The mystery of Alfred Packer: 'The Colorado Cannibal' - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

The mystery of Alfred Packer: 'The Colorado Cannibal'

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The Colorado Cannibal: Alfred Packer The Colorado Cannibal: Alfred Packer
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KHQ.com - A mystery 140 years in the making, and a perfect one to tell on Halloween. The story of the Colorado Cannibal: Alfred Packer. Was he a cannibalistic murderer or simply misunderstood?

Nearly 150 years ago, Alfred Packer went to Colorado to find his fortune. He joined a group of prospectors on their way to Breckenridge, but before the trip was over, he would become known as Colorado's first cannibal. 

The trip to Breckenridge was doomed from the start. Packer and his five companions decided they were going to travel into the San Juan Mountains in the middle of winter. Because that sounds like a good idea right? Pretty sure The North Face wasn't making jackets back then, but hey "there's gold in them hills! So this burlap sack should be fine, right?" Packer and his buddies went missing for nearly two months. 

When spring came however, only one man emerged from the mountains. You guessed it: Alfred Packer. And he looked, well... he didn't look like he had spent two months of a hard winter in the San Juan Mountains. People said he looked "well-fed" and were suspicious of him immediately. How could no one else survive and he came out looking like a healthy Vladimir Putin with awesome hair and a moustache? 

Packer wasn't saying much. 

But when the spring thaw came he was forced to give his side of the story when sketch artists for "Harper's Weekly" made a gruesome discovery. They found dismembered bodies strewn across the campsite Packer and his companions were staying at. And because they were sketchers, and didn't have photographs, they had to sit there and draw that! Doesn't sound like a fun job, but someone had to do it.

When asked, Packer claimed "another man had gone insane and killed the entire camp." Packer said he shot the insane man in self-defense, and use the human remains "only to survive." From that point on, Packer never denied cannibalism, but not everyone believed Packer's "someone else went insane" defense. Most people believed Packer killed and ate all of his buddies. He was ultimately convicted on five counts of Manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. 8 years for each man he "ate." 

But while cannibalism was a social taboo (to put it mildly), it was not illegal, so many people felt Packer was convicted for something that wasn't technically a crime. Packer was released from prison early thanks to an appeal written by Denver Post writer Polly Pry. 

After his release, Packer lived the rest of his life quietly just outside of Littleton, Colorado, but the legacy of "The Colorado Cannibal" haunted him for the rest of his life. And it's a legacy that still lives on. 

Comedic geniuses, South Park creators and Colorado natives Trey Parker and Matt Stone wrote, directed and starred in a movie about Packer called, Cannibal! The Musical. It has sort of become a cult hit.

Colorado University has a restaurant called the 'Alfred Packer Memorial Grill," and this year is the first annual "Alfred Packer Day" in Saguache, which includes a rib cook-off (presumably pork or beef).

Although we'll never know for sure what happened in the San Juan Mountains in the winter of 1874, the legend of Alfred Packer as "The Colorado Cannibal" will live on for generations to come. 

Since first posting this article, I received a link from a reader directing me to the Museum of Western Colorado. The curator there spent a significant amount of time piecing together the events from 140 years earlier and came to the conclusion that Packer was not a murder. If you want to read his article and what he believes happened, CLICK HERE.

What do you think of Alfred Packer? Murderous cannibal or just doing what he had to do to survive? Let us know on our Facebook Page.

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