The following are the first 2 chapters from the book “Murderous Minds: Stories of Real Life Murderers That Escaped the Headlines (Vol 3)”
On Saturday, July 3, 1976, a young man with dark–blond, curly hair, a broad, honest face, massive, square physique stumbled backward out of a narrow, smelly toilet on the fourth floor of a block of apartments in Laar, West Germany, and hit the ground in a dead faint.
This astonished those who observed the incident, because the man was Detective Max Riese of the Duisburg police. If any place in Germany was least likely to have a fainting cop, it was Duisburg, in the Ruhr region. And if any cop were least likely to faint, it was Riese. A twenty year veteran of the force, he had seen the worst men could to do one another. Or so he thought.
An area known for its mining industry, the Ruhr region encompasses 50 industrial cities, and is often referred to as the Iron Triangle. Due to its large industrial role, it is a heavily populated, and also incredibly polluted area. Like something most people would only associate with a place such as Chernobyl, soot, and sulfuric acid regularly fall from the sky, coloring the waterways bright shades of yellow and green, rendering local streams devoid of life. Wildlife, the few able to exist in the toxic environment, are poisonous and considered inedible, as most forms of plant life.
Although the Ruhr region is incapable of sustaining itself by farming due to its poisonous and inhospitable environment, Germany is nonetheless proud of the wealth its mining industry has brought to the country, if not to the individuals themselves. Citizens must often go to extreme measures and think in ways which are adaptive to their harsh surroundings in order to survive.
One of the region’s denizens had honed his method of stalking and dispatching his prey for over two decades.
It was the result of these practices which brought the policeman to his knees outside the small bathroom that July day in 1976. For over twenty years, 43-year-old Joachim Kroll had patiently stalked his victims, often going years at a time between killings, a practice which defies most notions regarding serial killers and “cooling off” periods between murders. Kroll was a strange, but beloved, member of his community and police had just stumbled onto the evidence of his depraved practices and no one was prepared for what they discovered about “Uncle Joachim.”
Joachim Georg Kroll was born April 17, 1933, in Hindenburg, Province of Upper Silesia. He was a small, weak child and known to wet the bed—according to some reports, even into adulthood. He tended to struggle in school and ended up only making it to the third grade. Much later, upon being examined by psychiatrists, it was found he only had an IQ of 76, making him mentally handicapped.
Once he was an adult, he was known to love the company of children, although it would later be discovered his adoration of little girls went far beyond that of a nurturing desire. The children in his neighborhood referred to him as “Uncle Joachim,” because he was so kind to them, and because his little apartment was filled with various toys, dolls, and candy. Joachim was viewed as a friendly man who would invite all the neighborhood children into his home. He loved the attention from the little girls, who, in turn, loved his collection of child-sized dolls. Unbeknownst to the girls or their families, “Uncle Joachim” would use these dolls to practice strangling little girls. Nobody knew, either, of his blow-up sex dolls, which he would also strangle.
The families in the neighborhood in Duisburg thought of the little, dingy-looking brown-eyed man as being a sweet fellow who just wanted a family of his own. They trusted him to go on walks with their young girls, and, despite what Kroll did to numerous other young girls who became victims of his hidden sadistic side, these children always came home safely and happily, usually full of the sweets he would offer them. Although a bit dim-witted, adults felt the time he spent lavishing affection and gifts on the neighborhood children was in an effort to fill the lonely void his mother’s death had left in the life of this childless bachelor. Little did they know that, after his mother’s death in 1955, something snapped inside Kroll, horrible desires which earned him the names “Ruhr Cannibal,” “Ruhr Hunter,” and “Duisburg Man-Eater.”
In his childhood, after World War II was over, Joachim Kroll and his family moved to North Rhine-Westphalia. Then, Kroll’s closest confidante, his mother, died when he was twenty-two. Three weeks after her death, lonely and desperate for human interaction, Kroll went in search of something: a girl. He took a train a short ways, before exiting at a random stop. He then continued on foot, before finally encountering 19-year-old Irmgard Strehl. She was a vision of blonde loveliness dressed all in green; a youth who had also taken a train, and was now walking to her destination, the nearby village of Herrenstein, less than a mile away.
Kroll found her very attractive, and when he had encountered her on the road, he asked her if she would like to take a walk in the woods. Irmgard agreed. Making the same fateful mistake many others would in the future, she felt the little man couldn’t possibly be a threat, and he certainly seemed friendly enough. After walking only a short distance and out of sight from prying eyes, Kroll attempted to kiss Irmgard, but she resisted. Kroll, angered by her actions, stabbed her four times in the neck. Then, he grabbed her by her bloody throat and strangled her. Once Irmgard stopped struggling and the life left her eyes, Kroll raped her body. Then, he cut her abdomen open, spilling her guts as though she were a pig.
When Irmgard failed to arrive at her parents’ house for lunch, they immediately sensed something was amiss. A search party, which included almost every able-bodied person of the small hamlet, was formed by her worried mother and father. The search did not last long. On the same day she went missing, February 8, 1955, Irmgard Strehl’s body was found by 3 p.m., partially hidden by the snow-covered brush that surrounded it, only a few hundred feet from the road.
There was a large amount of semen in her vagina, as well as on her abdomen and pubic hair, a finding which helped Kroll evade detection. Upon noting this unusual finding, officials first believed the crime was committed by a group, or gang, due to the significant amount of seminal evidence. Residents, especially single women, were warned if they must travel alone, to avoid groups of young men. No one had any idea that it was a single individual to blame for the crime. Only after he was arrested decades later would authorities learn of Kroll’s nearly insatiable sexual appetite and the copious amounts of semen he produced.
Twenty-four-year-old Klara Frieda Tesmer was yet another blonde whom Kroll encountered and desired in the same way he had desired his first victim. It was June 16, 1959, and Klara was out walking. Years later, in his confession, Kroll detailed how he had taken her by the arm, but she had resisted and tried to pull away. Enraged by her rebuff, Kroll reacted by hitting her on the head. While Kroll attempted to undress Klara, they struggled and the two rolled down a small incline, off the road and out of view. Kroll decided to simply strangle Klara to death, before making any attempt to have sexual relations with her.
Once he was done, Kroll decided to try something new with the lifeless body. Klara, he thought, looked positively delicious, so he carved pieces of flesh from her buttocks and thighs with a long-bladed knife, wrapped them in a piece of fabric ripped from his victim’s dress, and took them home with him. To eat. Klara’s body was later discovered by some young boys riding their bicycles. Like Irmgard Strehl, Klara’s body was found raped and strangled in a small patch of woods outside the city limits. Having no reason to believe the murder of Klara was connected with the murder four years prior, the crimes would not be linked for many years.
In their search for Klara’s killer, and going on the assumption the murder was an isolated occurrence, police zeroed in on a man they felt was most likely the perpetrator. Heinrich Ott, a 37-year-old mechanic, was arrested for Klara’s murder. The police had come to suspect him in a series of sex murders which had taken place in the surrounding area in the years preceding Klara’s death.
Perhaps he was guilty of some of the killings he was accused of committing, but it is just as likely that Joachim Kroll had murdered some, or all, of the women. Ott certainly was not guilty in the death of Klara Tesmer, but police did not know that, nor did they know about Kroll. When Heinrich Ott committed suicide, by hanging himself in his cell before he ever went to trial, this was all the proof law enforcement and citizens needed of his guilt.
Manuela Knodt was just sixteen when, on July 26, 1959, her life was snuffed out. It had been a little over a month since Kroll had murdered Klara Tesmer, and the crime occurred twenty miles away, in a town called Bredeney. This murder, like the first two, was also viewed as an isolated incident, even though she was strangled and raped, much like the other victims. Also, as with the earlier murders, an enormous amount of semen was found on the victim’s body. Again, local officials believed that more than one person had been involved.
On February 23, 1960, for reasons never explained, 23-year-old Horst Otto walked into the police station and confessed to the murder of Manuela which had taken place six months earlier. He was arrested and charged with the murder, and although he quickly withdrew his confession, he was convicted and served eight years in prison before being released.
Around 1960, Kroll went to work as a toilet attendant, and, afterward, moved to 24 Friesen Street, Laar, in Duisburg, working for Thyssen Industries. He would remain here until his arrest many years later, although, he was warned by the landlord that he would be kicked out if he were ever seen attempting to bring young girls into his quarters, as he had on two occasions.
In 1962, Barbara Bruder vanished. Years later, Kroll would confess that he killed the 12-year-old, but due to a lack of convincing evidence, he was never convicted. Kroll said that, like the others, he had strangled and raped her. She was on her way to a playground in Lützenkirchen, but she never arrived. Her body has never been found.
Petra Giese was killed on Easter Monday, April 23, 1962, in a forest, north of Duisburg. The thirteen-year-old was strangled and raped, her body found among the bushes. She had been visiting a carnival with a friend and she had become separated from her friend. It is a distinct possibility that Kroll led her away. Her body was found the next day by a search party. She was missing both buttocks, as well as her left arm.
Fifty-two-year-old Vinzenze Kuehn, a single man who worked as a miner, was arrested for her murder. There was sufficient evidence to suspect Kuehn. For one thing, the vehicle he owned, a cross between an automobile and a motorcycle, called a Goggo Isar, was similar to one a farmer claimed to have seen the day of the murder, near the spot where the body was found. Upon checking motor vehicle records, police discovered that only 522 of these vehicles were owned in the area. Of that number, all of the vehicle owners had alibis that were verified and their whereabouts at the time were accounted for—all except for Vinzenze Kuehn.
Secondly, Kuehn had a criminal record, one that made him seem a likely suspect for the type of crime with which he stood accused. Kuehn was a convicted sex offender, more accurately, a child molester. Kuehn was very fond of little girls and had developed a method he used repeatedly. He waited on them in parks and places that provided him access to young girls, who at that time, were often allowed to go about without parental supervision. At times enticing them with candy, and if that did not work, offering them money, he coerced them into removing their panties and allowing him to give them lessons in masturbation. He followed this up by masturbating himself.
Very few girls ever came forward to accuse Kuehn of inappropriate acts with them, but police always believed the number was far greater than they knew. Kuehn took some kind of perverse pride from never hurting the girls—save for the emotional and psychological scarring he surely wrought upon them. Perhaps it eased his conscious to believe that because he was not inserting his phallus or other objects inside his victims, then his acts were not so bad. Regardless of how his twisted reasoning worked, it was this reason which caused him to feel it was impossible for authorities to believe he was guilty of rape, murder, and mutilation.
There was another reason to believe Petra’s death had not been at the hands of Kuehn—he was never known to approach a teenager. Perhaps it was because he was not physically attracted to the womanly attributes of the female form, or simply because he feared older girls were more likely to betray him to their parents and the authorities.
The police, however, were not willing to dismiss the fact that Kuehn owned a Goggo like the one the witness testified to seeing and the fact he had no alibi for the time of the murder. Medical professionals were consulted for their opinion, and the experts stated their belief that any man who engaged in the type of perverse behavior with young girls which Kuehn admitted to, could potentially “get carried away and end up a rapist and murderer.” They theorized that Kuehn had lost control of himself, raped Petra, and upon realizing what he had done, then attempted to cover up his actions by murdering and mutilating her to make law enforcement believe these were the actions of a sadistic sex murderer.
The official postmortem report, which showed Petra had been murdered first and then raped, was ignored, and Vinzenze Kuehn was charged with the rape, murder, and mutilation of Petra Giese. Faced with no evidence he had committed the crime, the jury still found him guilty. Whether their opinion was that the possibility of his guilt existed, or merely that if he was not guilty this time, it was reasonable to believe he was capable of such crimes in the future, the jury voted unanimously to have him put away.
Kuehn was sentenced to twelve years in prison, along with a regimen of psychiatric treatments designed to, “rid him of his unnatural interest in little girls and convert him into a useful member of society.” Kuehn’s psychiatric treatments ended when he was released from prison six years later, having served only half his sentence.
Police at the time believed he continued his pursuit of young girls after his release, but they never found irrefutable proof of this, and no victims ever came forward. Ironically, if Vinzenze Kuehn had not been in police custody at the time, it is likely he would have also been blamed for the rape and murder of another of Joachim Kroll’s victims
On June 4, 1962, twelve-year-old Monika Tafel was murdered just outside her hometown of Walsum. She was killed in much the same way as Petra Giese and those before her. Monika’s body was discovered seven days later, on June 11, by a police helicopter. Her body had not been hidden but was merely lying in a part of the forest search parties on foot had not gone over.
Monika had been strangled to death, before being stripped naked, raped, and masturbated over. As with prior victims, parts of her flesh had been stripped away. Had the local authorities been in contact with the Duisburg police department, perhaps the similarities in the murders of Petra and Monika would have been noticed and Vinzenze Kuehn would have been spared six years in prison, but that did not happen.
Authorities already had a suspect for Monika’s murder. Thirty-four-year-old steel worker, Walter Quicker, who was known for having an interest in little girls, was taken in as a suspect by police after witnesses came forward to say they had seen him in the company of a young girl on the day of Monika’s murder. Quicker vehemently denied the allegations, but authorities produced information showing Quicker was known in the community for having an interest in young girls, and that some of his actions in the past had made his fellow townspeople suspicious of him.
Quicker admitted he was fond of girls, but insisted his fondness was not of a sexual nature. He had always wanted a daughter, he told police, but he and his wife were unable to have one, thus he lavished attention on little girls. Police questioned dozens of young girls in Walsum, and all denied that Walter Quicker had ever behaved inappropriately with them. Not one single child had a bad word to say about Quicker.
This ruined the case against him for the police, who believed Quicker was guilty, but were forced to release him from custody. This, however, did not stop the townspeople from persecuting him and deciding to would punish him since law enforcement had not. His wife divorced him on the grounds that she could not stand the disgrace of “being married to a child molester.”
People began to jeer and spit at him on the street, and shopkeepers refused to serve him. When he left his house, youngsters would run behind him and ask how many little girls he had raped that day. The town’s older residents would howl with laughter. On October 5, 1962, just five months after Monika Tafel’s murder, Walter Quicker walked into the forest with a clothesline, and hung himself near the very same spot Monika’s body had been found, once again causing police and citizens to falsely believe they had found the guilty party.
The actual murderer, Joachim Kroll, was still free, and now also guilty of causing the deaths of two men, as well as the false imprisonment of others. It is regarded as doubtful that Kroll, after discovering how much pleasure he could derive from the crimes, would have gone three years without killing, but upon his arrest, he would state after murdering Monika, the next murder he could remember was not until 1965. There were just too many killings and too much time had passed, he would tell police. He could remember the murder in 1965, he said, because that was the only man he had killed—and only because he had gotten in the way.
In August of 1965, Hermann Schmitz and his eighteen-year-old fiancé, Marion Veen, were at lover’s lane in Grossenbaum, just south of Duisburg. The area had originally been a large rock quarry, but after the pit was no longer needed, it had been filled with water and formed an artificial lake. It was there, along the shore of the lake, under an autumn moon, that the two lovers’ destiny would be decided for them.
Kroll had left his apartment that Sunday night around six and arrived by tram in Grossenbaum approximately three hours later. Kroll had exited the tram and was busying himself following women and girls along the streets of the town, hoping for an opportunity to present itself. When none did, he happened to remember the gravel-pit lake, having lived in the area previously for a short time.
He was also aware of what took place at the lake, having often indulged his voyeuristic side by masturbating outside cars, while occupants inside made love, unaware they were being watched. On this occasion, Kroll had worked himself up into such a frenzy that mere masturbation would not do. When he observed the twenty-five-year-old and his fiancé, Kroll made the decision to rape Marion.
The two were passionately making out on the front seat. Little did they know, Kroll had been prowling the area, watching other couples, and by the time he stumbled upon the two of them, he was already formulating a plan to pull off his next crime. What Kroll wanted was Marion, but he needed to do something about Hermann first. He had to find a way to eliminate him from the equation. Thinking he could perhaps get Hermann to leave the car, he used his pocket knife to stab the right front tire, hoping that by the time Hermann started the car, the air would have leaked out, and Kroll would be able to get to Marion while her fiancé was busy with the flat tire.
However, his plan was almost spoiled when Hermann, although apparently realizing the car had a flat tire, instead unexpectedly began to drive away. Had Hermann been more familiar with the area, as Kroll was, his life might have been spared. Unfortunately, Hermann missed his turn and drove directly into a dead end road less than a hundred yards from where he had been parked. Arriving at the dead end and realizing the mistake he had made, he turned the car around and started to head back, which allowed Kroll a second chance. When Hermann turned his car around, Kroll was standing in the road, attempting to flag him down.
Hermann was not intimidated by the site of the scruffy little man with shabby clothes and unshaved face. Hermann towered over him with his large athletic build, Kroll’s diminutive stature bringing him barely to the youth’s shoulder. Believing the man might need assistance, and sensing no danger, Hermann got out of the car to see what the matter was.
Marion, watching through the windshield as her fiancé approached the stranger, saw the two men seeming to exchange a few words, then she suddenly saw something bright and metallic flash in the stranger’s hand. As soon as Hermann got within reach, Kroll stabbed him several times. Her eyes wide with terror, Marion watched the love of her life being stabbed repeatedly as the blood flew from the knife’s sharp surface in long darts of crimson.
Kroll, feeling that everything was going according to plan, focused his attention on Marion. Using her quick thinking skills and keeping a cool head, Marion, jumped into the driver’s seat and drove full-speed at Kroll, who barely managed to jump out of the way in time, landing in some bushes. Marion, in hopes of either alerting someone or keeping Kroll at bay, then jammed a hairclip into the car horn, which allowed it to blare continuously. Kroll had no desire to pursue a victim who fought back and fled into the darkness on foot. Marion leapt from the car and rushed over to Hermann, who lay surrounded by a pool of his own blood.
The postmortem later showed the first stab had pierced his heart. He was still alive, though just barely, as Marion sank to her knees beside him on the dirt road and gently lifted his head onto her lap. Struggling in his last fleeting moments of life to speak to the woman he adored, all that ushered forth from his mouth was a final gasp. When the first couple to respond to the blaring car horn arrived, they found Marion, the front of her dress saturated with blood, cradling Hermann’s lifeless body. Hermann Schmitz was Kroll’s only—intentional—male victim.
Grossenbaum was a part of the Duisburg police district and they quickly responded to the scene. Unfortunately, they had few clues to go on. Marion’s description of the assailant was a bit sketchy, because she had only seen his face briefly in the headlights. They were able to collect casts of the shape of the knife from the wounds in Hermann Schmitz’s chest, but until they had a knife to compare them with, they would do the investigators little good.
Police brought in several men known to frequent lover’s lane and spy on couples, but none of the men corresponded with Marion’s description, and when questioned, none panned out as possible suspects. Not knowing the possible motive for the murder, police theorized that perhaps it was perpetrated by a jealous ex-lover of either Hermann or Marion. Friends of the couple were brought in and were also questioned about anyone who might have had reason to want Hermann dead, but none of the friends could offer any assistance. The case made its way to the cold case files, and as no one was aware that Marion had been the target, it was not investigated as a sex crime, and it was not associated with Joachim Kroll or any of his previous crimes.
Kroll’s next known crime occurred on a Tuesday afternoon, September 13, 1966. Getting off from work, he boarded a train and travelled to the town of Marl, approximately forty miles north of Duisburg, where he immediately began his usual routine of prowling the streets in pursuit of a victim. By seven o’clock, having found no one he deemed suitable, he went to a local park, where he hid in the gathering darkness. As time passed, he became so aroused, that he decided the next female who passed by, regardless of age or looks, he would take.
Twenty-year-old Ursula Rohling had just left the Capri Ice Cream Parlour, where she had passed the time with her fiancé, twenty-seven-year-old Adolf Schickel. They had spent the last hour and a half discussing their upcoming nuptials, but as it grew dark, Ursula needed to head home, and the shortest route would take her through Foersterbusch Park and right into the waiting arms of Joachim Kroll.
Kroll’s statement to police after he was captured was as follows,
“I saw this woman in the park. She was young, with short hair. I spoke to her. Then I grabbed her around the neck with my right arm and dragged her into the bushes. I threw her on the ground on her back and choked her.”
Asked why he had to choke her to death, Kroll replied,
“She could have fought me. Then I couldn’t have done it [raped her]. Anyway, she could have told it was me. I choked her until she stopped moving. Then I took off her pants and other things and I did it to her. I left her lying there and took the train back to Duisburg. When I got home, I was still hot [aroused] and I had it with the doll and did it with my hand a couple of times.”
An odd attribute of Kroll’s, was that unlike many serial killers, he was not interested in his victims once he was done with them, nor the media coverage, or investigation of the murders. One reason why it was difficult for Kroll to remember all of his crimes, was because he had taken so little interest in the victims. He rarely knew their name and seemed to have little or no fear police would one day learn his.
If Kroll had checked the newspapers the next day, he would have found that nothing was reported about the death of Ursula Rohling. Ursula was not even initially reported as missing. Her parents, upon realizing their daughter had not returned home from her meeting with Adolf Schickel, first called him, and then the police. Her body was found two days later by a park employee.
Adolf Schickel, although no possible motive could be found, was nevertheless suspected of her murder and taken into custody. He was held under continuous interrogation for three weeks, but his story never wavered. After their meeting, she had set off for home alone, and although he questioned himself if she would not have been killed had he accompanied her home, he stated emphatically that he did not kill her. For three long weeks, he repeated the same phrases, “Why would I kill Ursula? I loved her. We were going to get married. Why would I do such a thing?”
The police answered, “For sex. She refused to let you have sex with her until you were married so you raped her and killed her.” These accusations ignored the facts of the case. The postmortem had concluded that Ursula had been raped after she was killed, and friends informed police that Ursula and Adolf were already known to have had sexual relations, often spending the night together. Despite all this information, police still believed Adolf had murdered his fiancé, and only released him from custody once they realized they had no evidence and legal grounds that would allow them to hold him any longer.
Like Walter Quicker before him, Adolf Schickel had to deal with police and townspeople alike believing he was guilty of murder. Adolf was also persecuted and ostracized, eventually being chased out of Marl. On January 4, 1967, depressed by Ursula’s death and the accusations against him, Adolf drowned himself in the river, just four months after Ursula’s murder.
Joachim Kroll, who thought he had only killed one man, was now responsible—with a little help from police and the citizens of Marl—for the death of a third man.
Ilona Harke, a five-year-old girl, was the test subject for a spur-of-the-moment curiosity Kroll had: he wondered what it would be like to drown someone. So, he abducted the little girl in Essen, perhaps winning her over with candy or a doll, the same way he had won over his neighbors’ daughters and took her on a train to Wuppertal. There, he drowned little Ilona. Afterwards, he raped her body, then cut several pounds of flesh from her shoulders and buttocks and took them home to eat. She was found December 22, 1966.
As with the case in which Kroll failed to kill Marion Veen, he experienced failure once more, in 1967. This time, it was a ten-year-old girl named Gabriele Puettmann that Kroll had set his sights on. She had already known Kroll, or as she knew him, “Uncle Joachim.” She lived in the town of Grafenhausen, and Kroll lived in the nearby town of Grafenwald. It was a Thursday when Kroll decided to target Gabriele, in the country that lies between their two towns. Kroll had taken sick leave from work, and Gabriele had just gotten done with her day’s classes.
Usually, when young girls went on walks with Uncle Joachim, they came home safely to their parents, though usually full of ice cream or candy. Kroll exercised extreme caution in who he preyed upon and when; so it is very likely that if a girl’s family knew he had gone on a walk with them, he would fall under their suspicion if anything were to happen to their daughter. This mild afternoon in June, however, Kroll must have either cast these worries aside or assumed that nobody knew he had gone on a walk with Gabriele.
During their stroll along the road leading from Grafenhausen to Grafenwald, they reached a point where nobody was in sight around them. Kroll knew it was safe to act upon his urges then. He took Gabriele by the hand and led her to a nearby field of wheat, telling her he had something to show her.
Once they were away from the road, Kroll produced a collection of pornographic cartoon booklets. Gabriele was puzzled at first, but it slowly sunk in what the people in these cartoons were doing. She was then overcome by horrible embarrassment and threw her hands up over her eyes. Then, she felt Kroll’s hand on her shoulder. Gabriele was not at all frightened by the man’s actions at the time, nor did she then believe he would hurt her in any way, but she was indeed embarrassed, ashamed, and rather taken aback, so she promptly ran away. She ran as fast as possible and, ever cautious, Kroll made no attempt to chase after her. Gabriele didn’t stop running until she arrived home and she never went near “Uncle Joachim” again. Still mortified by the incident, never told anyone about what had happened. It was only when Joachim Kroll was exposed years later as a murderer that she told her story, and undoubtedly felt lucky she had escaped his clutches.
Sixty-one-year-old Maria Hettgen was not nearly as lucky, however. She was killed on July 12, 1969. When a knock came at her door, she opened it, only to find Kroll standing there. Like the others, she was strangled and raped. Although she was a plump woman, Kroll did not remove any of her flesh. Her body was found in her front hallway.
On May 19, 1970, thirteen-year-old, Jutta Rahn, was attacked by Kroll on her way home from school on a rainy Thursday afternoon. Jutta lived in a town near Grossenbaum, where Hermann Schmitz had been stabbed and killed. Kroll spotted her at the railway station and followed her into the woods. Grabbing the young girl and dragging her deeper into the forest, he strangled her to death, removed her clothing and raped her dead body, then masturbated over it. Suddenly, Kroll was struck by the odd feeling that perhaps the girl was not dead after all, and tying her red bra tightly around her neck, choked her again until he was certain she was dead.
Jutta’s father and neighbors searched for six hours after she failed to return home from school. Her father found her nude, lifeless corpse where her killer had left it. Another innocent man was to be charged with a murder which Kroll committed. Peter Schay was arrested for her murder. The only evidence against him was that his blood type matched that of the killer, and, due to no other evidence than that, no charges were brought against him. He was taunted around town with cries of “murderer.”
His family, additionally, was referred to as the “Murder Gang.” The harassment did not stop until Kroll confessed to the murder in 1976.
For the next six years, Kroll stated he did not commit any more murders. The police, however, did not buy it. After all, six years is quite a long time for a man to go without relieving his sexual urges, whether they are normal or sadistic. Law enforcement had a list of fifteen unsolved sex murders from the Ruhr district, most of which were children, they thought Kroll had likely committed. After all, Kroll would later admit to having a poor memory and state that there might have been more or less victims than he remembered. However, Kroll adamantly insisted he went clean for those six years and got by with only masturbation and his treasured sex doll.
Nevertheless, on May 8, 1976, Karin Toepfer, a ten-year-old, was killed while on her way to school. She was strangled and raped. Kroll admitted to this murder, but he would not be convicted due to a lack of convincing details.
Kroll’s repeated evasion of capture would come to a halt on July 3, 1976. Four-year-old Marion Ketter went missing. It was a hot afternoon, and the blonde child had been wearing nothing but panties due to the heat. Suddenly, she vanished from the apartment building on 24 Friesen Street in Laar, where Joachim Kroll lived. The little girl had lived just a few doors down from Kroll, and she had been to a nearby playground that day.
Mrs. Ketter realized at about 4 o’clock that Marion was missing. She searched the area and spoke with some of the other children who were out playing. Then, she called the police, who also spoke with the children. Police then went door-to-door. They had dropped by Kroll’s apartment, but everything had appeared to be in order.
That same day, a tenant of Kroll’s apartment building, Oscar Muller, went to use the shared bathroom of the building. As he went up the stairs, he ran into Kroll, who was coming down them. “I would not use the toilet if I were you,” Kroll advised. “It’s all stopped up.” When Oscar asked him what was stopping it up, Kroll simply replied, “Guts.” After this chilling exchange, Kroll simply disappeared into his apartment.
Oscar, shrugging it off, decided to go and see what was actually wrong with the toilet. He had not taken Kroll’s statement very seriously and considered it to be some kind of twisted joke. But, when he approached the toilet, he found what looked to be flesh in the bowl and the water tinted crimson with blood. The color draining from his face, he immediately rushed outside to the street. He approached the nearest policeman and told him of his discovery.
Making their way to the lavatory, the policemen wrenched the porcelain bowl from its mount and dumped the contents into a bucket. There, staring back at them in all their horrendous splendor, were small lungs, kidneys, a liver, and a heart, along with some flesh. The police made their way back to Kroll’s apartment and beat loudly at the door. When they entered, they found what still remained of Marion’s body chopped up on the kitchen table and a stew simmering on the stove, with what appeared to be its key ingredient—a tiny hand—floating amidst the vegetables. Upon closer inspection, they found that the sink was clogged with entrails and in the refrigerator, there was portions of the little girl’s flesh on several plates, as though they were pre-planned meals. In the freezer, they found more body parts.
Joachim Kroll was arrested and went along quite willingly and without protest. He believed he would receive some sort of surgical procedure which would stay his bloodthirsty desires and make him normal. Due to this belief, after about a day, he confessed to a total of fourteen murders to the police, though he said there may have been more or less because he couldn’t remember clearly. He also explained that his murderous desires started when, as a teenager, he saw pigs being slaughtered, and was aroused by the blood.
Coincidentally, Ed Gein gave this same reasoning for his desire to kill. Kroll also admitted that he couldn’t maintain an erection with a woman—at least, not when she was conscious—which was why he took to raping his victims. He also confessed he had tried human flesh “on a whim,” and liked it. He began to choose victims he thought looked “tasty” and would yield tender flesh. He also stuck with cannibalism to save money on groceries, due to the price of meat being so high.
He went on to speak of how he would come home from committing a murder and, still aroused from his acts, he would have sex with and masturbate over his rubber doll, strangling it while doing so, reenacting his crimes. It also helped him to practice strangulation holds. The pretty, child-sized dolls he used to entice little girls were also used for this purpose. Kroll did not, however, know any of his victims’ names, but he could remember the time and place where he had committed a murder.
When shown a picture of a girl, he usually recognized her, but hadn’t kept up with news reports following his crimes. Often, as the police were taking him to the scene of one of his crimes, they would pass an area where Kroll would stop and announce he had killed someone in that spot. The police would check their files of unsolved murders and, without varying, Kroll was right.
Typically, we make the assumption that a serial killer who got away with murder for twenty years has to have a moderately high IQ. Usually, killers with an extremely low IQ must work alongside an accomplice, who helps them cover their tracks. The mentally handicapped offender is classified by being someone who has difficulty answering questions, limited vocabulary, acts impulsively, limited ability to recall events, prefers young children as friends, and incapable of understanding consequences. This seemed to describe Joachim Kroll very well.
More often than not, we do not see someone with a severely low IQ being able to operate alone and still get away with killing for an extended period of time. Joachim Kroll was an exception to this. Many things allowed him to evade capture from early on.
One of the ways Kroll avoided detection was that he sometimes changed the method he used to kill his victims, ranging from stabbing to strangulation to drowning, and he did not always cannibalize his victims. He also killed in many different towns, mostly those which surrounded his own. If he had not killed a child who lived just a few doors down that last time, he likely would have continued getting away with that murder as well.
Because of his tendency to kill in many different areas, and because there were other killers working in the same area as Kroll at the time of the murders, law enforcement thought his work was that of several other people. One of the other reasons Kroll was able to evade capture for two decades was due to the irregular spacing of his crimes, once going six years without committing a murder, though sometimes killing again in the span of a couple months.
Joachim Kroll was an enigma. He evoked pity in those around him: whether it be his neighbors who saw him as a lonely, simple-minded man who loved their children and only wanted a family of his own or heard his desires to have that simple operation he thought existed and would rid him of his horrendous desires. At the same time, however, he induced horror, terror, and rage.
Upon looking into the eyes of the pictures of his victims, most especially the young girls, one wonders what sort of monster it takes to so brutally take away their lives, for nothing more than a moment’s twisted pleasure and a meal made from their remains.
What snapped inside him that cold day of his mother’s death? We may never know.
All we can be sure of is Joachim Kroll left a region in terror with a string of bodies and a horde of bloody meals in his wake.
Alfred Packer has, over the course of almost 150 years, become more legend than man. Stranded on an expedition on the path to find gold, he and five other men were forced to endure a cruel, bitter winter in the mountains of Colorado. Only one man came out of the mountains alive: Alfred Packer, who looked far too fit and healthy for the conditions he had endured.
Packer claimed the other men had died along the way, one after another, and he had killed the last man in self-defense. But how had Packer survived the wilderness? He stated that the men had run out of provisions, but yet, he refused a meal when he came out of the forest. Only later were the corpses of the five men found, all at one campsite.
Alfred Packer would eventually tell a story of suffering and strife and confess to cannibalism. But, did he kill the other men in cold blood, then feast on their flesh, or did he shoot one man in self-defense and only eat his companions to survive? The tale has long since captured the imaginations of many and has become almost like local folklore.
Alfred Packer’s story has become more legend and myth, and the historical crime element has been nearly obscured. The case is most certainly a notorious whodunit, stumping even modern forensic experts. Nevertheless, the area of Colorado known as Cannibal Plateau will forever be remembered as the grisly campsite of the “Colorado Cannibal.”
Alfred Griner Packer was born November 21, 1842—although he claimed, as do some sources, it was January 21—to parents James and Esther. Some sources spell his name as “Alferd,” which is a misspelling either caused by Packer’s own inability to spell, or, as a more colorful story goes, the way a tattoo artist spelled Packer’s name when tattooing it on the man’s arm.
From an early age, he suffered from epilepsy. He became a shoemaker in his teens, and, when the Civil War began, he was quick to enlist in Minnesota in Company F, 16th U. S. Infantry Regiment. Due to his epilepsy, he was quickly given an honorable discharge, but that did not stop the lanky, blue-eyed young Alfred. He moved and enlisted in Iowa in Company L, 8th Iowa Cavalry Regiment. Once more, he was honorably discharged due to his illness. He had also been caught rummaging through dead soldiers’ pockets when he worked for an ambulance crew, something that would be echoed later in his life. He then moved on to work in many various fields: mining, trapping, guiding, and hunting. All employments seemed to end when Packer would have an episode caused by his epilepsy.
By 1872, Packer had found his way to Colorado, where he worked again as a miner. In an accident with a sledgehammer, he lost his left pinky and index fingers. Next, he made his way to Utah, working in the mines once more. While Packer was there, news came there had been gold struck back in Colorado. A group of men began to form who wanted to make their way to Colorado to hunt for the gold. One of the men in the group, Preston Nutter, described Packer as “sulky, obstinate, and quarrelsome. He was a petty thief willing to take things that did not belong to him, whether of any value or not.” This description of Packer would also be related by others in the future. The group soon grew to 21 men, including Packer, who claimed he was the guide.
In November 1873, Alfred Packer and his group left Utah for Colorado gold country. Packer was generally disliked among the men. Not only did he have a tendency to whine and get into arguments, but his epileptic seizures also bothered the other men. The seizures were relatively frequent after the men had set out on their journey. Once, during a seizure, he fell into the campfire and upended a pot of scalding-hot coffee on his face.
Alfred’s attitude and epilepsy would turn out to be the least of the group’s concerns. Quickly, they began to grow short on food supplies. In desperation, they found themselves eating horse feed. By January, they had made it into the Ute Indian camp of Chief Ouray, near Montrose, Colorado. The Ute cared for the enfeebled men and provided them with food and shelter. Chief Ouray urged them to stay at the camp until spring, expressing how dangerous the mountains were and how severe the winters could be. He told them it was forty miles to the nearest Indian reservation. However, it was later revealed the chief had been mistaken. It was, in fact, 75 miles.
A handful of the men decided to ignore Chief Ouray’s advice, not wanting to be beaten to the gold they had come all this way in search of. They believed they could take some provisions and easily make it the 40 miles in no time.
The men were Alfred Packer, Shannon Bell, Frank Miller, George “California” Noon, James Humphrey, and Israel Swan. Packer himself claimed another group set out before them, but there is not much evidence to support those claims, nor is there any evidence to support his statement he was the leader of the original group.
The rest of the original group eventually made it to the Indian reservation 75 miles away. However, weeks passed and there was no sign of Packer’s party. It looked bleak for the six men. Finally, on April 16, 1874, Alfred Packer appeared, alone, at the Los Pinos Indian Agency. He was oddly fit for having spent two months stranded in heavy snow and trekking through the wilderness with little food.
When one of the original twenty men asked him where the rest of his party was, Packer claimed he had been left behind by the rest of the men and had somehow managed to find his way to the agency. He thought they would have beaten him there. He also refused the offer of a meal, which was rather questionable, since he claimed he had survived off rosebuds and rabbits.
Suspicions began to rise when it was noticed that Packer had in his possession a skinning knife which belonged to Frank Miller. Packer left for Saguache, Colorado, alongside a few of the men from the original party, where he ended up spending a suspicious amount of money. This, alongside all the other odd occurrences, raised doubts among the men from the original party. Packer was brought in for questioning by General Adams of the Los Pinos Indian Agency. Here, he confessed a darker story, one of many versions of confessions he would tell for years to come.
Packer claimed that bad weather had immediately put the party in danger, with a terrible storm coming a few days after they had left Chief Ouray’s camp. He said they’d only had a week’s worth of food rations for every man. Due to the extreme weather conditions, “Old Man Swan” had died and was then eaten by the other men. Four or five days afterwards, he alleged, James Humphrey died and was also eaten. Packer had found Humphrey’s wallet on his body and taken it, stating it had $133 in it. Sometime later, Packer was carrying wood and, upon returning to the campsite, found that Frank Miller had been killed, and the other two men told him it was by accident. He, too, was eaten. Then, Packer states, Bell shot “California” with Israel Swan’s gun and attempted to kill Packer, who shot him in return.
General Adams decided to ask Packer to accompany a search party in an effort to find the men’s bodies. He knew that the evidence found would either prove or disprove Packer’s testimony. Packer led the party but claimed he couldn’t remember exactly where the campsite was, since it had all been covered in snow. Later, he would allege a different reason for not leading the search party to the campsite. Regardless, the circumstances were too suspicious, and Packer was arrested and jailed just outside of Saguache. The jail was a small building, little more than a log cabin. However, just a few months later, in August, someone slipped Packer a makeshift key to unlock his leg irons. He escaped and vanished without a trace.
Coincidentally, on the same day Packer escaped, the bodies of the five men were found. All were found at one campsite, not strewn out along the way as Packer had described. They appeared to have been killed in their sleep. There are different stories as to who found the bodies, but the only one with any evidence to support it was John A. Randolph; an artist for Harper’s Weekly Magazine, stumbled across the corpses at Slumgullion Pass.
Besides looking as if they had been killed in their sleep, the men’s feet were bound in blankets and they had no shoes near them. Also missing were guns and other items one would have expected to find. Even more disturbing was that one of the men appeared to be missing his head. Knowing these had to be the missing prospectors, Randolph immediately set to sketching them. Afterwards, he reported his findings to the authorities. One of the men from Packer’s original party, Preston Nutter, positively identified the remains as those of Packer’s companions. Through a process of elimination, they discovered that the headless body belonged to Frank Miller.
Packer remained at large for nearly nine years. One day, while in Wyoming, one of the members of the original prospecting party, Jean “Frenchy” Cabazon encountered a man going by the name of John Schwartze. Immediately, he recognized the voice as being that of Alfred Packer. He reported Packer to the local sheriff, who arrested the man and contacted General Adams. Once apprehended, Packer decided to make a second confession. His story changed yet again.
Packer began by saying that once the party left Chief Ouray’s camp, they only had about a week’s worth of food for each man. They traveled for two or three days before a storm came in. They had come to a mountain, then crossed a gulch and came upon another mountain. The snow was very deep, and they had to follow the mountain. By the fourth day, they only had about a pint of flour left. They managed to make it into the main range of the mountains after travelling for around ten days. At this point, they were living off rosebuds and pine gum.
Packer said they had gone over the main range and camped near a lake twice; the second time, directly above the lake. The next morning, they cut holes in the ice on the lake and attempted to fish but did not catch anything. They crossed the lake and went into a timber grove, and Packer said that all the men were crying, and one was angry. Then, Israel Swan asked Packer if he could go up and see if he could see anything from the mountains, so Packer took his gun and went. He said he couldn’t see anything but snow. He was gone nearly the full day, and once he returned, he found Shannon Bell, who he said had “acted crazy” that morning, sitting in front of a fire, roasting a piece of meat he had cut from Frank Miller. His body was lying the furthest from the fire, while the other men’s bodies were lying near the fire.
Packer said that Miller’s head had been crushed in with the hatchet and the other men had cuts on their foreheads from the same weapon. As Packer neared the fire, Shannon Bell jumped up and came toward him with the hatchet, so Packer shot him once in the belly. Once the hatchet fell forward, Packer picked it up and hit Bell in the head with it. He said he camped by the fire that night but did not sleep.
The next day, he attempted to follow his tracks back up the mountain, but the snow was too deep, so he returned and went into the pine timbers and fashioned a shelter out of two sticks covered in pine boughs. The shelter, about three feet high, was where he stayed until he was finally able to make it out of the mountains. Then, he went to the campsite and covered the men up, took the piece of meat that Shannon Bell had allegedly been cooking. Next, he said, he made a new fire near his own camp and cooked the piece of meat and ate it.
He expressed that he attempted every day to make it out of the mountains, but he was unable. He continued to live off the flesh of the men the sixty days or so he was trapped there. When the snow began to have a crust, he followed the creek until he found a place where a big slide of yellowish clay seemed to come down the mountain. He started to go up, but his feet got wet and froze the soles under his toes, due to the fact that he only had blankets wrapped around them. He camped before he reached the top of the hill and made himself a fire, where he cooked some of his fallen companions’ flesh and carried it with him for food, along with one blanket.
He alleged there was seventy dollars amongst the men, so he took it, along with one gun. He said Shannon Bell had a fifty dollar bill in his pocket and all the others had twenty dollars combined. Packer himself had twenty dollars. He added that if there was any more money among the men, he did not know of it and it remained there. He had cooked the men’s flesh and carried it with him in a bag, but only ate a little at a time, and had eaten the last of it at his final campsite before he arrived at the Los Pinos Indian Agency.
Packer also claimed that when he led the search party to find the men, they came to the mountains overlooking the stream where all the men had died, but he did not want to go any further. He did not want to go back to the campsite himself. He said that he would have taken General Adams to the campsite if he had stood there a little longer, but “they” told him to go away, although he refused to say who among the search party “they” were. He also informed General Adams of how he had escaped from the jail outside of Saguache—with a key fashioned from a pen knife blade. Once he had escaped, he went to Arkansas and worked for a man named John Gill, eighteen miles below Pueblo, then rented Gilberts ranch further south, put in a crop of corn, sold it to Gill, then went to Arizona.
Alfred Packer’s trial began April 6, 1883. He was only tried for the murder of Israel Swan, whose remains were said to have shown evidence of an intense struggle, which made Packer seem far more violent than he had claimed to be. Packer was tried in Lake City, a town that had just been established, with Judge Gerry Melville presiding. Packer pled not guilty.
Preston Nutter, who had identified the men’s bodies when they had been discovered, testified as to what he had seen that day. Using illustrations, he showed the jury how the men’s bodies had been positioned, then described their wounds. He said that every man had wounds from a hatchet on their heads, except one, whose head he said was “mashed in.” The coroner did not testify, nor had he even made a written report of what he had found in the first place.
Packer took the stand and, over the course of two hours, told several glaring lies, such as his age, the fact he had enlisted in the army twice and been discharged both times, his exact military service, and the cause of his epilepsy—which he claimed had been caused during walking guard duty. Once more, he claimed he had only killed Shannon Bell, and it had been in self-defense. Then, his story seemed to revert to its original state. He claimed the men who had survived longer than the others had eaten each other. During these events, he was away scouting for food. When he returned, human flesh was already being cooked over the fire. However, in another deviation of his story, he said he had only eaten the meat from two bones, which belonged to Bell and Miller.
As if the fact that his story was still evolving and changing with each retelling was not bad enough, Packer also became superficial and argumentative. He also admitted to taking the victims’ belongings. None of this made his image any better in the eyes of the jury.
The jury found Packer guilty of the murder of Israel Swan on, ironically, Friday the 13th.
He was sentenced to death.
It has become a popular story that the judge delivered his sentence by saying:
“Stand up yah voracious man-eatin’ sonofabitch and receive yir sintince. When yah came to Hinsdale County, there was siven dimmycrats. But you, yah et five of ‘em, goddam yah. I sintince yah t’ be hanged by th’ neck ontil yer dead, dead, dead, as a warnin’ ag’in reducin’ th’ Dimmycratic populayshun of this county. Packer, you Republican cannibal, I would sintince ya ta hell, but the statutes forbid it.”
In truth, what the judge said was far more eloquent. He began by stating:
“It becomes my duty as the Judge of this Court to enforce the verdict of the jury rendered in your case and impose on you the judgment which the law fixes as the punishment of the crime you have committed. It is a solemn, painful duty to perform.” He went on to describe how horrific the crimes seemed and how, in the beauty of these glorious mountains, such dark deeds had been committed.
Afterwards, he stated:
“You and your victims had had a weary march, and when the shadow of the mountains fell upon your little party and night drew her sable curtain around you, your unsuspecting victims lay down on the ground and were soon lost in the sleep of the weary; and when thus sweetly unconscious of danger from any quarter, and particularly from you, their trusted companion; you cruelly and brutally slew them all.”
It seems that, though Packer had only been convicted of the murder of Israel Swan, the judge believed he had murdered all five men. The judge ended by saying, “Packer be hung by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead, and may God have mercy upon your soul.”
A couple years later, however, Packer won the right to a new trial. He had been tried in 1883 for a crime he had committed in 1874, and there had been no state murder statute in 1874 that allowed for this. He had been arrested when Colorado was a territory, however he had been tried after Colorado had become a state. He was tried for the deaths of all five men, and, instead of murder, the charge was voluntary manslaughter. His trial took place in Gunnison, and he was convicted on all five counts. Packer was sentenced to forty years.
He continued to proclaim his innocence and never stopped pushing to be pardoned.
Packer also wrote to the Denver Post August 7, 1897. In his writing, he told a third version of the events that took place in the brutal early months of 1874.
This third confession was his longest yet. He began by saying that in the fall of 1873, a party of men left Salt Lake City by wagon. He said they were already deficient in supplies from the very beginning. Their supplies were beginning to dwindle by the time they reached the Green River. He went on to describe they were already feeling the pangs of hunger at this point in their journey. For five days, they had been surviving on horse feed, which was made of chopped barley. At this point, they stumbled on to Chief Ouray’s camp and received assistance there. Chief Ouray had told them the mountains were impassible at this time of year, so they camped two miles out of his camp and purchased supplies from them.
After a week of camping in this spot, Packer said a man named Lutzenheiser started for the Los Pinos Indian Agency. They had been told by Chief Ouray that it was only forty miles to the Agency, although it was, in fact, eighty. Lutzenheiser and the four other men that had gone with him had few provisions, only what they carried with them, and they were on foot. The details of Lutzenheiser seems very similar to his own party’s story.
He says that, quickly, the men’s provisions ran low, so they cast lots to see who would be killed first and subsequently eaten by the other men. Right as they were about to do it, however, they spotted a coyote and killed it to eat it. As the party reached a cattle camp where the town of Gunnison would soon stand, Lutzenheiser shot a cow. The man in charge of the herd saw the tracks left by Lutzenheiser and, upon following them, found Lutzenheiser in “an exhausted condition.” He took Lutzenheiser back to his camp, then followed his trail back and found the remaining four men, which he also took to his camp. The men stayed at the camp until they were in a better condition, at which point they set out for the Los Pinos Indian Agency once more and arrived in an exhausted condition. He added, all this was sworn to at his trial and was a matter of court record.
Packer decided to return to the story of his party. He said there had been two trails to the Agency, and they had taken the upper trail in hopes of reaching the Agency. They were also on foot and carried as many provisions as they were able to in blankets. After nine days, they ran out of provisions. The snow was incredibly deep, in order to travel at all they had to keep to the top of the divide, which led to the top of the Rocky Mountains. All their matches had been used and they were carrying their fire in an old coffee pot. Three or four days after running out of food, they took to eating their moccasins, which Packer said were made of rawhide. “Our suffering at this time was most intense. Such, in fact, that the inexperienced cannot imagine.” He stated that they couldn’t retrace their steps because of how quickly the snow fell and covered them. In places, the snow had been blown away from wild rose bushes, so they gathered the rose buds, cooked them, and ate them. In following the divides, they soon came to the tip of the Rocky Mountains. Their feet were now wrapped in blankets. They still didn’t have anything to kill for food, and there was no longer any rose bushes.
“Starvation had fastened its deathly talons upon us and was slowly but most tortuously driving us into the state of imbecility.” He said that Bell had already succumbed to insanity, and the rest of the party was afraid of him, as well as afraid that their inevitable doom was to also end up in such a state.
The group discussed their options and decided to come down off the mountain, especially seeing as they couldn’t tell if they had passed the Agency or not, due to the fact that it was constantly either snowing or blowing. They camped one night above the lake and, in the morning, Packer climbed the mountain to see if he could spot any sign of civilization. The snow was deep enough for it to take an entire day to make this trip and return.
As he neared the camp, he saw a horrific sight. He saw no one but Bell and, when he attempted to speak to him, he grabbed a hatchet and, with the “look of a terrible maniac,” started for Packer. So, Packer shot him, but the noise of the gunshot didn’t rouse any of the rest of the party. Packer ran toward the campfire, where he found his companions dead. “Can you imagine my situation? My companions dead, and I left alone? I was surrounded by the midnight horrors of starvation as well as those of utter isolation.”
He says he saw a piece of flesh cooking over the fire, which Bell had cut from Miller’s leg. He took this flesh, laid it aside, and covered the bodies of his companions, then stayed with them through the night. In the morning, he moved 1,000 yards below. He stated he distinctly remembered taking a piece of the flesh and cooking it in a tin cup, but, after eating it, became sick and suffered terribly. Then his mind failed him; he knew he definitely ate some of the flesh, but his mind was a total blank for a period of time. When his mind returned, he discovered, by his tracks, that he had wandered off and found rosebuds, which he had been stewing in his tin cup, by force of habit. He expressed, “The record of time now becomes a nonentity.”
He couldn’t remember how long he remained here, if it was near the close of the year, or how near spring was. When the weather began to moderate, he wandered once more in search of rosebuds, and found himself at the Los Pinos Indian Agency. He was very surprised, especially so, considering that, in his search of food, he had wandered forty miles.
He said he was taken care of for three weeks—which was a lie; he had been in relatively good shape—and that, at the end of these three weeks, the remaining of the twenty-one men from the original party came through with a group of Indians. Packer claims that, when questioned about the whereabouts of the rest of his party, he replied that he had killed Bell, who had apparently killed the others—another lie. He then says that, in a day or two, he went with the teams over to Siwatch, where he remained until General Adams returned from Denver.
He then explained to the General all he knew, and a party was sent out to find the men, but they couldn’t continue on, because of the snow—in truth, they continued on just fine, led by Packer, who was still claiming the men had died along the trail, one-by-one. After returning to the Agency, Packer said he was turned over to the sheriff of Siwatch, with whom he remained until the middle of July, when the sheriff asked Packer if he could remember where exactly he had passed through during his expedition. Once Packer gave him as complete an explanation as he could, the sheriff told him to go away and not permit it to worry him.
Packer did as advised and went away, but after ten years, he was arrested and charged with the murder of his companions. He continued on to briefly detail his trials, then ended by going into a long-winded tangent, saying he was, as ever before, a member of the human family, although isolated and away from that which is dear to the heart of any man.
“Am I the villainous wretch which some have asserted me to be? No man can be more heartily sorry for the acts of twenty-four years ago than I. I am more a victim of circumstances than of atrocious designs. No human being living can say that I in cold blood, with evil intent, murdered my companions upon that awful occasion. What could be the object of my taking their lives in a wanton manner? I bear no malice towards living man. Even though I may feel that I have been unjustly dealt with, still that Supremacy which rules over all knows that I forgive as I would wish to be forgiven.”
He went on to express he would have been far better off if his execution had taken place years before, and that then, he could be alongside his fallen companions, whose ghosts, he assured, did not haunt him, because they knew his true innocence. He conveyed the brightness in his future and his one hope was that he would be allowed the opportunity to show the world he was “less black than had been painted.” He thanked the people who had helped him and stated his desire to be given a pardon. He ended the letter with, “Were it not for the flame of hope which burns forever in the human heart, life would certainly be beyond endurance. Gratefully Yours, Alfred Packer.”
Newspapers reported his efforts, and a man by the name of Duane Hatch took notice. He had known Packer back in Wyoming and had worked with him on a cattle ranch. Hatch went to visit Packer and discovered he was nothing like the bloodthirsty monster the newspapers made him out to be. Packer often braided horsehair into belts and watch fobs to sell to people who visited the prison. With the money he received, he would buy clothes for prisoners who had been paroled or give them money to pay a month’s rent until they could get a job and pay it themselves. It was said he never expected to be repaid for these favors. One prison guard even called Packer “the soul of generosity” and said he didn’t care at all for money.
Hatch aided Packer in his relentless pursuit for a pardon, hiring the best lawyers available, and asking every customer who came into his barber shop to sign a petition to free Packer. Thanks to his efforts, the public began to see Packer in a different light; a man who had been forced to survive in the wilderness by eating his fallen companions, who had been convicted of manslaughter on flimsy circumstantial evidence.
Eventually, the efforts began to get somewhere. Reporter for the Denver Post, Polly Pry, began to fight toward Packer’s freedom. Prior to her efforts, Packer had already made a petition for parole, but with her help, the help of the Post, and the help of many other people who had begun to view Packer in the light of innocence, they finally got to the Governor. Just before the Governor left office in 1901, he paroled Alfred Packer, but did not pardon him.
Packer, agreeing with the Governor not to make a profit off his crimes, went on to become a guard for the Denver Post. He quickly tired of this life and went to work, once more, in mining, although this time it seems he managed several mines.
In the final years of his life, living in Littleton, he was known to share stories of the Old West with children, amusing them greatly. He died April 24, 1907, of a stroke. He maintained his innocence until the very end. Due to having been in the Civil War, the military paid for his funeral and headstone. His headstone reads, “Alfred Packer, Co. F. 16 U.S. Inf.”
On July 17, 1989, the bodies of the five men buried at Cannibal Plateau were exhumed, led by James Starrs, who was a professor of law and forensic science at George Washington University. Starrs told reporters that his findings showed that Packer was “guilty as sin and his sins were all mortal.”
He also told what they had discovered during the examination of the bones: none of the victims had been shot. Four of the men were struck on the head with a hatchet. The fifth skull, however, was not found. The bones of all five skeletons showed cut marks likely made when the flesh was being cut off, which Starrs said was unmistakable proof of cannibalism.
In 1994, David Bailey, Curator of History at the Museum of Western Colorado, began an investigation into a Colt revolver in the museum that had supposedly been found at the 1874 crime scene. Upon reading about Shannon Bell having been shot, Bailey inspected Bell’s bones and discovered what appeared to be a gunshot wound in the pelvis area and that Bell’s wallet had a bullet hole in it. In 2001, lead fragments in the ground under Shannon Bell’s remains were positively matched to the bullets in the gun. On the bullet hole, however, James Starrs claimed the hole in Bell’s hip was likely caused by a gnawing, foraging animal and not a bullet.
Even though it is still hotly debated as to whether or not Alfred Packer was guilty of murder, it is no debate that he was indeed a cannibal. That much, he admitted to himself. We will never know for certain what took place in the snow-engulfed Colorado mountains in the early months of 1874. The evidence revealed during these recent investigations seems to align quite well with Alfred Packer’s final story. However, we will never be sure whether Shannon Bell killed the four men, or if Packer, himself, killed all five.
Perhaps, even Packer was not sure of what happened in those desolate, snowy woods. He may have been entirely delusional from starvation and exposure to the elements. Though the first two stories he told, those of being abandoned by the men and of the men dying off one-by-one, were not truthful, it is possible Packer was so mentally detached from what he had been through that he believed those to be the truth. He may have even believed Shannon Bell had attacked him, as he stated in his second confession, due to his mental state at the time.
With modern-day forensic testing, we are able to figure out those horrible events from that cruel winter much better than they were able one hundred and forty-four years ago, and the bodies of the men have given evidence that corroborates Alfred Packer’s story.
Perhaps, Alfred Packer truly is a victim of circumstance, or perhaps, he is a cold-blooded killer who killed five men in the remote wilderness, robbed them, and ate their remains.
Either way, Alfred Packer has gone down in history and will forever be remembered as the “Colorado Cannibal.”
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