Man arrested for decades-old murders allegedly committed the same night he was rescued from snowy mountain via SOS call

Alan Lee Phillips was rescued from Guanella Pass, in Colorado, in 1982. Detectives now believe that he may have killed two women who went missing the same night nearby and who were later found shot to death

Alice Hutton
Tuesday 25 May 2021 20:54

Alan Lee Phillips was arrested on suspicion of the murders of two women in 1982

A man has been charged with the murders of two women in 1982, more than 30-years after he was rescued the same night from a snowy mountain in Colorado near where they went missing.

Alan Lee Phillips, now 70, has been accused of murdering Annette Schnee, 22, and Barbara “Bobbi Jo” Oberholtzer, 29, on January 6, 1982, outside Breckenridge, a ski resort outside Denver, as reported by 9 News. 

That night, both women were believed to have been hitchhiking home separately when they disappeared.

On the same evening, a man alleged to be Mr Phillips, then 30, was rescued at the top of the nearby Guanella Pass during a heavy snowstorm, after a freak coincidence meant that a Jefferson County Sheriff spotted his truck’s SOS signals from a United Airlines flight on the way to California.

The sheriff alerted the flight crew who radioed for rescue, with the happy story written up in the local papers as a “miracle”.

Ms Oberholtzer’s body was found the next day and Miss Schnee’s body six months later; both shot to death and not far from the Guanella Pass.

Annette Schnee, 21, left, and Bobbie Jo Oberholtzer, 29, were found murdered in Colorado in 1982. A man has been arrested on suspicion of the double murder.

The two events were not connected at the time.

But the cold case was handed a recent breakthrough from DNA technology when detectives used genealogy websites to track down the main suspect through family trees, using DNA found on the women's clothings.

Mr Phillips, a retired mechanic and father of three from Clear Creek County in Colorado, was arrested on suspicion of two counts of first degree murder, assault and kidnapping on February 24 and will appear for a preliminary hearing on 13 September.

Jeff Oberholtzer, Bobbi Jo’s husband, called the four decade wait for justice a “hideous nightmare.”

In a statement to the press, both families asked for privacy.

Charlie McCormick, 81, a retired Denver police detective, who had been working on the cold case since 1989, after being hired by the Schnee family, said in a statement to The Denver Post: “I’ve been trying to define my emotions and it’s been hard to do. I never thought I would see the day. It’s been a long haul.”

He charged them just $1 a year. Mr McCormick said, ultimately, the key to cracking the case was genetic genealogy, a process that combines DNA testing with family history research.

Dave Montoya, former Clear Creek County fire chief in 1982 when the call for the mountain rescue came in, told 9 News that he thought it was “the craziest thing I ever heard of” but set off to find him.

He said: “Sure as heck, there he was in his little pickup, and he saw me and said, ‘Oh, God, I’m saved. He said he got drunk and decided to drive home. And I said, ‘You came up over the pass? And he said, well, it seemed like a good idea.’ I thought, how in the heck did this guy get so lucky, for all the stuff to fall into place?”

Mr Montoya said he remembered the man having a sizable bruise on his face, which he claimed came from walking into his truck door.

“We ended up picking up the guy straight out of hell,” Montoya said.

“He got his mercy, he got saved, he got his life saved, he didn’t die up there, but he [allegedly] did bad things before that and he’s got to pay for them.”

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