Childhood & Early Life
Carl Panzram as born on June 28, 1892 in east Grand Forks Minnesota to Johann John and Matilda Panzram. His parents, East Prussian immigrants, lived in a family farm with their six children.
Carl’s first act of misdeed came in when he was 12 years old. He stole cake, apples, and a revolver from a neighbour’s home. When his parents came to know of this, they sent him to Minnesota State Training School.
At Minnesota State Training School, Carl Panzram was abused physically and mentally. Like other children at the training school, he was tortured and raped by staff members repeatedly. Angered and frustrated by the sexual abuse, he burned down the entire place.
In 1905, he was released from the training school. By the time he reached teenage, he was embroiled in criminal activities neck deep. He became an alcoholic and was charged of burglary and theft. He created trouble and panic everywhere that he went. At the age of 14, he ran away from his home.
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In 1907, Carl Panzram got enlisted in the US Army. A year later, he was convicted of larceny and served in the prison for two years at Fort Leavenworth's United States Disciplinary Barracks. It was this imprisonment that worsened Panzram’s mindset further as he got more and more involved in criminal acts.
After getting released from jail, he continued with his burglary and theft. He stole almost anything and everything he got his hands on. He was imprisoned several times.
He did not restrict himself to a particular state or city. He travelled far and wide under various aliases. Interestingly, his imprisonment records also have different names under which he was imprisoned at different prisons. During his time in prison, he attacked guards and refused to follow their orders.
Heavily built and of large stature, Carl Panzram often raped men whom he robbed. He had great physical strength that helped him overpower most men whom he encountered. He also engaged in vandalism and arson.
In 1915, he looted a house in Astoria, Oregon. While trying to sell the looted stuff he was caught and imprisoned for seven years at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. While in Salem, he was disciplined several times, including 61 days in solitary confinement before his escape. However, he was recaptured and brought back to prison.
In May 1918, he escaped by sawing through the bars of his cell and caught a freight train travelling eastwards under the pseudonym John O’Leary. To make himself unidentifiable, he shaved off his moustache. It was the last time Carl Panzram was seen in Northwest.
He came news two years later in August 1920. He burgled the residence of War Secretary Taft at New Haven, Connecticut. The burglary was his way of taking revenge from Taft who was responsible for his Leavenworth imprisonment. Carl Panzram stole precious jewels and bonds. He also took with him Taft’s Colt M1911 .45 caliber handgun.
With a handgun at his disposal, Carl Panzram began a murder spree that lasted for eight long years. To begin with, he brought a yacht from Taft’s stolen money. He then lured sailors away from New York City bars to his yacht where he got them drunk. He then raped them and later shot them with the pistol. He then dumped their bodies near Execution Rocks Light in Long Island Sound. He killed 10 sailors in this fashion until, his yacht, Akiska, sank near Atlantic City.
When his yacht sank, he took a ship to Africa. On his way, he landed in Luanda, Portuguese Angola where he raped and killed a minor boy. He then hired a boat with six rowers, shot all of them and later threw their bodies to the crocodiles.
Carl Panzram returned to the U.S. in 1922. He then raped and killed two small boys. While he beat to death the first boy with a rock in Salem, Massachusetts, he strangled to death the other boy near New Haven.
In June 1923, he shot a man with a .38 pistol he had stolen from a yacht. From 1923 to 1928, he just burgled a few homes between Baltimore and Washington DC and also committed a few murders. He also killed two young boys in Philadelphia.
Finally in 1928, Carl Panzram was arrested for the burglary he did in Washington DC. During his interrogation, he voluntarily confessed to killing two boys. For his criminal acts, he was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment.
At Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, where Panzram was imprisoned, he warned the warden about killing the first man that bothered him. While serving in the prison laundry room in a solitary job, he beat the laundry foreman to death with an iron bar on June 20, 1929. Following this dreadful act, he was sentenced to death. Interestingly despite lawyers and human right activists offering to intervene and oppose the death sentence, he refused.
While waiting for his execution, he wrote his autobiography where he penned detailed summary of his crimes and nihilistic philosophy. He claimed to have murdered 21 human beings, committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies and arsons. He also committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings.