The Messed Up Truth Of Serial Killer Carl Panzram

Burglary, rape, arson, and serial murder. These are the wretched offenses committed over and over again by one of the United States' most prolific violent criminals. A career criminal, Carl Panzram was an unstoppable machine who enjoyed inflicting pain on everyone who was unfortunate enough to cross his path. His erratic and unpredictable way of selecting victims made his crimes harder to trace, as Panzram had no real M.O. in selecting his victims or in how he murdered them. 

Criminal profilers would later state that Panzram was unique when compared to the other serial murderers who are studied (via Criminal Minds). Rather than be motivated by sexual desire (as compared to Dahmer, Gacy, or Bundy), Panzram's point was to inflict as much pain as possible on his victims. His assaults on the hundreds of men and boys that he raped were not sexually motivated; rather, he used sexual violence as a way to physically and psychologically torture other people.

Are people like Panzram born this way, or are they molded into the monsters that they become? As we take a closer look into the life of Carl Panzram, we'll get an explanation as to what might have served as motivations for his violence.

Carl Panzram was born into poverty to young immigrants from Prussia in 1891. These young farmers tried desperately to make ends meet in their new country, but found farming difficult, and found Minnesota a lonely place. Always hungry, and very often neglected, Panzram found comfort in consuming alcohol that he found around the house.

A criminal childhood

His father, Johann, abandoned the family in 1899. Soon after, Carl, barely 8 years old, was arrested for being drunk and disorderly (via Criminal Minds).

Within a year, he broke into a neighboring farmhouse and stole a number of items, including food, jewelry, and a revolver. When his older brothers found out, they beat their youngest sibling until he was unconscious. In spite of this, Panzram continued to feed his growing desire to steal (via Criminal Minds).

Deemed incorrigible by the courts, Panzram was sent away to the Minnesota State Training School by the age of 12 (via Investigation Discovery). Here, Panzram was subjected to psychological and sexual abuse and violence by both the staff and fellow juvenile inmates (via Serial Killer Shop). In addition to the beatings and sexual assaults, Panzram was forced on several occasions to dance naked in front of groups of school staff. Panzram never forgot this level of humiliation, which may have served as a key motive in the crimes he perpetuated as an adult.

In his writings from prison later, Panzram said of the experience: "I was reformed all right. I had been taught by Christians how to be a hypocrite, and I had learned more about stealing, lying, hating, burning and killing. I had learned that a boy's penis could be used for something besides to urinate with, and that a rectum could be used for other purposes."

From robbery to rape

Panzram (above in 1915) was expelled from the school after two years, following multiple infractions that culminated in him threatening to shoot a teacher (via Criminal Minds). Now 14, he returned home to the family farm. Panzram could no longer fit in with family or neighbors at all now. He began using copious amounts of alcohol to deal with his isolation, which led to more petty theft and burglary.

Deciding his fortune couldn't be sought in Minnesota, Panzram hopped a train out of town. It was on this train where Panzram later wrote that he was savagely beaten and gang raped by other transients who shared the boxcar he entered (via Criminal Minds). According to Panzram, this was where his real hatred for human beings took root, as he now "hated the human race" (via Serial Killer Shop).

After a brief stint in the U.S. Army, during which he was incarcerated for larceny and dishonorably discharged, Panzram traveled the country by rail. He'd meet young men in bars, lure them outside, and beat and rob them (via Investigation Discovery). Over time, the beating of his victims wasn't enough to satisfy Panzram. He began to sexually assault many of his robbery victims, to add to the brutality.

Panzram spent the next decade in and out of county jails for burglary and robbery. He often cut his own time in the slammer short, as he became a great escape artist (via Investigation Discovery).

Taft's handgun and the Akiska

Finding his way to Connecticut in 1920, Panzram was able to accomplish something no other known serial killer has ever done: burglarize the home of a former United States President. As William Howard Taft was Secretary of War while Panzram was placed into military prison, Panzram had a seething hatred for the man who would later become U.S. President. In 1920, Taft was nearly eight years out of the Oval Office, and residing in Connecticut with his family. Panzram took his time casing the home, then struck when the opportunity seemed right (via Investigation Discovery).  Panzram's burglary took in quite a haul, including a large sum of money, bonds, expensive jewelry, and Taft's Colt M1911 .45-caliber pistol (via Investigation Discovery).

Using the money from the Taft burglary, Panzram purchased a small yacht, named Akiska. Docking in New York City, he used it to lure sailors on leave to their doom (via Investigation Discovery). With the promise of a party, these servicemen on leave would join Panzram on board, where he would beat, rape, and strangle them. Panzram would then dump their bodies overboard.

This continued until Panzram crashed the Akiska. But it did not stop his bloodlust. Panzram hopped a boat to the African continent, where he wrote of murdering a young boy. Panzram also wrote in detail how he murdered several fisherman aboard a boat he had chartered, and fed their bodies to the crocodiles (via Investigation Discovery). Panzram returned to the United States.


He continued to wreak havoc. He would routinely break into homes to steal, but would beat and rape anyone who might be home at the time (Investigation Discovery). Panzram fantasized about committing murder on a large scale: poisoning the water supply or blowing up an ocean liner were two possibilities (via Investigation Discovery). He settled on blowing up a train. Fortunately, he was apprehended while trying to break into a train station, foiling the plot (via Investigation Discovery). 

During his interrogation, Panzram admitted to murdering two young boys. Authorities were able to connect Panzram with several murders, and he was sentenced to 25 years to life in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. The first words he spoke to the warden were, "I'll kill the first man that bothers me (via Criminal Minds). That unfortunate person wound up being Panzram's supervisor in the prison laundry, whom he killed with an iron bar.

Sentenced to hang from the gallows for this murder, Panzram took his death sentence in stride. When the noose was being secured around his neck, Panzram said to his executioner, "Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier b******! I could kill 10 men while you're fooling around" (via Criminal Minds). An instant later, the trap door opened and Panzram went to a quick and sudden death.

How we know so much about Panzram goes well beyond newspaper clippings and court records. As it turns out, one person actually took an interest in Panzram late in his life, and encouraged him to write out his story.

Penning his own legacy

John Lesser was a prison guard who, for whatever reason, felt some compassion toward Panzram (via Investigation Discovery). Moved by the stories Panzram told him about his abuse in the juvenile reform facility in Minnesota, Lesser began to urge Panzram to write about his life before his incarceration. He went as far as to provide Panzram with pencils and paper, and gave him constant encouragement. 

It would take nearly 40 years before any publisher would consider publishing Panzram's autobiography. Finally, in 1970, "Killer:  A Journal of Murder" was released. It was made into a film in 1996, starring James Woods as Panzram (via Investigation Discovery).

The book is filled with chilling details of Panzram's multiple rapes, robberies, and murders. But, perhaps just as disturbing, are the words Panzram pens about his motivations. Showing zero remorse, Panzram leaves us with these words:  "I have broken every law that was ever made by both man and God. If either had made any more, I should very cheerfully have broken them also" (via Investigation Discovery).