Sitting with Alfred Packer

 

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I went down to Littleton, Colorado about a week ago. The day was cold. The sky was misty and gray. I went to check out a community college, hoping it could provide some answers I felt like I was missing. Afterwards, I felt no better, but there is a cemetery right next to the campus. I needed a quiet reprieve, so I grabbed some tea and walked around, looking for one person I knew I was buried there . . . .

 

Alfred Packer lays in his eternal bed in the Littleton cemetery. He is buried beneath concrete to rid the grave robbers of his small space beneath a large tree. If you are not familiar with the story of Alfred Packer, here is a brief introduction:

Alfred Packer was not born in Colorado. He was born in Pennsylvania on November 12, 1842. He served as an infantryman in the Civil War, but was honorably released due to epilepsy. He tried to enlist again, but did not endure. From there, we know that he traveled in search of gold.

He became a guide of sorts, and tried to take a group of men through the mountains during winter. He was urged not to go when he was in the camp of Chief Ouray. He was told that the mountains were unstable, the snow was high, and the Spring was not coming for some time. But these men were lusting for that gold fruit that just had to be plucked from the mountain’s feet, so they left. There were six of them: Alfred Packer, Israel Swan, James Humphrey, Wilson Bell, Frank Miller, and George Noon. Only one made it to the other side; that man was Packer

When Packer first emerged in Los Pines Indian Agency he started telling different accounts of what happened. First he said that he hurt his leg and fell behind his companions, but he had the wallets from the missing men in his possession……

He then said that Swan was old and could not handle the rough terrain and weather on the trip, and died. The other members of the party ate him because they ran out of food. Next, Humphrey died and they ate him too. Packer also took $133 from him because dead men do not need to buy things.

The story shifted again. First Packer said that Miller died in unknown accident, and the other living members of the group were already eating him, so Packer joined in. Later, a fight broke out while Packer was hunting, and Bell killed Noon with a gun. Allegedly, Bell tried to turn on Packer and he killed Bell in self- defense. He later ate some slabs from the dead body because he was on his own and hungry.

A search party was sent out to try and find the remains of the bodies, again with Packer in the lead. He lead them to a wrong place. His story did not add up, and he was put in prison. Months later, the remains of five bodies were found together a few miles away from what is now Lake City. It was clear that there were some defensive wounds on one, but the others seem to have been killed while in their sleep. There were no defensive wounds on them.

Packer was supposed to be confronted by the search party, plus others who were determined to know the truth, but he had escaped from the prison. He was in hiding for nine years, but he was found in Wyoming, and the man who recognized him turned him in. Packer was taken back to Lake City for trial. On trial his story changed again. He said that the men where showing signs of fatigue, depression, and insanity from the extreme journey. The men turned on each other, and the living started to eat the dead to keep alive. Packer swore that he tried to leave, but the snow kept from leaving, and he was forced to eat his companions to stay alive. He finally packed a gun, some money, and some “food,” so he could leave the gruesome campsite.

Packer’s demeanor on trial was drawn out, and full of holes. He did admit to misleading the search party that was looking for the other members because he did not want to go back to that place. He did use all the legal tricks he could and was eventually paroled. The crimes were committed when Colorado was a territory, and the laws were different when Colorado became a state. He took a job as a guard at the Denver Post, and died from stroke on April 24, 1907. He was 65 years old.

His story is interesting, and has become a Colorado ghost tale and source of pop culture. Matt Stone and Trey Parker (the creators of South Park) even made a musical about him. Now he lays in Littleton, and I found that people have brought him some lunch meat, burnt sage, coins, and plastic flowers. I don’t know if some of these tokens are meant as a joke, or in honor of his story. Either way, Packer has admirers. I sat next to him for some time. I find these stories so fascinating. His legacy is part of the history of my beloved state.

 

For more information about Alfred Packer, check out these websites:

http://murderpedia.org/male.P/p/packer-alfred.htm

http://www.sangres.com/history/alferdpacker.htm#.WKnaJ4WcGUk

 

 

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