Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carl Panzram: Too Evil To Live, Part I

Slaughter at Lobito Bay

Stamford Daily Advocate reported the arrest of
Stamford Daily Advocate reported the
arrest of "John O'Leary" armed with a
handgun on October 26, 1920.
(Mark Gado's collection)

In 1921, Panzram served six months in jail in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for burglary and possession of a loaded handgun. When released, he joined a maritime union that was involved in a labor strike. Hard liners in the union got into a brawl with strikebreakers, and Panzram was quickly re-arrested for being involved in a running gun battle with police. He jumped bail and fled the state of Connecticut. A few days later, he stowed away on a ship and landed in Angola, a Portuguese colony on the west coast of Africa.

He eventually got a job with the Sinclair Oil Company as a foreman on an oil-drilling rig. At that time, the American oil industry was involved in an exploratory expedition to search for new sources of oil in Africa. In the coastal town of Luanda, Panzram raped and killed an 11-year-old boy. "A little nigger boy about 11 or 12 years old came bumming around," he said. Panzram lured the boy back to the Sinclair Oil Company grounds where he sexually assaulted and killed him by bashing his head in with a rock. "I left him there, but first I committed sodomy on him and then I killed him," Panzram wrote in his confession. "His brains were coming out of his ears when I left him and he will never be any deader."

After this murder, Panzram went back to Lobito Bay on the Atlantic coast where he lived for several weeks in a fishing village. The locals suspected him of the murder but it could never be proven. Several weeks later, he hired six natives to take him into the jungle to hunt for crocodiles, which brought a hefty price from European speculators in the Congo. The natives later demanded a cut of the profits. They paddled into the jungle, never suspecting what Panzram had on his mind. As they went downriver, Panzram shot and killed all six men. "To some of average intelligence, killing six at once seems an almost impossible feat...It was very much easier for me to kill those six niggers than it was for me to kill only one of the young boys I killed later and some of them were only 11 or 12 years old," he later said. He shot them all in the back, one by one. While they lay in the bloody canoe, Panzram shot each native again in the back of the head. He then fed the bodies to the hungry crocodiles and rowed back to Lobito Bay. When he docked the boat, he realized he had to get out of the Congo since "dozens of people saw me at Lobito Bay when I hired these men and the canoe."

He headed north up the Congo River toward a place called Point Banana and eventually made his way to the Gold Coast. He robbed farmers in the local village and got enough money to buy a fare to the Canary Islands. Broke and unable to find anyone worth robbing, he immediately stowed away on a ship to Lisbon, Portugal. But when he arrived in the city, he discovered that the local government knew about his crime spree in Africa and cops were warned to be on the lookout for him. He managed to hide aboard another ship headed for America and by the summer of 1922, he was back on U.S. soil.

Panzram marveled at how easy it was to kill. He imagined himself making a living as a professional hitman who would murder for money. He brought the gun he used in the Congo killings back to the United States with him, even though cops were hot on his trail as he fled Africa. In 1922, he had the gun fitted with a silencer by the Maxim Silent Firearms Co. in Hartford, Connecticut. But when he test fired it later, he found that the weapon still made a great deal of noise, much to his disappointment. "If that heavy calibered pistol and the silencer had only worked as I thought it would, I would have gone into the murder business on a wholesale scale," he wrote years later.

But his life of crime and mayhem caused Panzram to be continuously on the move. He never lingered in one place very long. He knew the police were forever on his trail, never far behind, always ready to lock him up for some forgotten offense he committed months, even years before. He learned early on to change his name frequently and never confided in anyone the details of his past life. As soon as he committed a crime, Panzram would leave the area quickly, hop a train out of town, stowaway on a freighter, hitch a ride on a passing truck. Always running, looking over his shoulder, waiting for the "screws" to catch up with him, always living with the fear of capture; this was his life. And yet still, knowing he could be minutes away from capture and driven by a hatred most of us can never understand, he killed.

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