Alferd Packer

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Alfred Packer
Alferd Packer.JPG
Alfred Packer
Born(1842-01-21)January 21, 1842
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, US
DiedApril 23, 1907(1907-04-23) (aged 65)
Jefferson County, Colorado
Other namesBig Headed Cannibal
Known forAccused of cannibalism
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Alfred Packer
Alferd Packer.JPG
Alfred Packer
Born(1842-01-21)January 21, 1842
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, US
DiedApril 23, 1907(1907-04-23) (aged 65)
Jefferson County, Colorado
Other namesBig Headed Cannibal
Known forAccused of cannibalism

Alfred G. "Alferd" Packer (January 21, 1842 – April 23, 1907)[1] was an American prospector who was accused of cannibalism during the winter of 1873-1874. First tried for murder, Packer was eventually sentenced to 40 years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter.[2] A biopic of his life, The Legend of Alfred Packer, was made in 1980.


Packer's life

He was born as Alfred Griner Packer in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, one of three children of James Packer and his wife Esther Griner.[3] By the early 1850s, James Packer had moved his family to Lagrange County, Indiana, where he worked as a cabinet maker.[4]

Alfred Packer served in the Union Army in the American Civil War, enlisting on April 22, 1862 at Winona, Minnesota in Company F, 16th U. S. Infantry Regiment, giving his occupation as a shoemaker. However, he was discharged for epilepsy eight months later at Fort Ontario, New York.[5] He returned west again and on June 25, 1863, he enlisted in Company L, 8th Iowa Cavalry Regiment at Ottumwa, Iowa; he was discharged at Cleveland, Tennessee on April 22, 1864, for the same reason. He finally decided to try his luck at prospecting.[6]

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

Ignoring Ouray's advice, Packer and five others left for Gunnison, Colorado, on February 9. Besides Packer, the group was made up of Shannon Wilson Bell, James Humphrey, Frank "Reddy" Miller, George "California" Noon, and Israel Swan.[citation needed]

The prospectors became hopelessly lost and ran out of provisions. They were snowbound in the Rocky Mountains. Packer later made three confessions which differed considerably in their description of what happened. In the last, he claimed he went scouting and came back to find Shannon Bell roasting human flesh. When Bell rushed him with a hatchet, Packer shot him. Packer claimed Bell had gone mad and murdered the others.[citation needed]

On April 16, 1874, Packer arrived at Los Pinos Indian Agency near Gunnison. He spent some time in a saloon in Saguache, Colorado, where he met several of his original party. Packer claimed he had acted in self-defense, but his story was not believed. According to tradition, the presiding judge, M.B. Gerry, allegedly told him:

Stand up yah voracious man-eatin' sonofabitch and receive yir sintince. When yah came to Hinsdale County, there was siven Dimmycrats. But you, yah et five of 'em, goddam yah. I sintince yah t' be hanged by th' neck ontil yer dead, dead, dead, as a warnin' ag'in reducin' th' Dimmycratic populayshun of this county. Packer, you Republican cannibal, I would sintince ya ta hell but the statutes forbid it.[7]

In reality, what Judge Gerry told him was much more educated:

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.[8]

Packer signed a confession on August 5, 1874. He was jailed in Saguache, but he escaped soon afterwards.

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.[citation needed] In October 1885, the sentence was reversed by the Colorado Supreme Court as being based on an ex post facto law. 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.[9]

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 in 1862.[10]

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."[11]

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 revolver 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 seems to corroborate Packer's claim that Bell had killed the other victims and that Packer shot Bell in self-defense.[12]

By 2000, Bailey had not yet proven a link between the antique pistol and Alferd 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.[12] While it appears certain that Bell was killed by a gunshot, the question of whether it was murder remains unanswered.

Rumor has it that a group of students from University of Colorado at Denver, allegedly dug up Packer's grave and kept his body in their frat house.[citation needed] On top of his grave there is a concrete slab further protecting his body from any defilement. People will often leave pennies on his grave to pay homage to him after his grave had been disturbed.

Popular culture

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!" Students can order an "El Canibal" beefburger and on the wall is a giant map outlining Packer's travels through Colorado.[13]


In 1977 the US Secretary of Agriculture, Bob Bergland, attempted to terminate a contract for the department's cafeteria food service, but was prevented by the General Services Administration (GSA). To embarrass the GSA, Bergland and his employees convened a press conference on 10 August 1977 to unveil a plaque naming the executive cafeteria "The Alferd Packer Memorial Grill", announcing that Packer's life exemplified the spirit and fare of the cafeteria and would "serve all mankind". The event was covered on ABC-TV Evening News by Barbara Walters.[14] The stratagem was successful and the contracts were terminated soon thereafter. Magnanimous in victory, Bergland yielded to the bureaucratic objection that the plaque lacked official GSA authorization, and removed it. The plaque is currently displayed on the wall of the National Press Club's The Reliable Source members-only bar. It doubles as a memorial to Stanley Weston (1931–84), a man who worked at the USDA.[15] The Press Club's hamburger is called the "Alferd Packer Burger".

In 1990, country artist C.W. McCall (of "Convoy" fame) recorded a track on his album The Real McCall titled "Coming Back for More", which revived the legend and implied that Packer's ghost still haunts Lake City.

In 1990 the American death metal band Cannibal Corpse dedicated their debut album, Eaten Back to Life, to Packer. The following statement can be found in the inlay of this album: "This album is dedicated to the memory of Alfred Packer, the first American cannibal (R.I.P.)"

In 1993, University of Colorado students Trey Parker and Matt Stone, co-creators of South Park, made a film called Cannibal! The Musical, based loosely on Packer's life, with Parker billed as "Juan Schwartz" (a variation of Packer's "John Schwartze"). The film was released commercially in 1996 by Troma Entertainment and produced as a stage play initially by Dad's Garage Theatre Company and by several other theatre companies since. Lesser known film adaptions include The Legend of Alfred Packer (1980) and the horror film, Devoured: The Legend of Alferd Packer (2005).

In an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories, actress Diane Neal recounts an event in Littleton, Colorado in 1987 when, at the age of 11, she and two classmates were given a history of Alferd Packer. After class, she and her friends went to the cemetery in Littleton where Packer is buried and started to dance mockingly on his grave. Shortly afterwards, the girls felt a chilling presence and they ran from the cemetery. Neal recalls that, later that night, Packer paid a visit to her bedroom and began to torment her. Her two friends had similar experiences. Later, Neal claims she and her friends used a Ouija board, to summon Packer with unpleasant results.[citation needed]

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 or Encyclopedia of Western Lawmen & Outlaws. Da Capo Press. pp. 250-251. ISBN 0-306-80591-X. Google Print. Retrieved 2012-01-07.
  3. ^ Ancestry of Alfred Packer
  4. ^ US Census, 1860, Lagrange Co., Indiana, page 9, residence #68
  5. ^ Army Register of Enlistments 1862, #182, regular army
  6. ^ Compiled Service Record of Alfred G. Parker, 8th Iowa Cavalry Regiment
  7. ^ Alfred "Alferd" Packer: The Cannibal of Lake City, Colorado [1] Retrieved May 22, 2008
  8. ^ 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)
  9. ^ 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. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-226-75942-5. 
  10. ^ "Alfred Packer at Find A Grave". Find A Grave. Retrieved 2 July 2011. 
  11. ^ Grove, Lloyd (1989). Just How Many Democrats Did Al Packer Eat? GWU Professor Digs Into the Legend. The Washington Post.
  12. ^ a b David Bailey. "Alferd Packer". Museum of Western Colorado. Retrieved 2012-01-07. 
  13. ^ "Alferd Packer Grill". University of Colorado, Division of Student Affairs. Retrieved 2011-07-20. Text " University Memorial Center " ignored (help); Text " University of Colorado at Boulder " ignored (help)
  14. ^ "Packer / Agriculture Department Squabble". ABC -- TV news: Vanderbilt Television News Archive. 2011-08-10. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  15. ^ (ref. telecon April 27, 2007 between Kurt Riegel & Bob Bergland).


External links