Towards the end of his life Carl Panzram gleefully confessed to 21 murders, more than 100 acts of sodomy, and thousands of robberies and arsons. And, to use his own words – “For all these things I am not in the least bit sorry.”
Criminologists blame Carl Panzram’s sadistic behavior on his troubled childhood. Panzram was born in Minnesota in 1891 to East Prussian immigrant parents. Panzram’s father abandoned the family when Panzram was just a little boy and at the mere age of 12, Panzram committed his first burglary – he stole cake, apples, and a revolver from his neighbors.
Panzram’s first theft landed him in the Minnesota State Training School where he was beaten, raped, and tortured by the school’s staff. He was released from school in his teens and shortly after he ran away from home.
Panzram moved from place to place by hopping train cars and it was during one of his rides in a train wagon that he was gang raped by a group of hobos. The whole affair shocked Panzram but, according to him, left him a much wiser boy. A boy who would soon start raping others.
Panzram continued riding trains, burning down buildings, and stealing. In fact, it was Panzram’s stealing that got him into trouble once again in 1908. He was convicted and sent to Fort Leavenworth’s United States Disciplinary Barracks. Once released, Panzram went straight back to his bad habits and was caught and sentenced on numerous occasions. An elusive thief he was not.
In 1915, Carl Panzram was sentenced to seven years at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Once again he had been caught for stealing. Life at Oregon State Penitentiary was tough – the guards took an immediate dislike to Panzram (probably because he refused to cooperate) and made his life a living hell. They constantly beat him, hung him from rafters and placed him in solitary confinement. While in solitary confinement, Panzram ate little else but cockroaches.
During his first year of imprisonment at Oregon State Penitentiary, Panzram helped one of the inmates – Otto Hooker – escape. While on the run, Hooker killed the penitentiary’s warden, making Panzram an accomplice to the murder.
Panzram decided not to stick around the penitentiary either – in 1917 he escaped but was caught and returned back to prison. Undeterred by his failure, Panzram escaped once again just a year later, in 1918.
In 1920, Panzram bought a yacht, named the Akiska. That same year he began luring drunk American soldiers from bars to his yacht, where he raped them, killed them, and dumped their bodies in an Atlantic Ocean estuary.
The Akiska eventually sank and Panzram decided to head towards Africa. He got off in Angola where he raped and killed a young boy. Of that incident he later wrote – “His brains were coming out of his ears when I left him and he will never be any deader.”
But Panzram was not satisfied. He wanted more death, more destruction, more blood. A few days later, he killed six local guides who were about to take him on a crocodile hunting expedition. The crocodiles devoured their bodies with gusto.
About a year later, Carl Panzram grew tired of Africa and decided to move on. His next port of call was to be Lisbon. However, it turned out that the police were looking for Panzram in Portugal, aware of his murders in Africa. Feeling trapped, Panzram decided to return to America.
Back in America, Panzram continued raping and killing young men. He was a beast of a man, strong and powerful enough that overpowering youngsters, and even strong grown men, was an easy feat. But while Panzram was an elusive killer, he was a bad thief.
In 1928, he was once again arrested for robbery and sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Carl Panzram was sentenced to 25 years after he had confessed to killing two young boys.
Carl Panzram hated prisons and he certainly hated the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. So he tried to escape — but he wasn’t successful. The guards caught Panzram and beat him unconscious. A year later, Panzram killed the laundry foreman by beating him dead with an iron bar. It was then that Carl Panzram was sentenced to death.
The death sentence was almost like a dream come true for Panzram. When human rights activists tried to interfere on his behalf, he scorned them and wished he could kill them all.
Somehow, this lunatic of a man managed to make a friend – while he was on death row, a guard named Henry Lesser felt sorry for Panzram and gave him a dollar to buy cigarettes and the two became friends.
Lesser soon began slipping Panzram writing materials, encouraging him to write his life story. Panzram did just that, sparing no gruesome details of his murders. Lesser eventually published Panzram’s writings, albeit only in 1970. The killer’s graphic confession of his crimes was too gruesome for some.
Carl Panzram had had just a year to pen his life story – he was hanged in 1930. His last words before the hanging? “Hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could kill a dozen men while you’re screwing around!”