Alferd Packer: The Truth About 'America's Favorite Cannibal'

The enduring popularity of Silence of the Lambs and the brief rise of Hannibal the TV series might give you the impression that America prefers its cannibalism with fava beans, a nice chianti, and the wine-scented flatulence that inevitably follows. But the state of Colorado might have a bone to pick with that assessment, presumably one of the human bones that Alferd Packer picked clean in one of history's most celebrated cases of cannibalism.

No country for cold men

A 19th-century prospector and wilderness guide, Alferd Packer roamed the Rocky Mountains for gold and and silver, according to History. In November 1873, Packer departed Bingham Canyon, Utah and led 21 men on a trek on a journey that would change his life and end five others. Their goal was to strike gold near Breckenridge, Colorado, but an abysmal winter struck instead. The Ute tribe came to their aid, feeding and housing the travelers. The Ute chief even invited them to remain until the bitter winter subsided, but Packer had other plans.

He and a group of soon-to-be- corpses ventured back out into the unforgiving cold, unaware that frostbite was only the second worst bite that awaited them. Two months later, Packer reemerged looking surprisingly well-fed. He claimed that he got lost amid a blizzard and lived on a diet of rabbits and rosebuds. But he was packing a suspicious amount of money and a bunch of his fellow travelers' belongings. Packer cracked under interrogation, admitting that the closest he came to slaying a rosebud was eating Citizen Kane.

In Packer's second version of events, four dudes froze to death along the trail, forcing Packer and a second survivor, Shannon Bell, to eat them out of sheer desperation. Then, Bell went battier than a belfry, leaving Packer with no choice but to shoot and later eat him. The second alibi fell through when the corpses of the five eaten men were found at a single campsite. So he went on the run, eluding justice for nine years.

Silence on the lam

For nearly a decade Alferd Packer remained an elusive fugitive. After being apprehended in 1883 he revised his survival story yet again. As History details, Packer accused the conveniently dead Shannon Bell of using a hatchet to hack the other four men to death before boiling their bodies. Then Bell charged Packer with the hatchet, forcing him to shoot his crazed assailant. By this point, his stories were harder to swallow than a human femur and Packer was convicted of manslaughter.

In 1901, the Denver Post apparently decided that third alibi's a charm and waged a crusade to secure Packer's freedom. He was released that year and got a job as a guard for the newspaper that saved him. Since his death in 1907, he has become a minor cultural icon. Per Roadside America, Colorado honors Packer with a series of sights along the so-called Cannibal Trail. The state also boasts an Alferd Packer Memorial Grill. The city of Boulder celebrates him with a big burrito dubbed the El Canibal. And while studying at the University of Colorado, South Park creator Trey Parker wrote Cannibal! The Musical about Packer's life.