Charles Panzram was an American serial killer, rapist, arsonist and burglar that was also known as Carl Panzram. He was born on June 28, 1891 in East Grand Forks, Minnesota to Prussian immigrants parents Johann and Matilda Panzram. Charles’ family was poor and he was raised on a farm with his five siblings. He broke into his neighbor’s home in 1903 at the age of 12 and stole a revolver, cake and apples. His parents then sent him to the Minnesota State Training School when he was 12 years old. The staff beat and tortured him several times in The Painting House of the school. The Painting House got its name from the students because students would enter the room clean and would come out “painted” with blood and bruises. Charles eventually burned down The Painting House and was not caught. Charles disliked Christianity after the staff at the school tried to enforce the religion on him and other students. He was severely beaten after he was caught attempting to run away from the school. He was dismissed from the school in 1905 and began a burglary spree, he was an alcoholic at this time. He encountered the authorities on numerous occasions for his actions and ran away from home when he was fourteen years old.
Charles confessed to 22 murders and sodomizing over 1,000 males to his friend/prison guard Henry Lesser. He went to jail numerous times and was hanged on September 5, 1930 after he murdered a prison employee in 1930 at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Some of the prisons that he served time in are Fresno, California; Harrison, Idaho; Washington D.C. ; Leavenworth, Kansas; Bridgeport Connecticut; Rusk, Texas; New York’s Sing Sing; Clinton Correctional Facility New York; The Dalles, Oregon; Montana State Reform School, Miles City Montana; Butte City Montana; State Prison Montana and Oregon.
He went to prison numerous times in his adulthood because he continued stealing bicycles and yachts. While in prison, he would attack the guards and not follow their orders. He enlisted in the United States Army but not for long. He was convicted of larceny and went to prison from 1908 to 1910 at Fort Leavenworth’s United States Disciplinary Barracks. Secretary of war and future president William Howard Taft approved Charles sentence. Charles broke into William’s home in New Haven, Connecticut in August of 1920 and stole a large amount of jewelry, bonds and a Colt M1911 .45 caliber handgun. Charles bought a yacht and hired a crew with the money he stole.
He was arrested after trying to sell some stolen items from a burglary he did a few hours earlier at house in Astoria, Oregon on June 1, 1915. He was sentenced to serve seven years in the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem starting on June 24. Warden Harry Minto believed in harsh treatment of inmates, not limiting to beatings and isolation. Harry was Charles’ warden and Charles stated that he swore he "would never do that seven years and I defied the warden and all his officers to make me."
Charles helped inmate Otto Hooker escape from prison and Otto killed Warden Harry while escaping. Charles received 61 days of solitary confinement before escaping on September 18, 1917. He was involved in two shootouts before police caught him and returned him to jail. He made his second prison break on May 12, 1918 by sawing through the prison bars. He shaved his mustache and told people his name was John O’Leary.
Charles would go to bars in New York and talk sailors to follow him away from the bar so that he could get them drunk, raped them and then shooting them with a Colt .45 pistol. He would then throw their bodies near Execution Rocks Light in Long Island Sound. Charles claims to kill ten people in all. Charles was arrested for burglary in 1928 and imprisoned in Washington, D.C. He confessed to killing two boys and was sentenced to jail. He made friends with prison guard Henry Lesser, who gave Charles some writing materials. Charles used the writing materials to write his autobiography that gave details of his crimes. He wrote “In my lifetime I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and, last but not least, I have committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all these things, I am not in the least bit sorry.” He also wrote that he is not homosexual but would rape men that he robbed so that he can humiliate and dominate them. He was very strong which helped him in dominating his victims.
Charles was given a 25-year sentence for his criminal record that was sentenced to serve at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Charles told the warden "I’ll kill the first man that bothers me," He worked a solitary job in the prison laundry room because he was considered psychotic. He battered laundry room prison foreman Robert Warnke on June 20, 1929 with an iron bar until he died. He was then sentenced to death by hanging and threatened to kill a human rights activists that tried to help him.
He spat in his executioner face while the noose was around his neck for hanging on September 5, 1930 and said "I wish the entire human race had one neck and I had my hands around it!" The executioner asked him if he had any last words, and he said "Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could hang a dozen men while you’re screwing around!" Charles was buried at the Leavenworth Penitentiary Cemetery.
Movies based on Charles’ final years:
Killer: A Journal Of Murder (1996) - James Woods starred as Charles Panzram.
Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance (2012) by filmmaker John Borowski
Famous Killers: Charles Panzram aka Carl Panzram
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