Carl Panzram: A Monster Born and Made
When Carl Panzram was born in 1891, people still had comparatively primitive ideas of what separated a bad person from a good person. People were born either bad or good, and no matter what, they would stay that way. Panzram, on the other hand, seemed to have been a challenge to that idea. Though he committed his first crime, a theft, at age 12, it cannot be denied that the insane brutality he suffered throughout his early life had something to do with the rage that eventually filled him and the crimes he committed thereafter.
Panzram was born to a pair of Prussian immigrants on a Minnesota farm, but from an early age, he was known to be very troubled. He clamed to have been sexually assaulted by a group of hobos. When he was in his early teens, his parents sent him to a work house, an institution known for being violently abusive. At that work house, the children spoke fearfully of the painting shed, which was called because a child would enter a blank canvas and emerge ‘painted’ with blood and bruises.
By his early teens, Panzram had a record for theft and for arson. He joined the US Army at a young age, but soon started to have the same problems that he had everywhere.
Between 1908 and 1910, Panzram was held at Fort Leavenworth’s United States Disciplinary Barracks. In his autobiography, Panzram would say that if he had any good left in him, it was extinguished there. William Howard Taft, who would go on to be the President of the United States, was at the time the Secretary of War, and he approved Panzram’s sentence. Later on, after his release, Panzram held a grudge and broke into Taft’s home, stealing a revolver he would then use to carry out his crimes.
The first death that can reasonably be attributed to Panzram was that of Harry Minto, the warden of the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. This occurred in the 1917, and after that, it was like a switch had been thrown in Panzram’s head. Over the course of the next few years, as he was in and out of prisons all over the country and under a wide variety of names, Panzram grew inured to the idea of killing others.
When he finally escaped from prison in 1920, he started to commit his first murders. He was a man who had stolen a fair amount of money, and he used that money to buy a yacht he called the Akiska. He took this yacht along the east coast, and he began to lure sailors away from the bars. Once they were on board, he got them drunk, sexually assaulted them, and then dumped their bodies far from shore.
When questioned abouthis crimes, he stated that it wasn’t homosexuality that caused him to assault the men. Instead, he claimed it was a gesture of contempt for them as human beings, one last way of humiliating them before he killed them.
After his yacht wrecked, he made his way to Angola. It was there where he claimed to have sexually assaulted and killed a young boy. Most disturbingly, Panzram writes of the young boy’s brains coming out of his ears and how he “couldn’t be any deader.” During this period, Panzram also stated that he killed six men, feeding their bodies to the crocodiles in the river.
He returned to the United States shortly thereafter, where he continued to kill. A man was shot for robbing him, two more boys were sexually assaulted and beaten to death. Finally, he claimed another two murders as he was robbing them, though those remain unproven.
Panzram was finally captured while he was burglarizing a house. Under interrogation, he admitted to killing two men, and was further held. It was during this time that he was given paper and pen and wrote his autobiography.
Panzram was judged insane and given twenty-five years at Leavenworth Federal Prison. He dully warned the prison he would kill anyone who bothered him. This warning was ignored, and Panzram finally did kill a man. He beat the prison’s laundry foreman to death with an iron bar, and finally, he was sentenced to death by hanging.
Panzram spat in his executioner’s face, and when asked if he had any last words, he said, “Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could kill ten men while you’re fooling around!”