Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carl Panzram: Too Evil to Live, Part II

The Confession

Carl Panzram, a newspaper article from 1930. (Mark Gado)
Carl Panzram, a newspaper
article from 1930. (Mark Gado)

Renowned psychologist Dr. Karl Menninger later said the manuscript "proceeds to an unflinching self-analysis in which the prisoner spares neither himself nor society...No one can read this manuscript in its entirety without an emotional thrill." Beginning on the farm in rural Minnesota where he was born, Panzram told the brutal story of his life. From the time he was sent to the Minnesota State Training School at Red Wing in 1903 until the time he arrived at the Washington, D.C., jail, there were thousands of crimes, dozens of murders and a life spent in single-minded pursuit of destruction.

"All my associates," he said, "all of my surroundings, the atmosphere of deceit, treachery, brutality, degeneracy, hypocrisy, and everything that is bad and nothing that is good. Why am I what I am? I'll tell you why. I did not make myself what I am. Others had the making of me."

In this extraordinary 20,000-word confession, Panzram gave details of his murders, which were later confirmed with local authorities. He supplied dates, times and the places where the crimes occurred as well as his arrest history, which was extensive. Of course, during the period 1900-1930, communications between law enforcement agencies were not as sophisticated as they are today. Criminals were frequently able to avoid arrest warrants by simply changing names and keeping their mouths shut. Panzram learned this trick early in his career and was arrested under several names including, Jefferson Baldwin (1915), Jeffrey Rhodes (1919), John King (1920) and John O'Leary (1923).

But it wasn't only his life he wrote about. Panzram had some opinions on the criminal justice system and the power of society over the individual. "All of your police, judges, lawyers, wardens, doctors, National Crime Commissions and writers have combined to find out and remedy the cause and effect of crime," he said. "With all this knowledge and power at their command, they have accomplished nothing except to make conditions worse instead of better." He blamed crime on society, which he said perpetuates itself by producing more criminals. "I am 36 years old and have been a criminal all my life," he wrote, "I have 11 felony convictions against me. I have served 20 years of my life in jails, reform schools and prisons. I know why I am a criminal." He laid the blame for his violent life on those who tortured and punished him. "Might makes right" was the only rule he ever learned and he carried that belief with him wherever he went. "In my lifetime I have broken every law that was ever made by both man and God," he said, "If either had made any more, I should very cheerfully have broken them also."

In page after page, Panzram described his odyssey of killing and rape, which spanned several continents. For none of it was he ever sorry. Panzram was never inhibited by feelings of guilt or remorse. He saw crime and violence as a way of getting back at the world. It didn't matter that the people he victimized had not caused his own pain. Someone, anyone, had to pay.

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