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Water at the Blue Earth
Cannibal Leaves Mark in Valley
  Alferd Packer, the self-admitted "cannibal" who walked into the Los Pinos Indian Agency in Saguache Park in 1874, is a Colorado legend.

    Alferd Packer, a 42-year-old harness maker plagued with epilepsy, convinced a group of prospectors in Utah that he could lead them to the gold fields in Colorado.

    Five men stayed with him until they became marooned in the San Juan Mountains.  The five men were Shannon Wilson Bell, Israel Swan, George Noon, James Pumphrey and Frank Miller.

    The winter of 1873 was a frigid winter with heavy snows and killing winds.  The met Chief Ouray early in the season who advised them to stay with him and travel no further.  He warned them of big snows.  You will see no white men or Indians for 100 miles, he said, and all the game has gone south.

    But Alfie thought he could weather any storm and find his way out of the wilderness.  When food rations were low and the men realized they were lost, bickering and irritations were the manner of the day.  Alferd had never been in this part of the mountains, but he would not admit they were hopelessly lost.

    When Alferd arrived at the agency alone, he claimed the other men were lost.  Later when he arrived in Saguache with Otto Mears, he admitted he killed Shannon Wilson Bell in self defense, but said Bell had kiled the other four while he was looking for a route out of the mountains.  He claimed starvation drove him to eat the flesh of his victims.

    During his time in Saguache, he spent time in bars, drinking and gambling.  Locals became suspicious when he pulled out many purses.  Otto Mears, the pathfinder who was the founder of Saguache, talked to Packer who admitted killing the four men.

    He was placed in a cabin outside of Saguache for confinement.  He did escape and many say that Otto Mears released him, gave him a horse and food and sent him on his way.  He was recognized nine years later in Cheyenne, Wyoming by a young sheriff named Malcom Campbell.  He was taken for trial in the mining camp of Lake City, which is the county seat of Hinsdale County where the murders took place.

    He was convicted of killing one of the prospectors, Israel Swan, the Supreme Court overturned that sentence.

    Packer was retried for all five murders in Gunnison and sentenced to 40 years.  He spent 14 years in the penitentiary in Canon City.

    Today this part of the prison is a museum which has a cell exhibit for Alferd Packer.

    Bonfils and Tanner of the Denver Post hired reporter Polly Fry to write stories to obtain freedom for Alfie, as no one had ever been convicted of cannibalism.  They wanted to star Alfie in the Floto Sells Circus.  Polly was convincing in her newspaper articles and Alfie was paroled in 1901 and lived out his life as a free man until his death on Sept. 24, 1907.   

James E. Starrs, a forensic specialist at George Washington University arrived in Lake City in July 1989 with a team of scientists to exhume the bodies of Alferd Packer's victims.  Anthropologists, archaeologists and pathologists examined the skeletons of the 115-year-old remains to determine whether Packer really killed the gold diggers and then ate them.

    Professor Starrs said, "What we have seen is not merely murder, but butchery, a butchery at once wholesale, remorseless, unremitting and deliberate.  One victim possibly the youngest, was hit at least 11 times in the head with an axe.  The young man's upper left arm suggested he was able to fend off his attacker for a time.  The oldest of the victims was between 50 and 60."

    Professor Starrs said, "We cannot say who committed these crimes, not why, but it is plain that the pangs of starvation cannot adequately and totally account for the brutality of these killings."

But he had no doubt that Packer had cannibalized the others.

    The butchery of these killings was followed by the butchery of defleshing, Starrs said.

    "Someone stripped these bodies all but clean of their flesh, imprinting knife marks in the bones of all five prospectors.  Someone had an insatiable hunger, whether for human flesh or not I am not about to say," Starrs added.

    This was mindless cannibalism in any sense.  These bodies were denuded of their flesh in a concerted and calculated way.

    The final verdict was issued at a press conference in Washington, "Packer was as guilty as sin and all his sins were mortal ones," said Mr. Starrs.

    Starrs said his purpose in studying the bones was to show how much can be learned through forensic science, unutilized in criminal investigations.

    He said the fresh evidence convicts him beyond any shadow of a doubt. 


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