The first time I saw the name “Carl Panzram“, was when it was attached to the quote : “I wish you all(humanity) had one neck and that I had my hands on it.” After reading that dandy of a line I knew I had to learn more about Panzram. Who was he? What made him hate life, humanity and himself?
Having heard the names and stories of most of the (in)famous “serial killers” before, I figured there couldn’t be much about Panzram that could top a Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, or any other known mass killer… Boy, was I wrong… Carl Panzram’s story goes much deeper then simple brutality, or mental deviance; Panzram was in fact a living lesson to be taught to all who had the misfortune of being stuck in a dark alley alone with him. His life was the purest example of: cause and effect. The hypocrisies of modern civilization and dogmatic religions all came to a head in the life of Panzram. Through an education in life’s harsh realities from a very young age Panzram quickly came to grips with the starkness of his existence; “This lesson I was taught by others: Might makes Right”
“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. I have no conscience so that does not worry me. I don’t believe in man, God nor Devil. I hate the whole damned human race including myself.”
A bit nihilistic to say the least, but, to be fair, when Panzram was not raping, robbing or killing, he was sleeping.
But really he did make one friend in life(who he also threatened to kill if he had ever made the mistake of turning his back to Panzram again), and that is how we know the story of Carl Panzram.
Carl was befriended by a young prison guard, by the name of Henry Lesser. Lesser convinced Panzram to write an autobiography of his life. And thus we have: Panzram: A Journal of Murder. A book containing narration from the books authors and first hand accounts of Carl’s life through his writings in prison while awaiting the noose.
Panzram was born into a large family (typical of the time) on a small farm in Minnesota on June 28, 1891 to parents of German decent; he describes them as: hardworking, ignorant and poor. By the time Panzram was 8 his parents had split up, leaving his mother to raise 6 kids on an “small worked out farm“. Already a “liar and thief“, from the start Panzram showed a natural difference from the rest of his family who were “honest and hardworking“ according to him.
Despite his juvenile antics Panzram still found himself put to work in the fields, after school, helping out with the family, till the late hours of the evening, it was around this time that he started to question his life, and the people that surrounded him:
“My portion of pay consisted of plenty of work and a sound beating every time I looked cock-eyed or done anything that displeased anyone who was older and stronger and able to catch me and kick me around whenever they felt like it, and it seemed to me and still does now that everything was always right for the one who was the strongest and every single thing I done was wrong…Everybody thought it was all right to deceive me, lie to me and kick me whenever they felt like it, and they felt like it pretty regular, That was the way my life was lived untill I was about 11 years old.”
It was around that time that Panzram decided leave town and create his own destiny. So a 11 year old Panzram hit the road, but not before he broke into his neighbors house and stole some food and a pistol for his journey. unfortunately for a young Panzram(and over 1000 other people), his journey was cut short:
“I was caught brought back home and beaten half to death, then sent to jail and from there to the Minnesota State Training School at Red Wing Minnesota. Right there and then I began to learn about man’s inhumanity to man”
The Christian methods used at Minnesota Training School were nothing new to a 12 year old Carl:
“There during my 2 years I was trained by 2 different sets of people to have 2 different set of morals. The good people tried to train me to be good and the bad people did train me to be bad. The method that the good people used in training me was to beat goodness into me and all the badness out of me…The more they beat me and whipped me the more I hated them and their damn religion.”
And when the usual ass beating was not sufficient enough, the training school clergy men had more creative ways of getting their point across:
“They had various methods of punishing us for doing wrong and teaching us to do right,The most popular with them was to take us to the ‘paint shop’, so called because there they used to paint our bodies black and blue…The paint shop was a very ingenious contrivance for inflicting the worst punishment where it would do the least harm and the most good. They used to have a large wooden block which we were bent over and tied face downward after first being striped naked. Then a large towel was soaked in salt water and spread on our backs from the shoulders to the knees. Then the man who was to do the whipping took a large strap about 1/4 of an inch thick by 4 inches wide and about 2 feet long. This strap had a lot of little round holes punched through it. Every time the whip came down on the body the skin would come up through these little holes in the strap and after 25 or 30 times of this, little blisters would form and then burst, and right there and then hell began. The salt water would do the rest. About a week or two later a boy might be able to sit down. I used to get this racket regularly, and when I was too ill for that sort of medicine, they used to make a smaller strap and beat me on my open palms and hands.”
To be fair, not everything was beatings and blisters for young Carl, there was also room for good Christian love… You know that kind of special love, that they proclaim to hate but obsess about it constantly and are always willing to give the most detailed descriptions of said reputed acts:
“This Mr. Moore was a christian, very much so. I was taught to pray when I got out of bed every morning, to say grace at each meal and give thanks to the lord after it…He examined my penis and rectum, asking me if I had ever committed fornication or sodomy or had ever had sodomy committed on me… He explained in detail and very thoroughly just what he meant by these things. That began my education. I have learned little more since.”
“I had learned that a boy’s penis could be used for something besides to urinate with and that a rectum could be used for other purposes than crepitating. Oh yes, I had learned a hell of a lot from my expert instructors…”
Even at his very young age Panzram displayed the testicular fortitude to not simply become a victim, but rather a reaper of vengeance; as he burned down the “paint shop” where he was so often beaten, and tried to poison (with rat poison placed in food) Mr. Moore who had continually beaten the pre-adolescent Carl.
After serving 2 years there, upon his release Carl Panzram had found his way in life:
“When I got out of there I knew all about Jesus and the Bible- so much so that I knew it was all a lot of hot air. But that wasn’t all I knew. I had been taught by Christians how to be a hypocrite and had learned more about stealing, lying, hating, burning and killing”
“From the treatment I received while there and the lessons I learned from it, I had fully decided when I left there just how to live my life. I made up my mind that I would rob, burn, destroy, and kill everywhere I went and everybody I could as long as I lived. That’s the way i was reformed in the Minnesota State Training School.”
After leaving the training school and getting into turmoil with a local preacher/teacher who had a touch of the beatyourassites as well, Carl decided to do what was a common act for many people looking for a new beginning; find an open door on a passing train and hitch a ride. As if a young Panzram did not already have his fill of bad experiences… He ends up in a box car with “4 burly bums”, after he (Carl) invited them on… The bums repaid the young teenage Panzram for his good deed by taking their turns sodomizing him:
” I left that box car a sadder, sicker but wiser boy than I was when I entered it.”
Needless to say, his dirty box car lovin was the final straw… Carl Panzram would become a teacher of all the lessons he had so brutality had to learn in his life; a human mirror reflecting back all the torture, misery, rape, hypocrisy, and hate on to who ever was unlucky enough to be standing in front of him.
Carl ended up doing another 2 years in Montana institution for petty-larceny. At the age of 16, in order to enlist in the military Panzram lied about his age…He lasted about 2 months before getting 3 years in military prison for a number of offences ranging anywhere from disobeying orders to stealing merchandise:
” I got 3 years in the U.S. Military Prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. My General Court Martial or trial was held at Fort William Henry Harrison, Helena, Montana, and my court proceedings were reviewed by the then Secretary of War, Mr. William Howard Taft. He recommended me for 3 years… 13 years later I had the very good fortune to rob him out of about 40,000 worth of jewelry and Liberty Bonds. This happened at his home in New Haven, Connecticut, in the summer of 1920.”
“I was discharged from that prison in 1910. I was the spirit of meanness personified. I had not at this time got so that I hated myself. I only hated everybody else.”
Carl almost had a non-existence relationship with women, and the few experiences he did have were plagued with trouble. That topped with his upbringing of boys homes, perverted priests, beatings and rape he quickly came to the conclusion that women were too much trouble, as he explains after a night with a women which we woke up to robbed and with a strange burning in his loins…And not burning in a yearning way, but in a bitch gave me gonorrhea way:
“I began to suspect that ladies were a very good thing to leave alone. I have followed that policy pretty closely ever since. Once in awhile since then one would get her claws into me, but not while I was sober or in the daytime where I could see’em first.”
While, women, seemed like bad idea for Panzram, sodomy on the other hand seemed like a great idea, after all he claims over 1000 males had been sodomized by him; he’s like the Wilt Chamberlain of butt rape. The first time he speaks of forcible rape of another man is when he and a Indian (long story) are walking back from the Mexican border and they run into a poor sap, who they rob and tie up:
” I figured that while I had such a good chance as that, I would commit a little sodomy on him. This I proceeded to do. Then I invited the Indian to take a ride but the damn fool was only an Indian. He hadn’t received the full benefits of civilization yet like I had, so he declined the honor.”
A bit of sarcastic humor is shown by Panzram when he states the Indian didn’t have same same benefits of “civilization” as Panzram.
But as Panzram put it, he was quite the booty bandit, while doing time in Prison,after prison he made sure his supply of sodomy stayed full:
( while in prison in deer lodge Montana) “At that place in time I got to be an experienced wolf. I knew more about sodomy than old boy Oscar Wilde ever thought of knowing. I would start the morning with sodomy…”
“While I was sitting there, a little nigger boy around 11 or 12 years old came bumming around. He was looking for something. He found it too. I took him out to a gravel pit about 1/4 mile from the main camp of the Sinclair oil company at Luanda. I left him there, but first committed sodomy on him and then killed him. His brains were coming out of his ears when I left him.”
For having raped over 1000 people, his official death toll at 21seems a bit disproportional. But when taken into account his relativity short life was spent mostly inside prison walls it seems to make a little more sense.
“I have no desire whatever to reform myself. My only desire is to reform people who try to reform me. And I believe that the only way to reform people is to kill ’em.”
Meanwhile speaking of Panzram and murder, back in Angola:
“I hired a canoe and 6 niggers and went out hunting in the bay and backwaters. I was looking for crocodiles. I found them, plenty. They were all hungry. I fed them. I shot all 6 of these niggers and dumped them in. The crocks done the rest.”
Panzram recounts his murders as causally as one would expect him to.
With money he had gotten from robbing Taft’s house he purchased a yacht, which started his travels to Europe, Africa then back to America, on the boy he describes how he used to murder ship-hands that he would pick up:
“There we would go to wine and dine and when they were drunk enough they would go to bed. When they were asleep I would get my .45 Colt Army Automatic, this I stole from Mr. Taft’s home, and blow their brains out. Then I would take a rope and tie a rock on them and put them in my rowboat, row out in the main channel about one mile and drop em over board. They are there yet, ten of em.”
Panzram was not only concerned with individual murders, but had plans of mass death:
“My whole mind was bent on figuring out different ways to annoy and punish my enemies, and everybody was my enemy.”
Panzram had a few detailed plans on how to commit mass death, but all his plans hinged on getting enough money to be able to fund these ideas:
(1) he wanted to set off large bombs in a train tunnel that would also explode various gases in glass jars that would have been instant death for any person on the train.
(2) He intended on blowing up and American ship, and making look like it was the British, in order to instigate a war.
(3) he intended on making poison, enough poison to start infecting the water supply.
None of these plans ever came to fruition as he would always end up back in jail before being able to build up the resources to commit such mass acts of violence.
Panzrams life was spent in and out of prison, mainly getting caught for smaller crimes while getting away with the larger crimes. While in prison, his violence would not stop as he got into countless fights, sodomized many fellow inmates, set fires in numerous different prisons, escaped and attempted escape whenever he felt to do so. Surprisingly enough his undoing came by his own mouth. At the age of 37 he was arrested in Washington D.C. for stealing a radio out of a house. When the officer informed Panzram of his charge, Carl brushed it off and told the officer, the charge was a “joke”. When the officer further inquired why, he had thought the charge a Joke, Panzram replied that he had killed too many people to worry about the charge. Panzram, maybe in a short laps of his mission, seemingly sabotaged any chance he would have to continue his life’s quest outside of prison, as he even gave a few specific details.
1000 rapes, 21 murders, 1 friend
It was in the D.C. lock-up where Carl met his unlikely only friend. Lesser’s first encounter with Panzram as explained in the book:
“Lesser was to remember later his first awareness of something unusual in one of his prisoners. On the western side, against the setting sun that burned into a tall, dirty barred outer windows, Lesser saw the silhouette of a large man framed by a second set of bars… The young guard was affected in a way he could not explain, except to state decades later that ‘there was a kind of stillness around him, how he looked’…As lesser turned to walk away, he had a peculiar feeling. He turned to see Panzram watching him from behind the bars… ‘When is your court date’ Lesser asked casually. ‘November elventh’ Panzram said coldly. ‘Whats your racket Lesser asked smiling…’What I do is I reform people’. Lesser responded vaguely and moved away uneasily.”
Panzram, being the trouble maker he was, got himself a lot of ‘special attention’ from other prison guards, as they would beat and torture Panzram when ever they felt the need to. Lesser was horrified by what he saw being done to Panzram, and started to offer help, small talk, providing small wants to Carl. Panzram was suspicious of lesser’s friendliness at first but as time went by they became “friendly” with each other. Lesser convinced Panzram to write his autobiography while in prison and many times supplied Panzram with the writing material to do so.
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 beat 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 overjoyed to have received the sentence and left the courtroom laughing .
Lesser kept in touch with Panzram through letters at that time, sending him books, and money time to time. On the morning of September 5, 1930, Panram 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!”
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.
As stated at the beginning of this article, Panzram’s life was a fine example of cause and effect. While sick and vengeful in his actions, Carl Panzram displayed a will and fortitude that if placed in any direction could have lead him anywhere he so chose, from greatness to infamy. He chose his path, being a living ,breathing, grim reaper on the Earth to reform the fine people who brought him “civilization”. Every head he mashed in, and every life he ruined was the direct result of a hypocritical, perverted, careless surrounding that a young Carl was brought up in.
Carl Panzram had the option, to just be a victim, to turn the other cheek, as he was surely taught to do so, but he choose differently. His life and his decisions go beyond simply right or wrong, The monster makers are sometimes bitten back by the monster they create, and this is the case of Carl Panzram. When a man has done such heinous acts as Carl had done, he essentially forces the spotlight on the question of his development. It is easy to make the mistake of simply writing Panzram off as a murderous maniac, and ignore the larger question of: what was the madness that created Panzram, and why is it still allowed to exist?
The act of a single man being half decent to Panzram was enough to confuse him, and eventually win him over as a friend. It was not like lesser was out of the ordinary with his action, he was simply decent and friendly towards Panzram. Like a abused dog who runs across a nice person trying to actually feed it. First it hesitates, and is unsure, but after the dog eats enough and sees the general authenticity of the compassion, the beast is won over for life.
Its been said by Carl and others that: Panzram hated the whole world and even hated himself, which in the end may be true. But, to take vengeance on humanity with such potency, shows he really mourned his death as a child, and deeply loved the innocence that was forever taken from him at such a young age. That is to say maybe he didn’t love what he was, but he loved what they had killed in him.