Staggering out of the snowbound Colorado peaks, fortune hunter Alfred Packer claimed he had been abandoned by his five comrades and had survived for two months by eating nothing more than rosebuds. But underneath all the grime Packer looked suspiciously well fed. He also had a butcher s knife tucked into his belt and his mates cash stuffed in his pockets. Packer was arrested on suspicion of murder and eventually confessed to an even more harrowing deed cannibalism .
He claimed the group became lost in a blizzard while trying to cross the mountains in February 1874 and ran out of food. When two men died of exhaustion, their desperate comrades devoured them and abandoned their bodies before turning on each other. Packer, then 31, insisted he only survived by killing his last companion, Shannon Bell, in self-defence after the bigger man attacked him with a rifle butt.
Grim find: The grave of Packer s victims
But his story quickly unravelled as more evidence emerged. Most damning was that Packer confessed to developing a taste for human flesh. Interrogators said he admitted it was the sweetest meat I ever tasted and he preferred it to civilised food. Newspapers, convinced Packer killed all five men to eat them, branded him the human hyena . But before his trial he bribed his jailer and escaped.
Days later two artists stumbled on his victims bodies in the western wilderness. They were dumped together, a rotting mess covered by blankets. One corpse had no head, while the others were missing chunks of flesh that Packer allegedly hacked off to eat. As well as a folk song, the sickening tale more recently inspired a musical by TV s South Park creator Trey Parker.
Harold Schechter, professor of American culture at Queens College in New York, researched the murders for his new book Man-Eater: The Saga Of Alfred G. Packer.
Gruesome tale: Harold Schechter s book on Packer
He said: This was one of the most gruesome and ghoulish crimes in US history. The fact he murdered these men to survive made him a monster in many people s eyes, like something in a modern horror film.
There was so little government in the Wild West that these frontiersmen developed an ethos of trusting each other. For them Packer embodied the nightmare that your comrade may betray you in a crisis. Packer was not the first infamous US cannibal. Nearly 30 years earlier 87 travellers, the Donner Party, were trapped throughout winter by heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Just 48 survived and many of those had eaten the ones who died even their relatives.
And before then, in 1820, eight out of 20 sailors adrift in three lifeboats survived by eating their friends who had died of thirst and starvation after a sperm whale sank US ship The Essex in the Pacific. That story, which inspired the novel Moby-Dick, has been made into a film, In The Heart of the Sea, released on Dec ember 11 and starring Chris Hemsworth .
Movie: Chris Hemsworth in In the Heart of the Sea
Yet Packer stands apart because he was accused of killing his victims before devouring them, rather than eating those who died of natural causes. After escaping justice he avoided capture for nine years before he was spotted by a fellow prospector in a saloon in the neighbouring state of Wyoming.
He had changed his name to John Schwartze but the two missing fingers on his left hand, the result of a mining accident in the 1860s, gave him away and he was arrested.
Now his victims bodies had been found, he changed his story on why they were piled together instead of scattered across the mountains, as he had previously said. This time he claimed he was sent on a scouting mission by the group and returned to find Shannon Bell roasting a chunk of human flesh on a camp fire surrounded by the bodies of their four comrades, their skulls crushed with a hatchet. Packer claimed to have shot Bell as he rose to attack then tried to find his way out of the mountains but was unable to escape amid the heavy snow. So he built a shelter and camped for 60 days, surviving on the flesh of his comrades.
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Again his story began to sound increasingly shaky when he stood trial in Lake City, Colorado, and a group of Ute Indians revealed they saw him camped contentedly by the Gunnison River in early spring. When Packer spotted them he quickly grabbed something from the ground and threw it into the water. Later the tribe found a human arm, minus much of its flesh, washed up on the river bank. Packer was convicted of murder in April 1883 and sentenced to death by hanging, later commuted to 40 years in prison.
Prof Schechter said: It s not hard to believe Packer committed these murders, as he kept changing his story.
It also seems very suspicious that he happily settled in for two months and helped himself to the bodies. He displayed no remorse and from what I ve read, human flesh tastes pretty good.
Resting place: Packer s grave
But not all agreed Packer was guilty. The former soldier turned drifter was a rough character even by Wild West standards and he suffered from epileptic fits that terrified many fellow fortune hunters and made him unpopular with them. So several men who travelled with him before his ill-fated trip were only too willing to think the worst and testify against him. Some, however, felt the evidence against him was unfair and the jury too hasty. One journalist on the Breckenridge Daily Journal branded the trial a travesty and suggested Packer s story changed as he was afraid to tell the truth when he emerged frozen and starved from the mountains.
Reporter Polly Pry, of the Denver Post, went further. She portrayed Packer as a near romantic figure who embodied the resilience and resourcefulness needed to survive on the frontier. He was paroled in 1901 due to her cam paign and, although he had planned to open a saloon to capitalise on his infamy, he took a job at Pry s paper as a security guard. And by the time he died, aged 65, in 1907 he had even become a vegetarian.
Wilderness: The mountain scene where the victims were found
Prof Schechter said: Even though Packer was probably guilty his trial was a travesty. He should have been acquitted on the basis of reasonable doubt, as no one could prove what happened in the wild. But such was the public animo sity towards him he couldn t get a fair trial. Several scientists have tried to determine whether Packer was guilty.
American Academy of Forensic Sciences chairman James Starrs exhumed Packer s alleged victims in 1988 and found gashes on the arms suggesting they tried to defend themselves against a hatchet. Starrs claimed this proved Packer did murder the five men but Professor David Bailey, from the Museum of Western Colorado, had a different theory. He studied a rusted Colt revolver found at the grave and found the bullets in the chamber matched gunshot residue found on the wool fabric of Shannon Bell s clothing.
He concluded that Packer had told the truth, albeit belatedly, and that Bell murdered the other four men before being shot dead by Packer. But Prof Bailey failed to convince other scientists, who argued that just because Packer shot Bell it did not necessarily mean he had not killed the rest with a hatchet. Prof Schechter feels that Packer was guilty but that history should not judge the Colorado cannibal harshly. The most civilised man can be reduced to barbarity when facing starvation, he said.
- Man-Eater: The Saga Of Alfred G. Packer, by Harold Schechter (Head of Zeus, 20).
Marine Capt. Trey Kennedy, executive officer at the U.S. Security Assistance Office in Kabul, Afghanistan, with his girlfriend, Clemson senior Alexis Newman, right after Clemson’s victory over the University of South Carolina in last year’s rivaly game at Death Valley.(Photo: provided)
When the Clemson Tigers and the South Carolina Gamecocks renew their age-old rivalry at noon on Saturday in Columbia, Marine Capt. Trey Kennedy will just be settling down after another long day s work in Afghanistan. Usually, the Wren High School and Clemson University graduate has to get up in the middle of the night to watch the Tigers play, because of the nine and a half hour time difference. But this time, he s looking forward to some prime-time Palmetto Bowl entertainment.
Although the Tigers are undefeated and No. 1 in the nation, and the Gamecocks are headed in the opposite direction, Kennedy, in true Leatherneck fashion, doesn t take anything for granted.
You never know,” he said. “In a rivalry, anything can happen, so you ve got to be careful. But he has reason to be optimistic.
We definitely have the talent to do what we need to do, and we ve got some great coaching, the executive officer at the U.S. Security Assistance Office in Kabul said. Clemson s dream season has been a welcome respite from Kennedy s job.
He s charge of the training and security of all personnel in his section and over all outside-the-wire missions, including convoys and foot patrols. His office oversees the use of military equipment provided by the United States to Afghan forces, who have taken over combat duties and are beating back the enemy, he said.
It will be a good time to kind of decompress and watch a little football and obviously, hopefully, the Tigers can pull out a win there and continue on with the perfect season that they re having, he said. He has plenty of friends who are big USC fans and some of his Marine comrades are graduates of The Citadel, which stunned Carolina last week.
They re ecstatic, he said.
But the past doesn t matter when it comes to the Clemson-USC matchup, he said.
It doesn t matter that South Carolina might have stumped their toe last weekend against the Citadel, he said in a phone interview with The Greenville News. A rivalry is a rivalry. Kennedy is a believer in Clemson coach Dabo Swinney s philosophy, of taking it one game at a time and looking at each contest as the most important one on the schedule. That should serve the Tigers well in their attempt to make it two-in-a-row over the Gamecocks, after losing five consecutive years,Kennedy said.
They re not going to get caught this week by overlooking to next week, the University of North Carolina and the ACC championship, he said. They re going to take it one game at a time.
I think the mindset is going to be right.
And as long as the men in orange keep doing what they ve been doing, their chances to go all the way look good, he believes.
At least one of the men in green will be pulling hard on Saturday, and all the way down the home stretch.
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Senior Israeli military and Shin Bet security service officials are warning that the Palestinian Authority could collapse, Haaretz reported. The diplomatic-security cabinet held lengthy discussions about the possibility of the PA collapse Wednesday and Thursday, Haaretz reported, citing three sources who either attended the meetings or were briefed on them. Senior Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet officials reportedly warned of security consequences if the PA collapsed under the weight of Israeli military pressure and the declining legitimacy of President Mahmoud Abbas. But other ministers reportedly argued that Israel could benefit and shouldn t try to prevent it.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially called the meeting because the government had received information that the Palestinians are contemplating fresh diplomatic initiatives against Israel, including a United Nations resolution calling for protection of the Palestinians in the occupied State of Palestine. Also reportedly under consideration is the revocation of the Palestine Liberation Organization s 1993 recognition of Israel.