Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Story of Serial Killer Carl Panzram.

When it comes to real life scares, there's nothing more frightening than a serial killer. To think that one of our fellow human beings could become a monstrous machine of death and dismemberment, well... that's about as macabre as anything reality has in store for us. While I'm not a big fan of serial killers, I have always taken particular interest in a certain infamous murderer. Though, I'm alarmed at how relatively unknown he's become as the years have progressed. His motives were unique and not shared by other serial killers. For that, he stands out amongst a crowd of history's most horrifying butchers.

This is the story of Carl Panzram.

Born June 28, 1891, Carl Panzram began life in staunch poverty as the son of East Prussian immigrants. He was raised on a farm in Minnesota and had five siblings. Carl was big and strong for his age -- a trait that would carryover into adulthood. His penchant for criminal behavior manifested in his youth. Perhaps his father largely being absent by the age of seven had a intensely negative influence on Carl. By the time Carl was twelve years old, he'd already been caught stealing from his neighbors. Due to his poor behavior, Carl's mother sent him to the Minnesota State Training School, which was a home for juvenile delinquents. The school was notoriously brutal on the boys that stayed there, whom often referred to the facility as The Painting House. This nickname implied that every boy whom entered there would be painted with blood and bruises. The school's staff regularly beat, molested and tortured the boys whom stayed there, all in the vein of Christian fundamentalism. Carl, a three year resident, recounted later in life how he was mistreated. Guards regularly stripped him naked for probing, fondling, whippings and to be sodomized. When Carl was finally deemed reformed, he was released into society a warped and altogether shattered human being. Though, Carl got his revenge on the school; he burned a large portion of the facility down in a fire that went unsolved for decades.

As Panzram grew until adulthood, he spent many stretches in and out of other reform schools and juvenile detention centers. Carl was a crafty teenage thief, whom wasn't afraid to steal anything of value to survive. In one instance, he even stole a yacht. Yet, every jail sentence Panzram served would push him just a little bit closer to the edge. The physical and sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of grown men would have broken practically any other person. To the teenage Panzram, the harm merely served to stoke his inner rage. The more abuse he suffered, the madder and more violent he became.

By age fifteen, Carl decided to enlist in the US Army to try and turn his life around. This decision was largely a mistake. Within a short manner of time, he was incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth for completely denying the authority of his superiors and larceny. Panzram spent two years at the facility. Later in life, Carl would emphasize this period as the proverbial breaking point that sent him over the edge. There's an ironic twist to the time Panzram spent at Fort Leavenworth. His incarceration order was signed by then Secretary of War and future President William H. Taft. Carl wouldn't forget this sentence levied by Taft. In 1920, Panzram broke into President's Taft home in New Haven, Connecticut. He stole a large amount of personal articles, including bonds, cash, jewelry and a Colt M1911 .45 handgun. Using the wealth he gained from burglarizing Taft's home, he purchased a large boat and hired a crew to man it.

Between his time at Fort Leavenworth and targeting Taft, Panzram spent another sentence in the Oregon State Penitentiary for burglary. He successfully broke out of the penitentiary in 1918 by sawing through his prison bars. Carl was extremely powerful; fully grown, the grey-eyed giant stood over six feet tall and was terribly intimidating.

With the riches gained from the Taft heist, Panzram purchased the ship Akiska and began preying on other men. In the waters outside of New York City, Panzram lured many drunk men back to his boat and raped them before using Taft's .45 to shoot them dead. He'd dump the bodies in the Long Island Sound. Of the hundreds of men he raped and tortured during this spell, he outright killed ten of them. Only the running aground of the Akiska outside New Jersey would end the terror spree. But... Panzram wasn't done killing just yet.

For the next few years, Carl spent time in Angola after catching a boat to Africa to evade capture. He admitted in his memoirs to killing a twelve year old boy while there, but not before raping him. Carl killed the child by smashing his head open just to watch his brains ooze out. Panzram also murdered an entire rowboat of six men, then fed their flesh to crocodiles in a river.

Returning to America, Carl raped and murdered two more young boys, as well as took the lives of many other men all along the eastern seaboard. His trail of death wouldn't end until his final incarceration at the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, just a few miles away from the similarly named Fort Leavenworth where he'd been held earlier in life. He was picked up for another burglary in Washington, D.C., but voluntarily admitted to murdering the two young boys after returning from Africa. As such, he basically worsened his own sentence. At Leavenworth, Carl would commit his final murder, that of a prison laundry foreman. He viciously bashed his brains in with an iron bar. This led to Carl's death sentence and being placed on death row in 1929.

While on death row, prison guard Henry Lesser somehow befriended Carl Panzram. He provided Panzram with writing utensils and paper to record his life story. It became readily apparent to Lesser how tortured Panzram was. In terms of philosophy, Panzram was a nihilist; he believed that life was pointless and human beings were of no consequence. Panzram's memoirs revealed a lifetime of murder, death, rape and destruction. He admitted to killing at least twenty-one people, thousands of burglaries and the rape of over a thousand men. Panzram said that he wasn't necessarily a homosexual; he merely enjoyed seeing other men suffer in the worst way possible. The two men would exchange thoughts regularly, giving Lesser a startling account of a serial killer who truly hated humanity. Carl wanted every last man, woman and child to die, including himself.

On September 5, 1930, Carl Panzram was hung. Before having the noose placed around his neck, he told Leavenworth's executioner...
"I wish the entire human race had one neck and I had my hands around it!"
Panzram's daunting last words were...
"Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could kill a dozen men while you're screwing around!"
And with that, Carl Panzram's tortured existence came to an end. While I find what Carl did to be absolutely deplorable, I can readily understand why he hurt so many people. Panzram was rage personified. He hated everyone for hurting him as a child and teenager. Being conditioned to fear other people, Carl saw the whole of humanity as a threat. This eventually turned him into a violent killing machine, with no regard for even his own life. If you were to look nihilist up in a dictionary, it would only be appropriate to find a mugshot of Carl Panzram next to it. Panzram's case is the prime example of what happens when you abuse a human being until they snap.

For a more insightful look into Carl's life, I suggest you read the memoir Henry Lesser published for him in 1970, entitled Killer: A Journal Of Murder. Lesser held onto Carl's writings for many decades before finding a publisher willing to print the horrific tale. You can find a copy of the book here.

1 comment:

  1. Is that Carl Panzram in the bottom picture? It does not look like.him.