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Carl Panzram
Background information
Also known as: Carl Baldwin
Jeff Davis
Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Rhodes
Jeff Rhodes
Jack Allen
Jefferson Baldwin
John King
John O'Leary
Born: 28 June 1891(1891-06-28)
Polk County, Minnesota
Died: 5 September 1930 (aged 39)

Leavenworth, Kansas

Cause of death: Execution by Hanging
Number of victims: 22
Span of killings: 1915 (As accessory); 1920,–June 20, 1929
Country: USA, Africa
State(s): Oregon (as an accessory), New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kansas.
Date apprehended: 1928.
Arrests/prison terms:
1899; 1903-1905; 1908-1910; 1911; 1913-1915; 1915-1918; 1923; 1923-1928; 1928-1930

Carl Panzram (28 June 1891 – 5 September 1930) was an American serial killer. He often used aliases such as "Carl Baldwin", "Jack Allen" and "Jefferson Baldwin" in Oregon; "Jeff Davis" in Idaho and Montana; "Jefferson Davis" in California and Montana; "Jeff Rhodes" in Montana; "John King"; and "John O'Leary" in New York.


Early life

He was born Charles Panzram in Minnesota, the son of Prussian immigrants, Johann "John" and Matilda Panzram, and raised on his family's farm. By his teens, he was an alcoholic and was repeatedly in trouble with the authorities, usually for burglary and theft. He ran away from home at the age of fourteen and claimed to have been gang raped by a group of hobos.

In adulthood, Panzram was a prolific thief, but he was frequently caught and imprisoned. While incarcerated, Panzram would frequently get into trouble by attacking guards and refusing to follow their orders. The guards would retaliate, subjecting him to beatings and punishments. Panzram had served a jail sentence from 1908 to 1910 at Fort Leavenworth's United States Disciplinary Barracks for larceny shortly after enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1907. William Howard Taft was then Secretary of War and had approved the sentence. In August 1920, Panzram robbed Taft's New Haven home, stealing a large amount of jewelry and bonds, as well as Taft's .45 caliber handgun, which Panzram then used in several murders.

In his autobiography, Panzram wrote that he was "rage personified", and he would often rape men whom he robbed, not because he was necessarily homosexual, but because it was his method of dominating and humiliating people. He also engaged in vandalism and arson, at one point considering an ambitious plot to scuttle a British warship docked in New York harbor in order to provoke a war between Britain and the United States.

By his own admission, one of the few times he did not engage in criminal activities was when he was "employed" as a strikebreaker against union employees. On another occasion, he tried to sign aboard as a ship's steward on a US Army Transport vessel, but was discharged when he reported to work intoxicated. He served time in jails and prisons in California, Texas, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Connecticut, Sing Sing {#75182} and Clinton Correctional Facility New York, Washington D.C. {#33379}; and Leavenworth, Kansas {#31614}.


On June 15, 1915, Panzram burglarized a house in Astoria, Oregon, and was arrested soon after when attempting to sell some of the stolen items.[1] He was sentenced to seven years, to be served at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, where he arrived on June 24. On arrival, he became inmate number 7390 and was under the supervision of the warden Harry Minto,[1] who believed in harsh treatment of inmates, which included beatings and isolation among other disciplinary measures.[1] Later, Panzram stated that he swore he “would never do that seven years and I defied the warden and all his officers to make me.”[1]

Panzram was disciplined several times while incarcerated, including 61 days in solitary confinement, before escaping on September 18, 1917.[1] Earlier, he had helped Otto Hooker escape from the prison, and Hooker killed Minto while evading capture.[1][2] While on the lam, Panzram was involved in two shootouts before being returned to the prison.[1] On May 12, 1918, he sawed through the prison bars and escaped again.[1] This time, he avoided capture and caught a freight train heading to the east.[1] He never returned to the Northwest, and changed his name to John O’Leary while shaving off his moustache.[1]

Killing spree

In 1920, Panzram committed his first murders. He lured sailors in New York away from bars, got them drunk, shot them and dumped their remains into the river. He claimed to have killed ten in all. He was stopped only when the vessel he was in was shipwrecked near Atlantic City, New Jersey; his last two potential victims escaped to parts unknown. Panzram then went to Africa, where he claims to have raped and killed an 11- or 12-year-old boy. [3] In his confession to this murder, he wrote: "His brains were coming out of his ears when I left him and he will never be any deader." He also claimed to have hired a rowing boat, shot the rowers and threw their bodies to the crocodiles.

Back in America, Panzram claimed to have shot a man dead for trying to rob him. He also asserted that he raped and killed two small boys, beating the former to death with a rock on July 18, 1922 in Salem, Massachusetts and strangling the latter later that year in New Haven, Connecticut .[3] After his last arrest in 1928, he also claimed to have committed a murder while burglarizing homes between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and an August 1928 murder in Philadelphia. Three of these last five killings are confirmed. With the death of the Oregon prison warden, Panzram was involved in at least one murder, as an accessory before the fact, prior to 1920.

Imprisonment and confession

In 1928, Panzram was arrested for burglary and held in Washington, D.C. During his interrogation and jail time, he voluntarily confessed to killing two boys.[4] At this time, he was befriended by a young, liberal-minded prison guard named Henry Lesser (1902-1983).[5][6] Lesser gave Panzram some writing materials which the prisoner used to write his autobiography, detailing his crimes and his nihilistic philosophy:

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.

In light of his extensive criminal record, he was handed a 25-year sentence which was to be served at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. "I'll kill the first man that bothers me," Panzram told the warden; on June 20, 1929 he killed Robert Warnke,[7] foreman of the prison laundry in Leavenworth, battering him to death with an iron bar. Panzram was sentenced to death. He refused to appeal, even threatening to kill human rights groups that attempted to appeal on his behalf.

Panzram was hanged on September 5, 1930. When asked by the executioner if he had any last words, Panzram barked, "Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could kill ten men while you're fooling around!"[3]


Lesser pressed for the manuscript to be published for forty years, and it finally was in 1970 as Killer: A Journal of a Murder. It has gone through a number of reprints, the latest being in 2002. The 1996 movie Killer: A Journal Of Murder was based on Panzram's final years, with James Woods as Panzram and Robert Sean Leonard as Lesser.

Henry Lesser donated the Carl Panzram papers (archival material) to the University of San Diego in 1980.OCLC: 31924012


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Serial Killer Calendar: Carl Panzram
  2. ^ Oregon Department of Corrections: The Last Day of Harry Minto's Life
  3. ^ a b c Gaddis, Thomas E.; James O. Long (1970). Killer: A Journal of Murder. Macmillan.  
  4. ^ Stevens Point Journal, Oct. 8, 1928, "Burglar at Taft's Admits Two Murders"
  5. ^ Social Security Death Index : Henry Lesser, born 8 Nov 1902, died Oct 1983, SSN issued from DC, last residence and benefit to Los Angeles, CA
  6. ^ California Death Index: Henry Philip Lesser born 8 Nov 1902 Massachusetts, died 27 Oct 1983 Los Angeles County
  7. ^ Officer Down

External links

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