After almost four decades, a 70-year-old Colorado man has been arrested in connection with the brutal murder of two women who were most likely hitchhiking when they disappeared.
Alan Lee Phillips was arrested on several charges, including kidnapping and murder, for the 1982 deaths of Annette Schnee, 21, and Barbara “Bobbi Jo” Oberholtzer, 29, the Park County Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday. Authorities say the women, who didn’t know each other, had been working in Breckenridge, Colorado. They went missing on Jan. 6, 1982, after hitchhiking.
Oberholtzer was found less than a day after she went missing but it took authorities six months to find Schnee. An orange bootie sock was found near the crime scenes of both women, according to local media reports.
“You know, I thought there’d be no closure,” Schnee’s mother, Eileen Franklin, told Denver7 on Wednesday. “I thought maybe I’d be gone before I had closure to this case. So that really—I’m ready to go when it's my time now.”
In a Wednesday press conference, Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw said their big break in the case came after forensic genetic genealogy investigators were able to connect Phillips to the crime scenes. Phillips’ DNA sample was located on a genealogy database and investigators took him into custody during a traffic stop. He’d been living in Clear Creek County, working as a part-time mechanic.
“I cannot begin to understand the pain and suffering their families have had to face for nearly four decades,” McGraw said. “With each year that has passed, they have remained vigilant in their unwavering commitment to seek justice for Bobbi Jo and Annette. I’m here to tell them that their journey for justice has a much clearer path.”
Authorities say Oberholtzer was last seen at 7:50 p.m. on the day she vanished, leaving a local pub after having a drink with coworkers. The next afternoon, she was found lying on her back in a snowbank near the Hoosier Pass summit, which is over 11,000 feet in elevation.
The 29-year-old was shot in the chest, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation stated. “The shooting occurred outside in a rural, isolated, mountain area next to Colorado Highway 9. It would have been dark, possibly snowing, and very cold (-20 degrees F),” the bureau added.
Investigators found her backpack and purse about 20 miles from the crime scene, along U.S. Highway 285. Near Oberholtzer’s body, authorities found her key chain with a hook and an orange bootie sock, according to Denver7. The murder weapon, a .38/.357 handgun using a Remington/Peters copper jacketed hollow point bullet, was never found.
Six months later, a young boy found Schnee near Fairplay—about 30 minutes away from where she was last seen leaving a store in Park County. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation said she was found face down in a small stream and was most likely shot outside in an “isolated mountain valley area where there would be no witnesses.”
“The area where Schnee was found, you’d almost have to have known it was there,” Jim Hardtke, an agent with the bureau, told Denver7 last year. “You'd have to be a local of some sort.”
While she was found fully clothed, her clothing was in disarray, authorities said. According to Hardtke, Schnee was also wearing an orange bootie sock on her left foot. Authorities never recovered a weapon but concluded she died from a gunshot wound to the back.
Items from her backpack were also found near Breckenridge, including a photograph of a man who has never been identified.
During Wednesday’s press conference, McGraw read statements from several of the victims’ relatives, including Oberholtzer’s widower, Jeff.
“I pray that the arrest of Alan Phillips for the murder of my wife Bobbi 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 has horribly affected by his actions,” Oberholtzer’s statement read. “I cannot thank enough all who never gave up the search for the truth.”