Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Alfred Packer: The Maneater of Colorado

A Grisly Find

Slumgullion Pass
Slumgullion Pass

In August 1874, John A. Randolph, an artist sent out to Colorado for Harper's Weekly Magazine, came across a startling sight at Slumgullion Pass: Five sets of human remains lay in a cluster near the bank of the lake fork of the Gunnison River, just two miles from present-day Lake City. He realized at once that this had to be the prospectors. (One account states that a road-building crew found the remains first, but there are no records about the find at that time, so it's likely untrue that anyone had discovered them before Randolph.)

Among the remains were pieces of torn clothing, blankets, and some shreds of flesh, but weather and animals had clearly done damage to the evidence. Their feet were still bound in the blankets that they had torn for that purpose, and Randolph found no shoes, cooking utensils, or guns around them. It appeared that they had not only been murdered where they lay but also horribly ravaged, and one set of remains was missing its head. Two had pieces of flesh cut out, one out of the breast and one out of the thigh, and one appeared to have put up a fight. Randolph spent some time at the site, sketching them all in a detailed composition that would be immortalized, and then reported his discovery.

Sketch of remains as found
Sketch of remains as found

The Hinsdale County coroner, W. F. Ryan, hurried to the spot with 20 other men to hold an inquest, but unfortunately for history, he put nothing into writing. A member of the original party that had left Utah, Preston Nutter, identified the remains as those of his former companions, and by a process of elimination it was determined that Frank Miller was the one without a head.

The coroner made sure that the witnesses all got a good look for the approaching trial and then had the bodies buried together in graves on a high bluff nearby, overlooking the spot of their discovery. Individual slabs were set up to memorialize each of the deceased. Randolph also sketched the burial place, and the area became known as "Dead Man's Gulch."

After they finished this grisly deed and returned to town to confront Packer with his obvious lies, they learned that he had escaped from the sieve-like jail at Saguache. Some said he'd had the assistance of an accomplice. Where he might have gone, no one knew.

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