Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carl Panzram: Too Evil To Live, Part I


Carl Panzram (Mark Gado's collection)
Carl Panzram
(Mark Gado's

He was a remorseless, vicious killer, a child rapist, a man with no soul. Born in rural Minnesota in 1891, he began a life-long odyssey of crime and murder at the age of eight. By the time he was eleven, his family sent him off to a reform school as part of a plea bargain on a burglary charge. Repeatedly sodomized and physically tortured during his two years at the juvenile home, his emotional problems grew progressively worse. As a teenager, he enjoyed setting fires so he could watch buildings burn and often fantasized about committing mass murder. After he raped and murdered a 12-year-old boy in 1922, he joyfully recalled the killing: "His brains were coming out of his ears when I left him. I am not sorry. My conscious doesn't bother me. I sleep sound and have sweet dreams."

His name was Carl Panzram, one of America's most ferocious, unrepentant serial killers. Embittered by years of torture, beatings and sexual abuse both in and out of prison, Panzram evolved into a man who was meanness personified. He hated everyone, including himself. "I was so full of hate that there was no room in me for such feelings as love, pity, kindness or honor or decency," he said, "my only regret is that I wasn't born dead or not at all." He lived a nomadic existence, committing crimes in Europe, Scotland, the United States, South America and once killed six men in a day in Africa and fed their bodies to hungry crocodiles. He spent most of his chaotic life in prisons where archaic methods of repression included physical tortures that were reminiscent of medieval times.

But when he was on the loose, Panzram murdered, raped and burned his way across the country in a mission of destruction that was unlike anything law enforcement had ever seen before. To explain his debauchery, he said his parents "were ignorant, and thru their improper teachings and improper environment, I was gradually led into the wrong way of living." But it was the prisons that Panzram hated most. Throughout his life, he was trapped in a hopeless cycle of incarceration, crime and jail. Dr. Karl Menninger once described Panzram as a man "faced with the problem of evil in himself and in the rest of us. I have always carried him in my mind as the logical product of our prison system."

On the day of his execution in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in 1930, he ran happily up the gallows steps, spit in the executioner's face and yelled: "Hurry up you bastard, I could kill ten men while you're fooling around!"

This is the story of a man who was "too evil to live." He was a true misanthrope, a man who hated human beings. He made no apologies for what he was and placed the blame for his deviance squarely on the doorstep of society's institutions. There is no need to exaggerate or expand on the life and crimes of Carl Panzram. The truth is enough.

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