True Crime: An Obsession


Grace Sanders, Contributor

Have you escaped the recent obsession with true crime media? I am here to change that and tell you about the baffling crimes of Carl Panzram, just one of the many tales told on Morbid: A True Crime PodcastThe true crime genre, as The says, is “an audio gold mine: According to one survey, it was the third-most-popular genre in the medium in 2020—outpacing sports and even politics.” True crime is also popular in other mediums. True crime is also one of Netflix’s most popular genres.  It has really flourished in the podcast format with thousands of true crime podcasts to choose from, but this particular story of Carl Panzram is a standout.

Born in 1891 in Minnesota, Carl started his crime spree after his dad left, around 12 years old. He stole a cake, an apple, and a revolver from wealthy neighbors. For this, he was sent to an all-boys correctional school where he was beaten for the smallest things. Eventually, he burned down a building there. He learned that if he followed the rules and did as he was told he would be able to get out. 

In his teens, he was released and ran away from home hopping from train to train, traveling across the country. At one point he tried to make friends with a group of hobos and they turned on him, robbing him and leaving him for dead. After this, Panzram learned he couldn’t trust anyone and began beating and robbing people he met. He thought that to get what you want you just took it and it didn’t matter who you hurt. 

He continued burning down buildings and taking advantage of people for his own gain. This eventually landed him in prison. He was soon released on good behavior and he went right back to his bad habits. He continued getting caught and sentenced. He was not a great thief. 

In 1915 Carl was sent to the Oregon State Penitentiary for petty theft yet again. The guards did not like Panzram, he didn’t follow the rules. He was tortured and spent time in solitary confinement where he resorted to eating cockroaches. While still in his first year at the penitentiary, he made an escape attempt with another inmate that ended in the death of the warden. They got him back but he tried to escape in 1917 and 1918. 

In 1920 he somehow got out and bought a yacht named Akiska. He used this to lure young men there and kill them. When authorities were on his tail again he escaped to Africa as a stowaway. While there he upped his body count by seven more. He brutally killed a young boy. After this, he went on a tour of a jungle. He killed all six guides and crocodiles happily consumed the evidence.

After a year, Panzram was done with Africa. He moved back to America and killed a few more young boys. He was a hulking man, strong enough to overpower adults. Though his thieving skills didn’t get any better. He landed himself in the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary and was sentenced to 25 years after confessing to murder in 1928. He tried escaping but was caught. One day he beat the laundry foreman to death with an iron bar. This act landed him the death sentence. He was happy to be on death row and wished to kill the people that advocated for his release from it. Soon Panzram made a friend, a guard who would slip him pieces of paper and encourage him to write his life story. He did and Panzram: A Journal of Murder was published in 1970. Carl only had a year to write because in 1930 he was hanged, his last words were, “Hurry up, I could have killed a dozen men while you were screwing around!”

Carl’s story is one of a bad childhood and mishandled prison sentences. We can gain knowledge from his story and learn how to recognize when someone is dangerous. 

True crime is a wildly popular genre across multiple mediums– books, movies, podcasts, TV shows, documentaries, you name it… It’s an interesting genre of storytelling that can quickly become an obsession. You can listen to Morbid: A True Crime podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify, TuneIn, Podbean, Podcast Addict, PlayerFM, and Podtail, or you can head over to its website.