Sunday, April 1, 2007
Posted by Alan Childress
Law professors don't often get to seem like rock stars, except for the time a law firm described Kathleen Sullivan that way, but my GW colleague James Starrs (right) gets his celebrity moments way more than the rest of us. The school website has this one-sentence teaser on him: "Starrs to Exhume Harry Houdini. At the request of a great-nephew, law and forensics Professor James Starrs will try to determine if the famous escape artist was poisoned more than 80 years ago." (Then links to this TV Guide story.) Turns out from his faculty bio that he has recurring roles on this CSI: Foggy Bottom adventure:
Professor Starrs has directed or participated in scientific investigations into the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Sacco and Vanzetti robbery-murders, the Alfred Packer cannibalism case, the assassination of Senator Huey Long, the hatchet murders of the Bordens, the CIA-LSD related death of Frank Olson, the identification of Jesse James, the death of Meriwether Lewis, the location of the remains of Samuel Washington, and the Boston Strangler case.
Uh, OK, and I teach legal ethics and once owned a cat.
My theory has long been that Lizzie Borden's dad was originally from New Orleans; in response to a routine question from his daughter, he carelessly told her to go ax your mama. Then the mom said go ax your father, thereby frustrating Lizzie (caught in an endless parental do-loop) beyond reason.
Alfred "Alferd" Packer was America's first man convicted of cannibalism when he and his five friends' roadtrip through the Rockies went awry. But for lawyers' purposes, note that his conviction was reversed by the Colorado Supreme Court in 1886. (Then he was convicted of manslaughter.) And there is modern evidence that he killed in self-defense; but this legal 'out' may not satisfy Kantian vegetarians: "Okay, and then Packer gnawed on a few of them," this report continues.
I also note (true) that the University of Colorado's cafeteria was traditionally named something like the Alferd C. Packer Memorial Grill, but came back in the 80s updated as the Alfred Packer Grill. Recently it has been threatened with further updating: students "see the Grill as having a tired and dreary appearance." And it is, ironically true to its name, off the beaten path: "foot traffic to the Grill is poor because it is somewhat hidden from the main drag."
Unrelated, two years ago school officials near Tucson pulled the plug on the Packer-bio student production of "Cannibal: The Musical," deeming it "inappropriate." Guess they prefer Hamlet. Very likely the play was based on Trey Parker's first movie (a Packer musical), begun while a student at CU -- long before South Park showed the kinder, gentler side of Colorado living.
The end of the Packer story leads us to New Orleans, says Wikipedia: "Through some unexplained process, Packer's head, dissected and carefully preserved, has come to be in the possession of Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum in the French Quarter...on permanent display." But the man deserves some Kantian praise: "He is widely rumored to have become a vegetarian before his death." My own philosophy is that anything that "tastes just like chicken" is a reason just to eat chicken.