Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Defending Oneself in Court

Disorderly Conduct

One of the first known international one-man crime sprees, which spanned two continents, occurred between 1910 and 1928. Carl Panzram, arrested for drunkenness when he was only eight, lived a hard life and it made him angry enough to take it out on others. By the age of 19, he referred to himself as "the spirit of meanness personified." He murdered, raped and sodomized indiscriminately, often whole groups at a time, after luring them into vulnerable situations.

Carl Panzram
Carl Panzram

According to David Everitt in Human Monsters, Panzram hired eight black men for a hunt in West Africa, killed all of them, and sodomized their corpses. He thought that killing people was fun. He was arrested for burglarizing homes, but being in prison did not stop him from killing. He admitted to murdering 21 people, but added that he had sodomized over 1,000 men. Remorseless about his crimes, he said he was only too happy to leave the world.

He defended himself on charges of burglary, says Brian King, editor of Lustmord, and told the surprised jury that he was indeed guilty of breaking into a home and stealing or breaking various items. Then he said, "There's something else you ought to know. While you were trying me here, I was trying all of you, too. I've found you guilty. Some of you, I've executed. If I live, I'll execute more of you. I hate the whole human race."

The jury convicted him in record time, and he was sentenced to 25 years in Leavenworth. There he killed a man, and was sentenced to be hanged. Many people said later that he wanted to die; it was likely that he defended himself as a way to ensure his ultimate destruction. He was the first person to be executed for a crime on federal property in 40 years.

Sometimes a defendant who is smart enough to defend himself, as Panzram might have been, fails to note his inability to act within the expectations of the court, as happened in the next case.


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