|“||I was so full of hate that there was no room in me for such feelings as love, pity, kindness or honor or decency. My only regret is that I wasn't born dead or not at all.||”|
Panzram was born in the rural Polk County, Minnesota on June 28, 1891. His parents, Johann "John" and Lizzie Panzram, were Prussian immigrants who owned a desolate farm and later had five more sons and a daughter, all of whom, according to Panzram, grew up to become honest and dedicated farmers. Panzram, on the other hand, became a delinquent at the age of seven, when Johann Panzram abandoned the family. The next year, at the young age of eight, Carl was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and eventually moved on to committing burglaries, breaking into a neighbor's home and stealing a number of valuables, including a revolver. When his brothers found out, they beat him unconscious. In 1903, aged eleven, Panzram was arrested for the break-in and sent to the Minnesota State Training School, a juvenile reform institution, where, he later claimed, he was frequently beaten and sexually abused. He also claims to have committed his first murder there, the victim being a 12-year-old boy at the facility, though this has not been verified.
Having little formal education, he had difficulties reading and was often punished. On the night of July 7, 1905, he built a crude firebomb and used it to burn the school workshop to the ground in an act of revenge for the way he had been treated. Later that year, having become a skilled liar, he convinced the staff that he had been reformed and was released back into his mother's care. Unwilling to do hard physical labor, he convinced her that he wanted to become a priest and got her to send him to the nearby Immanuel Lutheran Church. At one point while there, he threatened a teacher with a handgun, but lost it in a struggle and was consequentially expelled. Two weeks later, he got on a freight train going out of Minnesota and became a drifter. Shortly afterward, he, by his own account, was gang-raped by four hobos, leaving him traumatized and more full of rage than ever.
Crimes, Capture, and Execution
From there on, Panzram lived a mostly transitory life. After being sent to a reform school in Montana for burglary, he escaped with another inmate, Jimmie Benson, and the two began a crime spree of burglaries, robberies, and arsons throughout the Midwest, sometimes stealing from churches and then burning them down, that lasted until they split up and Panzram, for some reason, joined the U.S. Army. During his brief stint there, he was by no means a model soldier, being frequently jailed for minor offenses and insubordination. After being found guilty of three charges of larceny, he was dishonorably discharged and, on April 20, 1908, sentenced to three years of hard labor in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, aged 16. After finally finishing his sentence, he spent the following years drifting, committing numerous acts of burglary, arson and rape, always targeted at men, throughout Kansas, Texas, Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho and Utah. He was often found guilty of various such crimes and served time in prison under assumed names. After his second incarceration and escape from a prison in Oregon, he went to the east coast. In New York, he joined a number of unions and got a Seaman's Identification Card, allowing him to join a ship, the James S. Whitney, and travel to Panama, where he plotted to steal a small boat of his own with the help from a sailor, who got drunk and wound up killing everyone on the boat and getting arrested. Panzram then went to Peru and briefly held down a job in a copper mine. When the workers went on strike, he moved on to Chile. During the following months, Panzram traveled to Port Arthur, Texas, London, England, Glasgow, Scotland, Paris, France and Hamburg, Germany. In the summer of 1920, back in the States, he broke into the home of the then-Secretary of War (and later U.S. President) William H. Taft in New Haven, Connecticut and stole, besides a great number of valuables, a .45 handgun he later used in several murders. Using money obtained by fencing the stolen goods in Manhattan, he bought a yacht, the Akista, and began cruising along the East River, burglarizing other yachts he encountered and raping and killing sailors he hired as crew, disposing of their bodies in the ocean. In August, he lost the boat in a storm and resumed travelling by land.
After serving six months in prison for burglary and possession of a loaded gun, he stowed away on a ship headed to Angola, a Portuguese colony on the west-African coast, where he got a job as a foreman on an oil-drilling rig for the Sinclair Oil Company. During his time there, he raped an 11- or 12-year-old local boy and bashed him to death with a rock. After moving to Lobito Bay, Panzram hired six locals to aid him in a crocodile hunting expedition down a river. When the crocodiles appeared, he shot all six crew members dead and threw their bodies to them. When he realized that people had seen him leave with the men, he fled to the Gold Coast and began robbing farmers. When he saved up enough to go to the Canary Islands, he went there and found that there was nothing worth stealing in the area. He stowed away on a ship headed for Lisbon, Portugal, but was forced to flee again when he found that the local police knew about his crimes in Africa. By the summer of 1922, he was back in America, where he, in addition to his usual crimes such as robbery, rape, and arson, raped and killed two young boys. He was caught in 1923 in Larchmont, New York when he tried to rob a train depot and was sentenced to five years in prison, most of which was served at the Clinton Correctional Facility, which had a reputation for being one of the most brutal prisons in America. The guards often inflicted abuse and outright torture on the inmates. Panzram, as usual, made no effort to be a model inmate; within months of his imprisonment, he tried to firebomb the workshops and tried to kill a guard by clubbing him from behind. Shortly afterward, he tried to escape by jumping over a prison wall, but fell down on a concrete step. Though his legs and ankles were broken and his spine badly injured, he received absolutely no medical treatment for fourteen months. After he was finally operated on in the prison infirmary, he raped a fellow inmate and was placed in solitary confinement.
Still in constant pain, his rage and hatred of humanity intensified and he envisioned several grand schemes for mass murder. One such was to wipe out the population of an entire city by poisoning the water supply with arsenic. A particularly ambitious plan involved scuttling a British warship docked in the New York City harbor in order to start a war between the two nations. When Panzram was finally released, his injuries and consequential limp didn't affect his criminal career; he committed a dozen burglaries and fatally strangled a man during a robbery in Philadelphia. When he was arrested in Washington D.C., he talked about killing children to the jail guards. When they contacted the authorities of areas where Panzram had murdered children, they connected the dots and Panzram was identified as a serial killer. A young guard there, Henry Lesser, pitied him for how he had suffered, even though he knew that Panzram was a child killer. When he sent him a dollar to buy cigarettes and extra food with, Panzram was visibly moved and the two became friends. Panzram soon promised to tell him his whole story if he gave him paper and writing tools. When he got the supplies, Panzram began writing his autobiography, where he gave detailed accounts of his crimes, shared his nihilistic world view and also voiced his criticism of the American justice system, describing in graphic detail the methods of torture used by prison officials. The text was very articulate, especially considering that Panzram had very little formal education. After a trial, during which Panzram acted in his own defense, he was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison to be served at Fort Leavenworth in Leavenworth, Kansas. When he arrived and was read the rules of the facility by the warden in his office, he told him ominously, "I'll kill the first man that bothers me." Because he was believed to be too psychotic to be with the general prison population, he was assigned a job in the prison laundry which allowed him to work alone.
On June 20, 1929, Panzram took a heavy iron bar and savagely bludgeoned his supervisor, Robert Warnke, to death in front of the other inmates and then started attacking them too. Panzram went to trial on April 14, 1930, once again acting in his own defense. After a large group of witnesses gave their testimonies, Panzram was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. He was apparently overjoyed to have received the sentence and even left the courtroom laughing hysterically. During the months leading up to the execution, a number of groups advocating the abolition of the death penalty tried to get Panzram's sentence reduced, but he refused to let that happen and responded to them with death threats. On the morning of September 5, 1930, he was brought to the prison gallows. When the executioner asked whether he had any last words, Panzram, quite infamously, told him: "Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could kill 10 men while you're fooling around!" At 6:18 a.m., he was pronounced dead, aged 39. Since the body remained unclaimed, Panzram was laid to his final rest in the prison cemetery.
Henry Lesser, who had kept the manuscript of Panzram's autobiography, spent the next four decades trying to find a publisher willing to print it. Because the story was thought to be too horrific, it wasn't until 1970 that it was finally published under the title Killer: A Journal of a Murder. The book was hailed as a great insight into the mind of a serial killer. Additionally, Panzram's first documentary film was released in 2012, titled Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance.
All of Panzram's victims were men of different ages, races, and professions, some of them just children. Many of his murder victims were forcibly sodomized as a way to torture and humiliate them, as were a great number of men Panzram raped and didn't kill. Panzram obtained his victims in different ways; most of them he hired for some job (possibly by coincidence always on a boat) and some he attacked at gunpoint or by drugging them beforehand. Most murder victims were killed either by being shot with a stolen Colt M1911 or being beaten to death, though a few were also strangled.
Panzram was a misanthrope whose life was marked by his consummate nihilism. He despised everyone, even himself, and often dreamed about killing on a mass scale. He raped his victims, all of whom were male, not necessarily because he was homosexual but as a way to torture his victims. In his autobiography, he expresses little interest in the opposite sex; he claims that he started avoiding sexual company with women after being robbed and contracting gonorrhea in a red light district. He was, by all accounts, incapable of remorse and, most likely, a psychopath. Even though he had very little formal education, his journal text shows that he was quite intelligent. In the foreword to Panzram: A Journal of Murder, the author remarks that Panzram differs from many other serial killers such as Dahmer, Fish, and Gacy in the sense that he was not motivated by sex but simply by an intense hatred of humanity.
"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 1000 male human beings. For all these things I am not in the least bit sorry."
Note: Panzram's alleged total number of murder victims prior to killing Robert Warnke varied between 21-23. Note that not all the killings were verified. This list covers both the ones he claimed responsibility for in his autobiography and the ones that were confirmed.
- 1903-1905 (exact dates unspecified), the Minnesota State Training School, U.S.:
- Unnamed 12-year-old boy (alleged; unconfirmed)
- John Moore (his teacher; attempted to poison with rat poison)
- c. 1907, Montana State Reform School, Miles City, Montana, U.S.: Bushart (first name unspecified; attempted, but survived; struck on the head with a wooden board)
- Unspecified date in 1908, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Red Wing, Minnesota, U.S.: Unnamed teacher (attempted; threatened with a gun)
- Unspecified date in 1911, somewhere near El Paso, Texas, U.S.: Unnamed man (robbed, gagged, tied to a tree and left there to die; it is unknown if the man survived)
- September 1917, Oregon, U.S.: Chief Deputy Sheriff Joseph Frum (attempted to shoot)
- Summer of 1920, U.S.: Ten unnamed sailors (all drugged, robbed, raped, shot with a .45 pistol and thrown overboard)
- Unspecified dates in 1921, Angola:
- Luanda: Unnamed 11- or 12-year-old Angolan boy (raped and bludgeoned with a rock)
- Near Lobito Bay: Six unnamed men on a boat (each was shot once in the back and then once in the head with a 9mm Luger, then fed to crocodiles)
- July 18, 1922, Salem, Massachusetts, U.S.: George Henry McMahon, 12 (confirmed; raped repeatedly and bludgeoned with a rock)
- June 27, near the Hudson River, U.S.: Unnamed man (shot twice in the head with a .38 pistol; allegedly killed in self-defense when the victim tried to rob him)
- Late June-Early July, New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.: Unnamed "boy" (confirmed; age and identity unspecified; raped and strangled with a belt)
- August (date of discovery; exact date of death unspecified), Philadelphia, U.S.: Alexander Luszzock, 14 (confirmed; gagged with a handkerchief and strangled with a belt)
- Unspecified date, Clinton Correctional Facility, Dannemora, New York: Unnamed guard (attempted, but survived; clubbed from behind)
- July 26, 1928, Philadelphia, U.S.: Alexander Luszzock, 14 (confirmed; gagged with a handkerchief, choked and strangled)
- June 20, 1929, Leavenworth, Kansas, U.S.:
- Robert Warnke, 47 (confirmed; bludgeoned with an iron bar)
- Numerous unnamed inmates (attempted)
- Notes: In addition to the aforementioned murders, Panzram was responsible for countless rapes, arsons, burglaries and robberies.
- Panzram is not the only convicted American serial killer to have taken up writing behind bars:
- Gerard Schaefer, who was responsible for an uncertain number of murders, wrote a series of short stories in prison. Some were detailed accounts of murders he had (allegedly) committed. Others were graphic fantasies about, among other things, necrophilia. A few years before Schaefer was killed in prison, the stories were published under the title Killer Fiction.
- Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger, a.k.a. The Vienna Strangler, became literate during his first long prison sentence and wrote his autobiography (which was adapted into a movie) as well as a number of short stories and plays while inside. He became a minor celebrity after his release, but was incarcerated again a few years later for the murders of a number of prostitutes, at which point he hanged himself in his cell.
- Adolf Hitler (though he wasn't essentially a serial killer in his own right), the head of state of Nazi Germany, also dictated most of his autobiography, Mein Kampf, while serving a brief prison sentence for high treason.
- Panzram is also not the only known serial killer to have killed in different countries and American states:
- Jack Unterweger, the aforementioned Austrian serial killer, committed at least three murders while in California, and also claimed victims in Germany and Czechoslovakia.
- Earle Nelson, a.k.a. The Gorilla Killer, was responsible for at least 20 murders scattered across the U.S. West Coast and Canada.
- Ted Bundy and Israel Keyes both killed victims in multiple states, and Keyes is also suspected of committing murders in Canada and other countries.
- Ángel Maturino Reséndiz, a.k.a. The Railroad Killer, killed people in five different American states and also, allegedly, in Mexico.
- Thomas Neill Cream, a.k.a. "The Lambeth Poisoner", killed at least five people in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. and London, England, but was also suspected of having murdered victims in Canada and Scotland as well. He was also suspected of being Jack the Ripper.
- While it was not outright confirmed, there has been a theory about the New Bedford Highway Killer, a currently-unidentified serial killer who murdered nine to eleven women in New Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S., which proposed that he was a Portuguese national who then went on to commit five murders in Portugal, including the three canonical Lisbon Ripper murders, and possibly additional murders in other European countries.
On Criminal Minds
- Season Four
- "The Longest Night" - While not directly mentioned or referenced, Panzram appears to have been one of several sources of inspiration for the episode's unsub, Billy Flynn - Both were serial killers, rapists, and robbers who began their crimes at a young age, killed while travelling, used firearms (including revolvers), killed most of their victims by shooting or bludgeoning them, and victimized children in some way (Flynn traumatized children by forcing them to watch him rape and slaughter their families, while Panzram outright raped and killed them). Flynn also appeared in Season Five.
- Season Six
- "Big Sea" - While not directly mentioned or referenced, Panzram appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Blake Wells - Both were serial killers who had fathers who abandoned them in childhood, killed a number of people aboard a boat they owned, and disposed of their bodies by dumping them in the ocean.
- Season Thirteen
- "To A Better Place" - Panzram was mentioned by Prentiss, quoting one of Panzram's quotes: "I believe that the only way to reform people is to kill them." He also may have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, William "Billy" Lynch - Both were serial killers who went by a shortened nickname, had fathers who abandoned them, were sent to camps in their youth (though it was a juvenile detention center in Panzram's case), developed destructive and disturbing behaviors, primarily targeted one gender (men in Panzram's case, women in Lynch's), strangled them (though Panzram's M.O. was widely varied), disposed of them in watery areas (oceans in Panzram's case, a swamp and a beach in Lynch's), and devolved overtime. Also, Lynch attempting suicide could be a slight nod to Panzram's nihilism.
- Wikipedia's article about Panzram
- TruTV Crime Library articles about Panzram:
- Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance documentary film
- Serial Killer Calendar's biography of Panzram
- Rotten.com's page about Panzram
- Panzram: A Journal of Murder (2002)
- Evil Beyond Belief (2008)
- The World's Most Evil Murderers (2006)