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Solving crime before forensics? Discover how Albert Fish, one of America's most notorious serial killers, was brought down by a letter.

Did the police catch Albert Fish because of a letter?

One of the most notorious serial killers in the early twentieth century, Albert Fish, was able to get away with the kidnapping & murder of ten-year-old Grace Budd for six years. However, it was his own doing that led to his arrest in 1934. 

Who is Albert Fish?

Fish was a serial killer in the early twentieth century and got off on self-mutilation & pain before making the jump to torturing & cannibalism. He was raised in an orphanage after his widowed mother couldn’t afford to raise four children. Fish’s family had a history of mental illness and the serial killer suffered from a number of disorders. 

Life in the orphanage. The people in charge would beat the children and encouraged the children to beat each other. This is where Fish learned to associate pain with pleasure. 

His mother was able to get her life on track and bring Fish home, but the damage was already done. Soon he started to experiment with other people’s pain and developed a sexual desire for pain. Fish eventually married and fathered six kids; he never tortured his family. When Fish lost control over his mental illness, his wife left him and Fish graduated from self-harm to murder. 

Grace Budd

Before he abducted Grace Budd, Fish had already kidnapped and ate multiple victims. Budd was unlike Fish’s typical victims as he usually went looking for vulnerable kids. He preyed on intellectually disabled orphans or homeless Black children – children that wouldn’t be missed. 

Fish would also source ads for families looking for someone to work around the house or young men looking for a job. He answered an ad placed by Budd’s older brother Edward. Fish, going by the name Frank Howard, concocted a story that he was looking for some farm hands in upstate New York.

Fish went down the Budd’s home to hire Edward and bring him to his country home to torture & consume him. It wasn’t till he got there and stumbled upon Grace, that his plan changed. Fish added to the story, saying he was also in town for his niece’s birthday party and wondered if Grace would accompany him – she would never be seen again.

A letter to the family

Fish took Budd to his country home and tortured, killed, and consumed her. He ultimately was able to get away with the crime for six years until an anonymous letter showed up in the Budd’s mailbox. 

In Nov. 1934 Mrs. Budd opened the anonymous note to read the gruesome details of her daughter’s death. The letter detailed how, while she was picking wildflowers, Fish undressed, called to her, and grabbed her before she could escape. He then strangled her, cut her up, and roasted her in the oven. He mentioned it took him nine days to fully consume her. The one comforting detail was that he didn’t sexually assault her. 

The Budds went to the police to turn in the letter – the first lead in years. After examining the note, they discovered it was stationary belonging to the New York Private Chauffeur’s Benevolent Association. Fish wasn’t a part of the association, but a janitor from the company stayed at the same rooming house as Fish. 

When the police found out Fish bore a strong resemblance to his alter ego Frank Howard, they called him in for an interview, and he instantly confessed to kidnapping Budd & dozens of other children. Even though he confessed to many crimes, only two other children were proven to be his victims. 

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