Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carl Panzram: Too Evil to Live, Part II

"I Reform People"

After his release, Panzram was consumed by revenge for the way he was treated at Dannemora. Within two weeks, he committed a dozen burglaries and killed at least one man during a robbery in Baltimore. By the time he was arrested and delivered to the Washington, D.C., jail, Panzram was a fearsome sight. He stood 6 feet tall, 200 pounds of muscle, meanness and a burning hatred for everything human. He had a large tattoo of a boat's anchor on his left forearm, another anchor with an eagle and the head of a Chinese man on his right forearm, and two eagles on his massive chest with the words "LIBERTY and JUSTICE" tattooed underneath their wings. His eyes were steel gray and he wore a thick, black mustache that covered his top lip giving his face the appearance of a perpetual sneer. At booking, he gave his real name for the first time in years.

Carl Panzram at the Washington D.C. jail in 1928.
Carl Panzram at the Washington D.C. jail
in 1928. (photo courtesy of the National
Archives)

During his first few days in the D.C. jail, he made several remarks about killing children, which were noticed by guards. Inquiries were made in other states, and word came back from several jurisdictions that he was a hunted man.

At the Washington, D.C., jail at this time was a 26-year-old rookie guard, the son of a Jewish immigrant, who was hired that year. His name was Henry Lesser. As Panzram was processed through the booking procedure, Lesser asked him what his crime was.

"What I do is reform people," said Panzram without a smile. Over the next few weeks, the young guard took notice of the odd looking man who rarely talked to anyone. Never one to stay in one place for very long, Panzram attempted to escape by slowly chipping away at the concrete surrounding the metal bars in his cell window. But one of the other prisoners informed the warden. Panzram was removed from his cell and brought to an isolated area. He was handcuffed around a thick wooden pole and a rope was tied to his handcuffs. The guards then hoisted him up so that just his toes were touching the ground and his arms were lifted beyond his shoulders. He was left this way for a day and a half. He cursed his own parents for giving him life and screamed that he would kill everyone if given the chance. The guards beat him until he was unconscious and left him tied to the post all night. At some time during that night, Panzram admitted to the murders of several young boys and told the guards how much he enjoyed it.

A headline in a Washington D.C. paper in October 1928 describing the
A headline in a Washington D.C. paper in
October 1928 describing the "boys' fiend-
ish murders." (Washington Post)

Soon the word got out and the press caught onto the story of a sadistic killer in the local jail who was confessing to lots of murders. The Washington Post reported on October 28, 1928, that Panzram confessed to the murder of 14-year old Alexander Luszzock, a Philadelphia newsboy last August and also that of 12-year-old Henry McMahon of New Salem, Connecticut. Each day that went by, Panzram told more and more. "If that ain't enough," he said, "I'll give you plenty more. I've been all over the world and I've seen everything but hell and I guess I'll see that soon."

For some reason, prison guard Henry Lesser took pity on the angry man whom everyone else hated. He befriended Panzram by giving him a dollar to buy cigarettes and extra food. This act of kindness meant a great deal to Panzram, for he was unaccustomed to even the smallest gesture of compassion. The two men became friends and confided in one another. Soon, Panzram agreed to write his life story for Lesser. And so, over the next few weeks, while Lesser supplied pencil and paper, Panzram wrote down the details of his twisted life of hate, depravity and murder.

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