Suspect convicted in two 1982 murders in Colorado mountains

Posted at 2:38 PM, September 20, 2022 and last updated 5:02 PM, November 21, 2022

By Stephanie Butzer

PARK COUNTY, Colo. (KMGH) — After more than 40 years, the families of Annette Schnee and Bobbi Jo Oberholtzer — both killed in Park County on a night in January 1982 — have seen justice.

The man accused of killing both women, Alan Lee Phillips, of Dumont, was convicted on all eight charges against him, which included first-degree murder and second-degree kidnapping, according to the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council (CDAC). He will be sentenced in November and faces life in prison.

L to R: Annette Schnee, 21, and Bobbie Jo Oberholtzer, 29 (Photo Courtesy: RockyMountainColdCase.org)

The conviction came after a two-and-a-half-week-long trial, according to CDAC.

The case began on Jan. 6, 1982, when 21-year-old Schnee went missing while hitchhiking home from Breckenridge to Blue River. That same evening, 29-year-old Oberholtzer disappeared while hitchhiking home from Breckenridge to Alma.

Oberholtzer’s husband reported her missing and the next morning, authorities found Oberholtzer’s driver’s license and backpack, plus an orange booty, wool glove and tissue covered in blood. Her body was found that afternoon, hidden by snow banks about 400 feet from the top of Hoosier Pass, CDAC said.

She had been shot twice in the chest and a pair of 18-inch zip ties were on one wrist.

Schnee’s remains weren’t found until July 3 of that year, when a young boy and his father were fishing in the Sacramento Creek, in a mountain valley about 10 miles south of the Hoosier Pass. The boy found a woman’s body face down, fully clothed in a blue jacket. It was Schnee.

She had been shot once in the back. She was also wearing an orange booty that matched the one found at the scene of Oberholtzer’s body.

The two women had no apparent connection to each other, but both worked in Breckenridge.

Schnee’s mother, Eileen Franklin, had sent her daughter a Christmas package the year prior — 1981 — that included orange bootie socks.

Any leads investigators had slowly sputtered out and the case went cold for decades, though work continued in the background.

In the summer of 2020, Denver7 profiled the case and the longtime efforts of private investigator Charlie McCormick, who began working the case in 1989.

“I have no problem working it to the bitter end,” McCormick said at the time. “You can’t walk away from it, or I can’t. Haven’t wanted to. Tomorrow’s another day, and you got stuff to do, and you see what might happen.”

McCormick then found United Data Connect.

The forensic science company — which specializes in DNA work and was founded by former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey — extracted DNA from the case evidence and matched it to two brothers, one of whom lived in Colorado. In 2021, when investigators compared that DNA to DNA found from the man’s garbage, they found a match. This has been a technique that has drawn attention over recent years for solving decades-old murders, including the Golden State Killer spree in California.

L to R: Alan Lee Phillips as a younger man, and in the mug shot following his arrest in connection with the alleged murders of two young women outside of Breckenridge in 1982. (Park County Sheriff’s Office)

The DNA match United Data Connect found was identified as Phillips.

He was taken into custody on Feb. 24, 2021 and the DNA was re-tested. It again matched.

Phillips had been living in the area for the past four decades, working as a miner and car mechanic.

Arrest-only charges were filed in the case on Feb. 24, 2021, and Phillips remained in custody at the Park County Jail, according to jail records.

In March 2021, he was formally charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree kidnapping for both women.

“I’ve been trying to define my emotions, and it’s been very hard to do,” McCormick said of the charges against Phillips. “I never thought I’d see the day, frankly.”

“It’s a case that kept going because it kept going,” he continued. “There was always something to do, that as a good investigator, or a professional investigator, you just couldn’t ignore. You had to work on it. So day after day after day for 32 years — bingo. There’s an arrest.”

A trial began on Aug. 29, 2022 in Park County. On Sept. 15, after five days of deliberation, the jury convicted Phillips of all counts. Some members of the women’s families were in the courtroom, CDAC said.

District Attorney Linda Stanley described Oberholtzer as a “fighter” and a “hero.”

“She fought back and because of that, we were able to get DNA evidence to convict Annette and Bobbi Jo’s killer after all this time,” she said.

Deputy District Attorney Mark Hurlbert added that cold cases are never truly closed.

“This absolutely gives hope to people,” he said. “This case being so old — this shows there’s no case that can’t be solved.”

This story was originally published Sept. 19, 2022 by KMGH in Denver, an E.W. Scripps Company.

MORE NEWS