GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Alferd Packer, notoriously known for the killing of 5 prospectors in the year of 1874.
What seemed like an "open-and-shut" case more than a century ago echoes from the past, and with the help of twenty-first-century technology, along with local curators and forensic scientists; the case has been solved and is on display at the Museum of the West.
The exhibits not only tells the story of Alferd Packer and the events leading up to that fateful night in Cannibal Mesa, which is appropriately named after the horrors discovered that night but also how the forensic team working on the case came to the discovery that Alferd Packer is innocent of murder.
The year was 1874 and the setting is a ravine with a small patch of pine trees to shield six prospectors from the bone-chilling wind of the San Juan Mountains.
Despite the warnings of chief Ouray, the team ventured out with the glimmer of gold in their eyes; they were looking to strike big in Breckenridge during the gold rush.
Lost, cold and scared, the team deligated one man to find the group food or shelter.
That man was Alferd Packer. David Bailey, the Curator of History at the Museums of Western Colorado, says, "In our investigation, they thought he was just this killer mad-dog cannibal."
Upon further investigation, the team uncovered crime scene sketches and testimony of Packer defending himself against the real murderer: Shannon Bell.
After returning to the campsite and seeing the bodies of his fellow prospectors, Packer fired his Colt Police Model pistol at Bell in self-defense.
The hatchet and gun would later play key roles in debunking the mystery.
"There was really no proof that Packer was guilty and they really had no evidence," says Bailey.
With the help of an electron microscope and a recreation of the crime scene, the team was able to confirm within a 2% margin of error that Shannon Bell was indeed the murderer.
"Alferd Packer said at the very end of the trial that, 'Someday, someone in the future will figure out what really happened,' and he was right," exclaimed Bailey.
"It's not over till it's over, and I really think we closed the door on this case", added Richard Dujay Ph.D., who played a key role as the Scientific Coordinator for the investigation team.
Packer did admit to cannibalism, but only to prevent starvation.
Packer was later arrested in Cheyenne Wyoming where he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
We recommend to check out the Alferd Packer Exhibit at the Museum of the West for complete details on the case and discovery.