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Prison portrait of cannibal Alferd Packer.

Alfred G. "Alferd" Packer (January 21, 1842 – April 23, 1907)[1] was an American prospector who was accused of cannibalism. First tried for murder, Packer was eventually sentenced to 40 years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter.[2]


Packer's life

Packer was born as Alferd G. Packer in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania to James Packer and wife Esther Griner.[3] Packer served on the Union side in the American Civil War, enlisting in April 1862 in Company F, 16th U. S. Infantry Regiment. However, he was discharged for epilepsy the following December. He then enlisted in Company L, 8th Iowa Cavalry Regiment, but was discharged again for the same reason. He then decided to go west and try his luck at prospecting.

In November 1873, Packer was with a party of 21 who left Provo, Utah, bound for the Colorado gold country around Breckenridge. On January 21, 1874 he met with Chief Ouray, known as the White Man's Friend, near Montrose, Colorado. Chief Ouray recommended they postpone their expedition until spring, as they were likely to encounter dangerous winter weather in the mountains.

Ignoring Ouray's advice, Packer and five others left for Gunnison, Colorado on February 9. The other men were Shannon Wilson Bell, James Humphrey, Frank "Reddy" Miller, George "California" Noon and Israel Swan.

The party got hopelessly lost, ran out of provisions, and became snowbound in the Rocky Mountains. Packer allegedly went scouting and came back to discover Bell roasting human flesh. According to Packer, Bell rushed him with a hatchet. Packer shot and killed him. Packer insisted that Bell had gone mad and murdered the others.

On April 16, 1874, Packer arrived alone at Los Pinos Indian Agency near Gunnison. He spent some time in a Saguache, Colorado saloon, meeting several of his previous party. He initially claimed self-defense, but his story was not believed. During the trial, the presiding judge M.B. Gerry said:

Close your ears to the blandishments of hope. Listen not to its fluttering promises of life. But prepare to meet the spirits of thy murdered victims. Prepare for the dread certainty of death.[4]

Packer signed a confession on August 5, 1874. He was jailed in Saguache, but escaped soon after, vanishing for several years.

Memorial to Packer's alleged victims, at the scene of the crime, southeast of Lake City, Colorado.

On March 11, 1883, Packer was discovered in Cheyenne, Wyoming living under the alias of "John Schwartze." On March 16, he signed another confession. On April 6, a trial began in Lake City, Colorado. On April 13, he was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to death. In October 1885, the sentence was reversed by the Colorado Supreme Court as being based on an ex post facto law. However, on June 8, 1886, Packer was sentenced to 40 years at another trial in Gunnison. At the time, this was the longest custodial sentence in U.S. history.[5]

On June 19, 1899, Packer's sentence was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court. However, he was paroled on February 8, 1901 and went to work as a guard at the Denver Post. He died in Deer Creek, in Jefferson County, Colorado, reputedly of "Senility - trouble & worry" at the age of 65. Packer is widely rumored to have become a vegetarian before his death. He was buried in Littleton, Colorado. His grave is marked with a veteran's tombstone listing his original regiment.

Recent investigations

On July 17, 1989, 115 years after Packer allegedly consumed his companions, an exhumation of the five bodies was undertaken by James E. Starrs, then a Professor of Law specializing in forensic science at George Washington University. Following an exhaustive search for the precise location of the remains at Cannibal Plateau in Lake City, Colorado, Starrs and his colleague Walter H. Birkby concluded, "I don't think there will ever be any way to scientifically demonstrate cannibalism. Cannibalism per se is the ingestion of human flesh. So you'd have to have a picture of the guy actually eating."[6]

In 1994, David P. Bailey, Curator of History at the Museum of Western Colorado, undertook an investigation to turn up more conclusive results than Starrs'. In the Audrey Thrailkill collection of firearms owned by the museum was a Colt pistol that had reportedly been found at the site of Packer's alleged crime. Exhaustive investigation into the pistol's background turned up documents from the time of the trial: "A Civil War veteran that visited the crime scene stated that Shannon Bell had been shot twice and the other victims were killed with a hatchet. Upon careful study of Bell, he noticed a severe bullet wound to the pelvic area and that Bell's wallet had a bullet hole through it." This may corroborate Packer's claim that Bell had killed the other victims and that Packer shot Bell in self-defense.

By 2000, Bailey had not yet proven a link between the antique pistol and Alfred Packer, but he discovered that forensic samples from the 1989 exhumation had been archived, and analysis in 2001 with an electron microscope by Dr. Richard Dujay at Mesa State College turned up microscopic lead fragments in the soil taken from under Shannon Bell's remains that were matched by spectrograph with the bullets remaining in what was indeed Packer's pistol.[7] While it appears certain that Bell was killed by gunshot, the question of murder itself remains.

Popular culture

  • Packer is a legend in popular culture. He has been quoted as having said, in jest, "the breasts of man...are the sweetest meat I ever tasted."
  • Popular legend, albeit untrue (at least according to the official trial record), claims that District Court Judge Melville Gerry sentenced Packer by saying, "Stand up, Alferd Packer, you voracious, man-eating, son-of-a-bitch. There were seven Democrats in Hinsdale County, and you ate five of them."
  • In 1968, students at the University of Colorado at Boulder named their new cafeteria grill the Alferd G. Packer Memorial Grill with the slogan "Have a friend for lunch!" Even today students can enjoy the meat-filled "El Canibal" underneath a giant wall map outlining his travels through Colorado. In 1982 the university dedicated a statue to Packer.[citation needed]
  • In 1980, Jim Roberson and poet Burton Raffel made The Legend of Alfred Packer, a film that took many liberties with the story, including having Bell fall on a knife, exonerating Packer of any potential wrongdoing. The film also included an incident involving the reporter Polly Pry derived from Gantt that the film left completely unexplained and was only tangentially connected to Packer. Indeed, Pry's connection with Packer was barely noted. Packer was played by Patrick Dray.
  • An urban legend has it that the Department of Agriculture's cafeteria was officially named for Packer. While untrue, the legend has a factual basis. Incoming Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland faced two problems in prior Nixon administration contracts for security guards and cafeteria food service. Security personnel were paid minimum wage, were given no training and performed poorly. The cafeteria food service operation was poorly managed and was staffed by rude contractor employees. Concluding that the situation he inherited was intolerable, Bergland attempted to terminate both contracts for poor performance.
    He was resisted by officials in the General Services Administration (GSA), who said that it would be impossible. For a time, there was a bureaucratic impasse. Intending to embarrass the GSA, Bergland and his employees convened a press conference Aug 10, 1977 to unveil a plaque naming the executive cafeteria "The Alferd Packer Memorial Grill," announcing ironically that Packer's life exemplified the spirit and fare of the cafeteria and would "serve all mankind." It was covered on ABC-TV Evening News Vanderbilt Television News Archive that night by reporter Barbara Walters.
    The stratagem was successful and the contracts were terminated soon thereafter. In magnanimous victory, Bergland yielded to bureaucratic objection that the plaque lacked official GSA authorization, and removed it. Members of the National Press Club, ever happy to seize memorabilia of national significance, today display it with pride on the wall of The Reliable Source, a members-only bar. It doubles as a memorial to the late Stanley Weston (1931–84), a man who worked at the USDA.[8] The Press Club's hamburger is called the "Alferd Packer Burger."
  • Lake City, Colorado, close to the memorial to the victims, has an annual 'celebration' of the Packer story, with the expected macabre humor and publicity.
  • In 1993, University of Colorado student Trey Parker, co-creator of South Park, made a film called Alferd Packer: The Musical, based loosely on Packer's life, with himself, billed as "Juan Schwartz" (a variation of Packer's "John Schwartze") as Packer, released commercially in 1996 by Troma Entertainment as Cannibal! The Musical and produced as a stage play initially by Dad's Garage Theatre Company and by several other theatre companies since.
  • Folksinger Phil Ochs composed a song about Packer's life, included on "The Broadside Tapes 1". Singer C.W. McCall wrote (with Chip Davis) and sang a song about Packer called "Comin' Back for More." It was included on his 1999 release The Real McCall: An American Storyteller.
  • Filk songwriter Alan Thiesen composed a humorous song about the trial, entitled "The Alferd G. Packer Memorial Drinking Song".
  • A 1999 movie, Ravenous, was loosely based on aspects of the Alferd Packer story, which screenwriter Ted Griffin says he first encountered when reading The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, wherein the entire story is printed as it appears in Thomas Duke's "Celebrated Criminal Cases." (The film also incorporates elements of another famous incident of cannibalism in the American West, the Donner Party.)
  • Devoured: The Legend of Alferd Packer is a 2005 film by Kevin Rapp that is also produced by Troma. This film depicts Packer as an unkillable monster 50 years after the original incident.
  • Tecumseh Lodge 65, a lodge of the Boy Scouts of America's Order of the Arrow located in Central Ohio, has dedicated its kitchen crew to the memory of Alfred Packer. The Alfred Packer Memorial Kitchen Crew prepares meals for all of the lodge's weekend events, often serving as many as 150 members of the lodge. The crew has adopted the slogan of "we would love to have you for dinner" and can be identified by their black shirts with Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man (delineated with butcher cuts) on the back.
  • The volunteer food tent at the Philadelphia Folk Festival is named after Packer, with the slogan, "Ain't Getting Nothing But Today's Best!"
  • In 1990 through 1995, a theatre group from nearby Western State College of Colorado performed "The Last Trial of Alfred Packer", a play written by Western State College professors Paul Edwards and Michael Brooks. This play was written using extensive research from both of Packer's trials. It was performed live in the Hinsdale County Courthouse, where Packer's first trial took place. For this production, members of the audience were selected to serve as jurors for Packer's "last trial". In many performances, the members of the jury would vote "not guilty".
  • The Alferd Packer Memorial String Band, based in Lawrence, Kansas, was founded in 1979 by Jim Brothers.
  • United Kingdom based deathcore band Avarus has a song entitled, "There Were Seven Democrats in Hinsdale County and You Ate Five of Them!"

See also



  1. ^ The spelling of Alferd/Alfred Packer's name has been the source of much confusion over the years. Official documents give his name as Alfred Packer, although he may (according to one story) have adopted the name Alferd after it was wrongly tattooed on to one of his arms. Packer sometimes signed his name as "Alferd", sometimes as "Alfred", and is referred to by both names. In many documents, he is referred to simply as A. Packer or Al Packer.
  2. ^ Nash, Robert Jay (1994). Alferd Packer. In Encyclopedia of Western Lawmen & Outlaws. Da Capo Press. pp. 250-251. ISBN 0-306-80591-X. Google Print. Retrieved 2005-04-13.
  3. ^ Ancestry of Alfred Packer
  4. ^ Mazulla, Fred and Mazulla, Jo. "THE SENTENCE OF ALFRED PACKER BY JUDGE M.B. GERRY, COPIED FROM THE DISTRICT COURT RECORDS" in Al Packer a Colorado Cannibal Denver? 1968 p. 20 (OCLC 449216)
  5. ^ Simpson, A. W. B. (1984). Cannibalism and the Common Law: The Story of the Tragic Last Voyage of the Mignonette and the Strange Legal Proceedings to Which It Gave Rise. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. p.273. ISBN 9780226759425. 
  6. ^ Grove, Lloyd (1989). Just How Many Democrats Did Al Packer Eat? GWU Professor Digs Into the Legend. The Washington Post.
  7. ^ Bailey, David (2003). "Alferd Packer, Colorado Cannibal".
  8. ^ (ref. telecon April 27, 2007 between Kurt Riegel & Bob Bergland).

External links



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