Case Study: The Case of Carl Panzram
Serial murder (also known as serial killing) is defined as “the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events [i.e., not in the same incident]” (Behavioral Analysis Unit, 2008, p. 9). Serial killing is rare when compared to other crimes. In fact, between 1800 and 2004, there have been more serial killers depicted in works of fiction (well over 500 in novels and movies) than actual offenders (approximately 430). Nonetheless, the investigation of serial murders is a high priority for law enforcement agencies (Hickey, 2010).
Carl Panzram may not be the most well-known of serial killers, having committed his crimes over a century ago, but he did leave “behind a remarkable listing of his crimes and misdeeds” (Serial Killers, 1991, p. 85). Born in Minnesota in 1891, Panzram began his life of crime at an early age.
Panzram was born into an impoverished German immigrant household in Minnesota in 1891. “Carl’s first years were spent without the attention he desired. In attempts to gain attention, Carl acted out, only to be psychically punished and then further ignored” (Singer & Hensley, 2004, p. 467). When only eight years old, Panzram was arrested for disorderly conduct and drunkenness. He was arrested for a number of robberies and sentenced to a juvenile reform school by age 11. At the school he was sexually and physically abused, and as a form of revenge, he set fire to one of the school buildings. After being released from the school, when 14, he “set fire to a warehouse…just for fun” (p. 468), and was returned to reform school.
Panzram joined the army at age 16 and received a dishonorable discharge after serving over three years in a military prison. “Before leaving the base, he managed to burn down the military prison workshop” (Singer & Hensley, 2004, p. 468). Following his discharge, Panzram was in and out of prison for a serious of burglaries. In his prison terms, Panzram was a difficult inmate, escaping and damaging prison property.
“Before imprisonment, Carl Panzram hated all humanity, but during this period, he turned this hatred toward himself” (Singer & Hensley, 2004, p. 468). Panzram also turned to serial killing, traveling the world in search of victims. He later wrote, “In my lifetime I have murdered 21 human beings. I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, [and] arsons…For all these things I am not in the least bit sorry” (Serial Killers, 1991, p. 85).
After being sentenced to prison for another burglary, Panzram killed a prison staff member, for which he received a death sentence. In 1930, after a lifetime of criminal activity both inside and outside of correctional institutions, Panzram was executed (Singer & Hensley, 2004). While an extreme example, Carl Panzram’s life and activities beg for explanation.*
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