Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carl Panzram: Too Evil to Live, Part II

"Visit Me!"

Panzram, ever the outlaw, could never acclimate to a prison environment. Despite his many years in jails across the country, he was unable to conform to institutional rules or obey staff commands. Even with the knowledge that physical torture would frequently be the result of such infractions, Panzram was uncooperative and violent. After his escape attempt and subsequent handcuffing to a post, he assaulted three guards when he was removed from his cell upon which "it was necessary to strike him with a blackjack in defense of the three officers." Again he was handcuffed to the post. As a result the reporting officer wrote: "this prisoner called the Captain of the Watch a 'God damned son of a bitch' and stated he would like to knock the Captain in the back of the head." More punishment followed. But the slow and massive wheels of justice were turning.

Later that same month on October 29, an arrest warrant for Panzram arrived at the D.C. jail. It was a murder indictment from Philadelphia charging Panzram "with homicide on an Alexander Uszacke, by strangling and choking on July 26, 1928, at Point House Road."

Carl Panzram (photo courtesy of the Salem Police Department, Massachusetts.)
Carl Panzram as he appeared
on the day in 1928 when Salem
Police brought two witnesses
to identify him in the murder of
George McMahon.

Salem Police Department in the State of Massachusetts also learned about Panzram's arrest and his extensive confession. During his stay at the Washington, D.C., jail, Salem police brought the two witnesses from the George Henry McMahon killing in 1922 to look at Panzram. Both witnesses positively identified Panzram as the person they saw on the night 12-year-old McMahon was killed. Oregon State Penitentiary contacted Washington police and asked that Panzram be held as an escapee who still owed 14 years on his original sentence at their prison.

By early 1929, Panzram must have finally realized that he would never get out of jail this time. He wrote a letter to District Attorney Clark in Salem, Massachusetts, about the McMahon killing. In this shocking letter Panzram repeated his admissions regarding the murder: "I made a full confession of this murder of McMahon...You sent a number of witnesses from Salem to identify me, which they done. I do not change my former confession in any way. I committed that murder. I alone am guilty... I not only committed that murder but 21 besides and I assure you here and now that if I ever get free and have the opportunity I shall sure knock off another 22!"

Arrest Warrant charging Panzram with the  Murder of Alexander Uszacke issued in the City of Philadelphia in 1928.
Arrest Warrant charging Panzram with the
Murder of Alexander Uszacke issued in
the City of Philadelphia in 1928. (Mark Gado)

His trial for the burglary and house breaking charges opened on November 12, 1928. Panzram foolishly acted as his own attorney and frequently terrified the nine-man, three-female jury with his unpredictable, combative behavior. When a witness, Joseph Czerwinksi of Baltimore testified against him, Panzram rose to ask a question.

"Do you know me?" he said as he moved to within inches of the man's face. "Take a good look at me!" he whispered. As the frightened witness looked into those steel gray eyes, Panzram dragged his fingers across his neck giving the sign of a slit throat. The message was clear: "This is what will happen to you!"

At the end of the trial, Panzram took the stand and not only admitted to the burglary but told the court that he intentionally remained in the house for several hours hoping the owners would come home so he could kill them. On November 12, 1928, he was found guilty on all counts. Judge Walter McCoy sentenced him to 15 years on the first count and 10 years on the second to run consecutively. Panzram would have to serve 25 years back at the Federal Prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. When he heard the sentence, Panzram's face broke into a wide, evil grin.

"Visit me!" he said to the judge.

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