An elderly Colorado man whose DNA connected him to two cold case murders from 1982 will now spend the rest of his life in prison.
In September, a jury convicted Alan Phillips, 71, of the kidnapping and murders of Annette Schnee, 21, and Barbara “Bobbi Jo” Oberholtzer, 29, near Breckenridge, Colorado in January 1982. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms on Monday, according to a press release from the Park County Sheriff's Office.
Phillips, who did not speak at his sentencing, plans to appeal his conviction and argues that the DNA evidence in the case was contaminated, the Associated Press reported.
The jury, however, already disagreed with Phillips' assertions.
Schnee and Oberholtzer both disappeared while hitchhiking home from Breckenridge, where Schnee worked at a bar and Oberholtzer had been out with friends at a different establishment on the evening of Jan. 6, 1982, according to the Denver Gazette — when there was a big snowstorm. Both were regular hitchhikers; neither made it home.
Oberholtzer's family and friends went looking for her on Jan. 7, first finding her backpack, identification cards, a single wool glove, a single orange bootie sock and a bloody tissue near Guanella Pass — which is along the road toward Denver — according to a press release from the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council and information from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. They then found her body down a snowy embankment off the side of the road near the top of Hoosier Pass — about 10 miles south of Breckenridge. She had been shot twice in the chest and bled to death. She had a single zip tie on her left wrist, the Summit Daily reported, and investigators believe she'd fought off her attacker before being shot.
Schnee's boss reported her missing when she failed to show up for work on Jan. 7. A 13-year-old boy found her body floating in Sacramento Creek near Fairplay on July 3, 1982 — 10 miles the other side of Hoosier Pass from Breckenridge. She'd been shot in the back, and evidence suggested she'd been killed there, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. A single orange bootie sock was found on her body, which was fully clothed but disheveled.
Former Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Jim Hardtke testified that seeing the second orange sock on the body of the second woman who disappeared on Jan. 6, 1982 solidified for him that the two cases were connected, according to the Denver Gazette. Both women were believed to have been shot with the same type of handgun.
Still, the case went cold.
Police at the time did not connect the disappearances to another emergency rescue that night near Guanella Pass — the top of another mountain east of Breckenridge, but only accessible from the north or south... including from Fairplay.
Around midnight, the Jefferson County Sheriff was on a flight from Denver to California when he looked down and saw lights flashing the Morse code signal for "S.O.S.," Denver NBC affiliate KUSA reported. He had the flight crew contact the ground, and Clear Creek County fire chief Dave Montoya responded to the scene.
There he found 30-year-old Alan Phillips and his "little" pickup truck, stuck in a snowdrift. Phillips, who was sporting an enormous bruise on his face, told Montoya that he'd gotten a little drunk and decided to try and drive home. He also said he'd gotten the bruise by slamming his face into the truck while blinded by the snow.
They didn't think to connect him to the women who'd disappeared in Breckenridge, and Phillips remained in the area for 40 years.
In 2020, investigators, including former Denver homicide detective Charlie McCormick, who was hired by the Schnee family in 1989, were able to use unknown male DNA found on Oberholtzer's glove and the tissue to undertake a genetic genealogy examination. That led investigators to the Phillips brothers — only one of whom, Alan, had lived in Colorado. They obtained DNA from Alan Phillips via a discarded napkin in February 2021 and confirmed a match, the Gazette reported, and arrested on Feb. 24. Subsequent DNA analysis confirmed the match, the CDAC said in a statement.