1930: Carl Panzram, rage personified

September 5th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1930, one of the most nihilistic criminals in American history was hanged for murder at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary — in character to his last breath, a sneer at the hangman about to put him to death:

“Hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could hang 10 men while you’re fooling around!”

Panzram — according, at least, to an autobiography which is largely unverifiable — had the chops to back up his taunt.

A Minnesota-born son of German immigrants, Panzram was into the juvenile detention system by adolescence, and at 14 hopped a freight train bound for a life of vagrancy. In Panzram’s recounting, his boyhood was a hellscape — even knowing what he became, it’s possible to feel compassion for the the killer’s remembrance, “Everybody thought it was all right to deceive me, lie to me and kick me around whenever they felt like it, and they felt like it pretty regular.”

Worse was to come for Carl — sexual molestation, a gang-rape by fellow hobos — and much worse by Carl.

The rape may have shattered the restraints on his conscience … or maybe they was already gone by then. “Might makes right” became his credo; to alcoholic and thief he added a portfolio of rape and enthusiastic homicide, crisscrossing the country (with a side trip to Africa), escaping or wheedling out of jails when he was picked up for something, and finding it amazingly easy to slay his fellow men.

A full narrative of Panzram’s grisly career is available at trutv.com. Much of this is, again, sourced only to Panzram himself, so the possibility of bloodthirsty braggadocio cannot be dismissed; even at a fraction of its alleged scope and brutality, his career was a triumph in horror.

While I was sitting there, a little kid about eleven or twelve years old came bumming around. He was looking for something. He found it, too. I took him out to a gravel pit about one-quarter mile away. I left him there, but first I committed sodomy on him and then killed him. His brains were coming out of his ears when I left him, and he will never be any deader.

It was the murder of a fellow inmate at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Ks., that sealed his fate. Panzram was in his late 30’s by this time, facing a long prison sentence. Something between the fury that fueled him and the desperate reality of not seeing the outside again until he was an old man may have impelled him to check out intentionally: he had warned that he would murder an inmate, and he responded to anti-death penalty campaigners’ attempts to save him by threatening to kill them, too.

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.

It seems the fate of common criminals, even those as prolific and infernal as Panzram, to shuffle into obscurity in fairly short order. Among devotees of the dark underbelly, Panzram may be well-known; to the larger public, he’s long forgotten.

Panzram’s memoirs, released as Killer: A Journal of Murder, were turned into a 1996 James Woods vehicle of the same title:

Interestingly, Panzram is also name-checked in another more famous literary artifact: In the Belly of the Beast, the tour de force of Norman Mailer protege Jack Abbott, who had conned the litterateur into backing his bid for parole, was rather boldly dedicated to Carl Panzram.* It will not surprise the reader to learn that Abbott, upon his release, killed again.

But a new generation is waiting to rediscover its butchers … and a new documentary, Panzram, is in production to bring the story back to silver screens and Netflix queues of the 21st century.

* Abbott was writing to Mailer while the latter was banging out his book about notable executee Gary Gilmore.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Gallows Humor,Hanged,Infamous,Kansas,Minnesota,Murder,Serial Killers,U.S. Federal,USA

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1977: Gary Gilmore

20 comments January 17th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1977, Gary Gilmore uttered the last words “Let’s do it” and was shot by a five-person firing squad in Utah as the curtain raised on a “modern” death penalty era in the United States.

Famous for volunteering for death — he had nothing but disdain for his outside advocates and angrily prevented his own lawyers pursuing last-minute appeals — Gilmore rocketed through the justice system at a pace now unthinkable.

Mere days after courts blessed the resumption of executions in 1976, the career criminal — just paroled from a decade mostly behind bars in Oregon — murdered two people in the Provo, Utah, area. He was convicted in a three-day trial in October 1976 … and dead little more than three months later.

Owing to his milestone status and the unfamiliar public persona he cut insisting on his own death, Gilmore left a trail of cultural artifacts far surpassing his personal stature as small-time crook.

He was lampooned in an early episode of Saturday Night Live. His public desire to donate his eyes (the wish was granted) inspired a top-20 punk hit:

Norman Mailer wrote a book about Gilmore (The Executioner’s Song) and adapted it into an award-winning television movie. Gary’s brother Mikal published his own memoir (Shot in the Heart), later made into an HBO movie.

In a weirder vein, Gilmore is the touchstone for the surrealistic film Cremaster 2, in which magician Harry Houdini — who might have been Gilmore’s grandfather — is portrayed by Norman Mailer.

Gary Gilmore’s was the first execution of any kind in the United States since June 2, 1967. According to the Espy file, it was also the first firing squad execution since James Rodgers was shot in Utah March 30, 1960; only one of the other 1,098 men and women put to death since Gilmore — John Taylor in 1996, also in Utah — faced a firing squad. (Update: After this post was published, another Utah condemned man also opted for a firing squad execution: Ronnie Lee Gardner, shot in 2010.)

Both Gilmore and Taylor chose to be shot in preference to hanging. The firing squad is all but extinct in the U.S., though it still remains on the books in some form in Idaho, Oklahoma and (for prisoners convicted before 2004) Utah.

Part of the Themed Set: The Spectacle of Private Execution in America.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,History,Infamous,Milestones,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Popular Culture,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,USA,Utah,Volunteers

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Calendar

November 2017
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!


Recent Comments

  • jimmy45: Incorrect. German military was OFTEN subject to summary execution in the field. 3 actual examples from...
  • Sarah Johnson: Well, G.D., while I don’t know Charles II’s specific reasons, I think Vane’s trial...
  • G.D. Hodgson: I have searched over many years without success to unearth just what this enigmatic historical...
  • Lynda Norris: Dear Rudy: You are family! Was Nestor Flores your father or grandfather? Travis from the above reply is...
  • markb: Hello, Bart. i am also into a writing project. i would recommend you take a good look at dennis rader, the...