albert fish


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 missing.

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."

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 years."

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."

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 psychosis?"

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 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 signs of psychosis in Fish's behavior.