Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Alfred Packer: The Maneater of Colorado

Alfred or Alferd?

There's long been confusion over the correct spelling of Packer's name. Official documents from the military, court proceedings, and even his tombstone list it as Alfred G. Packer. Yet during his first stint in the military, he had written it as Alferd, and had that spelling tattooed on his arm. (Or the tattoo artist made the error, which amused him, and he subsequently adopted it — depending on which account is to be believed.) He was known to spell it this way on other occasions as well. The invitations to his hanging followed suit.

General Custer
General Custer

Packer was born on November 21, 1842 (some say January 21) in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. As he grew up, he learned the cobbler trade. Then the Civil War broke out, involving Pennsylvania, and he was of the right age to enlist.

When he was 19, he went west and enlisted in the 16th U.S. Infantry in Winona, Minn., but by the end of the year, epilepsy had forced him out with an honorable discharge. By June 1863, he was back, enlisting in the 8th Regiment in the Iowa Calvary. Once again, he didn't last. He was "mustered out," due to epilepsy. One report says that he served with General Custer, as a scout.

Ten years later, he was among those who left Utah on a mining expedition. He said that he'd driven ore wagons in some mining camps, which gave him the expertise to guide, but it turned out to everyone's misfortune that he actually knew very little about the area to which they were going.

The fact that he had taken the opportunity to escape from jail, rather than face a tribunal of his peers, suggested to many that he was a liar, thief, and murderer.

Yet it was a big country and he knew his way around the wilderness, so it seemed probable he might disappear rather than be brought to justice. Months went by, and then years.

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