Panzram: A Journal of Murder

Hi friends! Well, another month has come and gone, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write this, but I’ve been a slow reader recently. However, I’ve been super excited because I started (and finished) reading Panzram: A Journal of Murder by Thomas Gaddis and James Long.

I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I saw Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance back in 2013. The documentary was made by the same man who made H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer, John Borowski.

510hrlg6mglI’ll give credit where credit is due and put it out there that my sister actually got me addicted to crime stories: books, movies, documentaries, articles, memoirs – anything. She had always been a fan more of the psychology aspect of things. She loves Law and Order SVU, she’s read a ton of memoirs on drug addiction and alcoholism, and one of her favorite books is In Cold Blood – Truman Capote. So yeah, that’s where I learned it from. Thanks, sissy.

Anyway, I watched that documentary and the second I was done watching it, I re-watched it. It was so interesting, and tantalizing, and terrifying, too. But mostly it just made me think. I hadn’t really thought about the documentary until recently when I saw it on Netflix and immediately re-re-watched it. I loved it. I honestly wanted to finish it and watch it again (because apparently I have nothing better to do).

Instead, I decided I would read the book that the documentary was based on. That’s where you guys come in! So I started reading it in early June, and was breezing through it. Or rather, going at a slightly faster snails pace than I recently have been. Side note: I feel like a horrible reader! I used to read a hundred pages a night, and now I’m lucky if I read 25. I’m so ashamed.

So I was reading this book at a pretty decent rate. I think the first three nights I read 61 pages. There are 253 pages total. But once I started hitting about 140 pages I very quickly slowed to a pace of about ten pages a night, or every other night. Not because I didn’t have the time to read, but because it got tedious. I’ll explain:

The book is not just about Carl Panzram, it’s partially (mostly in the beginning) written by Panzram. Panzram met a young guard named Henry Lesser in a Washington D.C. jail, and soon became friends with the guard – one of the only guards who had proven to him to be a friend and not a vile human being. Because of their friendship, Panzram agreed to write down his life’s story. That’s where his written account comes from in the novel.

Panzram was born into a life that wasn’t very happy or loving, but certainly wasn’t cruel. Growing up in Minnesota he always wanted to run away to the West and be a cowboy. When he attempted to steal a gun at the age of 12 to finally live out his dream of cowboy, he was sent to the Minnesota State Training School, which was a “reform school” for boys of the ages 7 to 21, notorious for it’s abuse.

redwingtrainingschool1908

Minnesota State Training School – Red Wing

Bob Dylan actually wrote a song about the horrible school that finally legitimate reformation in 1906 after a botched hanging of a Minnesota inmate. The song was called The Walls of Red Wing, with a stanza saying:

“It’s many a guard
That stands around smilin’,
Holdin’ his club
Like he was a king.
Hopin’ to get you
Behind a wood pilin’,
Inside the walls,
The walls of Red Wing.”

Panzram was brought to the school in 1903. He endured unimaginable torture at the hands of men who repeatedly said they were doing it for Panzram to learn to be a good Christian. He stated that the guards “most popular [form of punishment] with them was to take us to the “Paint Shop,” so called because there they used to paint our bodies black and blue.”

Panzram spent two years in the school with repeated attempts to escape. One of his attempts was actually used to burn down the “Paint Shop,” an action that not only caused an uproar by the people who ran the place, but also created a huge boost of morale for the students. Panzram was beaten almost to death for his act, but it was that act that caused Panzram to change his method of survival: pretending to “be a good Christian.”

He fooled the higher ups of the school and was finally let free in 1905, at the age of 14. Panzram, to the day he died, hated religion and everyone who believed in it. He had seen horrendous things done at the hands of believers.

Carl Panzram was finally free to go to The West and be a cowboy. He “rode the rails” for a year. Jumping from freight car to freight car. Unfortunately this ended in Panzram being raped by several men. This experience would change his mentality completely. He no longer wanted to be a cowboy, he just wanted to steal from, sodomize, and murder as many men and people as possible – something he did very well.

71436_91ateztvl6l_bitsHis life outside of prison didn’t last long, though. He joined the army, lying about his age, but was sent to prison only a couple months later. Because he had lied about his age, saying he was 18 years old instead of 16, he was sent to an adult prison: Fort Leavenworth Military Prison in Kansas.

Over the course of more than twenty years, Panzram would spend time in two reform schools, nine large prisons for dangerous inmates, and hundreds of smaller jails. He would break out of most of them.

In the mid 1920’s Panzram was in Dannemora Prison. He attempted escape up a 30 foot cement wall. His makeshift ladder broke and he felt those thirty feet onto the concrete. When the guards found him he had broken both of his ankles and legs, fractured his spine and “ruptured himself.” He was taken to a hospital to lay without medical attention for five days. After those five days he was made put into a cell, still with no medical attention, for 8 months. For another six months he would need to walk with crutches or a cane. After 14 months he was finally granted surgical attention. They repaired his “ruptures” and removed one of his testicles.

In Panzram’s mind, he was more concerned with making sure his reproductive organs still worked, and attempted to commit sodomy on another inmate. For this infraction he was denied care and put back into his cell to heal on his own. From that day on, he couldn’t walk without a sideways gait and limp.

Once he was freed from that prison, it wasn’t until 1928 that he was arrested again in Washington D.C. for housebreaking. This is where he met the guard Henry Lesser.

After becoming friends with the guard, and giving him the story of his life, he was transferred back to the first large prison he ever got stuck in, Fort Leavenworth. During his stay, he murdered one guard, and had planned on killing thirteen more, had they been where he thought they would be. He would live in this prison for two years before his execution by hanging on September 5, 1930.

So, the review. I think this story is fantastic. I think it’s a great example of a regular kid trying to rebel to get the attention of his family and friends, who was then turned into a hardened criminal by the surroundings he was forced into.

Now I know that I could be totally wrong. Maybe this guy was born evil and it was just a matter of time before he started murdering and raping everything he saw. But from what I’ve read, I truly believe that this man was put under horrible conditions from a very young age; was forced to do horrible things, and in turn only learned about hatred, lies, and manipulation. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s despicable. But I don’t necessarily think he would have been despicable.

Through Panzram’s entire confession, he repeatedly states that he wants to be executed. He wants to die before he hurts more people. He believes that all humans are inherently evil, including himself, and thus he is “reforming” them by killing them. Yes, this is the rationale of a crazy person. But is it not also the rationale of someone carlpanzram252822529who had been subjected to torture, brain washing, and molestation from a very early age? As someone who had grown up in “reform” schools, does it not seem odd that he would go through life “reforming” those he met?

Maybe that’s not the topic at hand – maybe I should just review the story – but I feel like I would missing a huge opportunity to explain to people just how dangerous the American prison system can be. Even one hundred years later, there are still stories and confessions of people exactly like Panzram, who are arrested from an early age, not given an opportunity to better themselves, and often are sent out of prisons into a new life of crime that they may not have had to deal with, had they had the right opportunities and the right people helping them.

But here’s what I think of the book: I’m going to give it 4 out of 5 stars. Not because the entire book was wonderful. Because I really feel like after the first 150 pages it got really slow, with not too much to add from Panzram’s side other than how he wanted articles to read before he died. Once he was brought to Fort Leavenworth for the second time, he was basically in isolation for two years – that doesn’t really give you a lot to talk about. So instead that time was spent reading about Panzram just wanting to die. I preferred reading about Panzram’s life and his ideals – the way he reacted towards other people and how he handled life in prison for almost thirty years.

That said, the writing by Gaddis and Long was exquisite, the writing by Panzram was dark, horrible, and depressing – but it was fantastic. I think this book deserves 4 stars, or two thumbs up, or fifteen Quatloos, simply for this man’s story, and the amazing amount of research that Gaddis and Long did on the penitentiaries and towns that Panzram had visited, as well as the research into Panzram himself.

If you are a fan of crime books, or are intrigued by this kind of thing, I highly recommend that you read it. It’s well worth the read. If you’re not a fan, I hope you at least enjoyed this post!

If you have any opinions on anything I’ve mentioned or if you have anything at all you want to say I really would love to hear all about it. You can comment below or send me an e-mail to rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Thanks for reading, and until next time,

Rachel

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Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass Incident Book Review

Helloooooo! I’m sorry I haven’t written recently, I’ve been out of commission a bit because I broke my right foot and badly sprained my left ankle. So I’ve just been trying to heal up and get better. But in my time at home, gaining worse cabin fever by the day, I had plenty of time to read!

Before I get into the book, you need the backstory: back in April, my boyfriend and I drove up to Boston and at night we were watching YouTube videos of an old lady playing video games (she’s absolutely adorable and calls the people that watch her videos her grandkids! My heart is melting just thinking about it!) and she began a new game based on a true story. I thought it was incredibly interesting, so we found a book about the incident and bought it so I could read it ASAP.

The story is crazy. Basically, in 1959 a group of nine very experienced skiers went to a mountain in Russia. The group kept extensive journals and logs about their progress on Mount Otorten and everything was going well. On February 1st the logs stop. No one hears from them even weeks after they should have returned. Search parties are sent out, and the bodies are found.dyatlov pass2

Rather, the bodies were found in a very odd and mysterious way.

They were found in an area that was not where they were supposed to be – almost 9 miles from their original destination. Their tent had been slashed open from the inside as if in a panic – say whaaaaat? The search party then found the first group of people (five out of nine) with a crudely made fire from the limbs of a nearby tree that they had climbed. They were found with barely any warm clothes on and no shoes at all. Two of the members had frozen next to their fire, with their hands and feet charred as if they had stuck them directly into their fire. That group also contained three members who were found dead in straight line, crawling towards their tent.

The the second portion of the group was found closer to the tent, hidden under what looked like a makeshift shelter from the elements. These skiers were found with unidentifiable internal injuries and little to no external injuries other than frostbite.

What happened to this group? Fifty-seven years after this mysterious incident, still no conclusion has been made as to what occurred on February 1st, 1959. But Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass Incident by Keith McCloskey provides quite a few theories that you can choose from.
Here’s my issue with this book, and I’ll go right out and say it now: these theories are ridiculous. Some of them make some sense (such as a group fight, or an attack by the local tribes) and you can find truth to them and somewhat understand what could have happened. But for the most part they were just far fetched.

For example, one of the biggest “possibilities” is the Yury Yakimov theory. This is the idea that some sort of extraterrestrial thing with blinding lights and little henchmen with floating orbs that respond only to a human glance could have caused the panic that occurred on that fateful night.

Now I’ll be the first to say that I believe in something else. I believe that there are some sorts of extra terrestrial things out there. Maybe not in the green body, big upside-down tear shaped face creatures. But definitely I believe that there is some kind of life elsewhere, and that weird things happen all the time. I believe that.dyatlov_pass_incident_02

What I don’t believe, is that this Yury Yakimov guy saw these beings in 2002 – more than 40 years later – somewhat near the town where these students died, and somehow I’m supposed to believe that they are the reason behind the tragic incident?

Look, I’ve believed crazier things. But something about the fact that this happened 43 years after, basically just in the greater surrounding area – not even on the frickin’ mountain they died on, and was only seen by two people in 2002 and never again – at least that was made public – just doesn’t make sense to me. The fact that this is such a plausible theory that there’s not only a chapter designated for it, but a 34 page chapter for it, is just ridiculous.

The next theory that they had was that the military caused the incident. Keep in mind, again, I can believe in military cover-ups and things like that. But the fact that this book has at least a total of 60 pages dedicated specifically to military cover-ups or bombings, or Infrasound weapons, or accidental launches of ICBMs without anyone else noticing…. it’s just too much. I can’t hop on that train.

Despite the theories, the book has a lot of good detail, so let’s get into that.

The book starts with what happened as stated by eyewitnesses as they began their journey up the mountain, as well as using what is written in their diaries, and what was found after their deaths. They go into a LOT of detail on the autopsies which I found extremely interesting and helpful in coming up with my own conclusions. Some of the marks and bruises and internal injuries, and even the causes of death just seem very strange, and I thought it was absolutely awesome to be able to read the full autopsy reports.

Unfortunately, I feel like after those first couple chapters, this book just fluctuated up and down. It was pretty much a reading roller coaster. Sometimes it would be super interesting, and sometimes it would be kind of crap, or at least really slow. When it was good, it was really good. But about 30% of the book was just really slow and far-fetched.

As far as this being a good book, as in a well written and well researched book – I think it lives up to my expectations. But as far as it being an exciting book to read, I would say that it was really only like 75% exciting and the rest was just filler.

Honestly, I was pretty disappointed with this book. Maybe it’s just because I was so looking forward to it. I mean, I’m incredibly interested in the stories behind murders, and strange deaths – I’m just very interested in crime and things of that nature so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to read a new awesome book. But sadly it was less about what happened on their journey and more about trying to find ANY SOLUTION, no matter how ridiculous to fill in the gaps that are left by the mysterious incident.Dyatlov Pass incident

For those interested in this kind of book or topic, I would suggest you read it, but don’t waste your time on the boring parts. If you’re reading it and are like, “wow. That’s stupid.” just skip over it, because the best parts of this book are honestly the true parts of this book, and not the billions of theories.

I’m sorry to give you basically a disappointing book review, but hey, man, that’s what I signed up for! Gotta give you the truth! Nonetheless, I’m currently reading a crime novel about the serial killer Carl Panzram, so when I’m finished with that I’ll be sure to let you guys know what I think of it.

If you have read this book or know of any other theories or stories and want to share them, please leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail at rachel@booksandcleverness.com.

Until next time!

Rachel