Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Colorado's Cannibal

When writing Hidden History of Denver, I simply had to include Alfred Packer, the notorious cannibal. As I researched the man, and read his account (written in his own hand) of that fateful trip, one thing stood out -- his voice! It would be his downfall, lead to his capture, and eventual trial. Following is a short extract from my book.

   On March 11, 1883, by sheer luck, Jean “Frenchy” Cabazon, a peddler by trade, and one of the original twenty-one man group that left Utah eight year earlier, walked into a roadhouse in Wyoming to sell his wares. Despite the noise, his ears pricked up with interest when he heard a familiar voice, and recognized it as belonging to Alfred Packer, the notorious cannibal. The local sheriff was called, and he approached the man they all knew as John Swartze. Packer admitted his real identity, and was arrested without incident. Sheriff Clair Smith of Hinsdale Country, Colorado escorted Packer to Denver, arriving on March 16th.
   The newspapers ran the story calling Packer “the ghoul of the San Juan’s.” That night, in the presence of Sheriffs Campbell and Smith, U.S. Marshall Simon W. Cantril and General Adams, Packer penned what became known as his “second confession.”

 “I Alfred Packer, desire to make a true and voluntary statement in regard to the occurrences in the winter of 1873-1874. I wish to make it to General Adams because I have made one once before about the same matter.”
   In his confession, Packer describes clearly how he returned from the top of the mountain after scouting the area. On his return, he found that Wilson Bell had killed all three of his companions, and that he was in fact devouring a piece of meat he had cut from the leg of Frank Miller. A segment of Packer’s confession follows: 

“I came within a rod of the fire. When the man saw me, he got up with his hatchet towards me when I shot him sideways through the belly. He fell on his face, the hatchet fell forward. I grabbed it and hit him in the top of the head. I camped that night at the fire, sat up all night. The next morning I followed my tracks up the mountain but I could not make it, the snow was too deep and I came back…I tried to get away every day but could not so I lived off the flesh of these men, the bigger part of 60 days. At the last camp just before I reached the agency, I ate the last pieces of human meat. This meat I cooked at the camp before I started out and put it into a bag and carried the bag with me. I could not eat but a little at a time.”
 Other people note that Alfred Packer had a very distinctive voice.  One man said, "Packer's voice was unusual. It was high pitched, with a nasal whine that grated on your ears....."
Hidden History of Denver  -- published by The History Press. ISBN 978-1-60949-350-9.