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The Tragic Beginning and End of Serial Killer Carl Panzram

Co-Host of a podcast delivering a unique perspective on cases of lesser-known serial killers from around the globe in an entertaining way.

America's Misunderstood Serial Killer

CARL PANZRAM & HIS TRAGIC LIFE

CARL PANZRAM & HIS TRAGIC LIFE

The Tragic Beginnings of Carl Panzram

Carl Panzram was born Charles Panzram on June 28, 1891, on a small derelict farm in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. His parents Johann 'John' Panzram and Mathilda 'Lizzie' Panzram, were hard-working German immigrants. As with most other immigrants of that era, they were pretty stern and dirt poor. He was the oldest of seven children with five brothers and one sister. Carl later claimed all of his siblings were honorable, devoted farmers despite not possessing those characteristics himself.

When Carl was only seven years old, his parents separated. Since people of their economic status couldn't afford a divorce, his father left one day and was never heard from again. After that, things became even bleaker for the family. They worked the farm all hours of the day, yet there was little to show for their efforts of hard labor. Despite being the oldest, his brothers took every opportunity they had to beat him relentlessly.

When he was 11-years old, he broke into a neighbor's farmhouse and stole everything he could get his hands on, which amounted to apples, cake, and a handgun. Authorities arrested Carl for this crime, and in 1903 he was sent to the Minnesota State Training School, which was a reform school for juvenile offenders.

Some Lessons Shape a Person's Life Forever

Minnesota State Training School

Minnesota State Training School

Located in Red Wing, just south of St. Paul along the Mississippi River, the school housed approximately 300 boys ages 10-20. The juveniles there were at the complete mercy of the jailers, who had little if any outside supervision. As a result, they administered a level of abuse that people today could never imagine. Carl's entry in the facility's admission log on October 11, 1903, the day of his arrival, lists his crime as 'incorrigibility and 'quarrelsome' for the status of his parent's relationship. When he arrived at the institution, the frightened boy was taken into an office by a male staff member. This staff member had him strip naked so he could be examined and asked about his sexual practices.

He examined my penis and my rectum, asking me if I had ever committed fornication or sodomy or had ever had sodomy committed on me or if I had ever masturbated.

— Carl Panzram

While housed there, the boys received 'Christian' training and were attacked by bitter, vengeful guards when they would misbehave or failed to learn their lessons properly. Carl had difficulty reading as a result of his formal education. His lack of education would be one of the reasons for his multiple punishments. He soon acquired quite a hatred for those in authority and anything associated with religion. For he attributed his suffering to those two things. When the attendants wanted to dole out their punishments, they took the boys to 'The Painting Room.' Considering the staff members would take a boy in there looking just fine, and that same child would walk out covered in bruises, I'd say this is a well-earned moniker.

Most of the punishments that Carl received during this time were the result of the most insignificant infractions. His resentment grew every time he was assaulted by a staff member with a wooden board, thick leather strap, whip, or heavy paddle. With each punishment he was dealt, his plans for revenge grew. On July 7, 1905, as he left 'The Painting Room,' he rigged a simple device that started a fire. This fire rapidly engulfed the building that housed the room, burning it to the ground. As it crumbled under the flames, Carl laid in his bed laughing at the sight of his revenge.

By late 1905 he had learned how to say what the staff wanted to hear. When he appeared before the parole board, he convinced them he had changed and was fully 'reformed' as a result of the lessons the school had taught him.

I was reformed all right...I had been taught by Christians how to be a hypocrite and I learned more about stealing, lying, hating, burning, and killing.

— Carl Panzram

That winter, his mother came to the school and took him home. Indeed, Carl had changed, just not for the better. He became more detached and melancholy. His mother had other things to worry about besides him. Her health was failing, and she didn't have the time to deal with a child who seemed only to want to cause trouble. Perhaps she felt he'd eventually grow out of it. But the only thing that grew was his resentment of her.

All he knew about life to that point was suffering due to the beatings and torture he endured. His young mind dwelled on things of which no child should ever know. So in January 1906, he left to escape his situation. To get away from it al. To unleash himself on an unsuspecting world. He hopped a freight train at 14 and left that lonely Minnesota farm, never returning.

The Tragic Event That Changed the Course of One Man's Life Forever

Not long after leaving Minnesota, Carl found himself on a freight train heading west from Montana. It was aboard this train that he came across four hobos hanging out in a lumber car. They told him they would get him some decent clothes and provide him with a warm place to sleep. But they wanted something in return. All four of them took turns gang-raping him. There was nothing he could do.

I left that box a sadder, sicker, but wiser boy...I made up my mind that I would rob, burn, destroy and kill everywhere I went and everybody I could as long as I lived.

— Carl Panzram

Although he could escape that event with his life, it killed whatever remaining compassion he may have had. It wasn't long after that he was arrested for burglary in Butte Montana and sentenced to one year to be served at the Montana State Reform School located in Miles City. When he arrived there, he was only 14 years old, but he had a man's physique and weighed in at 180 pounds. It wasn't very long before his reputation as a defiant teenager grew, which drew special attention from the staff. One particular officer treated him so severely that Carl eventually retaliated by beating him with a heavy wooden board. For that, he was beaten, locked up, and watched more closely. That's when he decided prison life wasn't for him, and even if it meant his death, he was getting out of there.

In 1907, along with a fellow inmate named Jimmie Benson, Carl escaped the reform school. They went to a nearby town and were able to steal several guns. Carl and Jimmie continued to hang together for around a month, riding the rails heading east. Looting and burning whenever they could. Their preferred targets were area churches, as they held a particular significance in Carl's mind due to his treatment in Minnesota.

When the pair reached Fargo, they each had two handguns and hundreds of dollars in stolen money. That's where they parted ways. Carl started going by the name 'Jefferson Baldwin and started heading west again, across the plains of North Dakota. He eventually ended up in Helena, Montana, where his story took another turn.

You Know What They Say About Good Intentions?

One night, Carl was drinking alone in a bar when he heard a speech that an Army recruiter was giving. That same night, he lied about his age and enlisted in the army. On his first day in uniform, he was charged with insubordination for refusing his work detail. He continued to be jailed many times over the next several months over petty infractions. Since he was always drunk and impossible to control, he couldn't conform to Army life. In April 1908, he broke into the quartermaster's building, stole approximately $88 worth of clothing, and attempted to go AWOL. He was promptly arrested by MPs and thrown in the stockade. On April 20, he received a court-martial and faced a tribunal of 9 junior and senior officers. He chose to plead guilty to three counts of Larceny.

Aerial View - Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary

Aerial View - Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary

He would have to serve three years of confinement and hard labor at a place directed by the reviewing authority and a dishonorable discharge from service of the United States. At the time, federal prisoners served their time at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. The then-Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, approved the order. The signing of this order would set the stage for events to come. Carl was chained up and transported to the local train station. He was shackled inside of a cattle car on the train and given no food or water for the 1,000 mile trip to the imposing Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary along the banks of the muddy Missouri River.

What Happens When One Is Free to Do as One Pleases?

In 1910, Carl was done serving his time at Leavenworth, and he had nowhere to go. Although he was only 19 years old, he'd already spent most of his life in reform schools and prison. The years of abuse and torture had taken their toll. He had no family, no home, and no prospects. He had never felt the loving embrace of a woman or had the opportunity to evolve as a man in the natural sense.

Over the next several years, he drifted from the east coast to the west coast and back again. He adopted many aliases, committed many crimes, was sentenced to many years but managed to escape every time. He drifted across Kansas and Texas into California. He rode the rails and spent time in Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Oregon. By 1913, and tempered by many years of heavy drinking, severe beatings, harsh imprisonment, and living as a vagrant, Carls evolved into a hardened criminal. He had a significant physical stature with a muscular body and square shoulders. His dark hair and brooding look attracted many women, yet he was never interested in anyone of the fairer sex.


ALIAS: JEFF DAVIS

ALIAS: JEFF DAVIS

Carl eventually ended up in Chinook, Montana, where he was arrested under the name of Jefferson Davis for burglary and sentenced to one year at Deer Lodge, 30 miles north of Butte. There, he ran into his old pal Jimmie Benson, and together they planned another escape, but Jimmie couldn't participate due to a last-minute transfer. On November 13, 1913, Carl escaped Deer Lodge only to be caught approximately one week later on another burglary charge. He was given an additional year for the escape and sent back to Deer Lodge. Life there was slow and monotonous as it was severely understaffed and mismanaged. Most days, inmates found little else to do except lay around in their cells or wander around the prison yard. But Carl found a way to occupy his time. His sheer size and reputation allowed him to intimidate other inmates into submission. He served out his complete sentence there and left a free man on March 30, 1915.

From the PacNW to the Affluent NE

PANZRAM: OSP BOOKING PHOTO

PANZRAM: OSP BOOKING PHOTO

Carl was a veteran when it came to riding the rails. Wherever he went, he made his living from stealing. Anything and everything was fair game, food, clothes, money, and especially firearms. For several months in 1915, he traversed up and down the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. On June 1, 1915, he broke into a house in Astoria, Oregon, and stole less than $20 worth of stuff. He got arrested for Larceny in a Dwelling, and after the local DA promised to go easy on him, he pled guilty. He was sentenced to seven years at Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem under the name Jefferson Baldwin. He arrived at OSP on June 24, 1915, and became inmate #7390. The guards immediately identified his uncooperative attitude, but they were just as unconcerned by it. OSP was notorious in the PacNW for punishing its prisoners with torture and abuse. Warden Harry Minto kept the inmates in line using forceful techniques such as whipping, hosing, beating, starving, and isolation, to name a few. Prisoners who stepped out of line were often shackled to walls and hung from rafters for hours or even days on end.

I swore I would never do that seven years and I defied the warden and all his officers to make me. The Warden swore I would do every damned day or he would kill me.

— Carl Panzram

On September 18, 1917, he finally managed to escape. A few days later, a local officer recognized him from a wanted poster and attempted to apprehend him. He pulled out a gun and opened fire on the cop until he ran out of bullets, at which time he found himself in handcuffs once again. En route to the jail, he wrestled with the officer, resulting in Carl getting beaten until he was bloody and unconscious. He would be taken back to OSP, where he ended up in solitary confinement, but not for long. On May 12, 1918, Carl managed to escape again by sawing through the window bars with a hacksaw blade and jumping off the prison walls. Guards immediately began firing upon him, but he managed to disappear into the woods. Later hopping a freight train heading east and left the Pacific Northwest forever. He changed his name to John O'Leary, shaved his mustache, and set out for the East Coast.

TAFT'S NEW HAVEN HOME

TAFT'S NEW HAVEN HOME

In the summer of 1920, Carl spent quite a bit of time in New Haven, Connecticut. He would go out at night, wandering up and down the streets for an easy mark, an unsuspecting drunk to rob, a young boy to rape, or a house to burglarize. In August, Carl found such a house, an old three-story colonial he hoped belonged to an aristocrat. After breaking in and ransacking some rooms, he ended up in the den, where he found a substantial amount of jewelry, bonds, and a .45 automatic handgun. When he saw the name on the bonds, he couldn't believe his luck. They belonged to none other than William H Taft, the same man he thought sentenced him to three years at Leavenworth back in 1907.

From there, he made his way down to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where he pawned most of the jewelry and bonds, keeping some items, especially the handgun. With the money he got, he went out and bought a yacht named 'Akista.' He sailed up the East River, through the Long Island Sound, and onto the rocky coast of Connecticut. He eventually moored at the New Haven Yacht Club, where he settled for a short time, enjoying the weather, drinking prohibition liquor, and thinking of his next victims.

When he visited Manhattan's Lower East Side, he noticed many sailors on shore leave looking for work on local boats. As he traversed the streets of the East Village, he devised a plan of robbery and murder. For several weeks he'd go down to the South Street Neighborhood and pick out 1-2 victims, telling them he needed deckhands on his yacht. He would promise them anything to get them on board. Once he convinced them to come with him, they would work for maybe a day. Afterward, they'd get drunk, and the sailors would go to bed. Once they were asleep, he'd take the .45 and blow their brains out. He would then tie a rock onto the bodies and take them to Execution Rocks Lighthouse. There, approximately 100-yards from shore, he'd unceremoniously dump his victims into the sea.

He repeated this for about three weeks when the locals grew suspicious. That's when he decided he had to switch things up. He chose to sail down the coast of New Jersey with his last two passengers to Long Beach Island. That's where he intended to kill them and dump their bodies. However, mother nature had other plans. A colossal gale hit the yacht and smashed it to pieces against the rocks. Carl managed to swim to shore, barely escaping with his life. The sailors made it to the beaches north of Atlantic City, quickly disappearing into the Jersey farmlands.

A Brief Hiatus to Africa Yields the Same Results

In 1921, after getting into some trouble in Bridgeport, he stowed away on a ship and ended up in Angola, a Portuguese colony on the West Coast of Africa. Once there, he got a job as a foreman on an oil rig with Sinclair Oil Company. In the coastal town of Luanda, it was there that he raped and killed an 11-year old boy. After the murder, he returned to Lobito Bay, where he stayed for a bit in a fishing village. Although the locals suspected him of the murder, they could never prove he did it. He then went to a local bar where he hired six men to aid him in a crocodile hunt. This was the ruse he used to get them on a boat where he shot all six of them in the back. As they lay in their own blood, he reshot each one in the back of the head. After feeding them to the hungry crocs, he rowed back to Lobito Bay. When he docked the boat, he realized he had to get away because dozens of people witnessed him hire those six men.

He proceeded North up the river, eventually arriving at the Gold Coast. There he robbed farmers in the local village to pay for fair to the Canary Islands. When he arrived there, he was broke and couldn't find anything of value to steal. He managed to stow away on a ship bound for Lisbon, Portugal. In Lisbon, he found out the local government was on the lookout for him because of his African crimes, so he hid aboard another ship to leave the area. This one took him back to America. By the summer of 1922, he was back on U.S. soil.

He's Back...Back in the U.S. of A.

After returning to the United States, he renewed his captain's license and retrieved paperwork for his yacht. Planning to steal a similar one and refit her under his old yacht's name, he began searching boatyards. Eventually, he ends up in Salem, where on July 18, 1922, he came across a 12-year old boy walking alone. The boy was George Henry McMahon, who spent most of that day at a neighbor's restaurant until the owner asked him to run an errand.

Carl walked with the boy to the store, where he even dared to strike up a conversation with the store clerk. After leaving the store, he convinced young George to go for a trolley ride where they ended up in a deserted part of town. Once they were off the trolley, Carl grabbed the boy and took him to a secluded area where he spent approximately three hours sodomizing him multiple times before hitting him over the head with a rock, killing him. He covered the boy's body with some branches and left. As he fled, two locals spotted him and noticed the strange man, but they continued on their way.

Another year went by, and Carl continued to roam around doing what career criminals do. On August 9, 1923, he was in New London searching for a mugging victim when he spotted a young boy begging for money. Carl pulled a knife on him, took him into some woods nearby, and sodomized him. After spending a bit of time repeatedly sodomizing him, he used the boy's own belt to strangle him. Before just leaving him there to be ravaged by a wild animal, Carl sodomized him yet again. He then left the area and traversed up and down the eastern seaboard, constantly looking for opportunities to steal food and money.

Could This Be the Beginning of the End?

LARCHMONT TRAIN DEPOT

LARCHMONT TRAIN DEPOT

A couple of weeks later, on August 26, 1923, Carl broke into the Larchmont train depot and was in the process of going through some suitcases stealing whatever he could when an officer approached him. They grappled with each other before Carl was disarmed and placed under arrest. He identified himself as John O'Leary and confessed to additional break-ins. In court the following day, he was charged with four counts of burglary, so the judge set bail at $5000 and remanded him to the county jail pending any grand jury action.

He was indicted a few weeks later for the Larchmont burglary. He cut a deal with the DA's office in exchange for a lighter sentence, and he would plead guilty. While he held up his end of the bargain, the DA did not. He would be required to serve the full five years. At first, they sent him to Sing Sing, but he didn't stay there very long, as is the case with prisoners like Carl, who was challenging to control. Prison officials promptly transferred him to Clinton Correctional Facility, where hardened criminals were at the mercy of unusual guards accustomed to hostile inmates.

Dannemora the Hell Hole

NORTH YARD VIEW - CCF

NORTH YARD VIEW - CCF

In this era, prisons were self-governing kingdoms ruled by wardens, who frequently resorted to brutal methods to control their prisoners. Clinton Correctional Facility in Upstate New York is an example, not the exception of this. Known to inmates as 'Dannemora, the Hell Hole,' it was considered one of the most brutal facilities in the nation. Carl found himself there in October 1923, stripped naked, and all of his possessions confiscated from him.

The staff at Clinton had a unique nature. Many were related due to several generations of prison employees being raised and living in the area. Thus multiple generations passed down their methods and attitudes perpetuated by years of repression and abuse. They viewed the prisoners in their charge as animals who deserved brutality. Many prisoners broke and ended up across the courtyard at the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, the last stop before hell.

Carl made his first attempt to escape within a few short months. He climbed to one of the high outer walls and fell 30 feet onto the concrete below. In the fall, he broke both of his legs and ankles and badly injured his spine. Instead of getting him medical attention, the guards carried him to a cell and unceremoniously dropped him on the floor.

I was dumped into a cell without any medical attention or surgical attention whatsoever. My broken bones were not set. My ankles and legs were not put into a cast...The doctor never came near me and no one else was allowed to do anything for me. At the end of 14 months of constant agony, I was taken to the hospital where I was operated on for my rupture and one of my testicles was cut off.

— Carl Panzram

Shortly after his operation, Carl sodomized a fellow inmate and was witnessed by a prison official. The guards threw him into solitary confinement and essentially ignored him for the remainder of his incarceration, two years and four months.

I suffered more agony...Always in pain...Crawling around like a snake with a broken back, seething with hatred and a lust for revenge. Five years of this and of life. That last two years and four months confined in isolation with nothing to do except brood...I hated everybody I saw.

— Carl Panzram

A Brief Moment of Freedom Ends in Another Tragedy

WASHINGTON DC JAIL - BOOKING PHOTO

WASHINGTON DC JAIL - BOOKING PHOTO

Released from Clinton in July 1928, he was permanently crippled and lost in the depths of his madness. Consumed by revenge within two weeks, Carl committed several robberies and killed another man in Baltimore. He was eventually arrested and sent to Washington DC jail. By this time, he was a fearsome sight to behold. He stood approximately six feet tall, weighed in at 200 pounds of pure muscle, his chest and arms all tatted up, steely grey eyes and a burning hatred for all humanity oozing from his pores. At his booking, he gave his real name for the first time in decades.

Within the first few days, he made several remarks to the guards about killing children. They made some inquiries and discovered he was telling the truth and wanted in several jurisdictions. It was at this time he met a 26-year old rookie guard. This guard was the son of a Jewish immigrant and had just started working there that year. This guard was none other than Henry Lesser, who, as Carl was being processed, felt the urge to approach him and ask him what his crime was. To which Carl replied that he reformed people.

One Small Act of Kindness Softens a Hardened Man

HENRY LESSER: THE MAN WHO BEFRIENDED PANZRAM

HENRY LESSER: THE MAN WHO BEFRIENDED PANZRAM

Over the next several weeks, Lesser noticed the odd man who spoke very little to anybody. For some reason, Henry took pity on the angry man and set out to befriend him by giving him $1.00 to buy cigarettes and extra food. This one small act of kindness to a man who had grown unaccustomed to any small gesture of compassion meant a great deal. The two men developed a friendship of sorts and began confiding in one another. Lesser convinced Carl to write down his life story. In the following weeks, as Henry supplied the writing materials (which was considered contraband), Carl detailed in writing his distorted life of hate, depravity, and murder. He started from the beginning on that rural Minnesota farm and told the graphic details of his savage life story. He suffered from the atrocities he sustained at the Minnesota State Training School to the life spent fulfilling one purpose - utter destruction.

In the astounding 20,000 word confession, Carl gave precise details of his murders, later confirmed by authorities. He supplied dates, times, and locations, as well as his extensive arrest history. During the years 1900-1930, while Carl was in the throes of his criminal career, communication among law enforcement agencies was primitive at best. All criminals had to change their names and keep their mouths shut if they wanted to avoid warrants. Carl learned this rule early in his career as he had used several aliases over the years. Some are listed below.

  • 1915 - Jefferson Baldwin
  • 1919 - Jeffrey Rhodes
  • 1920 - John King
  • 1923 - John O'Leary


All of my associates, all of my surroundings, the atmosphere of deceit, treachery, brutality, degeneracy, hypocrisy and everything that is bad and nothing that is good. Why am I what I am? I'll tell you why. I did not make myself what I am. Others had the making of me.

— Carl Panzram

Carl didn't just write about his life but his opinions about the criminal justice system and society's power over its individuals. He placed blame for crimes in general on humanity. In his view, society perpetuates itself by producing more criminals. He blamed his violent life on those who tortured and punished him.

Page after page after page, Carl detailed his pilgrimage of murder and rape spanning numerous continents. Any feelings of guilt or remorse never reserved him. He viewed his actions as a way of getting back at a world that had victimized him. It was of no consequence that those he chose as his victims were not the ones that caused his suffering. All that mattered to Carl was someone had to pay, and anyone would suffice.

The Walls of Carl's Life Begin to Close in Around Him

Despite his many years in institutions around the nation, Carl could never acclimate to the environment. He couldn't allow himself to conform to the rules or commands. Knowing the consequences would be more physical torture of the worst kind, Carl consistently remained violent and uncooperative. After the early escape attempt and punishment, he assaulted three guards when they removed him from his cell, so more consequences followed. And the whole time, the slow wheels of justice were turning.

On October 29, an arrest warrant arrived for him on a murder indictment in Philadelphia for the homicide of Alexander Uszacke on July 26, 1928. In Massachusetts, the Salem PD brought the two witnesses who had seen the strange man the night McMahon was murdered. Both were able to identify him positively. Oregon state also contacted them requesting that they retain him as an escapee with 14 years left to serve.

Early in 1929, Carl realized he would be in jail for the rest of his life, as everything was catching up to him. However, upon this arrest, he had given up. I feel as if Carl was tired of running. I came to this conclusion simply because he broke two of the first career criminal rules: He gave his real name and told everything. At this time, he wrote a letter to DA Clark in Salem, in which he shockingly repeated his confession to the McMahon murder.

I made a full confession of this murder of McMahon...You send a number of witnesses from Salem to identify me, which they done. I do not change my former confession in any way. I committed that murder. I alone am guilty...I not only committed that murder but 21 besides and I assure you here and now that if I ever get free and have the opportunity I shall sure knock off another 22.

— Carl Panzram

His trial for the burglary charges began on November 12, 1928, and Carl acted as his own attorney and often took opportunities to frighten the 9-male/3-female jury with his unpredictable behavior. At the end of the proceedings, he took the stand where he not only confessed to the burglary, Carl admitted to staying in the house for several hours, hoping the owners would return because he had every intention to murder them. The entire proceedings lasted less than one day, and he was found guilty on all counts. The judge sentenced him to 25 years at none other than the Federal Prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. Upon hearing the sentence, all carl could do was give a broad, evil grin as he told the judge to visit him.

The Last Stop On the Road to Perdition

LEAVENWORTH BOOKING PHOTO

LEAVENWORTH BOOKING PHOTO

Carl arrived back in Leavenworth on February 1, 1929, and was taken directly to Warden White's office. He was still an impressively sized man with his bulging muscles very apparent under his shirt and an evil aura that gave off a warning of its own. He stood quiet and indifferent in front of the desk as he read the institution's rules. As soon as the warden finished talking, Carl looked him dead in the eye and gave him his only warning. Then the guards were called in, and they led inmate #31614 to his cell.

I'll kill the first man that bothers me.

— Carl Panzram

One Final Evil Act Before the Final Curtain

ROBERT WARNKE: PANZRAM'S FINAL VICTIM

ROBERT WARNKE: PANZRAM'S FINAL VICTIM

Considered too psychotic and unpredictable, Carl could not be housed with the general population. For that reason, he was assigned work detail in the laundry room, where he could work all day alone. His supervisor there was a civilian employee by the name of Robert Warnke. Warnke was a small balding man well known for writing inmates up for even the most minor infractions. He used his position as a supervisor to wield his power. He wrote Carl up on several occasions, which cost him some time in solitary confinement. When he got out of solitary, he told other inmates to stay clear of Warnke because he would be dying soon. Then he wrote his friend Lesser telling him a new job was in the works.

June 20, 1929, while working his usual detail in the laundry, Carl picked up a 4-foot long iron bar without a word. He approached Warnke, who was working on paperwork. Raising the bar high over his head, Carl brought it down with a powerful force, crushing Warnke's skull instantly. As he fell to the ground, Carl continued to beat him in the head relentlessly. The other inmates present just stood back and watched in horror. They tried to escape, but the doors to the room were locked, so all they could do was scream as Carl chased them around the room shouting, cursing, and swinging the huge bar around. The terrified prisoners were crawling up the walls to get away from the enraged madman.

When armed guards arrived, he calmly told them he just killed Warnke. As he dropped the heavy iron bar to the ground, the guards carefully opened the door. At which time, Carl padded to his cell, not saying a word, and sat on his bunk.

As the End Nears, Carl Fights to Die

His trial for the Warnke murder began on April 14, 1930. He limped into the courtroom defiantly and refused counsel despite it being offered. When the judge asked for his plea, he stood and sneered as he pled not guilty. The prosecutor called a multitude of witnesses, including:

  • Warden White, who brought the murder weapon to court
  • Five Leavenworth guards
  • Ten fellow prisoners

During all the witness testimonies, Carl sat in his chair and smiled at them. The jury deliberated for a mere 45 minutes before delivering a guilty verdict. The judge remanded him back to Leavenworth until September 5, 1930, when between 6:00-9:00 am, he would be taken to the gallows and hanged by the neck until dead. Upon hearing this, Carl seemed relieved, almost happy. A genuine grin spread across his face as he stood from his chair. The US Marshals surrounded him as he cursed the jury and dragged him out of the courtroom. The last thing the jury heard from him was his demoniac laughter that echoed off the sterile walls of the courthouse.

The Relief He So Desperately Craved

Carl considered this death sentence a relief of sorts and actively resisted any attempts at a stay. During that time, several organizations objected to the death penalty on moral and ethical grounds. One such group, the Society of the Abolishment of Capital Punishment, went so far as to petition the governor's office for a pardon or commutation of the sentence. The help they wanted to provide did nothing but enrage Carl, and he lashed out at them.

The only thanks you and your kind will ever get from me for your efforts on my behalf is that I wish you all had one neck and that I had my hands on it...I have no desire whatever to reform myself. My only desire is to reform people who try to reform me and I believe that the only way to reform people is to kill 'em!

— Carl Panzram

Friday, September 5, 1930, dawned a cold and dusty morning. Corrections officers took Carl from his cell at 5:55 am and escorted him to the gallows. The only people to witness Carl's execution were a few newspaper journalists and about a dozen corrections officers. Rebellious as always, Carl cursed his mother for bringing him into the world. Escorted by two US Marshals, he climbed the 13 steps to the platform. As the Marshals attempted to place the black hood over his head, he spat in the executioner's face.

Hurry up you Hoosier bastard, I could kill 10 men while you're fooling around.

— Carl Panzram

Simple Stone Identifies a Complex Man

THE SIMPLE STONE THAT MARKS PANZRAM'S GRAVE

THE SIMPLE STONE THAT MARKS PANZRAM'S GRAVE

With the hood secure, the Marshals stepped back. At precisely 6:03 am, the trap doors sprung open, and Carl dropped 5.5 feet down. His large body jerked a couple of times, then just swung from side to side in the sudden silence. Dr. Justin K Fuller pronounced him dead at 6:18 am. After they removed him from the gallows, the prison hospital performed the standard autopsy. Since nobody came to claim the body, he was carted to the prison cemetery in a wheelbarrow and laid to rest in a solitary plot. The only identification is a stone with the number '31614.'

Sources

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Borowski, John, director. Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred & Violence. 2011. Performances by John DiMaggio, et al., Biographical Crime Documentary, Waterfront Productions, 2013.

“Carl Panzram.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Panzram. Accessed 28 June 2021.

Gaddis, Thomas E., and James O. Lang. Killer: A Journal of Murder. Third ed., Amereon Limited, 1986.

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© 2021 Tammy Underwood

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