Just dropping on Netflix this week is their latest stab at a summer blockbuster, at least as much as a movie watched primarily on laptop screens can be considered a blockbuster. To their credit, they’ve certainly thrown an impressive amount of money at the problem, based purely on the quality of what seems to be many very large and cool explosions. It’s an impressive cast as well, made up of all sorts of premium talent that undoubtedly cost a pretty penny. But I’m not here to talk about the good and bad of said movie, or anything beyond the surface-level acknowledgement of its name.

The reason for that, and this is something that particularly thorough true crime fans may also be aware of, is that “The Gray Man” is a nickname that already exists, and carries a significant amount of gruesome baggage. History’s “Gray Man” is notably less easy on the eyes, and the psyche, than handsome devil Ryan Gosling. The backstory of the other Gray Man is particularly unpleasant, in a way that suggests that the directors and/or writers and/or publishers were not aware of his existence.

Public Domain

I mean, he looks kind of evil to me, but so does anyone wearing a bowler hat.

You see, even in the naturally grim world of true crime, Albert Fish is a next level participant. If you listen to any true crime podcasts, Albert Fish is usually one of the episodes you’d need to Take A Break during. Before we dive too deep into the particulars, we can mark Albert Fish down for the following occupations: child molester, murderer, and cannibal. Nothing with a salary, of course, just purely for the love of the game.

Before crossing the line over to a bona fide serial killer and all-time demon, Albert Fish was just a guy with perhaps… detailed and deeply developed sadomasochistic impulses. Though we can’t know exactly where the root of these particular tastes comes from, nor do we mean to demonize them, we do have some easy guesses. Fish’s father was 75 at his birth, and would pass away quite quickly after siring Albert. His mother struggled with her own deep mental issues, and would have to give up her children to a state orphanage in the end.

As the stereotypical vibe of a “state orphanage” might suggest, corporal punishment was front and center for the children there. Even the smallest whiff of improper behavior would earn a beating for the child in question. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it was here that Fish started to learn that he not only didn’t dread the beatings as much as the other children, but that he enjoyed them, in an unusual way. As often happens with unusual ways, before long, it started to leak through into his sexual impulses as well.

Public Domain

An X-ray showing an impressive number of needles lodged in Albert Fish's pelvis.

At first, the only person put into harm’s way for the purpose of achieving sexual gratification for Albert Fish was Albert Fish himself. He would do everything from spanking himself with a studded paddle (fairly run of the mill in the world of kink) to embedding a large amount of sewing needles into his genitalia and stomach (slightly less run of the mill.) However, if his activity ended there, he’d only be a generally strange fellow, and not one of history’s greatest monsters. So as you can guess, it certainly did not.

At 20, Fish moved to New York City, and wasted absolutely no time in becoming a horrific serial murderer. He quickly started to prey on New York City’s children, especially those of society’s fringes who he thought wouldn’t be as quickly missed. Those unlucky enough to be roped in by Fish were unlikely to leave with any semblance of their own humanity intact, Fish famous for his brutality. One such young boy, as part of a sadomasochistic relationship that is extremely questionably consensual, had half of his penis removed. Afterward, Fish would give him a ten-dollar bill, presumably to purchase a new half of a dick.

It was in the year 1919 that Albert Fish would move forward to the unfortunate culmination of his unsavory tastes: murder and cannibalism of young children. His unlucky first victim would be a young woman named Grace Budd. Fish would convince her family to let him bring her to his niece’s birthday party, which is something I have to assume was entirely less insane back then than it sounds writing and/or reading it now. After leaving with Fish, Budd would never be seen alive again.

Her disappearance, though the person responsible was fairly clear, remained slightly murkier. Until her family received something that would become a calling card of Fish’s—a personal letter to the family of the children he would kill, and later eat. They received a letter that included the following passage:

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 eat her.

Now, whether you have children of your own, are a trained caretaker or a simply layman, you probably do know that one of the chief rules of childcare is not eating any of the children. Albert Fish was restrained by no such beliefs. Now that he’d had a taste, he would continue to abduct, torture, kill, and eat small children, often writing about the experiences in such disturbing words as describing a children’s rump as “the most toothsome dish of all.” Though only a handful were truly confirmed, Fish would later claim to have a “child in every state;.”

From here, Fish would have found his horrific occupation of preference, and would continue along the same path until finally arrested and put on trial in 1935. No technicalities, mistrials, or appeals here. Fish was convicted and sentenced to death by electric chair. On January 16, 1936, via a quick application of high electric current, the world would be rid of Albert Fish’s brain and body together.

Top Image: Public Domain

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