Dumont man arrested for 1982 killings of 2 women near Breckenridge
Investigators believe they’ve found the man responsible for killing a pair of young women near Breckenridge in 1982.
On Jan. 6, 1982, Barbara Jo Oberholtzer, 29, and Annette Kay Schnee, 21, went missing near Breckenridge. They were found dead in the area about six months apart, but their killer has remained a mystery for nearly 40 years.
During a press conference at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Lakewood on Wednesday, officials announced their belief that they have finally caught the perpetrator. Alan Lee Phillips, 70, of Dumont, was arrested Feb. 24 on two charges each of first-degree homicide, kidnapping and assault. Phillips is in custody at the Park County Jail.
“I want to focus on the most important part of this case, and that is Bobbie Jo and Annette and their families,” Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw said. “I cannot begin to understand the pain and suffering their families have had to face for nearly four decades. With each year that has passed, they have remained vigilant in their unwavering commitment to seek justice for Bobbie Jo and Annette. I’m here to tell them that their journey — their journey to justice — has a much clearer path.”
Officials believe the two women were hitchhiking home separately out of Breckenridge on the night they were kidnapped. Oberholtzer’s body was found the next day near the summit of Hoosier Pass. Schnee’s body was discovered about six months later in a rural area in Park County. Both women had been shot.
Investigators pursued the case at length, doing their best to track down leads that could direct them to the killer. But the investigation went cold.
Investigators never gave up on the case, and with improvements in forensic genetic genealogy, officials think they’ve finally found their man.
Investigating a 39-year-old murder
A new investigation into the killings began last year as a cooperative effort among law enforcement, Metro Denver Crime Stoppers and United Data Connect, a Denver-based forensic genealogy service.
United Data Connect was able to sequence DNA recovered in the case and search for possible matches using genealogy databases. Park County recently used a similar process in identifying a John Doe discovered in 1974 with the help of the DNA Doe Project, which is currently looking into an unidentified man found in Summit County in 2016. Metro Denver Crime Stoppers, which helped fund the genealogical research in this case, has used the technique to help solve eight cases in the past 15 months, according to board member Mike Mills.
United Data Connect was able to provide law enforcement with an investigative lead about six weeks ago. McGraw said the Park County Sheriff’s Office went to work in partnership with agents from the FBI, CBI and Clear Creek Sheriff’s Office in addition to consultation with 11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley.
McGraw said law enforcement surveilled Phillips for four to five weeks before arresting him Feb. 24. McGraw said the arrest took place during a traffic stop without any problems.
Officials emphasized the importance two longtime investigators played in breaking the case: Wendy Kipple, a detective sergeant at the Park County Sheriff’s Office who said she’s been heavily involved in the case since 2013, and retired Denver homicide detective Charlie McCormick, a Breckenridge resident who serves as a special investigator for the Park County Sheriff’s Office and has been working on the case since 1989.
“I’ve been trying to define my emotions, and it’s been hard to do,” McCormick said. “… I never thought I’d see the day, frankly. … It’s a case that just kept going and kept going, and there was always something to do that — as a good investigator or a professional investigator — you couldn’t ignore, and you had to work on. Day after day after 32 years — bingo! It’s solved.”
On to the courts
McGraw said Phillips is a semiretired mechanic who was living in Clear Creek County and that he’d lived in numerous areas of the state. He noted that investigators still are looking into Phillips for any potential ties to other crimes.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has set up a tip line for community members with information about these cases, or any others related to Phillips: 720-248-8378.
While the arrest represents a gigantic step toward some resolution in the case for investigators, it’s just getting started for prosecutors. Phillips is scheduled to appear in court in Park County on March 5.
Still, family members of the victims voiced their gratitude for the hard work of everyone who assisted in the investigation and their relief that the alleged killer had been caught.
McGraw read letters from several family members, including one from Oberholtzer’s husband, Jeff.
“I pray that the arrest of Alan Phillips for the murder of my wife, Bobbie Jo, and Annette Schnee will finally, after all these decades, bring closure and peace to this hideous nightmare for myself along with all the lives he’s horribly affected by his actions,” Jeff Oberholtzer wrote. “I cannot thank enough all who never gave up the search for the truth. They are without doubt extremely dedicated and extraordinary individuals. Phillips is finally in the hands of the judicial system. May justice be served.”
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