Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Alfred Packer: The Maneater of Colorado

Packer's Confession

General Charles Adams
General Charles Adams

About a month after he emerged from the wilderness alone, Packer admitted that he knew what had happened to the others in his party and he was willing to provide details. On May 8, his confession was given and signed under General Charles Adams' supervision at the Los Piños Indian Agency.

Right away, poor weather conditions hindered the party's progress, Packer said, and their supplies eventually ran out. Streams and lakes were too frozen or treacherous to fish, and wild game was scarce. They could not turn back, but they were not optimistic about going forward, either. Since they were already starving, their situation looked bleak. Packer's statement to General Adams indicated that the other five men had died at various stages of their journey, either as starvation overtook them or as they were killed in self-defense from one another's hunger-maddened attacks. Ultimately, the bodies were found at various places along the trail.

Israel Swan, being the oldest at around 65, died first, about ten days after the group departed, and the survivors had all taken pieces from him to eat. Then four or five days later, James Humphrey died and "was also eaten." He proved to have $133 in his pocket and Packer admitted that he had taken it. The man was no longer going to need it, so why not? Why the other two did not search the body or question Packer's theft is not clear.

The third man to die — Packer referred to him as "the Butcher" — was Frank Miller, in an "accident" that occurred while Packer was searching for wood. He did not specify what kind of accident. The other two who were still alive decided to eat him, since he was dead, and Packer returned to find this activity already in progress. The next to go was the boy, George Noon. Packer reported that while he was off for several days hunting for game, Bell had shot "California" Noon with Swan's gun. Packer had returned and together they ate him. That left only Packer and Bell.

Despite the fact that they had just dined, it seems that Bell decided that he was going to be the only survivor.

"Bell wanted to kill me," Packer's report indicates, "struck at me with his rifle, struck a tree and broke his gun." So Packer had killed him first.

And that left only one.

Why Packer had not offered this tale immediately upon returning to the settlement is not made clear in his confession, and perhaps was not even questioned. He swore that this statement was the truth "and nothing but the truth, so help me God."

Knowing that the five prospectors lay out in the open somewhere, a search party went out, led by a reluctant Packer. He took them where he believed he had last seen the others, but they failed to find the missing prospectors.

It seems clear in retrospect, in view of what came next, that Packer was scheming for a way to clear himself or get away. But before he could do anything, he was arrested and jailed in Saguache on suspicion of murder.

Apparently the authorities did not believe his account. Their suspicions were soon confirmed. As it turned out, the lost prospectors had not been killed one by one and left along the way. Packer's confession was a lie.

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