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Albert Fish Trial: 1935

Admits To Cannibalism

Gradually, as Fish began to open up during the interviews, came confirmation of his cannibalism. "He definitely told me," said Wertham, "that he ate the flesh of Grace Budd." And Fish had gone on to explain himself thus: "What I did must have been right, or an angel would have stopped me, just as an angel stopped Abraham in the Bible."

Wertham had no doubt that Fish was clinically unique. "To the best of my knowledge, every sexual abnormality that I have ever heard of, this man has practiced." And his conclusion was unambiguous. "He does not know the character and quality of his acts. He does not know right from wrong. He is insane now and was insane before."

Dempsey attempted to press home this advantage in closing, explaining why his client had remained mute. "I do not believe an insane man should be on the witness stand, testifying. Secondly … the story of this man's life is one of unspeakable horror. You wouldn't believe it: he would disgust and nauseate you."

By contrast, Gallagher kept hammering away on the M'Naghten Rule. Fish, quite clearly, knew the difference between right and wrong. "If this defendant were operating under psychosis, how could he tell you all of the details about the killing of this girl?"

This extraordinary trial concluded on March 22, when, after four hours deliberation, the jury decided that Fish was sane and guilty of murder.

Sentence of death was automatic, and on January 16, 1936, the man who, by his own admission had murdered at least a dozen children and abused countless others, was executed at Sing Sing prison.

Nothing provides a clearer insight into Fish's tortured mind than his reaction to the jury's verdict: momentary disappointment, replaced almost instantly by a glow of near elation. "What a thrill that will be, if I have to die in the electric chair," he beamed. "It will be the supreme thrill—the only one I haven't tried." Then his mood shifted again, and he mumbled, "But it wasn't the right verdict. I'm not really sane, you know."

Colin Evans

Suggestions for Further Reading

Heimer, Mel. The Cannibal. New York: Pinnacle Books, 1971.

Wertham, Frederick. The Show of Violence. London: Gollancz, 1949.

Wilson, Colin and Pam Pitman. Encyclopedia of Murder. New York: Putnam's, 1961.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Albert Fish Trial: 1935 - The M'naghten Rule, Admits To Cannibalism