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Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Cannibalism - Rape - Mutilation
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 20, 1979
Date of birth: 1942
Victim profile: Paul Masters, 18 (high school student)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Poughkepsie, New York, USA
Status: Found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1980. Confined to mental hospital

Jury Decides Hospitalized Killer In Cannibalism Case Can Go Free

By Charlie LeDuff - The New York Times

Thursday, April 22, 1999

A Suffolk County jury decided yesterday that Albert Fentress, a former school teacher who has spent the last 20 years in psychiatric hospitals after the torture, killing and cannibalization of a Poughkeepsie teen-ager, is no longer a danger to society and should go free.

Mr. Fentress, 57, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1980 in the killing of the teen-ager, Paul Masters, was returned after the court proceedings to his room at Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center in Brentwood, where he will wait while Judge Harry E. Seidell of State Supreme Court considers a motion by prosecutors to overturn the jury's decision. Barring that and a potentially lengthy appeals process, Mr. Fentress could be released into a halfway house with little supervision by this fall.

The jury trial followed Mr. Fentress's contest of a decision by state judges to extend his confinement at Pilgrim State. Such trials are provided for under New York criminal law, but they are rare, and state lawyers said they did not believe one had ever been requested on Long Island. They also said they did not recall a criminally insane patient ever being released by a jury in the metropolitan region.

The jury's decision shocked many in the criminal justice system and even drew a response from the Governor's mansion.

''Justice can never be achieved as long as individuals like Albert Fentress can commit vicious crimes and hide behind an insanity plea to avoid the prison time they deserve,'' Gov. George E. Pataki said in a statement. ''The Fentress case illustrates the glaring need to reform our state's laws that allow criminals not only to escape conviction and punishment but to avoid confinement in secure facilities.''

The Dutchess County District Attorney, William V. Grady, whose office, along with the State Attorney General's office, argued that 20 years of therapy had failed to rehabilitate Mr. Fentress, was more blunt.

''The man is a cannibal,'' Mr. Grady said. ''It is an utter outrage that a killer who is still mentally ill will be released into a community without supervision to wander about freely. It is beyond my comprehension.''

Mr. Masters, an 18-year-old high school student, was killed on a Sunday evening in August 1979 after wandering into Mr. Fentress's backyard. Mr. Fentress, then a middle-school teacher, confessed to the crime the day it happened. He told officials that with scenes from the movie ''Deliverance'' playing in his head, he lured the teen-ager into his basement, tied him to a post, sexually abused and mutilated him, shot him twice in the head, and cooked and ate parts of his body.

Mr. Fentress wrote a script for a torture and killing two days before, but was mortified by his own thoughts and burned it. And, because prosecutors accepted his insanity plea, he was not required to testify about the crime in court.

During the trial that ended yesterday, Mr. Fentress's lawyer, Kim L. Darrow, did not ask him about the events of that August evening, so lawyers for the state were not allowed to bring it up on cross examination.

Taken out of the courthouse in Riverhead without handcuffs yesterday, Mr. Fentress, dressed in tan slacks, a blazer and a dark blue tie, stopped for a moment and cleared his throat. ''I am right now just so grateful to the jury and judge,'' he said.

Mr. Darrow, of the state's Mental Hygiene Legal Service, called the verdict a victory not only for his client but for the hundreds of other patients who float for years in a limbo between not-guilty and not-free.

''In some ways it's a cruel and unusual law,'' he said. ''It holds out the promise that if a patient follows the plan, the rules, the treatment, some time your day may come,'' he said. ''But patients end up spending more time in the hospital than they ever anticipated. The person is spared a criminal conviction but tends to get a long confinement.

''Once he's not dangerous, he's supposed to be let go. I think he's been ready for a long time,'' Mr. Darrow said. ''We put our trust in the jury system and it worked. They did their job.''

After deliberating for more than six hours over two days, the six-person jury came back with the answers to two questions posed by the court: Is the petitioner, Albert Fentress, presently suffering from mental illness, where he requires care, treatment and rehabilitation?

The jury answered yes, by a vote of 6 to 0.

Does Albert Fentress require inpatient care and treatment due to a real risk of substantial physical harm to his well being or others?

The jury answered no by a vote of 5 to 1.

In effect, the jury decided that Mr. Fentress was still mentally ill, but not so ill that he had to be committed, Mr. Darrow said.

The jurors heard expert opinions from both sides, four for the defense, who said he was ready to resume life in society, and four for the prosecution, who said they believed Mr. Fentress's mental demeanor had not changed in 18 years. The jurors were also told that Mr. Fentress's therapists thought so highly of him that they let him walk freely about the hospital grounds, which are not enclosed by fence or barbed wire.

The victim's father, Burt Masters, said in a telephone interview that he had learned of the jury's decision in a phone call from the Dutchess County District Attorney as he was mowing his lawn in San Jose, Calif.

''I wasn't angry with him, or the jury or anyone involved in this,'' Mr. Masters said.

''I'm angry with Mr. Fentress. He always seemed he was more interested in himself. I never heard him say he was sorry for what he did to my son. I think he's always just been sorry for himself.''

Although conditions for his release must still be worked out, Mr. Fentress could be freed on Long Island or in Poughkeepsie.

He would not have to be registered as a sex offender because he committed the crime before the state law on such notification was enacted.

Some people in Poughkeepsie said they were uneasy about the prospect of Mr. Fentress's return.

''He knows himself better than we do, but you fear them letting people like that back into the community,'' said Ozell Daniels, 62, a retired psychiatric health-care worker who was buying a paper in downtown Poughkeepsie yesterday. ''I worked at the hospital. They're never cured.''


Cannibal must stay in psychiatric care

Judge Rules He's Still a Danger After 20 Years

June 11, 1999

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) -- A former teacher who confessed to killing a teenager and eating some of his body parts must remain in psychiatric care, a judge ruled.

Albert Fentress has been confined to mental hospitals since he was found innocent by reason of insanity in the August 1979 killing of Paul Masters.

Fentress, 57, was granted a jury trial in April after he contested a decision to extend his confinement. Although the jurors found he was mentally ill, they ruled he was no longer a danger to society and should be freed.

State Supreme Court Judge Harry Seidell on Thursday set aside that verdict. For jurors to believe Fentress was mentally ill but not in need of institutional care, they would have to believe he "would somehow, on his own, develop self-control and not pose a danger to others," Seidell said.

Cooked and ate body parts

Fentress confessed to killing 18-year-old Masters after the youth wandered into his back yard. Then a middle school teacher, Fentress lured Masters into his basement, tied him to a post, sexually abused and mutilated him, and shot him twice in the head before cooking and eating parts of the teen's body.

"Given the unspeakable crime which he committed, and his mental condition, we feel Fentress remains a danger and therefore should not be released," said state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

A lawyer for Fentress, Kim Darrow, disagreed.

"Once he's not dangerous, he's supposed to be let go," Darrow said. "I think he's been ready for a long time."


Fentress to try again to obtain release

June 21, 2006

Confessed killer and cannibal Albert Fentress will be in court Wednesday to ask a judge to release him from a locked mental ward at an Orange County psychiatric hospital.

Fentress, a former Poughkepsie Middle School history teacher, has been confined to mental institutions since 1980, when he was judged to be legally insane at the time he sexually mutilated Town of Poughkeepsie teenager Paul Masters, then killed him and ate some of the body parts.

The crime took place Aug. 20, 1979, at Fentress' home on Grand Avenue in the City of Poughkeepsie.

Under state law, Fentress may petition the court every two years to be released from custody. On Monday, state Supreme Court Judge James Catterson scheduled the hearing to begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Suffolk County Courthouse annex.

Fentress is being represented by attorneys from Mental Hygiene Legal Services. His petition for release is being opposed by assistant state Attorney General Denis McElligott and Dutchess County Senior Assistant District Attorney Edward McLoughlin.

McElligott said Monday he planned to call two psychiatrists, Dr. Khin Myo and Dr. Muthaiah Chandrsekhara, to testify at Wednesday's hearing. Chandrsekhara is chairman of forensic services at Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center in Orange County, where Fentress has been held since 2002. Myo was hired by the state Office of Mental hyginee to evaluate Fentress's current mental condition.

McElligott said he expected both doctors to testify Fentress is not ready to be moved from the secure Orange County facility.

In 2002, Catterson ordered Fentress transferred from King's Park Psychiatric Center in Suffolk County, where he had lived for many years, to a locked ward at Mid-Hudson. The judge did so after two witnesses testified Fentress had molested them shortly before he killed Masters. Fentress had never acknowledged the incidents during his more than 20 years of therapy.


Docs: Cannibal belongs in locked ward

June 24, 2006

POUGHKEEPSIE, New York (AP) -- A former teacher who admitted killing a teenager and eating part of his body 27 years ago still belongs in a secured mental ward, two psychiatrists told a judge.

Dr. Khin Myo testified Wednesday that Albert Fentress did not currently display symptoms of major mental illness but said he cannot grasp Paul Masters' murder, or why he sexually mutilated and cannibalized the young man.

Fentress petitioned the state Supreme Court to be released from a locked prison ward in Orange County, 50 miles north of New York City.

He was found innocent by reason of insanity in the 1979 murder and mutilation of Masters, 18.

The middle school teacher confessed to killing Masters after the youth wandered into his yard. Fentress lured him into the basement, tied him to a post, sexually abused and mutilated him, and shot him twice in the head before cooking and eating parts of his body.

Fentress had lived in a nonsecure psychiatric hospital in Suffolk County until 2002, when he admitted sexually abusing two young boys years before.

Myo said Fentress cannot describe that abuse or the killing. "If he can't remember it, or talk about it, he isn't dealing with it," Myo said.

The psychiatrist and Dr. Muthaiah Chandrasekahara, who both evaluated Fentress, contend he suffers from sexual sadism and pedophilia.

The hearing was to resume July 6.


The Case of Albert Fentress

By Heather Woolwine

Albert Fentress was born in 1941, the oldest of three children, in Brooklyn. His father was a tough man who believed in physical punishment but Fentress had an overall normal childhood.

At 12, he moved with his family to Long Island where he continued in school until becoming one of the top 10 in his high school graduating class. Eventually, Fentress earned his master’s degrees in history and education and became one of the best reputed high school teachers in the area where he lived. He lived alone and was quite a meticulous housekeeper. He appreciated the finer things, as he drove a Cadillac and wore a Rolex watch. He owned a very valuable stamp collection. Although beloved as a teacher, Fentress did not have a romantic relationship or many friends. He actually once described the most depressing point of his life as when his Cadillac was in the shop being fixed. When he was 35, his house was robbed and his stamp collection stolen. Sure that a particular high school student had done it, Fentress lobbied to have him arrested. The student’s school friends found out and soon Fentress’ home was a target for vandalism and harassment. He obtained a gun permit.

After his arrest, Fentress told interviewers that he wrote in his journal a series of events that came to him while he was in a dissociative state and upon waking from it, was so horrified by what he’d written, like it was that of another person, that he burned it immediately. It was this series of events, however, that later took place at Fentress’ home.

While some juveniles were running from police officers in his neighborhood, Fentress invited one boy in and won his trust with a beer. He then gained leverage on the boy, tied him up and tried to sexually assault him. When Fentress was unsuccessful, he castrated the boy, cooked and ate his genitals, then shot him and dragged him upstairs. It is then he claims, that he woke up from what he said was another dissociative fugue. He called a friend, who in turn called the police and Fentress was taken into custody.

Years passed after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and by the 1990s he was a favorite patient in the New York state forensic facility. He had developed great computer skills and was teaching the other patients and staff. He’d suffered no more episodes. Officially his diagnosis was narcissistic personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and dissociative fugues. The only time that he received antipsychotic medication was in jail prior to his trial.

Because he was an outstanding patient, his treatment team, several psychologists, and several outside consultants suggested he be granted unaccompanied passes into the community. He was already out and about with an escort.

In 1997, John Oldham, M.D., Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences chairman and professor, who at the time worked in New York, was asked by the state to review Fentress’ records and provide an opinion. Oldham was concerned that Fentress was not on medication and was unsure what could trigger another psychotic episode, “If he couldn’t  handle kids slashing his screens and burning his lawn, then how could he possibly handle the likely public reaction to his release, after he'd been demonized in the media as 'New York's own Hannibal Lector?'”

Fentress then exercised his right to a jury trial for release. Oldham testified as an expert witness of the state, interestingly, in disagreement with recommendations of others within the same state agency. He believed Fentress suffered from malignant narcissism, was not a candidate for release  and was also still potentially dangerous. In a retrial in the appellate court, the state called a witness who testified that when he was a 10-year-old neighbor of Fentress’, he was sexually molested on numerous occasions by Fentress. Fentress had not revealed this information before.

With the last chapter yet  written, Fentress remains in the psychiatric state inpatient facility today.


Albert Fentress


Albert Fentress


Albert Fentress, seen here entering court August 29, 2006, said “it’s entirely possible” two men’s claims of abuse are true.
(Newsday/ John H. Cornell Jr.)



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