Carl Panzram


Carl Panzram (June 28, 1891 – September 5, 1930) was an American serial killer, rapist, arsonist and burglar. He is known for his confession to his only friend, prison guard Henry Lesser. Panzram confessed to 22 murders, and to having sodomized over 1,000 males. Imprisoned a number of times, he was finally hanged for having murdered a prison employee at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in 1930.
Early life
Born Charles Panzram in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, the son of Prussian immigrants, Johann “John” and Matilda Panzram, he was raised on his family’s farm. Carl Panzram came from a poor family and was somewhat neglected by his parents, due to the fact that he had five other brothers and sisters. The first sign of criminal activity occurred when he was 12, when Carl went into his neighbor’s home and stole some cake, some apples, and a revolver. In October 1903, at the age of 12, he was sent to the Minnesota State Training School by his parents. While there, he was repeatedly beaten, and tortured by staff members. These beatings took place at what the kids who attended this school dubbed “The Painting House.” It was given this name because one would enter a blank canvas, and exit “painted” with bruises and blood. Carl Panzram hated this place of torture so much that he decided to burn it down, which he managed to do without detection.
The faculty members of the school attempted to force Christianity on the young lad, but because of his animosity toward them, this had the opposite effect and he began to despise Christianity. He attempted to run away from the school, but after escaping he was hunted down and beaten for his actions.
In late 1905, he was released from the school. By his teens he was an alcoholic and was repeatedly in trouble with the authorities, often for burglary and theft. He ran away from home at the age of 14. He often traveled via train cars, however he said on one of his ventures on the train he was gang raped by a group of hobos.
Criminal career
In adulthood, Panzram was a thief, stealing anything from bicycles to yachts, and was caught and imprisoned multiple times. While incarcerated, Panzram frequently got into trouble by attacking guards and refusing to follow their orders. The guards retaliated, subjecting him to beatings and other punishments. In 1907, Panzram enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 15. Shortly after enlisting, he was convicted of larceny and served a prison sentence from 1908 to 1910 at Fort Leavenworth’s United States Disciplinary Barracks. William Howard Taft (then secretary of war and future president) approved the sentence. In August 1920, Panzram burgled Taft’s New Haven, Connecticut home, stealing a large amount of jewelry and bonds, as well as Taft’s Colt M1911 .45 caliber handgun, which Panzram then used in several murders. With the money gained from the robbery of Taft’s home, Panzram bought a yacht. He also hired a crew, which he planned to get drunk and sodomize.
In his autobiography, Panzram wrote that he was “rage personified”, and he would often rape men whom he robbed, not necessarily because he was homosexual, but to dominate and humiliate them. He was noted for his great physical strength, which aided him in overpowering most men he encountered. He also engaged in vandalism and arson. By his own admission, one of the few times he did not engage in criminal activities was when he was “employed” as a strikebreaker against union employees.
On one occasion, he tried to sign aboard as a ship’s steward on a U.S. Army transport vessel, but was discharged when he reported to work intoxicated. He served time in prisons in Fresno, California; Rusk, Texas; The Dalles, Oregon; Harrison, Idaho; Butte City Montana; Montana State reform School, Miles City Montana; State Prison Montana {“Jeff Davis” #3194}; Oregon {“Jefferson Baldwin” #7390}; Bridgeport Connecticut {John O’Leary}; New York’s Sing Sing {“Jeff Baldwin” #75182}; Clinton Correctional Facility New York {“John O’Leary”}; Washington D.C. (#33379); and Leavenworth, Kansas {Carl Panzram #31614}.
On June 1, 1915, Panzram burglarized a house in Astoria, Oregon and was arrested soon after while attempting to sell some of the stolen items. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, to be served at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, where he arrived on June 24. On arrival, he became inmate number 7390 and was under the supervision of warden Harry Minto, who believed in harsh treatment of inmates, including beatings and isolation among other disciplinary measures. Later, Panzram stated that he swore he “would never do that seven years and I defied the warden and all his officers to make me.”
Panzram helped fellow inmate Otto Hooker escape from the prison, and while evading capture, Hooker killed Minto. Panzram was disciplined several times while at Salem, including 61 days in solitary confinement before escaping on September 18, 1917. As a fugitive, he was involved in two shootouts before being recaptured and returned to the prison. On May 12, 1918, he sawed through the prison bars and escaped again. This time, he avoided capture and caught a freight train heading east. He began going by the name John O’Leary and shaved off his moustache. He would never return to the Northwest.
Killing spree
With the death of the Oregon prison warden Minto, Panzram was involved in at least one murder, as an accessory before the fact, prior to 1920. In 1920, Panzram began his killing spree. He lured sailors in New York away from bars, got them drunk, raped and shot them with a Colt .45 pistol, and dumped their bodies near Execution Rocks Light in Long Island Sound. He claimed to have killed ten in all. He was stopped only when the vessel he was in was shipwrecked near Atlantic City, New Jersey; his last two potential victims escaping to parts unknown. Panzram then caught a ship to Africa and landed in Luanda, Portuguese Angola, and later claimed that while there, he raped and killed an 11- or 12-year-old boy. In his confession to this murder, he wrote: “His brains were coming out of his ears when I left him and he will never be any deader.” He also claimed that he hired a rowing boat, shot the rowers and threw their bodies to the crocodiles.
After returning to the United States, Panzram claimed he shot a man for trying to rob him. He also asserted that he raped and killed two small boys, beating one to death with a rock on July 18, 1922 in Salem, Massachusetts and strangling the other later that year in New Haven, Connecticut. After his last arrest in 1928, he claimed to have committed a murder while burglarizing homes between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and two other murders in Philadelphia in 1923 and 1928. Four of these last six killings were confirmed.
In addition to these killings, Panzram considered ambitious plots such as wiping out an entire city by poisoning its water supply with arsenic, and scuttling a British warship docked in New York harbor to provoke a war between Britain and the United States.
Imprisonment and confession
In 1928, Panzram was arrested for burglary and held in Washington, D.C. During his interrogation and incarceration, he voluntarily confessed to killing two boys. At this time, he was befriended by a young prison guard named Henry Lesser (1902–1983). Lesser gave Panzram some writing materials which the prisoner used to write his autobiography, detailing his crimes and his nihilistic philosophy:
“ In my lifetime I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and, last but not least, I have committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all these things I am not in the least bit sorry. ”
In light of his extensive criminal record, he was handed a 25-year sentence which was to be served at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. “I’ll kill the first man that bothers me,” Panzram told the warden. Then on June 20, 1929 he killed Robert Warnke, foreman of the prison laundry in Leavenworth, by battering him to death with an iron bar. Panzram was sentenced to death and he refused to appeal his sentence, even threatening to kill human rights activists who attempted to intervene on his behalf.
Panzram was hanged on September 5, 1930. While the noose was being put around his neck, he allegedly spat in his executioner’s face and declared, “I wish the entire human race had one neck, and I had my hands around it!” When asked by the executioner if he had any last words, Panzram barked, “Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could hang a dozen men while you’re screwing around!”
Henry Lesser pressed for the manuscript to remain unpublished for forty years, and it was finally released in 1970 as Killer: A Journal of Murder. It has gone through a number of reprints, the latest being in 2002. The 1996 movie Killer: A Journal Of Murder was based on Panzram’s final years, with James Woods as Panzram and Robert Sean Leonard as Lesser. Lesser donated the Carl Panzram papers (archival material) to San Diego State University in 1980, where they are housed in the Malcolm A. Love Library. In 2012, filmmaker John Borowski released the documentary film Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance.



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