Serial Killer of the Month: Carl Panzram

From Issue 120, December 1998

The criminal career of Carl Panzram has been matched by few others. By his own accounts, he murdered 21 people, committed countless acts of burglary, and his personal favorite accomplishment was that he did “forcible sodomy on more than a thousand men.”

Born into a broken home in 1891, Carl’s criminal career started early. He was first arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct at the tender age of eight. Three years later, a string of burglaries landed him in a Minnesota reform school. During this time, he torched some of the school, causing an estimated $100,000 in damage. He was released in 1904 at the age of 13. He was paroled to his mother’s custody and quickly ran away to begin life as a hobo. While riding in a boxcar one day, he was gang raped by four men. Shortly after, at the age of 16, he joined the army. But the army life was no life for Panzram. He was court marshaled for thievery and sentenced to three years in Leavenworth. Following his release, he embarked on a career of almost unrivaled debauchery that spanned the globe. He left a trail of corpses in Africa, Europe, South and North America.

In the 1920s, he performed one of his most profitable heists, relieving the former President Taft of $40,000 in cash and jewelry. With the loot, he bought a yacht, and lured 10 sailors aboard with the promise of work and booze. Once they were aboard and drunk, the sailors were all shot, and at his leisure, Panzram raped all their bodies and dumped them into the ocean. Shortly after this, he shipped out as a merchant seaman to West Africa. Upon arrival, he hired eight natives to help him “hunt crocodiles.” Once they were on the water, he shot each of them, raped them and fed them to the crocodiles.

Once back in the states, he did a string of robberies in the Washington D.C. area. Carl was arrested and at the trial sentenced to twenty years in Leavenworth. After hearing his sentence, he announced, “I will kill the first man who bothers me.” He made good on his promise a few months later. He crushed the skull of a civilian laundry man, and for this he got the death penalty. A group of concerned citizens formed the “Anti-Capitol Punishment League” in an effort to have his sentence changed to life in prison. They cited the poor treatment he had at reforming institutions as the reason.

When Carl got word of this, he immediately wrote to President Hoover and demanded to be hanged saying that it was his Constitutional right. He wrote, “The only way to reform people is to kill them. I wish these people had one neck and I had my hands on it.”
Carl was hanged on Sept. 5, 1930. Spectators said that it looked like he was in such a hurry. He literally dragged the hangman up the steps of the gallows. As the executioner fitted the rope around Carl’s neck, he asked if he had any last words. Carl screamed, “Yeah, hurry it up you bastard. I could hang a dozen men while you’re fooling around.”

Carl spat on him twice, and the trap was pulled.