Carl Panzram

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Carl Panzram
Carl Panzram.jpg
Carl Panzram under the alias "Jefferson Baldwin" in 1915
Born Charles Panzram
(1891-06-28)June 28, 1891
East Grand Forks, Minnesota
Died September 5, 1930(1930-09-05) (aged 39)
Leavenworth, Kansas
Other names Carl Baldwin
Jeff Davis
Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Rhodes
Jeff Rhodes
Jack Allen
Jefferson Baldwin
John King
John O'Leary
Cooper John
Teddy Bedard
Criminal penalty Death by Hanging
Victims 5–22
Span of killings
1915 (as accessory),
1920–June 20, 1929
Country United States
State(s) Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kansas
Date apprehended
Arrests/prison terms:
1903–1905; 1908–1910; 1911; 1913–1915–1918; 1923; 1923–1928; 1928–1930

Carl Panzram (June 28, 1891 – September 5, 1930) was a serial killer, rapist, arsonist and burglar. In jailhouse confessions and his autobiography, he claimed that he had committed 21 murders—most of which could not be corroborated—and over 1,000 sodomies 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 Penitentiary.

Early life[edit]

Born in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, the son of East Prussian immigrants Johann "John" and Matilda Panzram, he was raised on his family's farm with five siblings. In 1903, at the age of 12, he stole some cake, apples, and a revolver from a neighbor's home. Soon after, his parents sent him to the Minnesota State Training School. While there, he was repeatedly beaten and tortured by staff members in what attendees dubbed "The Painting House", 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.[1]

In late 1905, he was released from the school.[2] 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. He often traveled via train cars; he later claimed that on one train he was gang raped by a group of hobos.

Criminal career[edit]

In 1907, at the age of 15, after getting drunk in a saloon in Montana, Panzram enlisted in the United States Army. Shortly thereafter, rebellious against any authority, he was convicted of larceny and served a prison sentence from 1908 to 1910 at Fort Leavenworth's United States Disciplinary Barracks. Secretary of War (and future President) William Howard Taft approved the sentence. Panzram later claimed that any goodness left in him was smashed out during his Leavenworth imprisonment.

In adulthood, Panzram became a thief, stealing anything from bicycles to yachts, and was caught and imprisoned multiple times. While incarcerated, Panzram frequently got into trouble by attacking guards and refusing to follow their orders. The guards retaliated, subjecting him to beatings and other punishments. He served time in prisons in Fresno, California; Rusk, Texas; The Dalles, Oregon; Harrison, Idaho; Butte, Montana; Montana State Reform School, Miles City Montana; State Prison Montana {"Jeff Davis" #4194 and Jefferson Rhodes # 4396}; State Prison Oregon {"Jefferson Baldwin" #7390}; Bridgeport, Connecticut {"John O'Leary"}; New York's Sing Sing {"Jeff Baldwin" #75182}; Clinton Correctional Facility, New York {"John O'Leary"}; Washington D.C. (#33379); and Leavenworth, Kansas {Carl Panzram #31614}.

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 great physical strength, which aided him in overpowering most men he encountered. 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 a U.S. Army transport vessel, but was discharged when he reported to work intoxicated.

On June 1, 1915, Panzram burgled a house in Astoria, Oregon, but was arrested soon after while attempting to sell some of the stolen items.[3] He was sentenced to seven years in prison, to be served at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, where he arrived on June 24. On arrival, he became inmate number 7390 and was under the supervision of warden Harry Minto,[3] who believed in harsh treatment of inmates, including beatings and isolation, among other disciplinary measures.[3] 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."[3]

Panzram helped fellow inmate Otto Hooker escape from the prison; while evading capture, Hooker killed Minto September 27, 1915. The crime marked Panzram's first known involvement in a murder, as an accessory before the fact.[3][4]

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.[3]

Murder spree[edit]

In August 1920, Panzram burgled the New Haven, Connecticut home of Taft, whom he held responsible for his Leavenworth imprisonment. He stole a large amount of jewelry[5] and bonds, 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 Akiska. He lured sailors away from New York bars, got them drunk, raped and shot them with Taft's pistol, and dumped their bodies near Execution Rocks Light in Long Island Sound. He claimed to have killed ten in all. The sailor murders ended only after the Akiska ran aground and sank near Atlantic City, New Jersey, his last two potential victims escaping to parts unknown. Panzram then caught a ship to Africa and landed in Luanda, Portuguese Angola. He later claimed that while there, he raped and killed an 11- or 12-year-old boy. 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 rowing boat with six rowers, shot the rowers with a German Luger pistol and threw their bodies to the crocodiles.[6]

After returning to the United States, he asserted that he raped and killed two small boys,[6] beating one to death with a rock on July 18, 1922 in Salem, Massachusetts[7][8] and strangling the other later that year near New Haven, Connecticut.[9][10][11][12][13] On the Hudson River in June 1923 Panzram claimed that with a .38 pistol from a yacht he had stolen from the Police Chief of New Rochelle, New York that he shot a man for trying to rob him. After his last arrest in 1928, he claimed to have committed a murder while burglarizing homes between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and two other murders of young boys in Philadelphia in 1923 and 1928.[14]

Panzram later wrote that he had also 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 Britain and the United States.

Imprisonment and confession[edit]

In 1928 Panzram was arrested for burglary in Washington, D.C. During his interrogation he voluntarily confessed to killing two boys.[15][16] In light of his extensive criminal record, he received a 25-years-to-life sentence and was transferred to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. "I'll kill the first man that bothers me," Panzram told the warden. Based on this threat, he was given a solitary job in the prison laundry room. On June 20, 1929 he killed Robert Warnke, foreman of the prison laundry, by battering him to death with an iron bar, and was sentenced to death.[17] He refused to appeal his sentence, and responded with death threats to offers from human rights activists to intervene on his behalf.

While on death row Panzram was befriended by a prison guard named Henry Lesser (1902–1983), who provided him with writing materials.[18][19] While awaiting execution he wrote a detailed summary of his crimes and nihilistic philosophy.[20] It began with a straightforward statement:


Panzram was hanged on September 5, 1930. While the noose was being put around his neck, he allegedly spat in his executioner's face and declared, "I wish the entire human race had one neck and I had my hands around it!"[21] (Similar statements have been attributed to the Roman Emperor Caligula, and other monarchs throughout history.) When asked by the executioner if he had any last words, Panzram barked, "Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could kill a dozen men while you're screwing around!"[6] He was buried at the Leavenworth Penitentiary Cemetery.[22]


In 1938, Karl Menninger wrote Man Against Himself, including writing about Panzram using the pen name of "John Smith", with Panzram Prison Number # 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. Finally, in 1970, it was released under the title Killer: A Journal of Murder. 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.[23] In 2012 filmmaker John Borowski released a documentary entitled Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance.


  1. ^ Lesser, Henry. "Panzram Papers" (PDF). Special Collections & University Archives, Carl Panzram Papers, 1928-1980, Box 1, Folder 3: Typescript of Panzram Manuscript: Part I, Section 1, c. 1928-1930: San Diego State University. p. 11. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  2. ^ Carl Panzram: Too Evil To Live, Part I
  3. ^ a b c d e f Serial Killer Calendar: Carl Panzram
  4. ^ Oregon Department of Corrections: The Last Day of Harry Minto's Life
  5. ^ Panzram claimed the jewelry was worth $400,000.00; Taft reported that his wife's jewelry was only worth a few thousand dollars. The republican-Journal October 6, 1928
  6. ^ a b c Gaddis, Thomas E.; James O. Long (1970). Killer: A Journal of Murder. Macmillan. 
  7. ^ The Pittsburgh Press Nov 2, 1928
  8. ^ "The Norfolk Hour" Oct 27, 1928 identified the Massachusetts victim as Henry McMahon.
  9. ^ New London Connecticut police announced in October 1928 that they were unable to corroborate Panzram's confession (The Montreal Gazette, Oct 27, 1928); but in August 1923, a crime scene consistent with Panzram's description was discovered near New Haven (Reading Eagle, Nov 3, 1928).
  10. ^ Note: The Connecticut "Bridgeport Telegram" August 10, 1923 p.1 and August 11, 1923 p.10 published reports on the decomposed unknown victium remains being found. Note issues can be accessed at {subscription service}
  11. ^ Another report of the murdered victim appeared in the Connecticut newspaper "The Day" August 10, 1923 .p.12 "Body of Murdered Man unidentified"
  12. ^ Allegedly the Conn victium was aged 16 Lewiston Daily Sun Oct 26, 1928
  13. ^ Allegedly the Conn victium was the son or nephew of a New York Policeman Lewiston Evening Journal Nov 3, 1928
  14. ^ The 1928 Philadelphia victim was identified as Alexander Luszock, a newsboy. ("The Norfolk Hour" Oct 27, 1928)
  15. ^ Stevens Point Journal, October 8, 1928, "Burglar at Taft's Admits Two Murders"
  16. ^ [See also "Syracuse New York Journal" Oct 6, 1928. Panzram's confession to killing a boy at Pier 28 on League island near Philadelphia in August 1928 was confirmed; but Boston police were unable to corroborate his other confession, the murder of a boy in Charlestown, MA.]
  17. ^ "Corrections Employee Robert George Warnke". The Officer Down Memorial Page. 1929-06-20. Retrieved 2011-03-01. 
  18. ^ Social Security Death Index : Henry Lesser, born 8 November 1902, died October 1983, SSN issued from DC, last residence and benefit to Los Angeles, CA
  19. ^ California Death Index: Henry Philip Lesser born 8 November 1902 Massachusetts, died 27 October 1983 Los Angeles County
  20. ^ Panzram, C. Panzram: A Journal of Murder. Amok Press (2002). ISBN 1878923145.
  21. ^ Earley, Pete (1993). The Hot House. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-56023-9. 
  22. ^ Carl Panzram at Find a Grave
  23. ^ carl-panzram-papers-1928-1982 in libraries (WorldCat catalog)

External links[edit]