Episode 03 – Infamous Colorado Cannibal

In November 1873, a party of 21 prospectors left Salt Lake City and headed towards the mountains. Two months later, they arrived at the Ute Indian encampment where they were urged to wait out the winter. After two weeks, 6 men including 23-year old Alferd Packer who acted as their guide, decided to try to make it to an Indian agency 75 miles away. 65 days later, only Alferd Packer arrived at the agency. Over a year later the remains of the missing men were found and by now Packer had told two different versions of what had happened. Whether he murdered them all or claimed to have killed only one in self-defense, what he never denied was that he ate one of the men. Since there was no law on the Colorado books for cannibalism, Packer was arrested for first-degree murder. Due to legal technicalities, it would take two trials to convict Packer (of 5 counts of manslaughter) and sentence him to 40 years in prison. In July of 1989, law and forensic Professor James Starrs of George Washington University decided to try to prove which version of Packer’s tale was indeed the true one. He led a team including archaeologists and forensic anthropologists and unearthed the 5 graves. He hoped by studying the bones, the truth of how these men died would finally be revealed. The bones were taken to the anthropology lab at the University of Arizona where forensic anthropologist Dr. Walter Birkby and a small team studied them. With the evidence uncovered from the bones, Starrs concluded that Packer was a “murdering cannibal and liar.” On this episode of Skeleton Crew, Dr. Elizabeth Murray will re-examine the evidence and documentation taking a closer look at the most recent conclusions of the forensic anthropological studies to see which version of Alfred Packer’s story may be closer to the truth.