Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carl Panzram: Too Evil to Live, Part II

"Hurry Up You Bastard!"

Robert Stroud, the
Robert Stroud, the
"birdman of Alcatraz"

The last person to be legally executed in Kansas before 1930 was William Dickson in 1870. Though others were sentenced to death since Dickson, all of the capital punishment cases were commuted by a succession of governors. State executions were finally abolished in 1907. But the most famous death sentence handed out in the history of the state was to Robert Stroud, the so-called "Birdman of Alcatraz." He was sentenced to death for the murder of a prison guard on March 26, 1916. Stroud was on death row at Leavenworth with Panzram, and at times the two men conversed. Stroud, like Panzram, was also sullen, maniacally egocentric, a true misanthrope who seldom spoke to anyone, even during his later years at Alcatraz. He spent his time battling the system, filing appeals and making endless demands on prison staff for his research. Both men had little to say to one another but carefully studied the progress of their gallows construction, which was clearly visible outside the cellblock windows. (A pimp in civilian life, who killed one of his prostitute's customers in 1906 in Juneau, Alaska, Stroud would eventually escape the gallows but remain in prison until he died in 1963.)

For Panzram, the death sentence was a relief and he resisted all attempts to have a stay of execution. "I look forward to a seat in the electric chair or dance at the end of a rope just like some folks do for their wedding night," he said. Even during the 1930s, there were several national organizations who strenuously objected to the death penalty on moral and ethical grounds. One of these groups, called the Society for the Abolishment of Capital Punishment petitioned the governor's office for a pardon or a commutation of sentence, a fact that infuriated Panzram. On May 23, he wrote to the society and said: "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!"

On May 30, Panzram wrote another letter to President Herbert Hoover expressing his concerns over a possible change in sentencing. He said that he was "perfectly satisfied with my trial and the sentence. I do not want another trial...I absolutely refuse to accept either a pardon or a commutation should either or the other be offered to me."

On the cold and dusty morning of Friday, September 5, 1930, Panzram was taken from his cell for the last time at 5:55 a.m. and escorted to the gallows. A handful of newspapermen and a dozen guards acted as witnesses. "Few persons in the assemblage appeared under emotional strain," one reporter later wrote.

"Here they come!" yelled someone in the crowd.

The hangman's noose and gallows (Corbis©)
The hangman's noose and
gallows (Corbis©)

Panzram's demeanor was rebellious as always. He cursed his own mother for bringing him into this world and the "whole damned human race!" Escorted by two U.S. Marshals, he walked briskly to the wooden scaffold "with teeth clenched, defiantly facing the crowd of officials, newspaper men and guards gathered in the enclosure." He climbed the 13 steps to the platform and stood erect as the Marshals attempted to place a black hood over his head. Before they completed their task, Panzram spit in the executioner's face and snarled: "Hurry up you bastard, I could kill 10 men while you're fooling around!" After the hood was secured, the Marshals stepped back without delay, and at exactly 6:03 a.m. the trap doors sprung open with a crash. Panzram dropped five and a half feet down. His large body jerked repeatedly and swung from side to side in the sudden silence. He was pronounced dead by Dr. Justin K. Fuller at 6:18 a.m.

The Sunday Star later reported, "A hangman's noose at Leavenworth, Kansas, this morning snuffed out the life of Carl Panzram, a man who swore he hated all humanity with a consuming passion." The article described the doomed man's last few minutes and said he was "the most criminally minded man in America." Robert Stroud later wrote that Panzram was restless the night before the execution. "All night long that last night he walked the floor of his cell," he said, "singing a pornographic little song that he had composed himself."

After Panzram was removed from the gallows, an autopsy was performed at the prison hospital. His body remained unclaimed and later that same day, he was carted over to the prison cemetery in a wheelbarrow. The only identification on his tombstone is the number "31614".

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