of violent tendencies, aggression, and deviations that compel criminals to commit their egregious acts. Albert Fish was no exception to this rule as his childhood was a combination of every possible negative factor hitting him with the maximum impact. With severe mental illnesses running in his family, he lost his father at a very young age, and his mother gave him up for adoption at a local orphanage (Wiest, 2016). After having been placed there, Fish suffered multiple assaults and developed an array of disturbing and deviant behaviors, which included coprophagia and urolagnia (Lyon & Tan, 2015).

Afterward, his condition aggravated as he started visiting public baths to observe naked boys (Wiest, 2016). Fish’s obsession with intrusion into people’s private lives continued and took much more frightening forms, finally reaching the point where he started seeking out young people and sexually assaulting them (Lyon & Tan, 2015). Overall, Fish’s personality could be described as that one of a very twisted person obsessed with numerous types of paraphilia.

History of the Killer

Although most accounts of serial killers being disclosed to society starting with their family members claiming that they were the most caring people whom no one would have ever suspected to be a maniac, Albert Fish was no such case. Fish’s family history, namely, its mental health records, screamed of an extraordinarily brooding situation. According to the official records, mental illness ran across his entire family, with not only his parents but also his numerous uncles and other more distant relatives having some kind of affliction (Lyon & Tan, 2015). Therefore, the described situation was a clear-cut scenario for an inevitable disaster to happen.

Looking back at the events that may have triggered the shockingly deviant behavior of the grey Man, one will need to mention the life of misery and abuse that Fish suffered during his childhood after being placed in an orphanage as his father died and his mother gave him up to a local institution for children with mental health issues (Lyon & Tan, 2015). According to Fish’s own account of his childhood, “We were unmercifully whipped. I saw boys doing many things they should not have done” (Galvin, 2016, p. 163).

Although the specified evidence, is provided by the criminal himself and clearly targeted at the people that might have some semblance for sympathy for the child that he used to be, is highly unreliable, there can be no doubt that Fish’s mental affliction was aggravated by the abuse that he received in the orphanage (Lyon & Tan, 2015).

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Therefore, the story of the Grey Man’s life can be proof of the necessity to reinforce treatment and introduce extremely rigid supervision over the institutions where vulnerable groups of the population are kept so that mental health issues should not aggravate. While claiming that it was the society that produced the Grey Man would be an error of judgment, the absence of respect for Fish’s human dignity at the earliest stages of his life did shape his personality.

However, the infamous Grey Man did not strike unexpectedly; instead, he garnered a rather unflattering reputation among local law reinforcement authorities for his numerous petty crimes (Lyon & Tan, 2015). In the 1890s, Fish turned to much more severe crimes, which included the rape of underage boys (Wiest, 2016). According to the official record, Fish committed his first murder when he was 49. In 1919, he stabbed a disabled boy; the specified crime served as the mark for his further pattern, namely, seeking out young boys as the target of rape or sexual assault (Lyon & Tan, 2015). Apart from other gruesome details, the cases mentioned above often involved cannibalism (Wiest, 2016).

After the murder of Grace Budd, which gained notoriety owing to the exposure to the press, Fish was finally captured and subjected to trial (Lyon & Tan, 2015). Remarkably, after having been sentenced to death, Fish met his fate with delight, reportedly having turned his execution into the subject of his pleasure and gratification (Wiest, 2016). Thus, the life of the murderer who managed to remain mysterious and killing many people mercilessly came to an end.

Tying Facts Together

The overview of the notorious murderer’s history shows that the cases of a troubled childhood and the presence of childhood trauma, as well as the history of family illnesses, have to be analyzed thoroughly to prevent severe mental disorders from developing and becoming excruciatingly destructive. As a result, the experienced trauma affects not only the person with a mental health issue but also innocent people around this person, as the case of the Grey Man has demonstrated.

Although eliminating the threat of an extraordinary mental trauma that could lead to potentially criminal behaviors does not seem possible, the threat can be contained by introducing the mechanism that could improve the mental well-being of children that have a highly negative family health record. In addition, strategies for identifying the instances of child abuse and managing them accordingly are an absolute necessity that has to be considered for the sake of public safety and mental well-being.

Despite the fact that experts defined Fish as mentally healthy at the time, there is a high probability of him being deemed as insane at present due to the reconsideration that the notion of mental health has received since. Therefore, with the focus on the child abuse that Fish suffered at a very early age and the failure among orphanage staff to spot the instances of behavioral deviations, as well as the fact that Fish was subjected to constant abuse, Fish’s case could be interpreted as a terrifying example of how the combined failure of healthcare and childcare may produce horrendous outcomes.

Finally, the fact that Albert Fish managed to transform the ultimate punishment that he received for his inhumane acts into the experience of the ultimate pleasure can be perceived from an emotional stance as a disgusting detail that should not be dignified with a discussion. However, when viewed objectively, it warrants the discussion of how punishment and mental illness are viewed in the UK justice system, as well as how these concepts have transformed over the years. Although the death penalty has been abolished from the UK legal system, the way in which mental illness is perceived has changed slightly.

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Moreover, people with severe mental health issues are provided with opportunities for healthcare, while children that face abuse are usually taken from their highly destructive environments. Nonetheless, the strategies used for managing the needs of people with mental health and introducing preventive measures against the scenarios that may potentially lead to the emergence of criminally insane individuals have to be created and updated on a regular basis, as in the case of the Grey Man has shown. If the notorious killer had not received the inhumane treatment to which he was subjected as a child, and if the deviations that he showed has been noticed by experts, numerous murders and other crimes committed by Fish might have been prevented from happening.


However, the change to the existing standards for care, as well as the legal principles and the ideas of legal and social justice, will have to be altered not only by introducing respective bills into the legislation but also by changing the public’s attitude toward the subject matter. As long as people with mental health issues remain under the pressure of social stigma, and as long as the current penal system is geared toward punishment and not rehabilitation, premises for the emergence of criminals such as Albert Fish will remain in their place.

Therefore, the very principles of social justice and the values on which it is based will need to be shaped so that opportunities for managing the issue at hand could be created. Otherwise, the concept of personal safety will eventually be destroyed with persistent fear and suspicion, and every single human being will have the potential of becoming the next Albert Fish.


Galvin, A. (2016). Old sparky: The electric chair and the history of the death penalty. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Lyon, S., & Tan, D. (2015). Supernatural Serial Killers: What makes them murder? London, UK: Arcturus Publishing.

Wiest, J. (2016). Creating cultural monsters: Serial murder in America. New York, NY: CRC Press.

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