Carl Panzram was born at an odd time in American history. In 1891, in rural Minnesota, he was born into a poor farming family. His father left the family when he was 7. Brought up in an atmosphere of swift and merciless punishment, and unending toil for little or no reward, Panzram learned early that the world most likely hated him, or at best was indifferent.
Unlike most in this situation, he decided to return hate with hate, and indifference to suffering with callous disregard.
“The older I got the meaner I got.”
The nation, in Panzram’s youth, was suddenly much easier to traverse. He was one of the first traveling killers. Canneries, industry, and labor disputes were common during his lifetime- the fact that child labor was being seriously defended by those in authority at that time did much to warp his perspective. He began his violence very young, and at the age of eight, fighting and attacking other children. He was sent to a reform school at eleven. Reform schools and prisons at that time were not dedicated to rehabilitation- punishment was the purpose, and Panzram experienced several years of sodomy, beatings, forced labor, and starvation.
When he was released, he was primed and ready to take revenge on the world.
“I first began to think that I was being unjustly imposed upon. Then I began to hate those who abused me. Then I began to think that I would have my revenge just as soon and as often as I could injure someone else. Anyone at all would do.”
In 1906, after another failed attempt at reform school, Panzram hopped a train out into the world.
“I fully decided when I left there just how I would live my life. I made up my mind that I would rob, burn, destroy and kill everywhere I went and everybody I could as long as I lived.”
He was almost immediately arrested for burglary and imprisoned again. At the age of 14, he was fully grown, man-size. He was able to escape, and began burning churches as a hobby along his travels. His fierce hatred for religion had been beaten into him during his time at the christian reform schools. He had begun to rape anyone and everyone he came across that was vulnerable; his anger was not limited by gender or age.
Panzram changed his name during this time, and wandered west again. He eventually enlisted in the military; he was court-martialed and sentenced again, almost immediately, for burglary. He was sent to the federeal penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth- an old, brutally-managed prison. He was treated as an adult, since it was not known that he was only 16 at the time. A code of silence was strictly enforced there, solitary confinement and whipping were the chosen punishments. He was there for four years- breaking rocks for ten hours a day, every day. when he left he was stronger and angrier than before.
I’ve found that I simply can’t do Panzram justice. His ability to express himself, and the sheer amount of information in existence chronicling his life, are overwhelming to me. He is a nihilist inspiration; he was the epitome of misanthropic, all-encompassing-hateful badassery, and his story is told very well and with thorough attention to detail here. You can also, like I did, buy his autobiography, which he wrote while in prison.
I hate to be a quitter but I honestly feel that my writing ability has broken under the weight of detail available about his life.
Perhaps I will come back to this post later, and take another run at him.
other, more successful stories in this series: