There is something quite kitsch about retrospective biographies on the mean humans that have walked the earth. Whether they’re biographies on East End thugs, Glaswegian gangsters or the Italian/American Mafia, to give a few examples. Most biographies tend to portray an impression that the culprits within their pages are salt of the earth types, with an honest connection to living the the right kind of life, but whilst offering a warning that at any point once crossed, these humans can turn into evil incarnate, due to an uncontrollable temper that stems back to an early childhood incident that haunted them into adulthood.
Panzran; A Journal of Murder by Gaddis and Long, offers up a slightly fresh observation on a human who self proclaimed himself as the “world’s worst murderer”.
Panzram was raised in the tough times of the early 1900’s within a strict religious God fearing family. Confined to a religious reform school from an early age, he was beaten by the head priest and fell foul to much worse physical acts from older boys at the school. These horrors, on top of his physical and emotionally abusive home life cast the die for a young boy that went on a one man terror streak through out his life.
The book is an account based on the correspondence that Panzram made with a befriended Prison Warden, who managed to gain the trust of Panzram during one of his multiple prison sentences, so much so that they kept in touch right up to his execution in September 1930.
That correspondance in the form of letters, (some smuggled out, some sent legitimately) details Panzram’s reign of terror round the world. His damaged psyche made him no tree, always on the run from armed robbery, prison break or suspician of murder, Panzram had no roots and didn’t seem to be affected by travelling the world on steam liners to European and African countries on his own and with aquaintencies. The only common theme, was that wherever he went, trouble was not far behind. In his own admission, in his lifetime, he had “murdered 21 human beings” he had “committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons” and last but not least “committed sodomy onb more than 1000 male human beings”. This brutal tale shows how the environment we are brought up in and the social circles in which we move have a tremendous impact on our attitude and psyche.
There are ultimately points in the story, that offer a scintilla of light, that with the right support, Panzram could change. But unfortunately the damage is already done.
As an interesting point, the book raises the question and we’re left to wonder, as to whether human beings, at their core and basic function, are aggressive murderous animals, (like our chimpanzee relatives) and whether it is simply thousands of years of social training and indoctrination that keep us all from lashing out and unleashing the inner chimp.