The Brooklyn Vampire

Mugshots of Albert Fish.
You’re looking at sub-human filth.

In my last blog, I wrote about everyone’s favorite vampire, Bela Lugosi and his relationship to Brooklyn or, at least, Brooklyn gorillas. In this post, I want to discuss a real Brooklyn vampire. And, I ain’t foolin’.  

Quote by Albert Fish about pain.
Children were his prey.

His name was Albert Fish and he worked as a house painter from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression. As he aged, he resembled a cuddly uncle. But, over those four decades, he abducted, raped, killed and ate children all over metropolitan New York. His work as a house painter gave him access to perfect hiding and abduction spaces like cellars, basements, hallways and sheds; and lethal access to children. Four decades. We still don’t know how many tenement kids fell into the clutches of this real live boogieman. 

Billy Gaffney victim of Albert Fish.
Billy Gaffney – my fellow Brooklyn Boy

One such unfortunate child was four-year-old Billy Gaffney. He had lived in my neighborhood. In fact, Billy was abducted in 1927 while playing in front of his tenement no more than five minutes from my 1950s boyhood home. His body was never found because Fish ate most of it. (If you are not of squeamish disposition you can read Fish’s description of that act in excruciating detail on Wikipedia. He makes Hannibal Lecter, Freddie Kruger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Meyers and Norman Bates look like the Vienna Boys’ Choir.)  

List of Albert Fish's perversions
A short list of Albert Fish’s perversions. And, remember much of this was performed on children and often dead children.

Billy’s abduction hit close to home for me (literally and figuratively) because of something that happened to me while I was playing in front of my tenement in 1957.

This was that incident… 

One day, a strange man wearing dark sunglasses who was or pretended to be dumb appeared on my block accompanied by a large, menacing dog. He rang my tenement’s vestibule doorbells in an attempt to sell an obviously second-hand Mickey Mouse film projector. The Mickey Mouse Club was every kid’s “must watch” show so this projector was prime Pied Piper bait.

Mickey Mouse Club film projector
I can still see the battered box with Mickey’s smudged and stained face on its lid

The stranger was quickly told to fuck off by the housewives annoyed at having been drawn away from their soap operas and quiz shows. I then inexplicably offered to take him around the corner to a neighbor I was sure would want to buy his piece of plastic crap. I trustingly placed my seven-year-old hand in his and lead the way with his dog nipping at my heels. 

The neighbor’s vestibule door was unlocked so I didn’t bother ringing her bell and just lead my new friend into her very dark hallway. I heard her TV blaring and knocked on her door. She answered with an angry expression that quickly changed to alarm. She told the stranger to fuck off and slammed the door. (I still wonder why she didn’t pull me inside, then slam the door and call the cops! But, maybe she wanted to get back to her soap.)  

I shrugged and lead the strange man and his snarling dog back out into the sunshine. As we exited the building a group of my friends shouted from the corner with obvious and uncharacteristic alarm, “Hey, Jackie, ya mother wants ya. She sez get up da house. Now!”  I turned to apologize to the man but his dog bared its teeth and lunged at me. I jumped back, looked into the face of my new friend and saw that he was leering at me with an evil smile. Only then did I realize that I had broken the cardinal rule of childhood. He was a stranger. One of the strangers I’d been told not to talk to. Not to get into cars with. Not to take candy from. I was in danger. Stranger danger. With a sudden surge of fight-or-flight energy, I turned and bolted the fuck away from him and his mutt.

This incident (whether the threat was real or imagined) is why I have always been especially horrified and fascinated by Albert Fish. I can’t help wondering if Billy Gaffney also turned and saw his “new friend” leering down at him; if Billy felt the same shock of terror run through his little body as the one I can feel as I sit here typing more than six decades later.   

X-ray showing pins in Albert Fish's groin
X-ray of the many pins that Fish inserted into his groin and carried for decades just for fun.

Ironically, the sensational trial of Albert Fish was knocked off the front pages by the even more sensational Lindbergh baby kidnapping. But, I’m convinced it was not knocked from the collective folk-memory of my Brooklyn neighborhood; its shared shuddering-memory of a Brooklyn vampire who had stalked its children in cellars, basements, hallways and sheds not that many years before I played in those dark, hidden, dangerous places. 

Albert Fish quote on electric chair
Don’t ya just love these “extreme sports” junkies?

If you can stomach a disturbing but cathartic journey into the darkest of dark places then spend some time on the internet searching for Albert Fish the Brooklyn Vampire. There have been two awful movies made about Fish and countless TV documentaries and books of varying quality. I recommend the book Trail of Blood by Michael Angelella.  

Albert Fish I the electric chair
Albert Fish – thrill seeker
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as an eBook and paperback
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here
https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

What is death?

Filing cabinets in a newspaper morgue
I searched through the microfilm and microfiche, too.

Forty-five years after Carrie’s murder, I search through the New York Library’s aptly named newspaper morgue. I read everything I can find about Carrie. I scan the New York and Indiana papers for months before and after her murder. The ephemera surrounding her death distracts me. Yankee scores. African famine. Watergate. Unimportant, long-ago-bullshit. 

I give all the info I find to Sergeant Tom, my photographer, and ask him to look into Carrie’s murder for me. He’s long retired but has friends in the Cold Case Squad. They owe him a favor so they look long and hard but Carrie’s case file is missing.

“Don’t worry, Tommy. It’s in there somewhere. It’s just misplaced.” 

Actress slain. File missing. Presumed misplaced. 

Not much of an ending. So, I can’t end here. 

Maybe this way – 

Still chasing her ghost, I look online for everything, anything about Carrie. I wander around her Indiana town via Google Maps. I lay a wreath on her tombstone via Find-A-Grave. (Her father was buried in that same cemetery a mere seven years after Carrie was – no doubt her killer’s second victim.)

From a Kokomo, Indiana newspaper I learn that a teenage poem of Carrie’s had been read aloud at her funeral. The title of her poem? “What Is Death?” I don’t have the answer to Carrie’s question. Maybe she does. Now. Maybe her question holds the answer to mine – “Why does her murder haunt me so?”

Online I find a long-abandoned “Question-and-Answer” thread begun by an Indiana college student who was writing a term paper about Carrie’s murder. The student posted some questions. Someone in Indiana, who claimed to have known Carrie, posted some answers.

They were all wrong. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

Carrie and Bruce

Bruce Lee

I’ll let you in on another secret; the cops tell me that whoever stabbed Carrie thirty-eight times could have done it in a minute – their arms a blur. Bruce Lee dies on the same day Carrie is murdered. You ever see Bruce in his Kung-Fu prime, his arms a wind-milling blur? Picture Bruce with blades attached to his flying hands punching Carrie thirty-eight times. People who have been knifed say it feels like a punch. You feel the fist of the attacker hitting your body as the blade goes in up to the hilt, not the blade slicing into your flesh.

38

That’s a big number. That’s more than three-dozen stab wounds. And, it takes the murderer only a minute to do that. He has to be in a frenzy to accomplish the task. You think it’s easy to stab someone thirty-eight times in a minute? Try it. Try stabbing a pillow thirty-eight times that quickly or a watermelon or a piece of meat. See if you can do it without breaking the blade or cutting your fingers off. 

Time yourself. 

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio 
Image: the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here
https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn