Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Alfred Packer: The Maneater of Colorado


Packer managed to elude the law for nine years by living under the assumed name of John Schwartze. No one knows how he made a living for all that time or why he ventured back so close to where people knew him, but finally in March 1883, Frenchy Cabizon, a former member of the original party, recognized his laugh in a saloon in Fort Fetterman, Wyo. Packer was captured only 300 miles from where he'd begun to run. Unmasked and rearrested, he went before a grand jury, which returned five indictments against him for the hatchet murders of the five hapless prospectors. Packer offered yet a second confession on March 16, 1883, again under the supervision of the same General Adams.

He said that he and the others had left Chief Ouray's camp with seven days' worth of food provisions for one man — in other words, not much. After two or three days, they encountered a snowstorm. As they moved from mountain to gulch, they found the deep snow impenetrable in places. By the fourth day, they had only a pint of flour left out of all their provisions. They just kept going.

Ten days into their treacherous trek, as they were surviving on rosebuds and pine gum, some of them showed signs of serious depression, even madness. They came upon a lake and cut holes in the ice to fish, but had no luck. They continued on.

Swan was growing angry and told Packer to go up the mountain with the rifle and scout out the terrain. Packer claimed that he was a guide for the others. He said that when he went scouting, all he could find was more snow. The situation looked hopeless, especially since Bell had been acting crazy that morning, as if hunger were twisting his mind.

When Packer returned with nothing positive to report, he said that he found Bell sitting by a fire roasting a large piece of meat, "which he had cut out of the leg of the German butcher," i.e., Miller.

"The latter's body was lying the furthest off from the fire down the stream, his skull was crushed in with a hatchet. The other three men were lying near the fire, they were cut in the forehead with the hatchet. Some had two, some three cuts."

As Packer approached the fire, Bell picked up the bloody hatchet to attack him, too. In self-defense, Packer claimed, he shot the man through the stomach, sideways. When Bell dropped his hatchet and fell onto his face, Packer grabbed it and used it on him, hitting him in the top if the head to ensure that his would-be attacker was indeed dead. Then he spent the night in despair. He tried to leave the camp the next day, leaving the four dead men behind, but the snow was too deep, so he had to return to the gruesome arena. He covered the dead, but for several weeks, lived on the flesh that Swan had already cut from one of them.

Each day, he made a renewed attempt to leave, but each day the snow thwarted him, so he took more flesh from the dead. He estimated that he survived this way for about two months. "I could not eat but a little at a time."

Finally, when the snow looked to be thawing and crusting over, Packer packed a few pieces of human flesh, a gun, $70 dollars he had found on the men, and went on his way. Just before he reached the Agency, at his very last camp, he consumed the last pieces of meat. (He does not account for how some strips of human flesh were found along the way.)

He admitted that when he had led the 1874 party in search of the bodies, he had not gone all the way back because he had not wanted to venture closer to that site.

Packer added that he had escaped from jail by using a penknife as a key and had initially gone to Arkansas and Arizona before heading to Wyoming.

Once again, he claimed that this was a true confession, voluntarily made and sworn before a notary public. It was not his final version of the story.

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