The tale of Albert Fish, the real-life Hannibal Lecter

In the history of cinema, few villains have captured the imagation of audiences’ as Hannibal Lecter did in “Silence of the Lambs.” Anthony Hopkins’ chilling portrayal of a cannibalistic serial killer earned him an Oscar, as well as a place in the nightmares of many. A king among cannibal killers, audiences could rest with the comfort that the character was only fiction. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. When Thomas Harris wrote the Hannibal story, he borrowed elements from a real life cannibal killer, Albert Hamilton Fish. Much like Hannibal Lecter, Albert Fish appeared soft-spoken, fragile, and harmless – yet, behind the facade hid a monster who boasted of his molestation of hundreds of child, expressed disappointment at his inability to rape a girl before devouring her, and carried his instruments of hell with him in the form of a meat cleaver, a butcher knife, and a saw. Even with his elder exterior, Albert Fish’s perversions and sadism strengthened with age until his execution.

Albert Fish

Albert Fish

Psychiatrists accentuate that when investigating psychological disorders, the most important formative stage is childhood. From this perspective, the development of Albert Fish becomes unsurprising. Born in 1870, his father was a 75 year old riverboat captain who passed when Fish was five. His family suffered a long history of alcoholism, abuse, and disorders. Compound that with the sadism Albert Fish claimed to experience when he was placed in an orphanage, and the lack of childhood innocence Fish was afforded explains much about his later disturbing compulsions.

Many of the myths and truths of Albert Fish’s horrific tale as a cannibal killer merge in his adult life. Fish’s own testimony confessed that his molestation of children began when he moved to New York City in 1890, including raping and torturing children with his distinct paddle laced with sharp nails. Even though boasting of having “children of every state”, his claims never were verified. Only his later murders were proven to be connected to him. To the age of 50, Albert Fish worked primarily as a handyman and painter. Viewed as a turning point, his wife left him suddenly with John Straube, a fellow handyman. Personality of Albert Fish began deteriorating. His children later testified recalling him forcing them to participate in his masochist behavior by beating him and carrying folders of articles on cannibalism. But, his grandfatherly appearance allowed him to deceive more than his own children.

The number of deaths he was responsible for remain a mystery. His original mutilations and torturing, he confessed, were to African-Americans and mentally-disabled children across the country, figuring they were less likely to be noticed than Caucasian children. However, his hazy memories of details created a source of uncertainty of his claim’s validity. In 1928, Albert Fish’s more infamous cannibal story took place involving 10-year old Grace Budd. Albert Fish, using a pseudonym ‘Frank Howard’, answered a classified ad of Edward Budd promising to hire Budd at his farm in the country. Albert Fish became friends with the family, even offering to take their daughter, Grace Budd, to a birthday party. Predictable with hindsight, Grace never did return. In 1934, Albert Fish wrote to the family detailing the horrific details of her death, including her struggle to break free, how he cut her up, and ate her body over nine days. His letter was ultimately traced back to him, and he was arrested and put to trial – ultimately given the electric chair.

[ad#downcont]Grace Budd was not the only rape, murder, and feast on human flesh he was responsible for. His testimonies recalling devouring other children, such as Billy Gaffney in 1927, continue to shock. His tenure as a house painter to rape children continue to horrify. Albert Fish was an American cannibal killer that has inspired the cannibal films that have shaken whole audiences. Those cannibal films, however, were fiction.

Frau Elfriede – Blackwidow

There are famous women serial killers in history as well as men. The women serial killers are cooler than men and can kill many people for decades without being caught. They are also more talented in playing their roles of innocent. One of the most famous women serial killers is the blackwidow Frau Elfriede Blauensteiner, who killed people because ‘they deserved’ or ‘to help them’.

Frau Elfriede Blauensteiner was a very tenderhearted woman. Even, she helped her upper floor neighbor commit suicide in order to save his wife and child being abused by him. When her neighbor said, “I can’t refrain from beating my wife and child. I tried to jump in front of a moving train but I couldn’t,” Frau Elfriede said, “Wait, I’m coming.” Of course no one saw how the poor man fluttered after he drank the ‘special cocktail’ Frau Elfriede prepared for him. A note saying, ‘I am sickened with this life. Goodbye.’ helped policemen to decide that it was a suicide. Frau Elfriede cried too much during the funeral of Mr Erwin, as much as she cried during the funeral of her stepfather Otto Reinl.

Black Widow- Serial Killer Frau Elfriede

Blackwidow- Serial Killer Frau Elfriede

Otto was an old, lonely man, suffering from diabetes, he needed for care. He was using a medicine called Euglucon which contains sulfonylurea. Euglucon increases the insulin secretion of pancreas and decreases blood sugar. When Elfriede said, “I can take care of you, move to my home,” poor man was very happy. However Elfriede was happier when she read the patient information leaflet. She was careful enough to give his medicine everyday on time and she was sneaky enough to increase the dose of Euglucon each day. Occasionally Otto was losing his consciousness due to low blood sugar level. One day, Otto died. An autopsy was performed but nobody checked Euglucon or insulin amount in his body. In 1986, Elfriede learnt two things: First, excessive amount of Euglucon cause death and secondly, Euglucon is not checked during autopsy.

Elfriede was 55 years old when she married Rudolf Blauensteiner. She prepared his coffee every morning and his tea every evening. He was unaware that she was adding Euglucon to his drinks. Within six years of his marriage, he went into coma 13 times. In 1992, Elfriede was fed up with this situation and at the end, she made his last coffee, a deadly one. She wanted to bury him next to her dear stepfather. And she cried madly while her husband’s ashes were buried.

Her next victim was 84 years old lonely neighbor, Mrs Fransizka Köberl. Elfriede complaint about loneliness after her husband’s death and wanted to move to Mrs Köberl’s home. She proposed taking care of her. It is not difficult to guess how she took care of the old woman. After transferring all her money to her own account, Elfriede made her sign her will. Thus, Elfriede guaranteed to inherit all her possessions after her death.

However, it was not so easy to kill the old lady. She inceased the dose of Euglucon in her coffee gradually but she was surprised that it had no effect on Mrs Köberl. Then she noticed that the old lady was eating too much chocolate and candies that increased her low blood sugar level. She cried too much at her funeral, too.

Two years later, she was one of the regular customers of Esterhazy Palace in Vienna, which was turned into a gambling house. She was wearing expensive clothes and jewelries. But she was worried about what to do after spending all her money. Therefore, she prepared a newspaper ad, “A widow, faithful spouse and a nurse looking for a peaceful aging with a well-of widower.”

Through this ad, she met 64 years old Friedrich Döcker and married him within three days. Her new husband transferred the ownership of his house to Elfriede right after their marriage. Friedrich Döcker died in 11th of July, 1995. However, a newspaper published an ad four days before his death, saying that a widow is looking for a man over 80. Elfriede, knowing that her husband would have died in a few days, had begun to look for the next victim.

Elfriede chose Alois Pichler who was well-off and had no relatives except his 91 years old nun sister. In October 1995, she moved to his house and around two weeks later there was an ambulance at the door. Alois, who had no health problem until that day, had suddenly low blood sugar level problem. One month later, Alois was still alive. Therefore, Elfriede gave him Anafranil, an antidepressant, as well as Euglucon. However she could not success. She asked her lawyer to write a false will of Alois to collect his $100,000 inheritance. They made exhausted, old man sign the falsified will and then they left him in a cold bath with all the windows open although it was snowing outside. That night, Elfriede and her lawyer went out to the gambling house.

Her plans were destroyed by the poor old man’s nun sister who visited her brother Alois with a few of her friends and found him stock-still in the bathtub. Elfriede was dressed elegantly as usual during his funeral. She left a red rose in the same color as her lipstick on the coffin and cried. After thee funeral, she prepared her nex newspaper ad. However she did not take two points into account: Alois had a real will and all his possessions passed to his nephew according to his will. Secondly, traces of Anafranil was easily found during autopsy.

[ad#downcont]Elfriede was sentenced to lifetime prison in 1997. Her lawyer and the young  doctor, who supplied 1100 tablets of Euglocon and 200 tablets of Anafranil within a month, were also sent to prison. At the trial, Elfriede, dressed in an elegant beige suit, said that she was innocent. She was charged with the murder of poor Alois only. As she visited Esterhazy Palace 1600 times in three years until she was arrested and spent 18 million Austrian Schillings at the gambling house, she was on trial once more in 2001. However, she had already been sentenced to lifetime prison.

Elfriede Blauensteiner was 72 when she died due to a brain tumor in 2003 in an hospital in Vienna. The blackwidow, the serial killer said that she had done nothing evil, but helped her husbands. And proclaimed: “Death is only the beginning of eternal life.”

Same end, different means: The typologies of killers

Killers come in all forms. Some killers do it on large scale, some on small; some do it for hate, some for pleasure; some accredit it to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, some to disenchantment of their social environment. Legally speaking, there are three dimensions by which to measure the murder’s offense: the methodology, the scope of the murder, and its motive. Depending on the combination between these three criteria allows for a standard of punishment to be assigned, and for killers to be given a label in the history book.

First, one has to look at the micro or individual level killers. Spree killers, for example, are killers that embark on a murder rampage in a short period of time. The scope of their location is unimportant; the ambition is to maximize the damage in such a way that the goal of the spree killers is rarely to escape alive or be subtle about their murders. The Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 where Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 in a shooting rampage at the university is an example of a rampage killing. It is random, the motives of spree killers often bred out of revenge, and characterized by individuals suffering from a history of mental illness.

Murders and Killers

Murders and Killers

The most common form of individual murderer title is the serial killer. At its most rudimentary definition, the FBI defines a serial killer as a person who kills three or more people over a month period. Unlike mass murderers, a serial killer is more strategic and quiet about their murders. As Albert Fish, himself a cannibal killer, said, many of his victims were African-American or mentally-challenged because he figured they would be less noticeable. The serial killer wants to extend his killing spree and is more systematic in that sense.

Even within these types of killers, another dimension that is investigated are motivations. Spree killers, for example, are commonly associated to kill out of anger and revenge. It is a quick and damage maximizing strategy that is not looking for an escape. By contrast, the motives of serial killers vary drastically: Some serial killers do it out of anger at the world, but that is actually the minority of cases. Many do it out of hedonistic urges; sexual arousal achieved by the torturing and absolute dominance over others. Some are mission oriented killers. These killers convince themselves that external or internal voices in their heads command mission oriented killers to murder. These hallucinations are often a symptom of schizophrenia or other mental illnesses.

On a more macro level of killers are the mass murderers. Mass murderers can range from very effective spree killers to those responsible for genocide. The perpetrators are commonly associated with the political – the Killing Fields in Cambodia are viewed as mass murder, for example. However, the technical definition limits ‘mass murder’ to signify the death of four or more in a particular event – a level above more isolated serial killers or small-scale spree killers. The motives for mass murders vary from the political to revenge to the thirst for fame.

[ad#downcont]Though killers are not uniform, each is equally reprehensible in its own way. However, it is impossible not to internally weigh different actions against one another even if each is individually heinous. Can a drive-by shooting for revenge be equated to torture and death for sexual pleasure? Can a massacre of a village truly be equal morally and legally to a working place shooting? Mass murderers, serial killers, spree killers, mission oriented killers or cannibal killer…  All of these are horrifying in their own way, but it demonstrates defining a killer as only a killer is only part of the equation.

The Cannibal Nerd: The rise and fall of Tsutomu Miyazaki

While the name “cannibal nerd” may appear to be a term of endearment, it is assigned to an individual that became Japan’s most reviled cannibal serial killer. When the cannibal killer Tsutomu Miyazaki was hanged in June 2008, it brought closure and resolution to a most horrifying chapter in Japanese history. While niches of Japanese society have strange fixations on schoolgirl panties and sadistic game shows, manga strips, these perversions are viewed by outsiders to be more comical than horrifying. This is only because these odd perversions are taken at face value. The story of Tsutomu Miyazaki demonstrates when these perversions are perverted; his story has elements of the universal regarding cannibal killers, but also something very distinctly Japanese. Tsutomu Miyazaki and his cannibal stories continue to horrify even in death.

The background of Tsutomu Miyazaki reads like a manual of how the habits of serial killers are cultivated and developed. Born prematurely with a deformity to his hands, Tsutomu Miyazaki was a loner and exhibited antisocial behavior throughout his life. Discovered only following his arrest was his addiction to hardcore pornography – chiefly, graphic cartoons known as Hentai and manga strips characterized him as a “cannibal nerd” by the media. However, his desires and fetishes reveal a common trend universally involving serial killers, and especially cannibal killers – they do not kill or eat human flesh out of hate or malice. Psychologists argue that cannibal killers lose their control in channeling their sexual fetishes that only become compounded and exaggerated the more repressed and isolated they become from society. Tsutomu Miyazaki is not the first serial killer to fit this description, and, unfortunately, he likely will not be the last.

Tsutomu Miyazaki

Tsutomu Miyazaki

Miyazaki’s sadistic murders took place between 1988 and 1989, where his actions shot a massive blow to Japanese self-perception of being a harmonious society.  During this brief period, blood lust Tsutomu Miyazaki mutilated and murdered four girls, which included two four year olds, one five year old, and one seven year old. After murdering them, he sexually molested their corpses, ate portions of their bodies, and reportedly drank their blood, which earned him a nickname of “Dracula.” His murders were not systematic or strategic – they were dictated by opportunity and impulses he claimed he had to listen to. When he was captured engaging in an act of molestation, he was put on trial in 1990. His trial offered unique, yet oddly familiar, characteristics of cannibal stories.

During his trial, Tsutomu Miyazaki showed signs of suffering from severe schizophrenia. One psychiatrist argued that Tsutomu Miyazaki confessed that he drank blood of children to resurrect his deceased grandmother – an excuse of suffering from delusions and acting out of necessity seen in other cannibal killers, such as the “Vampire of Sacramento” Richard Chase. During his trial, he often sketched cartoons of his alter-ego – Rat man – that he claimed forced him to do such things. While his defense rested on insanity and schizophrenia, other statements and psychiatrists assert that there are signs that he was very aware of his blood lust actions and was absolutely remorseless about them. As a result, he was hanged in 2008, to which even the staunchest critics of capital punishment remained silent.

[ad#downcont]Tsutomu Miyazaki was shattering to Japanese society. He was a breed of serial killer seen in other places, but not Japan. Blood lust Tsutomu Miyazaki and his cannibal murders represented the worst in serial killers – random yet systematic; hedonistic yet vengeful; insane yet aware. These contradictions offer a window into why someone like Tsutomu Miyazaki has never been understood by society, and likely never will.

Modern-day Dracula: The tale of Richard Chase

Though their actions may suggest otherwise, serial killers and cannibal killers often do not murder out of malice. The habits of serial killers are dictated more often out of pleasure they derive from the hunt than out of any animosity towards the prey. Understandably, that explanation is little comfort to those who have had loved ones taken away by their lunacy. But, the tale of Richard Chase and his brief, but horrifying, killing spree suggests that the reasons for their actions are often not obvious. The absurd tale Richard Chase wove that drove him to commit six murders- and subsequently be characterized as the Vampire of Sacramento – combines many mundane elements of serial killers profile with their most sensationalist.

Richard Chase, much like many serial killers and cannibal killers before and after him, claims to have suffered from abuse as a child. As childhood became adulthood, the antisocial characteristics prevalent in many would-be killers began to show – from massive drug and alcohol abuse as a teenager to claims by friends of self-imposed isolation. In perhaps a foreshadowing into his psychological descent, he even injected himself with rabbit blood. His parents sent Richard Chase to a clinic where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Richard Chase

Richard Chase

During his stay in the clinic, tales of zoosadism were linked to his increasing schizophrenia. His obsession with the blood of animals and their organs as a means to preserve his own body, as he would explain in later testimony, was a neon sign of his worsening mental health. Still, denial leaves room for excuses. His mother sought to take him off anti schizophrenia medications, and Richard Chase was deemed sane enough to leave the clinic in 1976. As is characteristic of serial killers, their urges often escalate if left unchecked. Removed from medication and an increased distrust of others made for a terrible combination.

Thus, Richard Chase began his random murder spree. In December 1977, he shot 51 year-old Ambrose Griffin dead in a drive-by shooting. The murder of three-month pregnant Teresa Wallin weeks later was more calculating. After shooting Teresa Wallin dead, he engaged in perverse behavior, notably involving scenes of blood soaked cups from which Chase was said to have drunk her blood from. Days later, three dead bodies of his victims were discovered at a scene where Evelyn Miroth was, alongside friend Dan Meredith, minding her son and baby niece. The baby’s body was discovered dead elsewhere days later, while the others were discovered on the scene. Evelyn’s body was disemboweled with similar blood marks as Teresa Wallin. Richard Chase was soon captured as evidence from the scenes, combined with descriptions provided by those who knew him, cornered him. Vampire of Sacramento was sentenced to death in a gas chamber for 6 murders but he was found dead in his prison cell overdosed with antidepressants.

[ad#downcont]His testimony and beliefs made his murders more chilling. Blood lust Richard Chase justified his cannibalistic urges by explaining that his blood was turning into powder and that a Nazi crime syndicate and his mother were out to murder him for being Jewish – which he was not. Thus, killing and consuming blood were the only way to replenish his blood. Richard Chase was not overtly calculating as a serial killer, but in other ways he was. He was disorganized and did not go out of his way to clean up the messes he created following his murders. His victims, he explained to prosecutors, were chosen if their “door was unlocked because that meant he was welcome.” But, what is important about the aptly-named “Dracula” is that rarely are the actions of serial killers truly systematic or based on revenge. There are serial killers who have been more subtle about their perversions than Chase; there have been killers who have been more conscious about their behavior than Richard Chase. What makes the case of blood lust Richard Chase, his cannibal stories, and his appetite for human and animal flesh the most disturbing is that it could have been prevented. But, it wasn’t.

Mind of a Killer

The age-old chicken-or-the-egg riddle applies when trying to understand mind of a killer: Is it the serial killer psychological makeup affirming itself through murder, or is it their environment that creates the capacity within them to kill others? Complicating the issue further is the various typologies of murderers – does a certain psychological condition make an individual more prone to become a mass murderer, as opposed to a serial killer? Psychologists research the differences of a normal brain and a mind of a killer and offer patterns explaining why killers express themselves the way they do: killers often suffer from depression or psychosis; they suffer from alcoholism or drug abuse creating delusions; they murder out of malice, for profit, for lust, or misguided compassion.  The combinations and permutations of how and why killers do as they do suggests that killers are not uniform – that the mind of a killer is a delicate balance between their internal and external demons expressing themselves in the most repugnant way. The mind of a killer maybe shows the top point of the complexity of human mind.

Mind of a Killer

Mind of a Killer

Popular imagination illustrates killers with broad strokes. It says that killers are alienated from society and, consequently, murder out of disenchantment with the ways of society. Certain types of killers do support this hypothesis that murder is derived from malice. Mission oriented killers are those who feel salvation is attained by eradicating the world of the impure. They murder with unswerving certainty that their virtuous mission to rid society of a certain group or demographic is justified. This form of killer is the result of a strange combination between their distorted interpretation of the world with the etiquette and ethics of popular society. For example, a popular choice of victims in this category of killers is prostitutes. Cultural lore suggests that prostitutes are often viewed as the embodiment of impurity. It is a strange combination of biological and sociological factors that create this hate within mission oriented killers.

A lust murder, by contrast, is killing out of erotic stimulation. More than out of hate, they murder to satisfy their fetishes. Lust murder can take the form of an obsession with one particular victim, or serial lust murder can be more a matter of opportunity. For example, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s strategy involved luring victims who were strangers from gay bars back to his apartment where he would torture them, murder them, and engage in cannibalism and necrophilia with their corpses. Another famous serial killer, Ted Bundy’s mode of operation involved feigning requiring help from female passersby, who he would then rape, murder, and engage in necrophilia. Necrophilia is a popular expression by lust killers because it is a reflection of their absolute control over others to act out their fetishes. Despite all of this, lust killers are often considered to be in touch with reality; understanding the consequences of their arousals if caught, but still engaging in their hedonistic urges nonetheless.

The mind of visionary-motive killers offers a more deep-rooted psychological disorder than other forms of serial killing. These killers convince themselves that external or internal voices in their heads command them to murder. These hallucinations are often a symptom of schizophrenia. Unlike hedonists or mission oriented kilers, all of the visionary serial killers caught have been diagnosed to suffer from severe mental disorders. The tale of Herbert Mullin demonstrates how powerful these voices can be: Mullin murdered people with the belief that voices were telling him to kill to prevent California from suffering a great earthquake and sinking.

Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde shows the dual lives of the serial killers. Those serial killers have normal lives with their families, friends, jobs,, etc. and on the other hand they are evil murderers. Most of the serial killers are very successful in having a normal life together with their evil lives. Think about Hannibal Lecter; he is a gentleman and a brilliant man, yet a brutal serial killer. It means that it is possible to have many Hannibal Lecter or Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde characters around us. Serial killers may kill many victims for years without getting caught. It is almost impossible for the families, neighbors and friends to understand mind of a killer in their lives.  Another point about the mind of a killer is that a serial killer generally does not develop empathy with his victims and considers the victims as non-human objects.

The cannibal killers are mostly homosexuals at the same time. The cannibal killers usually eat those who they admire to get their strengths, mostly the masculinity they lack. Some cannibal killers eat to overcome loneliness or to demonstrate their love. For example the German cannibal Armin Meiwes explained his motive as a desire for a younger brother and ate his victims because he wanted someone to be a part of him. Most of the cannibal killers have bad childhood stories. They feel more powerful when they consume the bodies of their victims.

[ad#downcont]The mind of killers tells different stories. Considering this, it becomes self-evident that murderer’s motives, actions, and behavior are not uniform. There are definite shades of grey even within one individual killer. That is why forecasting the capacity for evil is impossible – it is impossible to understand the mind of a killer.