Reform School

Carl Panzram Mugshot Panzram's memoirs, which were later included in Killer, A Journal of Murder, by Gaddis and Long, foreshadowed prison literature like The Making of a Serial Killer by a good 65 years.

Born in 1891 to a "hardworking, ignorant and poor" Teutonic family on a Minnesota farm, his father left home when he was seven. Carl was big for eleven when he set off to seek his fortune in the wild west. Stealing a cake, a few apples, and a big pistol, he hopped a freight train. But the aspiring Jesse James didn't get far.

When they brought him back, he was sent to the state reform school, which was run by a couple of individuals he referred to as religious fanatics. At the Minnesota State Training School at Red Wing, Mr. Moore and Miss Martin shared their love for Jesus with the little boys with such memorable learning experiences as The Paint Shop, where "they used to paint our bodies black and blue."

Panzram learned to love Jesus "so damn much I'd like to crucify him all over again." Instead, he burned down The Paint Shop in an act of faith which was shortly followed by a touch of Christian poisoning in Mr. Moore's rice pudding.

But Panzram's two years at Red Wing did teach him something useful after all: "...stealing, lying, hating, burning and killing. I had learned that a rectum could be used for other purposes than crepitating... 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 returned home to a chilly welcome. His mother was grieving over the drowning of her favorite son, and Carl was shunted straight off to a Lutheran boarding school. When some of the students taunted him about coming from reform school, he beat them up. The preacher corrected his bad behavior with a beating. Little Carl promptly pulled a Colt .45, bid farewell to the preacher, and hopped the next westbound train.

The west was wild enough to be sure, but not quite as much fun as the little blonde thirteen-year old hobo might have hoped. He was soon gang-raped. "I cried, I begged and pleaded for mercy, pity and sympathy, but nothing I could say or do could sway them from their purpose. I left that box a sadder, sicker but wiser boy..."

He got as far as Butte, Montana, where he was picked up for petty larceny and sent to another reform school. Once again brutalized, Panzram fought back, braining a former prizefighter with a piece of weighted lumber. This time, he was reformed in a startling new way. The process included not only beating, but forced circumcision.

This walking time bomb finally escaped from Montana State Reform School and for a couple of years drifted from town to town, aimlessly robbing and burning churches.

Joining the Army at 16, he was soon incarcerated for three years at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, for theft. Oddly, his sentence was approved by Secretary of War William Howard Taft, with whom he was fated to cross paths later.

Ft. Leavenworth made the young Carl Panzram into a man, filling him with "stinking codfish, greasy stew or moldy and wormy rice or beans." The formation of his character included having his 16-year old leg shackled to a 50-pound iron ball for six months straight. What would have broken men twice his age only fueled the rage that drove him on.

"The worse the food was and the harder they worked me, the stronger I got."


Reform School | A Little Sodomy | Incendiary Commentary
The Murder Business | Rob 'Em, Rape 'Em, Kill 'Em | Panzram in Prison

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