Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carl Panzram: Too Evil To Live, Part I

The River Pirate



After he left Salem, Massachusetts, Panzram returned to the Westchester County area and continued to look for a suitable boat. In early 1923, he managed to rent an apartment in Yonkers, New York, using his alias, John O'Leary. He got a job as a watchman at the Abeeco Mill Company at 220 Yonkers Avenue and claimed to have met a boy named George Walosin, 15, while he worked at the mill. "I started to teach him the fine art of sodomy but I found he had been taught all about it and he liked it fine," he later wrote.

(Nyack Evening Journal)
(Nyack Evening Journal)

During the early summer of 1923, Panzram made his way back to Providence, Rhode Island where he stole a yawl out of one of the many marinas around the bay. By then, he was an accomplished sailor who had navigated the seas in dozens of countries in all sorts of weather conditions. The boat was a fine craft, 38 feet long and outfitted with all the best equipment. He set sail for Long Island Sound, an area that he knew well and where he felt comfortable. Panzram docked at New Haven for weeks at a time and would go out at night, cruising the streets for victims to rob and rape. Over the next few weeks, he burglarized homes and boats in Connecticut. He stole jewelry, cash, guns and clothes. Off Premium Point in the City of New Rochelle, New York, he broke into a large yacht that was moored a distance off shore. He stole a .38 caliber handgun from the galley and when he checked the papers on board, he found that the Police Commissioner of New Rochelle owned the vessel.

In June 1923, he sailed the yawl up the Hudson River to Yonkers where he docked overnight. There, he picked up George Walosin, and promised the boy that he could work on the yacht during his trip upriver. On Monday, June 25, 1923, the boat cruised out of the Yonkers dock due north, toward Peekskill, and later that night, Panzram sodomized the boy.

Peterson's Boat Yard on the Hudson River in Nyack, New York (Mark Gado's collection)
Peterson's Boat Yard on the
Hudson River in Nyack, New York
(Mark Gado's collection)

They sailed 50 miles upriver to Kingston where Panzram moored the yacht in a small bay off the Hudson River. He quickly repainted the hull and changed the name on the stern. Then he ventured on shore and visited the local hangouts to find a buyer. Soon a young man agreed to come on board to check out the boat. Panzram took the buyer out to the yacht on the night of June 27 where they had a few drinks together. But the man had other things on his mind. "There he tried to stick me up but I was suspicious of his actions and was ready for him," Panzram said. He shot the man twice in the head, using the same gun that he had stolen from the Police Commissioner's boat. He then tied a metal weight onto the body and threw the man overboard. "He's still there yet as far as I know," Panzram confessed later.

The very next morning, Panzram and his passenger, George Walsoin, who had witnessed the killing, sailed out of the bay heading downriver. They docked that same day in Poughkeepsie. Panzram went on shore and stole a quantity of fishing nets worth more than $1,000. They set sail again and cruised across the river to Newburgh. After the boat dropped anchor, George jumped ship and swam to shore. He eventually made his way back to Yonkers the next day and told the police about being sexually assaulted by Panzram.

Yonkers police alerted all the Hudson River towns to be on the lookout for "Captain John O'Leary" who was sailing a 38-foot yacht downriver. Cops still did not know that the boat was stolen out of Providence. Panzram made it as far as the village of Nyack. He secured the yawl at Peterson's Boat Yard and bedded down for the night. But Nyack cops were vigilant and on the morning of June 29, 1923, they boarded the yacht and arrested Panzram. He was charged with sodomy, burglary and robbery. The next day, Yonkers Detectives John Fitzpatrick and Charles Ward motored upriver on a municipal ferry to pick him up. He was placed in the Yonkers City jail awaiting court appearance. On his arrest card, "O'Leary" listed his occupation as "seafarer." He said he was born in Nevada and gave his age as 40.

On the night of July 2, 1923, he tried to break out of the city jail with another prisoner, Fred Federoff. They attempted to pry the window bars out of their frames by digging into the masonry using a part of a bed. They were caught when guards made a routine inspection of their cells. "As a result of an attempt by one of five men in the city prison to break out of jail, John O'Leary, alleged river pirate, is in solitary confinement locked up in a cell," the Yonkers Statesman reported on July 3.

Panzram then turned to his lawyer for help. "I got a lawyer there, a Mr. Cashin. I told him the boat was worth five or ten thousand dollars and that I would give him the boat and the papers if he got me out of jail," he said. His attorney arranged for bail and a few days later Panzram was released. He never came back. When Cashin went to register the boat, it was discovered that it was stolen. The police immediately confiscated the yacht and Cashin lost the posted bail. Panzram had conned his own lawyer.

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