Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carl Panzram: Too Evil to Live, Part II

The Wages of Sin

During the 1920s, a family of enlightened educators and intellectuals, led by Dr. Karl Menninger, a Harvard graduate and one of the pioneers of modern psychology, were building a clinical dynasty in Topeka, Kansas. Menninger was fascinated with Sigmund Freud's concepts of psychoanalysis. By 1930, he was already involved in research on the subject when he learned of Panzram's case and his consuming hatred for humanity. During the trial, the court requested Menninger's assessment of the defendant's sanity. On the morning of April 15, in a small office inside the courthouse in Topeka, a meeting between the two men was arranged under court supervision.

Panzram was brought into the room at 8:30 a.m. Thick, heavy chains were wrapped around his arms and hands, a stiff iron bar clasped to each ankle. He was only able to walk a half-step at a time. Three federal guards encircled the prisoner. Panzram sat down in the chair, scowling, and stared at Dr. Menninger.

"Good morning, Mr. Panzram," said Dr. Menninger. The prisoner huffed at the doctor and turned his head without saying a word. He glanced around as if to measure his chances of escape, and Dr. Menninger had the feeling that, given the opportunity, Panzram would kill everyone in the room just to get out the door. His chains rattled as he shuffled in his seat and the guards inched a little closer.

"I want to be hanged and I don't want any interference by you or your filthy kind," he said. "I just know the more about the world and the essential evil nature of man and don't play the hypocrite. I am proud of having killed off a few and regret that I didn't kill more!"

Dr. Menninger tried to get Panzram to talk about his life but he refused and became angrier and more impatient by the minute.

"I am saying I am responsible and I am guilty and the sooner they hang me the better it will be and gladder I will be. So don't you go trying to interfere with it!" The interview was terminated, and Panzram shuffled out of the room.

The next day, April 16, Menninger wrote a letter to Warden T. B. White. In it he asked to interview Panzram again: "For purely scientific purposes I should like to look into the case of Carl Panzram a little more in detail. His case was an extraordinary one as you know and I am very interested in finding out what the earlier evidences of his mental instability were."

But Warden White refused further access. To no one's surprise, Menninger blamed Panzram's adult hostility on the treatment he received as a child in the Minnesota state reform school at Red Wing. Menninger recognized the psychological damage that had been done to Panzram at an early age and later, when he wrote about the case, said "that the injustices perpetrated upon a child arouse in him unendurable reactions of retaliation which the child must repress and postpone but which sooner or later come out in some form or another, that the wages of sin is death, that murder breeds suicide, that to kill is only to be killed."

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