Bio: Carl Panzram

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Carl Panzram
Panzram in 1915
BornCharles Panzram
June 28, 1891
East Grand Forks, Minnesota, US
DiedSeptember 5, 1930 (aged 39)
Fort LeavenworthKansas, US
Other namesList of aliases[show]
Years active1899–1929
Notable workKiller: A Journal of Murder
Height6 ft (1.83 m)
Conviction(s)First degree murder
Criminal chargeArsonbatteryburglarycriminal possession of a handgunraperobberyvandalism
PenaltyCapital punishment (hanged)
CountryUnited States, Portuguese Angola
Location(s)ConnecticutKansasLuandaMarylandMassachusettsNew YorkPennsylvaniaTexas
Killed22 confessed; 5 confirmed
Imprisoned atUpwards of seven prisons[show]

Charles “Carl” Panzram (June 28, 1891 – September 5, 1930) was an American serial killer, rapist, arsonist, robber, and burglar. In prison confessions and his autobiography, he claimed to have committed 22 murders, most of which could not be corroborated, and over 1000 acts of sodomy of boys and men. After a series of imprisonments and escapes, he was executed in 1930 for the murder of a prison employee at Leavenworth Federal Prison.

Early life

Born in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, the son of East Prussian immigrants Johann and Matilda Gottlieb Panzram, Panzram was raised on his family’s farm with five siblings. Carl Panzram felt odd from a young age: by the age of five or six he was a liar and thief and claimed to become meaner the older he grew.[1][2] In 1899, Panzram was in juvenile court on a charge of being drunk and disorderly. In 1903, he was arrested and jailed for being drunk and incorrigible.[3]

In 1903, at the age of 11, he stole some cake, apples, and a revolver from a neighbor’s home. In October 1903, his parents sent him to the Minnesota State Training School. While there, he was repeatedly beaten, tortured, and raped by staff members in what attendees dubbed “the paint shop”, because children would leave “painted” with bruises and blood. Panzram hated this place of torture so much that he decided to burn it down, and did so without detection on[4] July 7, 1905.[5]

In January 1906, Panzram was paroled from Red Wing Training School after stealing money from his mother’s pocketbook.[6][7][8] 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, a couple of weeks after his parole and merely two weeks after attempting to kill a Lutheran cleric with a revolver, to become a hobo. He often traveled via train cars. He later claimed that he was once gang raped by a group of hobos aboard a train.

Early crimes

Panzram claimed that after escaping from a Montana State Reform School—along with an inmate named Jimmie Benson—both were involved in a string of burglaries, robberies, and arsons throughout the Midwest until they split up. In 1907, at the age of 15, after getting drunk in a saloon in Montana, Panzram enlisted in the United States Army. Shortly thereafter, he was convicted of larceny and served a prison sentence from April 20, 1908 to 1910 at Fort Leavenworth‘s United States Disciplinary Barracks. Secretary of War William Howard Taft approved the sentence. Panzram later claimed that any goodness left in him was smashed out during his Leavenworth imprisonment.[9]

After his release and dishonorable discharge, Panzram resumed his career as a thief, stealing anything from bicycles to yachts, and was caught and imprisoned multiple times. He served time under his own name and various aliases in FresnoRusk, TexasThe Dalles, OregonHarrison, IdahoButte, Montana; Montana State Reform School; Montana State PrisonOregon State PenitentiaryBridgeport, ConnecticutSing Sing Correctional FacilityClinton Correctional Facility; and Washington, D.C. While incarcerated, Panzram frequently attacked officers and refused to follow their orders. The officers retaliated, subjecting him to beatings and other punishments.[10]

In his autobiography, Panzram wrote that he was “rage personified” and that he would often rape men whom he had robbed. He was noted for his large stature and great physical strength—due to years of hard labor at Leavenworth and other prisons – which aided him in overpowering most men he encountered.[10] 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 an Army transport vessel, but was discharged when he reported to work intoxicated.[9]

Escalating violence

Panzram claimed in his 1929 autobiography, that after serving a short sentence at Rusk, Texas, he went to Ciudad Juárez in the winter of 1910, to try to enlist in the Federal Mexican Army. He then left on a train for Del Rio, Texas, and got off in a small town 50 to 100 miles (80 to 161 km) east of El Paso, where about a mile south of that town he claimed to have abducted, assaulted, kicked, and strangled a man and then stole $35 from the victim.[11]

In the summer of 1911, Panzram, going by the alias “Jefferson Davis”, was arrested in Fresno, for stealing a bicycle. He was sentenced to six months’ in county jail, but escaped after 30 days.[12] In 1913, Panzram, going by the alias “Jack Allen”, was arrested in The Dalles, Oregon, for highway robbery, assault, and sodomy. He broke out of jail after two to three months. While he was on the run, he used the alias “Jeff Davis”. He was arrested in Harrison, Idaho, but again he escaped from county jail. He was arrested in Chinook, Montana, under the alias “Jefferson Davis” and sentenced to one year in prison for burglary to be served at the Montana State Prison.

On April 27, 1913, Panzram, using his “Jefferson Davis” alias, was admitted to the state prison at Deer Lodge, Montana. He escaped on November 13. Within a week, he was arrested, giving his name as “Jeff Rhoades” in Three Forks, for burglary, and returned to Deer Lodge for an additional year. He was released on March 3, 1915. On June 1, 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, Oregon, where he arrived on June 24. Warden Harry Minto 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.”[10]

Later that year, Panzram helped fellow inmate Otto Hooker escape from the prison. While attempting to evade recapture, Hooker killed Minto, marking Panzram’s first known involvement in a murder, as an accessory before the fact.[10] In his prison record he falsely gave his age as 30, and his place of birth as Alabama. The one true bit of autobiography he did give was his occupation: “thief”.

Panzram was disciplined several times while at Salem, including 61 days in solitary confinement, before escaping on September 18, 1917. After two shootouts, he was recaptured and returned to the prison. On May 12, 1918, he escaped once again by sawing through the bars of his cell, 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.[10]Allegedly he ended up in New York City and got a Seaman Identification card; sailed on the steamship James S. Whitney to Panama, where he tried to steal a small boat with the help of a drunken sailor who killed everyone on board and was arrested. Panzram travelled to Peru to work in a copper mine, and then traveled to Chile, Port Arthur, Texas, London, Edinburgh, Paris, and Hamburg.

Murder spree

In August 1920, Panzram burglarized the William H. Taft Mansion in New Haven, Connecticut, a home of William Howard Taft, whom he held responsible for his Leavenworth imprisonment. He stole a large amount of jewelry and bonds,[fn 1] as well as Taft’s Colt M1911 .45-caliber handgun. He then began a murder spree that spanned eight years and multiple countries. With the money stolen from Taft he bought a yacht, the Akista. He lured sailors away from New York City bars, got them drunk, raped them, and shot them with Taft’s pistol, then dumped their bodies near Execution Rocks Light in Long Island Sound. He claimed to have killed ten in all.[14] The sailor murders ended only after the Akista ran aground and sank near Atlantic City, his last two potential victims escaping to parts unknown.[15] On October 26, 1920 Panzram, using the pseudonym “John O’Leary”, was arrested in Stamford, Connecticut, for burglary and possession of a loaded handgun. In 1921, he served six months’ in jail in Bridgeport, Connecticut.[16]

Panzram then caught a ship to Southern Africa and landed in Luanda, the capital of colonial Portuguese Angola. In 1921, Panzram was foreman of an oil rig in Angola, and later burned the rig down out of spitefulness. He later claimed that, while there, he raped and killed a boy estimated to be 11-years-old. 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 boat with six rowers, shot the rowers with a Luger pistol, and threw their bodies to the crocodiles.[9]

After his return to the United States, Panzram asserted that he raped and killed two small boys,[9] beating one to death with a rock on July 18, 1922, in Salem, Massachusetts,[fn 2][18] and strangling the other later that year near New Haven.[fn 3] After his murder spree in Salem, Panzram had gotten job as a night watchman at Abeeco Mill factory at Yonkers, where he made a—sexual—acquaintance with a 15-year-old boy named George Walosin. In Providence, he stole a yawl and sailed to New Haven, for victims to rob and rape and boats to steal. In June 1923, in New Rochelle, New York, he stole a yacht that belonged to the police chief of New Rochelle. He picked up Walosin and promised him a job on the boat, but instead, sodomized him.

On June 27, on the river near Kingston, New York, Panzram claimed to have used a .38 caliber pistol from the stolen yacht to kill a man who tried to rob him while on the yacht. Panzram threw the body into the river.[12] On June 28, Panzram and Walosin docked at Poughkeepsie. Panzram stole $1,000 worth of fishing nets. At Newburgh, New York, Walosin, who had witnessed the murder, jumped overboard and swam to shore. He reported to the police at Yonkers that he had been sexually assaulted by Panzram. An alert went out for “Captain John O’Leary”. On June 29, “John O’Leary” was arrested in Nyack, New York.

On July 9, Panzram tried to escape from jail. He later conned his lawyer by giving him ownership of a stolen boat in return for bail money. Panzram then skipped bail and the boat was confiscated by the police. On August 26, “O’Leary” was arrested in Larchmont, New York, after breaking into a train depot. Three days later, on August 29, “O’Leary” was cleared as a suspect in a stabbing death committed a month prior, of Dorothy Kaufman of Greenberg, New York.[26] He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. While in county jail, he confessed to being “Jeff Baldwin”, and that he was wanted in Oregon. In October, Panzram was imprisoned at Clinton Prison in Dannemora, New York. He was discharged in July 1928, and is alleged to have committed a murder in Baltimore, in the summer of 1928.

Capture and execution

On August 30, 1928 Panzram was arrested in Baltimore for a Washington, D.C. burglary – stealing a radio and jewelry from the home of a dentist on August 20.[27][28] During his interrogation, he confessed to killing three young boys earlier that month – one in Salem, one in Connecticut, and a 14-year-old newsboy in Philadelphia.[25][29][30] Panzram later wrote that he had contemplated mass killings and other acts of mayhem such as poisoning a city’s water supply with arsenic, or scuttling a British warship in New York Harbor to provoke a war between the United States and Britain.[9]

In light of his extensive criminal record, he received a 25-years-to-life sentence. Upon arriving at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary inmate #31614, he warned the warden, “I’ll kill the first man that bothers me”, and was given a solitary job in the prison laundry room. On June 20, 1929, he beat the prison laundry foreman Robert Warnke to death with an iron bar, and was sentenced to death.[31] He refused to allow any appeals of his sentence. In response to offers from death penalty opponents and human rights activists to intervene, he wrote, “The only thanks you and your kind will ever get from me for your efforts on my behalf is that I wish you all had one neck and that I had my hands on it.”[10]

While on death row, Panzram was befriended by an officer named Henry Lesser,[32][33] who would give him money to buy cigarettes. Panzram was so astonished by this one act of kindness that after Lesser provided him with writing materials Panzram, while awaiting his execution, wrote a detailed summary of his crimes and nihilistic philosophy. In this he made it quite clear that he did not repent in the least of all the robberies, murders, rapes, and arsons he had been involved in.[34] It began with a straightforward statement: “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.”[This quote needs a citation]

Panzram was hanged on September 5, 1930. As officers attempted to place a black hood over his head, he allegedly spat in the executioner’s face.[35] When asked for any last words, he responded, “Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could kill a dozen men while you’re screwing around!” His grave, at the Leavenworth Penitentiary Cemetery, is marked only with his prison number, 31614.[10]


In 1938, Karl Menninger wrote Man Against Himself, including writing about Panzram using the pen name of “John Smith,” with Panzram prison No. 31614. Lesser preserved Panzram’s letters and autobiographical manuscript, then spent the next four decades in search of a publisher willing to print the material. It was released in 1970 under the title Killer: A Journal of Murder.[36]

In 1996, the book formed the basis of a film of the same name, starring James Woods as Panzram and Robert Sean Leonard as Lesser. In 1980, Lesser donated Panzram’s material to San Diego State University, where they are housed, as the “Carl Panzram papers,” in the Malcolm A. Love Library.[36] In 2012, filmmaker John Borowski released a documentary entitled Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance.

More at:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *