I stood there amazed. I found it all hard to believe, that I, Dennis Nilsen, had actually done all that.

— Dennis Nilsen
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Albert Fish’s Trial


Fish was examined by teams of doctors and he relished the notoriety. He described his fetishes and perversions to the fascinated psychiatrists, telling of inserting needles into his scrotum (later X-rays revealed 29 rusty needles in his body) and inserting wool that was doused with light fluid into his anus and setting it on fire. One psychiatrist in particular, Dr. Frederic Wertham, got remarkably close to Fish before and after his trial. He went on to describe Fish as the most complex example of a “polymorphous pervert” he had ever known — someone who had practiced every perversion and deviation known to man, from sodomy to sadism, eating excrement and self mutilation.

Like the other examining physicians, Wertham judged Fish to be insane. He said that Fish was a sadist of incredible cruelty, a homosexual and a pedophile with a penchant for young children. As a self-employed painter, Fish had skulked around basements and cellars for 50 years and preyed on scores of innocent children. He could not begin to guess how many victims the man had claimed “but I believe to the best of my knowledge,” Wertham concluded, “that he has raped one hundred children, at least.”

At trial, the state was desperate to win a death penalty, overriding Fish’s insanity defense with laughable psychiatric testimony. Speaking for the state, a battery of doctors declared, straight-faced, that “Coprophagia is a common sort of thing. We don’t call people who do that mentally sick. A man who does that is socially perfectly all right. As far as his social status is concerned, he is supposed to be normal, because the State of New York Mental Hygiene Department also approves of that.”

With Fish’s rambling, obscene confessions in hand, the jury found him sane and guilty for premeditated murder.

As his appointment with the electric chair grew closer, Fish told reporters that he was looking forward to his execution. “It will be the only thrill I have not tried,” he reportedly said. He climbed into the seat and readily helped the guards fix the electrodes to his legs. The reporters and witnesses who were present were aghast at his behavior. He could barely manage to contain his joy at going to a violent death.

Legend has it that death did not come as quickly as Fish might have liked. When the switch was pulled, according to the story, the first massive jolt of over 3,000 volts failed to kill him. Blue smoke appeared around him but that was all and it has been surmised that the needles that he had put into his body actually created a short circuit. Another, prolonged and massive charge had to be sent through his body in order to execute him – or so the story that circulated went.

While the old man’s corpse was being taken out to the autopsy room, his defense attorney met with reporters. In his hand, he held Albert Fish’s final statement, several pages of hand-written notes that he had penned in the hours before his death. To this day, the statement has never been revealed. “I will never show it to anyone,” Dempsey said. “It was the filthiest string of obscenities that I have ever read.”