Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carl Panzram: Too Evil to Live, Part II


A newspaper article describing Panzram's execution 1930 (Mark Gado)
A newspaper article describing Panzram's
execution 1930 (Mark Gado)

Panzram had a vivid idea of why he was the way he was. When Dr. Menninger wrote again about his case, he made the following observation: "I have never seen an individual whose destructive impulses were so completely accepted and acknowledged by his conscious ego," he said in Man Against Himself (1938). Given his early childhood abuses and physical tortures inside America's prisons, it was no surprise to Panzram that he became a criminal. "Is it unnatural that I should have absorbed these things and have become what I am today, a treacherous, degenerate, brutal, human savage, devoid of all decent feeling...without conscience, morals, pity, sympathy, principle or any single good trait? Why am I what I am?" he asked. His writings show a man of some intelligence and introspection, a self-revelation that few killers achieve despite years of reflection in the slow-moving world of today's Death Row.

Unlike Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy, Carl Panzram was not a sexual sadist or a lust murderer in the classical sense. He was simply an unrepentant killer whose motivational factors were surely inflamed by acts of torture and sexual abuse at an early age. Maybe somewhere along the line it could have been different. Maybe he could have been someone other than he was. No one will ever know. But his litany of crimes is truly astonishing. And yet, through the murder and mayhem, it is not impossible to see the faint glow of understanding. Not forgiveness, of course, but just a token acknowledgement of the winds that produced the storm. Maybe he was just a man who gave what he got in life. The relic of a violent era where times were hard and the nation's prisons were brutal, repressive institutions that taught little except survival.

In 1922, when he was held prisoner at the Washington, D.C., city jail, detectives questioned Panzram about McMahon's murder in Salem, Massachusetts. One of the interrogators asked him what was the point of killing a helpless child. Panzram looked up with the cold, dead eyes of a feeding shark.

"I hate all the f***ing human race," he said, "I get a kick out of murdering people." It could have been his epitaph. He is buried in row #6, grave #24, forever in the shadow of Leavenworth's ominous prison walls.

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