Manage episode 282829900 series 2659594
Colorado. 1883. Alfred Packer is standing trial. His alleged crime? Luring five men into the mountains with the intention of murdering them and stealing their belongings, then eating their bodies when food ran out.
London. 2021. Casting Lots Podcast is here to answer the question once and for all: Alfred Packer, guilty or not guilty?
With thanks to Emily for transcription help.
Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.
Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.
Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.
Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.
- Adams, C. (1874). ‘A party of miners on the plains kill and eat each other’, National Republican, 26 May, p. 5. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86053573/1874-05-26/ed-1/seq-5/#words=Packer
- Bailey, D.P. (2009). ‘Solving the American West’s Greatest Mystery: Was Alferd Packer Innocent of Murder?’ [PDF] Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20130117101738/https://www.museumofwesternco.com/media/cms/includes/pathways_article_packer_solve.pdf
- Benson, K. and M. Benson. (2000). Alfred “Alferd” Packer. Available at: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/785/alfred-packer
- Colorado State Library. (n.d.) Alferd Packer: Notorious Cannibal. Available at: https://www.coloradovirtuallibrary.org/digital-colorado/colorado-histories/beginnings/alferd-packer-notorious-cannibal/
- Colorado Tourism Office. (n.d.) Alfred Packer. Available at: https://lakecity.com/alfred-packer/
- Curry, A. (2002). ‘Case of the Colorado Cannibal’, Archaeology, 55(3). Available at: https://archive.archaeology.org/0205/abstracts/cannibal.html
- Daily Arizona Silver Belt. (1907). ‘Scout who ate human flesh dies’, Daily Arizona Silver Belt, 27 April, p. 1. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87082863/1907-04-27/ed-1/seq-1/#words=Alfred+Packer
- Di Stefano, D. (2006). ‘Alfred Packer’s World: Risk, Responsibility, and the Place of Experience in Mountain Culture, 1873-1907’, Journal of Social History, 40(1), pp. 181-204. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4491860
- Dobson, G.B. (n.d.) Fort Fetterman. Available at: http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/fetterman.html
- Elk County Advocate. (1874). ‘A White Cannibal’, Elk County Advocate, 1 October, p. 4. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026259/1874-10-01/ed-1/seq-4/
- Herald and Tribune. (1885). ‘A cannibal’s trial’, Herald and Tribune, 19 November, p. 1. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85033429/1885-11-19/ed-1/seq-1/
- History.com Editors. (2020). ‘“Colorado Cannibal” Alferd Packer is paroled’, History, 6 January. Available at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/cannibal-alfred-packer-is-paroled
- Idaho Semi-Weekly World. (1883). ‘The Colorado ghoul’, Idaho Semi-Weekly World, 1 May, p. 2. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84022135/1883-05-01/ed-1/seq-2/
- Kansas City Journal. (1897). ‘Packer asks pardon’, Kansas City Journal, 12 September, p. 11. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86063615/1897-09-12/ed-1/seq-11/
- Las Vegas Daily Gazette. (1883). ‘Callous cannibal’, Las Vegas Daily Gazette, 18 March, p. 1. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90051703/1883-03-18/ed-1/seq-1/#words=Alfred+Packer
- Las Vegas Daily Gazette. (1883). ‘Packer packed’, Las Vegas Daily Gazette, 14 April, p. 1. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90051703/1883-04-14/ed-1/seq-1/
- Museums of the San Luis Valley and Southern Colorado. (n.d.). Alferd Packer – “The Colorado Cannibal”. Available at: https://www.museumtrail.org/alferd-packer.html
- National Republican. (1883). ‘An American cannibal’, National Republican, 13 April, p. 1. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86053573/1883-04-13/ed-1/seq-1/
- Neihart Herald. (1899). ‘Alfred Packer, the “man eater”’, Neihart Herald, 12 August, p. 2. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85053323/1899-08-12/ed-1/seq-2/#words=Alfred+Packer
- New York Tribune. (1886). ‘Eating the bodies of men’, New York Tribune, 7 August, p. 1. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/1886-08-07/ed-1/seq-1/
- Omaha Daily Bee. (1901). ‘Alfred Packer is paroled’, Omaha Daily Bee, 9 January, p. 1. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn99021999/1901-01-09/ed-1/seq-1/
- Rautman, A.E. and T.W. Fenton. (2005). ‘A Case of Historic Cannibalism in the American West: Implications for Southwestern Archaeology’, American Antiquity, 70(2), pp. 321-341. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2307/40035706
- Salt Lake Herald. (1892). ‘Packer, the man-eater!’, Salt Lake Herald, 16 December, p. 1. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85058130/1892-12-16/ed-1/seq-1/
- Schechter, H. (2015). Man-Eater. London: Head of Zeus.
- Simpson, A.W.B. (1981). ‘Cannibals at Common Law’, The Law School Record, 27, pp. 3-10. Available at: https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=crosskey_lectures
- True Northerner. (1886). ‘The Colorado Cannibal’, True Northerner, 19 August, p. 3. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85033781/1886-08-19/ed-1/seq-3/
- Washington Times. (1907). ‘Colorado’s “man eater” dies on lonely ranch before pardon comes’, Washington Times, 27 April, p. 6. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1907-04-27/ed-1/seq-6/#words=Alfred+Packer
- Weiser-Alexander, K. (2020). Alfred Packer – Colorado Cannibal. Available at: https://www.legendsofamerica.com/alfred-packer/
- Yale Expositor. (1900). ‘An odd case revisited’, Yale Expositor, 23 March, p. 5. Available at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn98066406/1900-03-23/ed-1/seq-5/#words=Alfred+Packer
- Yost, M. (2015). ‘The Gruesome taste of Colorado: Alfred Packer the Colorado Cannibal’, Out Front Magazine, 21 October. Available at: https://www.outfrontmagazine.com/trending/the-gruseome-taste-of-colorado-alfred-packer-the-colorado-cannibal/
Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?
Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.
A: I’m Alix.
C: I’m Carmella.
A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…
[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]
A: Welcome to Episode Eight, the story of Alfred Packer.
[Intro music continues]
A: So, Carmella… Would you like to go to court? [Pause] You’re not the one on trial, I hasten to add.
C: In that case, yes. I thought… I thought that you’d found out what I did. Never mind that! I’m innocent! Who isn’t innocent?
A: That’s the question. “As the days come and go and the years of our pilgrimage roll on by, the memory of you and your crime will fade from the minds of men…”
C: I thought you didn’t know about my crimes!
A: Luckily, this crime being discussed took place in the 19th century. And that quote comes from Judge Melville Gerry, during a fateful trial on the 13 April 1883. And, as evidenced by the fact that we’re here talking about that very case, I think it’s fair to say that Mr Gerry was very much not on the money when it came to whether or not we’d remember the crime.
C: Ah, but ‘I am no man!’
A: On a technicality… You can stay. We’re going to tuck into one of the most notorious survival cannibalism stories in American history – and certainly one of the most mocked and joked about.
C: I’ve been excited for this one. I know very little about it, though.
A: I possibly know too much, and I spent last night watching Cannibal: The Musical, so I could really complete my research.
C: Yes, yeah, we need to make sure that we have all angles covered.
A: All the nuance. This is the story of Alfred Packer, or Alferd Packer’ the spelling of his name is up for debate.
C: [Repeating in disbelief] Alferd.
C: I’ve never heard that one before. Maybe he just didn’t know how to spell his name.
A: That is the most likely option.
C: I often misspell my name when I’m typing too quickly.
A: When I was in primary school, my teacher once held me back after school until I could spell my full name. I have two middle names.
C: It’s just not fair, is it?
A: And I’m dyslexic. It felt like bullying.
A: In the words of Paul Simon: “we’re gonna call him Al.” [Hums Paul Simon’s song ‘You Can Call Me Al’ and trails off] Nah, okay.
A: That joke was not worth it.
C: Cool, let’s hear about Al.
A: Now, there are some famous survival cannibalism stories out there. We did a fair number of them in season one. Mignonette, Uruguay, Franklin, Donner – they’re probably in contention for being the most famous examples. And, as you may have noticed, we are getting more niche and obscure as we work our way through Season Two…
C: I wouldn’t say scraping the bottom of the barrel, but I’d say that we’re in the barrel.
A: That’ll be Season Three.
A: Packer is one of our last big-name stories. There are tourist attractions based on him. I saw a waxwork of Packer gnawing down on some bones and I’m going to have nightmares for weeks.
A: Not because of the cannibalism, but because of waxworks. [Shudders] I just think they’re horrible.
C: ‘I can excuse cannibalism, but I draw the line at waxworks!’
A: I even looked up some nice Packer-themed Restaurants in Colorado.
C: Ooh, road trip! Little holiday for Casting Lots?
A: The Alferd Packer Grill has 2.5 stars on Yelp…
C: Oh. [Laughs] Is that because they keep serving people human flesh?
A: [Laughs] ‘It wasn’t raw, so 2.5 stars.’
C: ‘It arrived in good time, but it was an arm.’
A: [Laughs] The Packer Saloon & Cannibal Grill is available for wedding receptions.
C: That’s…very romantic. I was going to say as a joke ‘that’s the dream’, but, also, like…?
A: Despite this almost unanimous anti-hero outlaw ‘everyone loves a bad guy’ vibe that Packer’s got going for him, there is a mystery that remains. Not whether or not he ate people – that’s fairly cut and dry at this point. But whether he deliberately lured his victims to the mountains and killed them for financial gain. The food would just be an added bonus in this instance. With that in mind, let us consider the facts of the case.
C: Okay, I’m going to put on my barrister wig.
A: Oh no, you have a role to play.
C: Oh, okay.
A: I’ll be a weird amalgamation of defence and prosecution attorneys, the witnesses and Mr Al Packer. And Carm, you’re gonna be judge, jury and executioner, depending on the verdict.
C: [Excited, getting the idea] Okay!
A: Although you are going to have to put on a fake moustache and become Carmichael for the day, because there are no women sitting on Colorado juries in 1883.
C: [Laughing] Carmichael…
A: Do you know how hard it was to find a Carm- male name?
A: Mr Carmichael, if you can read the juror’s oath. It will have to be in a terrible American accent–
A –For authenticity. We can begin.
C: [In American accent] “I solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully try the defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence.”
A: For any legal experts listening, that’s actually the modern UK jury affirmation.
C: [Laughing] So it means nothing in this court!
A: Weirdly, I couldn’t find the 19th century jury affirmation. JSTOR only gets you so far.
A: Thank you, Mr Carmichael. We shall begin. It’s 1883, but we are discussing a case which started a decade ago in 1873. Colorado hasn’t yet become a state in its own right, but it is on the up and up. It’s quite an exciting prospect for, well, prospectors.
A: There’s been a gold-rush in the ‘50s and ‘60s; manifest destiny is pushing setters ever further west through the area. Granted, there’s been a bit of controversy when it comes to the local indigenous population, but Chief Ouray of the Ute people has negotiated with Washington for the rights of his people. Let’s ignore the fact that as soon as silver deposits were discovered in the 1870s that these treaties were torn up by the government.
C: Yeah, yeah, let’s ignore that.
A: But other than that, things are going relatively well, and there are a number of Indian Agencies set up. (For once, when it comes to engagement between the indigenous population and American settlers, this isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.)
A: It’s not great. It was part of a ‘Peace Policy’ of the formal relationship between the Utes and the settlers. These Indian Agencies were a combination of administrative bases for indigenous affairs and cattle ranches. And for this narrative, we’re going to focus on the Los Pinos Agency, which was high in the mountains on the border of Ute territory. Remember, Colorado is not a state yet. The Pinos agency is where General Charles Adams is based – he will come up later as one of our witnesses.
C: Ooh, okay. So… person of importance.
A: Put a pin in him. Not literally. He’s not a witch!
C: That we know of!
A: Now, while this remote region might be rich with opportunity and gold, it isn’t without risks. The mightiest of these is winter. The winters in Colorado can be appalling: nine month winters, with dangerous mountain passes, unexpected avalanches, men being stricken by snow blindness, snowfall can be up to your neck – and if you’re trying your luck in the mountains, you need an expert guide.
C: Now who’s neck, because our necks are at very different levels?
A: You’re just gone. I’m like ‘Oh, where’s Carmella gone?’
C: [Laughs] Just a tuft of hair.
A: You also need the right equipment, you need pack animals, and even trained trackers and prospectors do come to sticky ends. After all, it’s only been 25 years since the horrific fate of the Donner Party.
C: [American accent] ‘I remember it well!’ Mr Carmichael says.
A: He probably was told horror stories as a child. I don’t know how old Mr Carmichael is…
C: [American accent] I am a man of 42 years. I build boats for the river Colorado…My accent is moving all over the states; I grew up in many a place.
A: [Laughing] Thank you, Mr Carmichael. The social custom in the area is, in the words of Disney epic High School Musical, that “We’re all in this together.”
C: Thank you for dropping that in!
A: I knew you’d love to cite High School Musical in your cannibalism podcast.
A: Supplies would be left in empty shelters over winter for anyone unlucky enough to be caught out by a storm. Experienced guides offer up their services to newcomers, with the expectation that the service will be paid forward in future. Is the gold worth it?
C: [American accent] Yes, I like gold. [Back to British] No, that accent’s gone somewhere!
A: I mean, I’m gonna keep it!
C: [Second attempt] Yes, I like gold.
A: As Mr Carmichael says, most people seem to think so. Now we’ve set the scene, let me introduce the defendant, Al Packer. [Laughs] I’m just laughing that it sounds like alpaca.
C: [Laughs] Just an alpaca on the stand! What crimes did he commit?
A: Packer was born in 1842, and after an alleged difficult childhood he became an apprentice shoemaker. Now I don’t mean to lead the jury, but we all know how useful leatherworking skills are when it comes to survival cannibalism.
C: [American accent] I think I’m being led.
A: At 18 years old, Packer served in the Union Army, both infantry and cavalry, between the years of 1862 and 1864. He receives an honourable discharge from both regiments he served in due to disability: he was epileptic and had violent seizures which would render him prone. Following his time in the army, Packer turns to odd jobs out West; trapper, guide, saddler, harness maker, hunter and gold prospector. During this time, the accused lost parts of two fingers during a mining accident, and by 1873 he was presenting himself as a local expert, ready and able to offer his skills in exchange for someone to pay his way. It so happens that in Utah, November 1873, news breaks that [in an American accent] ‘there’s gold in them there hills.’
C: Oh I love a ‘gold in them there hills’ newsflash!
A: Or more accurately, [in an American accent] ‘silver in them there mountains.’
C: Doesn’t have the same ring to it.
A: The sequel’s never as good as the original. A group of 20 men, mostly strangers brought together by the common goal of getting rich quick, want to try their luck at the silver prospecting business. One man, Robert McGrue, takes Packer up on his offer to work passage as their guide. McGrew even pays Packer’s way – Packer couldn’t afford the $25 that the journey would take. But Packer assures the men that he “knowed all the country” and that their provisions were fine for what would be a 20 day trip.
C: That sounds like he’s telling the truth!
A: Packer does not immediately, or indeed at all, endear himself to the majority of the prospectors, with Preston Nutter (no giggling in court)…
C: [American accent] Well, I’m sorry!
A: …and Oliver Loutsenhizer being particularly suspicious of him. The accused was not a popular man among the party, and testimony from Nutter and Lot – conveniently, for me at least, that was Oliver’s nickname…
A: It was so useful to learn that. But the testimony says that Packer was difficult and quarrelsome, broke, and nosy about people’s money.
C: [American accent] Well, I mean it’s a bit rude to judge him just for being poor.
A: I think it was more the being nosy about how much money everyone else had.
C: [American accent] Okay, fair.
A: As a defence attorney, great point. As a prosecution attorney, shut your face.
A: It is true to say that during his time in the army, Packer once had his pay docked for ‘plundering’ from civilians.
C: Okay, so he… likes to plunder.
A: It is on record that he did ‘done a plunder’ once. Rumours that he spent time in a Salt Lake City jail for murder was not not believed.
C: [American accent] Wait I’m lost, do I believe these rumours or not?
A: You don’t not believe them.
C: [American accent] This is too many levels of negatives, but okay. Carmichael is not a smart man, I’ve decided.
A: [Laughs] The fact that Packer admitted that his jail stay was due to being [in an American accent] “caught in a house of prostitution…”
C: [Laughs] Okay, that’s more fun!
A: …It didn’t really help his case.
C: So he definitely was in jail, it’s just that it was either for murder or for frequenting a brothel?
A: McGrue, however, defended Packer and actually was one of the only men to help Packer, such as when he had seizures. He made sure that Packer didn’t fall face-first into the fire.
C: Good. Useful.
A: Even McGrue would admit that Packer [in an American accent] “did not know the country or route better than the rest of us” after the men became lost.
C: So he did lie. But he doesn’t deserve to fall face-first into a fire.
A: So those two balance each other out.
A: Provisions have also run out. Packer was not an experienced guide and the general consensus was that he had vastly exaggerated his skills. Three months after they set out for a 20-day trip, the party declared their intention to eat one of their horses. But before they do so, the party were happened upon by Chief Ouray and a band of his men. After reassurance is given that these men were not settlers in Ute territory, Ouray invites them to remain with the Ute for the winter, before continuing in the spring.
C: Oh, that’s kind.
A: Since this is 19th century America and we’re working off the official sources, Chief Ouray, who would have been a really useful witness when it comes to Packer’s behaviour and actions…Yeah, he’s not been invited to court.
C: [American accent] I can’t see this guy in the court. [Back to British] So Packer’s artificially inflated his CV, but they’ve found some people who are going to take them in for the winter.
A: Yes, but I think it’s more accurate to say they have been found by Chief Ouray and his people.
C: Okay, right.
A: They were lost as shit. Despite being advised of the dangers of proceeding and having an offer to shelter at Chief Ouray’s winter camp, it only took a week or so for some of the prospectors to want to move on.
C: Okay, riiight.
A: In early February, five men, including Lot, set off to walk to the Los Pinos Agency – it’s eight miles to the east. Packer tries to tag along with this group, but Lot threatens to shoot him if he comes with them.
C: Wow, they really don’t like Packer and he hasn’t even eaten anyone yet!
A: They really don’t like Packer. So Packer goes back and finds a group of men who will go with him.
C: [Celebratory] Hey!
A: That may count as leading the jury – we don’t actually know how those negotiations went down – but Packer and five others: Israel Swan, George Noon, Frank Miller, Shannon Wilson Bell and James Humphrey, also venture out of the safety of the Ute camp. Knowing that they were in serious trouble, Chief Ouray gave them the best instructions he could to point them in the right direction, and with a few supplies they wandered off into the mountains hoping to make it to nearby Gunnison.
C: [American accent] Well now, I’ve told you that I know about the Donner Party, and this is sounding awful familiar. Walking through the snow-covered mountains…
A: On the 16 April 1874, a man identified as Packer made his way to the Los Pinos Agency. It had been 57 days. Accounts vary as to Packer’s physical state, with descriptions varying from haggard to hearty, ravenous or wanting whiskey rather than food. The account that Packer gives on the 16 reads as follows:
A: After setting out with [American accent] “five other men”, food provisions had run low, after only ten days. Packer himself had become [American accent] “snow-blind and footsore”. They left him with a few days’ provisions so they could find the settlement faster. Israel Swan had given Packer his rifle, so that he could fend for himself, and he was lucky to hunt down a rabbit and find some edible rosebuds. Because the other men didn’t return, he [American accent] “struck out for himself and come to the agency.” He did not know what happened to the others.
C: [American accent] Riiiight.
A: In what should have been a lovely reunion, the very same day that Packer walks into Los Pinos, three of the prospectors who had waited until Chief Ouray gave them the all clear made it to the Agency.
C: [American accent] Ah, that’s lovely.
A: Packer was not so pleased to see Preston Nutter, appeared visibly agitated by his presence. In fact, over the following days and weeks, by which time all the original prospectors – apart from the five who had accompanied Packer – had made it to either the Agency or the nearby town of Saguache. Nutter and the other prospectors started to notice things.
A: Packer had had no money when he headed into the mountains, yet witnesses remember him spending $100 at a saloon–
C: Haha, okay! Big spender!
A: Losing $37 in a game of poker, and offering to make a man a loan of $300.
C: [Laughs] You know that thing of, like, when you– Sorry, when one steals a load of money, you’re not meant to spend in suspicious ways immediately straight after?
A: Surrounded by the people that think you stole it?
C: Yeah, wow.
A: Even having sold the rifle given to him by Swan, it suddenly appears that Packer has a lot of money to burn. Even stranger are the stories spreading around town that Packer was seen throwing something into the river, especially as they followed direct discussion of ‘Why does Packer have so many wallets?’
C: Hmm. He just collects them, you know? Some people collect wallets!
A: Almost universally, the prospectors and the town of Saguache think that something isn’t right. That five men would leave Packer to die seems untenable, especially as Lot’s earlier band of men had encountered their own troubles, split, and returned for their fellows. Nutter also notices that Packer has Miller’s knife – and why would he have that if he’d been abandoned?
C: Yeah. And he mentioned that he’d been given the gun, but said nothing about the knife, which makes it more suspicious.
A: James Dolan, the saloon owner in Saguache, said that Packer [in an American accent[ “did not look as if he had starved at all. He simply looked rough, as one did after a mountain trip.”
C: [American accent] Well, I personally look fresh as a daisy after a mountain trip.
A: Despite this, Dolan allows Packer to move into the saloon, sleeping on the floor, doing chores including bartending to pay his keep. This is because Packer doesn’t want to be near the other prospectors in the boarding house. General Charles Adams, the head of the Los Pinos Agency, speaks with Packer and then, on the assumption that if Packer had survived then the ‘lost’ members of his party may also have survived–
C: [Sarcastically] Yes. I am sure that is what happened.
A: So Adams entreats Packer to join them in a search party. Packer’s not that keen, but he doesn’t have much choice, so he agrees. And then Packer’s story changes again. We won’t allow the rather fantastical story that just as Packer was being questioned by Adams and some of the prospectors before heading on this mission that two Ute men run in holding strips of dried meat saying “white man’s meat.”
C: [Laughs] Yeah, that seems a little…Operatic.
A: There doesn’t seem to be much evidence for this, so it will not stand in court. However, we will report on the account that a white man was spotted by a mixed Ute party in late March/early April roasting meat on an open fire, and then throwing something into the Gunnison River upon being spotted.
C: [American accent] Well, he did say that he caught a rabbit. Or a hare. I can’t remember. A hopping creature.
A: Packer’s second confession is as follows. That he had panicked and been got [American accent] “confused” when he gave his first statement.
C: Oh, yeah. As naturally happens.
A: In this version of events, Israel Swan was the first man to die, although it took place when Packer wasn’t present, and all of the rest of the party ate his corpse after ten days.
C: Oh right, so he got confused and forgot about the cannibalism. But now he remembers it, now that you bring it up.
A: Easily done. Four or five days later Humphreys died, and was consumed, then Miller was accidently killed. Finally Bell shot Noon, and Packer killed Bell in self-defence, 14 days before Packer made it to the Agency. The men were looting from the corpses from the first death. But the emphasis has shifted to self-defence. Packer is openly admitting to cannibalism and causing the death of Bell, but he only had to kill in self-defence.
C: [American accent] Which, I don’t know much about Colorado law – so I don’t know why I’m here, in court! – but is surely a lesser sentence.
A: As a defence attorney, I should hope so. With this new narrative, the search party led by Packer sets out. After all, the presence of the bodies would corroborate Packer’s story.
C: [American accent] So even though he said they’re dead, they still went on a search party to find the bodies.
A: Exactly. Because if it’s true, then Packer is a subject of pity – this is a believable story of tragedy in the mountains.
C: [In agreement] Hmm.
A: Donner Party.
C: It happens.
A: Packer, however, claims to be lost.
C: Sure, sure. Actually that’s believable, ‘cause it seems like he gets lost quite a lot.
A: What’s slightly perhaps less justifiable, is that he rushes at one of General Adams’ officers with a knife.
C: [American accent] Ah. And was that because he was “confused”?
A: This is a claim that Packer will later deny in court, asking [in an American accent] “Is there any two men here in this room that could [take a knife from me]? I would cut both his hands off before he could take that knife.” Which in my opinion, isn’t a very good defence when it comes to attempted murder.
C: I don’t understand how that’s a defence at all! ‘I couldn’t have stabbed this man, because if you come near me, I’ll cut your hands off?’
A: I think the idea is, ‘if I’d wanted to kill that man, he’d have been dead, because no one could stop me.’
C: I see, okay, right.
A: As defence attorney, I wish he’d stop talking.
A: For this charge, as well as because the entire town is sure that he’s killed the rest of his party, Packer is thrown in jail. Here, the story changes a little bit more. There are a few more pacts to eat each other’s flesh to survive, but again Packer insists that the only man he killed was Bell.
C: [American accent] Right, right.
A: There’s a severe lack of evidence. We’ve reached a stalemate. But, in late August 1873, while Packer is in jail, John Randolph happens across some bodies in Dead Man’s Gulch.
C: [Laughs incredulously] Was it already named that?!
A: It’s not just a terrible coincidence, it gets its name from the incident.
C: I was gonna say, just like, ‘I need to find some bodies. Where shall I check first? The beautiful Tranquil Mountain? The Friendly Hill? Or Dead Man’s Gulch?’
A: [Snorts] The bodies of the five men do not tally with Packer’s account so far – instead of being scattered along a trail, as though the men had died as they walked, they’re clearly at a camp. [In an American accent] “Marks of violence on each body indicated that a most terrible crime had been committed there. The bodies lay within a few feet of each other in their blankets and clothes. These had been no attempt to conceal the remains.”
C: [American accent] Ah. I see.
A: While the men were in a terrible condition…[Laughs] Ok, they were dead—
C: [Laughs] Yeah, I can’t think of many worse conditions!
A: But it’s okay, because their beards have been left – so each man can be identified.
C: But surely…
A: The faces have been– [Laughs]
C: I thought you meant they were identified literally by the beard, like–
C: ‘Ah, four inches of growth. Russet hair. Yes, this must be Israel.’
A: I mean that’s about our scientific principle. Apart from Miller, who had lost his head – quite literally – but this is believed to be have been done by wild animals.
C: [Laughs] Okay.
A: It was clear, however, that the fatty, fleshy muscles–
C: [American accent] The good parts! [Back to British] Carmichael’s not a cannibal – Carmella’s saying this. The good parts.
A: Are we sure Carmichael’s not a cannibal?
C: [American accent] Uh, whose trial is this?
A: Good point. Back to Packer. These fatty, fleshy muscles had been removed. I’m going to be really annoying here and point out that I’ve got some 21st century forensic evidence–
A: But you’re not getting it until you draw your conclusions, because there are no forensic scientists in 1883. Soz. The camp looked like it was made by someone who knew how to overwinter. It was [American accent] “a camp where someone had stayed for quite a length of time. The one who stayed there showed that he was used to camping”, and a trail was identified leading in the direction of Los Pinos.
C: Interesting in that up until this point, the accounts have been that Packer doesn’t know what he’s doing. Ah, all a clever act! Or maybe it’s not Packer? [American accent] I’ll withhold my judgment until I hear more.
A: On the very day that the camp is investigated, Packer escapes!
C: [American accent] Right.
A: In future, jails should not be log cabins, and on no account should anyone give the prisoners makeshift keys.
A: Smash cut. Nine years later. 1883. Today, in court.
C: I’m here.
A: Al Packer has been apprehended, having been living under the alias of John Schwartze, and he is identified by one of the prospectors who recognised him living in Wyoming. General Adams has collected Packer for questioning, and subsequent trial. Packer’s final statement, that following the depletion of their supplies – that they had resorted to snow-water flour mush and rosebuds, eating the hair off their moccasin shoes and then boiling and consuming the leather – and after incredibly bad weather, the men make camp. They are all desperate for salt, and the pine gum that chew would cause their jaws to seize up.
A: It was down to Packer, who left camp to hunt and scout out their position. And when he returned he [American accent] “Found the red headed man [Bell] who acted crazy in the morning sitting near the fire roasting a piece of meat which he had cut out of the leg of the German butcher [Miller], the latter’s body was lying the furthest off form the fire down the stream, his skull was crushed in with the hatchet. The other three were lying near the fire, they were cut in the forehead with the hatchet. Some had two or three cuts. 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 forwards. I grabbed it and hit him in the top of the head.”
C: So that story has changed significantly from the original versions. Apart from the self-defence part.
A: Clear cut self-defence. But yeah, there have been a few changes in this narrative. Well, the first account is that they left him, and he just wandered off!
A: According to this version of Packer’s narrative, there had been no cannibalism up until this moment, and in fact Packer didn’t consume any flesh until the next morning. [American accent] “That is what hurt me, eating this meat, and it had hurt me for nine years. I was not responsible for what I eat. I couldn’t help it. Right there I had no feeling, I had no fear of freezing, I just was happy. Right there I cut that piece of meat. Boiled it in a tin cup, and eat a little.”
C: Hmm… But if that’s the case, why make up the second story, which still confesses to murder and cannibalism, like in self-defence, but differently? Like, if that was the truth, why would you have made up the second story, which doesn’t give you anything different? Because it’s a lie?
A: Packer himself acknowledges that he [American accent] “told a lie” and that he [American accent] “told anything that came into my mind” when first asked. But he insists that he [American accent] “told the truth when I said I killed Bell.” Let’s try that with the actual quote. That he [American accent] “told the truth when I said killed Bell.”
C: So the actual quote is the one that’s not a sentence? Cool [Laughs]
A: Yeah! Packer is not helping me here. As we’re coming up to the final judgement of Al Packer, I implore you the jury to cast aside the media reports that you may have read about how Packer is a ghoul, a human hyena, a fiend, and a monster, as they are not helping to create an objective case.
C: [American accent] Carmichael can’t read.
A: [Laughing] It’s 1883!
C: [Laughs] [American accent] Your point?
A: It must also be stated that Packer himself isn’t exactly helping his reputation in court. He’s certainly not helping the defence. He is very sarcastic – when asked about hunting he says [American accent] “it wasn’t the time for chipmunks they’d have had a hard time unless they had snowshoes.”
C: [Laughing] Oh, a comedian I see!
A: Sometimes Packer refuses to give way or answer questions. When asked about the size of the hatchet wounds on the bodies: [American accent] “I didn’t measure.”
A: And he’s overheard talking about how there was a large female presence in the audience, and he might land himself a wife.
C: [American accent] Well I had noticed that– Wait, I thought females weren’t allowed in the court?
A: They’re not allow– [Snorts] They’re not allowed on the juries. They’re allowed to watch.
C: [American accent] I see, so I could have been playing a witness– Like, just a person in court this whole time. Instead you made me be Carmichael!
A: What’ve you got against Carmichael anyway? There are inconsistencies in Packer’s narrative–
C: You don’t say!
A: And the fact remains that many people are suspicious. The question of food supply is one that can’t be answered, with Packer insisting that they had brought enough food for one man to consume in seven days, or maybe 18 days, but all the food had been exhausted between six men in four days.
C: [American accent] Well, I’m not too good at math… But that don’t add up.
A: [Laughing] That’s a very good joke.
A: And I heard how difficult it was for you not to say ‘maths.’ Doesn’t this seem like a suspiciously low amount of food to be taking in the first place?
C: [In a silly voice] Yes.
A: And if Bell was starving, how could he have murdered four men without receiving injury himself?
A: To this, Packer insists that Bell would have been able to kill the four men at camp because [American accent] “it would not take much to kill a man, they were nearly dead anyway.”
C: Hmm. And Packer knows this how…?
A: As your defence attorney, Mr Packer, please stop. Yet if the theory stands that Packer had lured men to their deaths to rob them of their belongings, that he acted out of greed rather than need, would he not have to be confident in his tracking ability? And he demonstrated not being a good guide in this area of Colorado during the first leg of the voyage.
C: [American accent] But that might have been convenient to him at the time.
A: But had Chief Ouray and the Utes not come across the men, who knows what would have happened.
C: [American accent] He may have got more than just five men’s belongings.
A: The motivation of financial gain is the main accusation, and Packer states that [American accent] “I took it, and that was wrong, I admit that”, however he firstly denies taking the vast sums of money which he was accused – admitting of taking only either $70 or $133 from the bodies, and secondly Packer questions how star witnesses Nutter, Lot and James Dalon were able to remember the exact sums of money that he had on his person nine years ago.
C: A good question. I counter with this question: if some people in the mountains that you are with, die…
C: But just– So just say, they are killed by one of your compatriots, and then you kill that compatriot in self-defence…
A: Just to pluck a scenario out of the air.
C: Is it wrong to take their possessions? I mean, the bodies are just there in the mountains, what are you going to leave the money for, if you leave it on the body?
A: I agree, but I think I’m currently too many characters to be able to say that without confusing everyone.
C: [Laughs] I’m just, like…
A: What else are you gonna do with it?
C: It’s not, like, looting in that their relatives are then going to come on by and want their belongings.
A: But then all of these men do have relatives.
C: So I guess the right thing would be, then, for when he’d returned to try and contact the relatives… But like, the morally right thing. The legally right thing…? Anyway. Money’s a social construct. Please continue.
A: There are two main consistencies in the case, or at least within Packer’s story. These are that he (A) consumed human flesh, and (B) killed Bell.
C: [American accent] I think he killed Bell.
A: Excellent work, Mr Carmichael. Packer insists that the death of Bell was self-defence, yet he does admit that the hatchet blow he rendered was when Bell was defenceless after having been shot.
A: [American accent] “I don’t feel I am guilty of the act I am charged with.” So, Carmella – sorry, Mr Carmichael: Alfred Packer, innocent or guilty? And most crucially, what’s his crime?
C: [American accent] Well, I was gonna ask that – what are we accusing him of?
A: It’s okay, you’re also the judge!
C: [American accent] …Can I consult a jury of my peers?
A: Cut to the juror’s room. [Poor American accent] What do we think?
[The following exchange is in questionable American accents]
C: I think…that…I don’t know anything about the law in Colorado. I don’t know what’s legal or not legal.
A: Murder ain’t legal.
C: Is murder in self-defence legal?
A: But was he doing it in self-defence, or did he lure them up to the mountains? Is he a really good guide who plotted this evil thing, or is he a really shit guide, who… Is just really shit?
C: I’m gonna say… Based on the testimony of the Ute, who saw that he was looking after himself just fine… that he was pretending to be shit, and therefore he is guilty of tricking people to be killed and eaten.
[Here the American accents stop, which is a shame, because your transcriber has been giggling for the last few minutes.]
A: Interesting. Casting Lots podcast hereby passes sentence on Alfred Packer for the crime of murder. He is sentenced to be hanged by the neck until he is dead.
C: [American accent] Did I say that?? I don’t believe in capital punishment!
A: It’s 1883, yes you do.
A: Shall we dive into the actual outcome of the case?
C: Yes please. Please take the pressure off me!
A: Ding ding ding – you got it right first time! For Packer’s first trial in 1883, he was found guilty. The jury was split 11 to one in favour of guilt, but they persuaded the man who thought they were innocent. There is a story that goes that Judge Gerry handed out his sentence thusly. [Clears throat dramatically, and in American accent] “Stand up you voracious man-eating son of a bitch.”
C: [Laughing] Oh, an impartial judge, then!
A: “I sentence you to be hanged by the neck until you’re dead, dead, dead.”
A: I mean, he didn’t say this, but it’s become part of the story. Packer and his team were able to successfully appeal his conviction and subsequent death sentence – not because of the case itself, but Mr Carmichael was, in a roundabout way, right when he didn’t know exactly what Colorado law was.
C: [Laughs] Yes, it was Carmichael and not Carmella!
A: In 1873, Colorado was not a state.
A: State law had only come into effect in 1881, so Packer could not be sentenced to a law that hadn’t been in effect when the crime was committed.
C: Very clever.
A: I mean, definitely being overturned by technicality. However, while Packer was acquitted of murder, in 1885 he stood trial again. The people of the state of Colorado vs. Alfred Packer – and in this instance, he was found guilty of five counts of manslaughter.
C: [American accent] Okay.
A: This came with a sentence of 40 years’ imprisonment, eight years for each victim. The public perception in Colorado is one of obvious and intentional guilt. He was vehemently disliked – I mean, he was even before the case.
C: [American accent] I vehemently dislike this man.
A: But not necessarily for the cannibalism. That was tragic, but not really the crime. Packer’s guilt came from breaking the gentleman’s agreement of the mountains. He had been self-serving and instead of helping others, had intentionally or not led them to their deaths, robbed them of their lives and then their possessions. Either he lied about being a good guide and tracker, and led people to their deaths unwillingly, or he lied and intentionally led them to disaster.
A: In both situations, the cannibalism is the least problematic part.
C: Well, that’s what we always think at Casting Lots podcast.
A: Exactly. The real problem was the murder and the theft and taking advantage of those innocent prospectors who just wanted to get really, really, really rich. That’s not really the crime, but that’s why they were travelling. Packer continued to deny that he had killed anyone apart from Bell. At his second trial he actually requests that he get the 40-year sentence, but only for killing Bell.
C: [American accent] I mean– I guess the point is that even if he didn’t mean to kill them, if by his incompetence he led them on a bad route that caused them to die, but then Bell got to them first?
A: You don’t have to still be Carmichael, we’re in 2020 now.
C: [Back to British] But Bell got to them first.
A: That is true. This request is denied. Packer serves time at the State Penitentiary in Canon City. I just have a note in my script saying, “isn’t that in Dinotopia?”
A: And is, to all intents and purposes, a model prisoner. But he won’t stop asking for parole, and keeps claiming to be innocent. General Adams is later asked about Packer appealing his sentence, and he sort of implies that Packer’s provided enough rope to hang himself, with his changing stories, and that even if the self-defence was true, the fact that Packer kept changing his story was the problem. If he’d just come out with it at the beginning, and said that Bell had tried to kill him, and he’d had to eat the others, then he would have been [American accent] “a free man with the pity, rather than the blame.” But because Packer had lied, something wasn’t right.
C: Perjury. Was it to the police, though?
A: I’m not sure they’re that organised. I’m sure there’s a sheriff, but the first jail was a cabin in the woods, and someone gave Packer the key!
A: After serving 17 years of his sentence, Packer received parole, and was released in 1901. He went on to work as a security guard for the Denver Post, and was, for once in his life, a popular and well-liked man… That was really mean!
A: He told stories to local children, tended a garden with rabbits and chickens. He’s another of our alleged cannibals-come-vegetarians by the end.
C: Oh right yes. Of course, of course.
A: Six years after his release in 1907 Packer, died of “dementia, trouble and worry”. According to the Littleton Independent his last words were, [American accent] “I’m not guilty of the charge.” So, what does the science say?
C: Yes please. That would be helpful.
A: We’re going to go all Silent Witness because ‘A Case of Historic Cannibalism in the American West: Implications for Southwestern Archaeology’ is a, frankly, amazing paper.
A: It’s got pictures of skeletons.
C: That’s all you want in a paper, really. Regardless of its subject matter.
A: In 1989, a group of forensic scientists dug up the remains of Israel Swan, George Noon, Frank Miller, Shannon Wilson Bell and James Humphrey to examine what evidence there was of self-defence. It had pretty much been universally agreed that the cannibalism had taken place, but they thought they’d have a look anyway. This was an attempt to see whether or not it was possible to corroborate Packer’s narrative with science. The conclusion they reached was that the five men died from “repeated blows to the head with a heavy object such as an axe” and that the “defensive wounds to the arms of three individuals suggest that at least three of the men were conscious during the attack.” Although cannibalism hadn’t been subject to scrutiny, the study also revealed “extensive post-mortem bone modification was readily apparent, primarily in the form of cut marks, which had been made on fresh (or ‘green’) bone soon after death.” There was an average of 93 supplementary cut marks per body, indicating butchery.
C: Love some butchery bones being dug up. Always good.
A: It’s always fun to have a bit of tangible evidence.
C: [Agreeing] Mmm.
A: Furthermore, the cut marks found on the bones were “consistent with the location of muscle attachments of large muscle units, indicating a cultural strategy of targeted removal of large packages of meaty tissue.”
C: Haha, ‘large packages’…
A: I knew you’d laugh at that.
A: The lack of notable bone breaking, dismemberment or more ‘desperate’ attempts to get additional nutrition off the bodies indicates that whoever consumed the flesh wasn’t yet at that stage. In fact, let’s dig deeper. Let’s get more scientific.
A: Approximately 75 days of food can be taken from five emaciated bodies – let’s remember our calculation from Greely in Season One.
A: The minimum number of calories the human body needs is 1,200 per day. You can get 15kg off a starved body, with a ratio of 120 calories per 100g. And if we believe that Packer was supplementing his food with rosebuds and similar nutrition, 75 days is two and a bit months. If they leave Chief Ouray’s camp in February, give ten days for the food to run out and then Packer walks out the forest in April… The evidence speaks for itself.
A: The science says that five men were violently murdered, but not by who. There are some who say that the most likely perpetrator is Packer, but others who have studied textile and bone evidence indicate that a bullet fragment was found under the body determined to have been Bell’s, and say that the lead trace matches an American Civil War era pistol, indicating that Bell was in fact shot in the stomach, which does corroborate Packer’s eventual testimony.
A: Who knows? We’re not the only people to have hosted a trial for the “Colorado Cannibal.” In 2002, held at Littleton Town Hall, the town where Packer is buried having received a veteran headstone, and a funeral paid by the military…
C: [Surprised] Okay??
A: A trial was hosted using both historic and modern evidence. The verdict? Not guilty.
C: Hmm… Of what?
A: [Laughs] He was an innocent man!
C: He did nothing wrong in his life, ever!
C: Carmichael was wrong all along…
A: I think it was really Carmichael.
C: [Laughs] Carmichael killed them all!
[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]
C: Thank you for listening to today’s courtroom drama. Alfred Packer: guilty or not guilty? Let us know what you think!
A: More importantly, Carmichael: guilty or not guilty?
C: [As Carmichael] Not guilty!
A: Join us next time for plunder, pillage and siege warfare.
[Outro music continues]
A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.
C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.
A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.
[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]