The Murder Business

Carl Panzram Mugshot In 1917, Panzram finally escaped from the Oregon pen for the last time, calmly walking off while three other escapees were shot down. He became a new man. "John O'Leary" was the merchant seaman who embarked on a worldwide murder spree described so frankly by Panzram in his memoirs.

This excerpt from Killer, A Journal of Murder, by Gaddis and Long was published in Knockin' on Joe: Voices from Death Row, edited by S. London and published in England in 1992. It covers a few of the highlights of those years in Panzram's own words:

Back in New York in the summer of 1920 I think - June or July but maybe August. Five days after I got back broke on the Manchuria I went up to New Haven, Connecticut. There I robbed the home of someone in that place. I got about $40,000 worth of jewelry and some Liberty Bonds. They were signed and registered with the name W.H. Taft and among the jewelry was a watch with his name on it, presented to him by some congress or some senate while he was the Governor General of the Philippine Islands. So I know it was the same man who had given me my three years in the U.S. Military Prison when he was Secretary of War about 1906. Out of this robbery I got about $3,000 in cash and kept some of the stuff, including a .45 Colt Automatic. With that money I bought a yacht - the Akista. Her initials and registry numbers were K.N.B.C., 107,296.

On my yacht I had quarters for five people but I was alone for a while. Then I figured it would be a good plan to hire a few sailors to work for me, get them out to my yacht, get them drunk, commit sodomy on them, rob them and then kill them. This I done. Every day or two I would get plenty of booze by robbing other yachts there. The Barbara H was one of them. I robbed her and a dozen or so others around there. I was hitting the booze pretty hard myself at that time. Every day or two I would go to New York and hang around 25 South Street and size up the sailors. Whenever I saw a couple who were about my size and seemed to have money, I would hire them to work on my yacht. I would always promise a big pay and easy work.

What they got was something else. I would take them and all their clothes and gear out to my yacht at City Island. There we would wine and dine and when they were drunk enough they would go to bed. When they were asleep I would get my .45 Colt Army Automatic, this I stole from Mr. Taft's home, and blow their brains out. Then I would take a rope and tie a rock on them and put them into my rowboat, row out in the main channel about one mile and drop 'em overboard. They are there yet, ten of 'em. I worked that racket about three weeks. My boat was full of stolen stuff, and the people at City Island were beginning to look queer at me so the next two sailors I hired I kept alive and at work. One was named Delaney and the other was Goodman or Goodwin.

The three of us on my boat pulled out one day and went as far as Graves End Bay, New York, where I robbed another yacht. They knew it but I figured on killing them both in a day or two. But we only got as far down the coast as Atlantic City, New Jersey, where my yacht was wrecked, with everything on her lost. The three of us got ashore alive. The other two I paid off and where they went I don't know or care. I was sick at that time and a Dr. Charles McGivern took care of me there at his home for a week or so. Him I gave a few pieces of jewelry of Old Man Taft's. I also gave him the .45 Colt Automatic that I done the killing with. I left his home and went back to Connecticut looking for another $40,000, but I got six months in the can at Bridgeport, Connecticut, instead for burglary. I done that six months and while there I borrowed $100 from my doctor, Charles McGivern. When I got out of the can I went to Philadelphia. There I got my Colt .45 back from the doctor.

Then I joined the Flying Squadron of the Seamen's Union who were on strike at that time. A few days later I got into a gun battle with some scab sailors and the cops. The cops won. I got pinched and held for the grand jury under the charges of aggravated assault and inciting to riot. I got out on bail and immediately jumped it. I went to Norfolk, Virginia, got a ship to Europe and robbed and jumped her when I got there.

From Europe I went down to Matadi in the Belgian Congo, Africa. From there I went to Luanda, Angola, Portuguese West Africa. There I went to work for the Sinclair Oil Company, driving niggers, and I sure drove the hell out of them too. I wasn't there long before I decided to get a nigger girl. I got one. I paid a big price for her. I bought her from her mother and father for 80 eschudas [escudos] or about $8 in American money. The reason I paid such a big price for her was because she was a virgin. Yah, so she said. She was about 11 or 12 years old. I took her to my shack the first night and took her back to her father's shack the next. I demanded my money back because they had deceived me by saying the girl was a virgin.

I didn't get my money back but they gave me another and younger girl. This girl was about eight years old. I took her to my shack and maybe she was a virgin but it didn't look like it to me. I took her back and quit looking for any more virgins. I looked for a boy.

I found one. He was our table waiter. I educated him into the art of sodomy as practiced by civilized people. But he was only a savage and didn't appreciate the benefits of civilization. He told my boss and the boss-man fired me quick, but before he did I licked the hell out of him. They chased me out of the jungles of Quimbazie where that happened and I went back to Luanda. There I went to the U.S. Consul, a Mr. Clark, but he had heard all about me and my ways and he would have none of me. I left his office and sat down in a park to think things over a bit.

While I was sitting there, a little nigger boy about 11 or 12 years old came bumming around. He was looking for something. He found it, too. I took him out to a gravel pit about a quarter mile from the main camp of the Sinclair Oil Company at Luanda. I left him there, but first I committed sodomy on him and then killed him. His brains were coming out of his cars when I left him and he will never be any deader. He is still there.

Then I went to town, bought a ticket on the Belgian steamer to Lobito Bay down the coast. There I hired a canoe and six niggers, and went out hunting in the bay and backwaters. I was looking for crocodiles. I found them, plenty. They were all hungry. I fed them. I shot all six of these niggers and dumped 'em in. The crocks done the rest. I stole their canoe and went back to town, tied the canoe to the dock and that night someone stole the canoe from me.

To some people of average intelligence, killing six at once seems an almost impossible feat. That is because of their ignorance of the full details. It was very much easier for me to kill those six niggers that it was for me to kill only one of the young boys I killed later and some of them were only 11 or 12 years old.

In Africa there are bull buffaloes that weigh 2,000 pounds and have enormous strength, yet a crocodile 12 or 15 foot long can kill and eat a buffalo. Any of these six niggers that I killed could kill and eat one of those crocodiles. Armed with no more than some small sticks and a bit of grass and a piece of rotten meat they do that trick every day all over Africa. I was forearmed with the knowledge that I had gained and also a nine millimeter German Luger automatic pistol and plenty of bullets. The seven of us were in the canoe, the other six in front of me where I sat in the stern. The canoe was about 22 feet long, four-and-a-half foot wide, two-and-a-half foot deep.

The niggers expected nothing. They all had their backs turned to me. I am a crack shot. I fired a single shot into each nigger's back, and then reloaded with a new clip and fired another shot into the brain of each one as they lay dying or dead in the bottom of the canoe. Then I threw them all over board and the crocodiles soon finished what I had left of them. This canoe was registered and licensed. It must still be in existence. If it is, there are two bullets imbedded in the wood, one in the bottom near the stern and one on the port side near the middle. These niggers were all full grown men with families who must be still alive and who still remember me as dozens of people saw me at Lobito Bay when I hired them and their canoe.

The pistol with which I did that killing, I brought back to the States. There is a record of it at the Maxim Silent Firearms Co. at Hartford, Conn. where I sent it in the winter of 1922 and 1923, from Yonkers, N.Y. under my name of Captain John O'Leary. Under that name and address, 220 Yonkers Ave., I sent the pistol to them and they sold me a silencer for it. All of this must be on the books of that company's records. The Port Police and Belgian Consul at Lobito Bay can verify the rest of the Lobito Bay end of it. I thought that the pistol wasn't deadly enough as it was so I got a silencer for it to be able to do a bigger and more efficient business in the murder line. And, believe me, if that heavy calibered pistol and the silencer had only worked as I thought it would, I would have gone into the murder business on a wholesale scale instead of being a piker and only killing 21 human beings. My intentions were good because I am the man that goes around the world doing people good.

Next I bought a ticket on that same Belgian steamer and went back to Luanda where I again went to Mr. Clark, the U.S. Consul, and bummed him for a ticket to Europe, but he gave me the air and set the cops after me. That night I went to the house of a Spanish prostitute and robbed her of 10,000 eschudas. She also set the cops after me so I beat it. I couldn't get out of there by rail or by ship as the cops were looking for me so I hiked out.

I hiked north for the Belgian Congo, 300 miles away, through Ambrizett and Ambreeze, up to the mouth of the Congo River at San Antonio. There I hired a canoe and paddlers who took me across to Point Banana. There I bought a ticket on a French ship to Boma and from there up to Matidi. There I stayed about a month. Then broke, I couldn't get a ship. I stowed away on a U.S. ship, the West Nono. They carried me as far as Axime on the Gold Coast and dumped me there. I walked to Secondee [Sekondi] and there robbed some lime juicers and bought a ticket on the S.S. Patonie. On her I got as far as Las Palmas [Canary Islands], and there the U.S. Consul didn't know me and I gave him a lot of bull and he bought me a ticket on a Portuguese ship to Lisbon, Portugal.

When I got there I at once went to the U.S. Consul to try to get a ship out but I got hell instead. He knew all about me. A Mr. Crandall, director of the Sinclair Oil Company, had been there a few weeks before me on his way from Luanda, and he told the Consul all about me. That afternoon I stowed away on an English coal carrier that took me to Avenmouth, England. A day or so later I signed on a U.S. ship as a consul's passenger to New York. This was in the summer of 1922.

Just as soon as I got to New York I took my old license as captain and owner of my bill of sale which had been given to me in the Customs House in New York City for my old lost yacht, the Akista, that I went and saved all of this time from 1920 until 1922. I got a new license and set of papers by turning my old ones in to the Customs House in New York City. I kept these new papers and began looking around for another yacht of the same size and kind so I could steal her, take her name and number off and put mine on.

In July at Salem, Massachusetts, I murdered an 11 or 12 year old boy by beating his brains out with a rock. I tried a little sodomy on him first. I left him laying there with his brains coming out of his cars. [The victim was 12-year-old Henry McMahon.]

Went down towards New York - robbing and hell-raising as I came. That same summer and fall I went through Philadelphia to Baltimore where I bought a ticket to Jacksonville, Florida, on a boat. At Jacksonville, I signed on a ship and went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, paid off there and went to the Marine Hospital at New Orleans. I stayed there a month or two and when I left this hospital, I robbed their drug room of two suitcases full of drugs - cocaine, morphine and opium. Sold some in New Orleans, some in St. Louis and the rest in New York.

In January or February 1923, I got a job as a watchman at 220 Yonkers Avenue, Yonkers, New York, for the Abeeco Mill Company. While there I met a young boy of 14 or 15 years whose name was George and whose home was in Yonkers. I started to teach him the fine art of sodomy but I found he had been taught all about it and he liked it fine. I kept him with me until I left that job in April 1923.

A month or two later I got a job as watchman and caretaker of boats at the New Haven Yacht Club at New Haven, Connecticut. I took very good care of their boats, so much so that I robbed one the next night. The name of the yacht I don't know but the owner of it was the Police Commissioner of New Rochelle, New York, or some place near there. Part of my loot was his pistol, a .38 Colt double-action side-break gun.

A few weeks later about May or June I stole a yacht at Providence, Rhode Island, and sailed it up as far as New York. I was alone until then. At New York I picked up a kid about 18 or 20 years old, took him on the yacht with me as far as Yonkers. There I let him go back to New York. At Yonkers I picked up my other kid, George. I took him along on the yacht to Kingston, New York. There I painted the yacht over, changed the name and numbers to correspond to my papers. I tried to sell the boat there. While doing so, I met a fellow who said he wanted to buy my boat but instead of that he got out on the yacht with me where we were laying at anchor. There he tried to stick me up but I was suspicious of his actions and was ready for him, and I shot him twice with the same pistol I had stolen from the Police Commissioner's yacht at New Haven a short time before.

After I killed him I tied a big hunk of lead around him with a rope and threw him and his gun overboard. He is there yet so far as I know. Then I sailed down the river, stealing everything I could as I went. I got as far as Newburgh, New York. There the kid, George, got scared and I let him go home to Yonkers. When he got home he told the police all he knew about me which wasn't much but it was enough for the cops to come looking for me. They caught me and my yacht at Nyack. They took me, boat and all my plunder to Yonkers in jail there. Charged with sodomy, burglary, robbery and trying to break jail there. I got a lawyer there, a Mr. Cashin. I told him the boat was worth five or ten thousand dollars and that I would give it to him if he got me out of jail. He got me out and I gave him the boat and my papers. When he went to register the boat he lost her because the owner from Providence came and got her.

A few days later I went to New Haven where I killed another boy. I committed a little more sodomy on him also and then tied his belt around his neck and strangled him, picked him up when he was dead and threw his body over behind some bushes. [The identity of this victim was never definitely established.]

Went to New York then and got a job as a bathroom steward on the Army Transport, U.S. Grant, going to China, but instead of me going to China I got fired for being drunk and fighting. The next night I robbed the express office at Larchmont, New York, and got caught in the act, put in jail and indicted at White Plains, New York, for burglary. I at once saw that I could be convicted so I immediately saw the prosecuting attorney and with him made a bargain. He promised me that if I would plead guilty and in that way save the county the expense of a trial, he would agree that I would get a very light sentence in return.

I kept to my side of the bargain but he didn't. I pleaded guilty and was immediately given the limit of the law, five years. At once I was sent to Sing Sing.


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