Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Albert Fish

The Alienists

Dr. Fredric Wertham in his book The Show of Violence describes his first meeting with Albert Fish in his jail cell. He was shocked at how "meek, gentle, benevolent and polite" Fish was. "If you wanted someone to entrust your children to, he would be the one you would choose."

Fish's attitude towards his situation was one of complete detachment. "I have no particular desire to live. I have no particular desire to be killed. It is a matter of indifference to me. I do not think I am altogether right."

When Dr. Wertham asked if he meant that he was insane. Fish answered, "Not exactly... I never could understand myself."

Psychosis seemed to have galloped through Fish's family history from what Dr. Wertham could ascertain: "One paternal uncle suffered from a religious psychosis and died in a state hospital. A half brother also died in a state hospital. A younger brother was feeble-minded and died of hydrocephalus. His mother was held to be 'very queer' and was said to hear and see things. A paternal aunt was considered 'completely crazy.' A brother suffered from chronic alcoholism. A sister had some sort of 'mental affliction.'"

He claimed that his real name was Hamilton Fish, named after a distant relative who was President Grant's Secretary of State. Tired of being teased about that name, he took the name of Albert instead.

When he was 26, he married a young woman of nineteen and had six children. When the youngest was three, she ran off with another man, leaving Fish to raise the children. Subsequently, he "married" three other times, although they were not legal since he had never been divorced from his first wife.