Pick Me Up! magazine asked for my professional opinion on Albert Fish, an American serial killer also known as the ‘Gray Man,’ ‘Werewolf of Wysteria,’ the ‘Brooklyn Vampire,‘ the ‘Moon Maniac,’ and ‘The Boogey Man.’ He was a child rapist and cannibal suspected of at least five murders, although he once claimed to have had over 100 children – no one knows whether he is referring to rape or cannibalism. Out in the 28thJune 2012 edition, I supplied the following psychological insight.
What sort of impact would childhood name-calling have had on Albert Fish’s life? Ie. Ham and Eggs?
Name-calling is usually motivated by some kind of difference in the victim. This is why the impact of childhood name-calling can be so traumatic to a child; it further highlights a difference or a weakness that they are already well aware of. Name-calling in childhood can cause psychological damage that follows the child into adulthood, resulting in low self-esteem, thoughts of suicide, a desire to fit in, and anger towards the world. For Albert Fish, his anger was primarily at children, who he punished through rape, murder, and cannibalism.
How would growing up surrounded by mental health issues have affected Fish? His mother had a ‘mental affliction’ and his uncle a ‘religious mania.’
Fish was subjected to extreme displays of mental instability from a very young age. His mother had aural and visual hallucinations, which are likely to have been terrifying and confusing to a young child. It is true that you can ‘catch’ mental instability if you are around it long enough. Since Fish was around it from such a young age, when his brain was still developing, it is perhaps not surprising that his own mental health was impacted to such a severe degree.
Fish was abused at the orphanage his mother placed him in. How did this abuse affect him?
The abuse Fish endured while at the orphanage would have led to feelings of guilt, violation, loss of control, and lowered self-esteem. The impact of child abuse rarely stops once the abuse stops. In this case, the abuse was re-enacted on other innocent children in Fish’s effort to rid himself of the scars of his childhood and regain some sense of control in his life.
So many questions about his sexuality…
To some people it’s hard to imagine getting any sexual gratification from eating faeces. Did Fish do this for a sexual reason?
Fish would not only eat the flesh of his victims, but also their urine and faeces. This was less of a sexual act and more of an act of control and power. Fish did not want any part of his victim not belonging to him. He wanted complete ‘ownership’ of them, so to speak.
How and why do people become obsessed with things? He was obsessed by the idea of castration.
In psychological terms, obsession is usually the result of a belief that we need something in order to feel ‘complete’ in ourselves. Since castration results in a man losing the function of his testicles, it is possible that Fish had a desire for such a loss. On the other hand, involuntary castration is historically an act of punishment. Since Fish believed that he was being commanded by God to torture and castrate children, it would appear that castration was more about punishment for Fish.
Why did he start a relationship with someone whose mental/social development was so limited?
This was the norm for Fish. He grew up around people of limited mental and social development. Furthermore, such people are easier to control and manipulate, something that was very important to Fish.
His self-harm was so extreme. What made him hurt himself like this?
Ultimately, self-harm is a way of expressing and dealing with deep feelings of distress and emotional pain. As strange as it might seem to people who do not self-harm, it can actually make someone feel better. It can help shift the internal pain to an external pain, which seems easier to deal with, especially if it is a pain you are controlling yourself. The severity of Fish’s self-harm is indicative of the severity of his emotional pain. In other words, the pain inflicted on the outside was a message of the pain experienced on the inside.
Fish’s self-harm started at the time his wife left him for another man, indicating that the additional pain caused by this rejection was what triggered this behaviour.
Why did he believe he was John the Apostle?
John the Apostle was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, with the story being that John outlived the other apostles, all of whom ‘suffered’ from martyrdom. By identifying with John, Fish was expressing his dedication to the belief that God wanted him to murder and castrate children. He believed that in following God’s wishes, he was increasing his life expectancy.
And why did he think God was telling him to castrate children?
As a victim of abuse, it is possible that Fish felt a sense of guilt for the abuse, feeling that he in some way caused it. By castrating children, he was removing those parts of the body that might have attracted abuse. He was blaming himself and other children for the abuse and releasing his anger through the belief that it was his mission to rectify this. By placing the responsibility for his actions in the hands of God, Fish could claim to be acting with religious as opposed to evil intent. Without such hallucinatory thinking and justification for monstrous actions, there would be far fewer serial killers in the world.