Carl Panzram

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Carl Panzram
Carl Panzram.jpg
Carl Panzram under the alias "Jefferson Baldwin" in 1915
Born (1891-06-28)June 28, 1891
Polk County, 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 US, Angola
State(s) Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kansas
Date apprehended
Arrests/prison terms:
1903–1905; 1908–1910; 1911; 1913–1915; 1915–1918; 1923; 1923–1928; 1928–1930

Carl Panzram (June 28, 1891 – September 5, 1930) was an American serial killer, rapist, arsonist and burglar. He is known for his confession to his only friend, prison guard Henry Lesser. Panzram confessed to 21 murders and to having sodomized over 1,000 males. Imprisoned a number of times, he was finally hanged for having murdered a prison employee at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in 1930.

Early life[edit]

Born in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, the son of East Prussian (Germany) immigrants Johann "John" and Matilda Panzram, he was raised on his family's farm. Carl Panzram came from a poor family and had five other brothers and sisters. The first sign of criminal activity occurred at the age of 12, when Carl went into his neighbor's home and stole some cake, apples, and a revolver. In October 1903, at the age of 12, he was sent to the Minnesota State Training School by his parents. While there, he was repeatedly beaten and tortured by staff members. These beatings took place at what the children who attended this school dubbed "The Painting House." It was given this name because one would enter a blank canvas and exit "painted" with bruises and blood. Carl Panzram hated this place of torture so much that he decided to burn it down, which he managed to do without detection.[1]

The faculty members of the school attempted to force Christianity on the young lad, but because of his animosity toward them, it had the opposite effect and he began to despise Christianity. He attempted to run away from the school, but after escaping, he was hunted down and beaten for his actions.[citation needed]

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 said on one of his ventures on the train he was gang raped by a group of hobos.

Criminal career[edit]

In adulthood, Panzram was 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. 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. William Howard Taft (then secretary of war and future president) approved the sentence. Panzram later claimed that any goodness left in him had been smashed out by his Leavenworth imprisonment. In August 1920, Panzram burgled Taft's New Haven, Connecticut home, stealing a large amount of jewelry[3] and bonds, as well as Taft's Colt M1911 .45 caliber handgun, which Panzram then used in several murders. With the money gained from the burglary of Taft's home, Panzram bought a yacht. He also hired a crew, which he planned to get drunk and sodomize (see killing spree below).

In his autobiography, Panzram wrote that he was "rage personified" and that he would often rape men whom he had robbed, not necessarily because he was homosexual, but to dominate and humiliate them. 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.

He served time in prisons in Fresno, California; Rusk, Texas; The Dalles, Oregon; Harrison, Idaho; Butte City Montana; Montana State reform School, Miles City Montana; State Prison Montana {"Jeff Davis" #4194 and Jefferson Rhodes # 4396}; 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}.

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.[4] 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,[4] who believed in harsh treatment of inmates, including beatings and isolation, among other disciplinary measures.[4] 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."[4]

Panzram helped fellow inmate Otto Hooker escape from the prison, and while evading capture, Hooker killed Minto.[4][5] Panzram was disciplined several times while at Salem, including 61 days in solitary confinement, before escaping on September 18, 1917.[4] As a fugitive, he was involved in two shootouts before being recaptured and returned to the prison.[4] On May 12, 1918, he sawed through the prison bars and escaped again.[4] This time, he avoided capture and caught a freight train heading east.[4] He began going by the name John O’Leary and shaved off his moustache. He would never return to the Northwest.[4]

Killing spree[edit]

With the death of the Oregon prison warden Minto, Panzram was involved in at least one murder, as an accessory before the fact, prior to 1920. In 1920, Panzram began his killing spree. With the money he had stolen from Taft, he bought himself a yacht, the Akiska. He lured sailors away from New York bars, got them drunk, raped and shot them with Taft's stolen Colt .45 pistol, and dumped their bodies near Execution Rocks Light in Long Island Sound. He claimed to have killed ten in all. The murder spree 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.[6] 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.

After returning to the United States, he asserted that he raped and killed two small boys, beating one to death with a rock on July 18, 1922 in Salem, Massachusetts[7] and strangling the other later that year near New Haven, Connecticut.[6][8] 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.

In addition to these killings, Panzram considered ambitious plots such as wiping out an entire city by poisoning its water supply with arsenic, and scuttling a British warship docked 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.[9][10] 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.[11] 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.[12][13] While awaiting execution he wrote a detailed summary of his crimes and nihilistic philosophy.[14] 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!"[15] 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.[16]


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.[17] 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. ^ 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
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Serial Killer Calendar: Carl Panzram
  5. ^ Oregon Department of Corrections: The Last Day of Harry Minto's Life
  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. ^ 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).
  9. ^ Stevens Point Journal, October 8, 1928, "Burglar at Taft's Admits Two Murders"
  10. ^ [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.]
  11. ^ "Corrections Employee Robert George Warnke". The Officer Down Memorial Page. 1929-06-20. Retrieved 2011-03-01. 
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ California Death Index: Henry Philip Lesser born 8 November 1902 Massachusetts, died 27 October 1983 Los Angeles County
  14. ^ Panzram, C. Panzram: A Journal of Murder. Amok Press (2002). ISBN 1878923145.
  15. ^ Earley, Pete (1993). The Hot House. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-56023-9. 
  16. ^ Carl Panzram at Find a Grave
  17. ^ carl-panzram-papers-1928-1982 in libraries (WorldCat catalog)

External links[edit]