Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carl Panzram: Too Evil To Live, Part I

A Killing in Salem

After a few days back in the States, Panzram went to the U.S. Customs office in New York City where he renewed his captain's license and retrieved the papers for his yacht, the Akista, wrecked on the Jersey shoals two years before. He planned to steal another boat and refit her under the Akista name. He began to search the local boatyards in the New York area and wandered up the Connecticut coast. He soon drifted into the seaport of Providence, Rhode Island, where he still could not find a boat that resembled the Akista. He continued north along Boston Road into Boston and eventually arrived in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, famous for the 17th century witch trials. There, on the hot afternoon of July 18, 1922, he came across a 12-year-old boy walking alone on the west side of town.

"You will find that I have consistently followed one idea through all my life," he said later, "I preyed upon the weak, the harmless and the unsuspecting." The boy's name was George Henry McMahon who lived at 65 Boston Street in Salem. He had spent most of the day in a neighbor's restaurant until the owner, Mrs. Margaret Lyons, asked George to run an errand.

"About 2:15 I sent him to the A&P store for the milk, giving him fifteen cents," she later told the court. Little George left the restaurant and walked up Boston Street. About an hour later, another neighbor, Mrs. Margaret Crean, saw George walking up the avenue with a stranger. "In the afternoon of July 18th, while sitting in front of a window in my home, I saw a boy and a man walking up the avenue. The man was dressed in a blue suit and wore a cap," she said later. That man was Carl Panzram.

"The boy's name I didn't know," Panzram said years later, "He told me he was eleven years old...he was carrying a basket or pail in his hand. He told me he was going to the store to do an errand. He told me his aunt ran this store. I asked him if he would like to earn fifty cents. He said yes."

Panzram walked with McMahon to the nearby store where inside, he was even brazen enough to speak with the clerk. A few minutes later, Panzram convinced the child to go for a trolley ride. About a mile from where they boarded the car, they exited the trolley in a deserted section of the town.

"I grabbed him by the arm and told him I was going to kill him," Panzram said in his confession. "I stayed with the boy about three hours. During that time, I committed sodomy on the boy six times, and then I killed him by beating his brains out with a rock...I had stuffed down his throat several sheets of paper out of a magazine."

He then covered the body up with tree branches and hurried out of town. "I left him lying there with his brains coming out of his ears," he said. But as he fled the wooded area where he left McMahon's body, two Salem residents passed by. They took notice of the strange man, who was carrying what appeared to be a newspaper, walking quickly away. He seemed nervous and a little frantic. But the two witnesses continued on their way.

Immediately after the murder, Panzram headed back toward New York. McMahon's body was found three days later on July 21. The Salem police and the surrounding communities formed posses and detained any strangers they came upon. Several men, including a local pedophile who had attacked several Salem children, were arrested as suspects. The murder was headline news for weeks but it would remain unsolved for many years. Until the day in 1928 when those same two witnesses would see Panzram again while he was in custody for another murder in Washington, D.C.

They would have no trouble identifying him as the man they saw on the sweltering afternoon of July 18, 1922, just yards away from where the battered body of George Henry McMahon was found.

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