Just two months ago, the Park County Sheriff’s Office announced that a suspect in the 1982 murders of Annette Kay Schnee, 21, and Barbara “Bobbi” Jo Oberholtzer, 29, had finally been taken into custody. Now Alan Lee Phillips’ perilous predicament and rescue on the night of the crimes is being viewed in a whole new light.
Phillips, then 30 and now 70, needed to be rescued from the snowy mountains of Colorado after Schnee and Oberholtzer were shot and killed near Breckenridge. The sheriff’s office believes that Phillips’ story about why he was attempting to drive through an impassable mountain pass without tire chains in subzero temperatures that January — a story that seemed to make little sense — was actually an act of desperation by a man who had just killed Schnee and Oberholtzer. The two women went missing that night; one of them was found dead the next day, and the other would remain missing for six months.
“Both Oberholtzer and Schnee were last seen hitchhiking outside of the town of Breckenridge on January 6, 1982. The women were not together. Ms. Olberholtzer’s body was found on the summit of Hoosier Pass the day after her disappearance,” the sheriff’s office said in a March news release. “Ms. Schnee’s body was located six months after her disappearance in a rural area in Park County in July 1982. Both women had been shot.”
Authorities said Phillips claimed he got drunk at a bar and was attempting to drive home but ended up stuck in Guanella Pass.
Dave Montoya, who was a fire chief at the time in Clear Creek County, remembered the incident in an interview with 9News and said it was “the craziest thing I ever heard of.”
“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,” Montoya recalled. “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?”
Park County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Wendy Kipple has been investigating the case for three decades and slammed Phillips’ “stupidity,” suggesting his luck has run out.
“It was his own stupidity that got him up there, because the pass is not passable in the wintertime,” Kipple said, according to the New York Times. “I don’t know what he was thinking, other than he was trying to run away from a crime he had just committed.”
Phillips was also quoted in a contemporaneous UPI article about the dramatic rescue.
The article, headlined “Motorist’s SOS Catches Eye Of Passenger in Jet,” said that Phillips drove up the mountain pass in a pickup truck without tire chains and got stuck in snow drifts.
“You find out how lonely it is really quick,” Phillips was quoted. “I thought about walking to a ski area nearby, and went about 200 yards and thought ‘No way.’ It was too cold.”
According to the story, Phillips sat in his truck in 20 below zero temperatures and used the vehicles’ headlights to send an SOS that was noticed by a sheriff-passenger on the plane. Harold E. Bray told the pilot what he saw and the pilot radioed the FAA, leading the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office to rescue Phillips from the frozen wilderness.
Only now have authorities made the connection between the murders and the rescue of Phillips from the mountain pass.
After getting a warrant, authorities arrested Phillips on February 24, 2021 for two counts each of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree assault, and first-degree homicide. Authorities said the identification of the suspect was due to excellent detective work and technological advances—namely, the use of genetic genealogy.
Park County Sheriff Tom McGrath said he was “honored to make this important announcement after nearly 40 years have passed since these murders took place.”
“This arrest is the culmination of technology, extraordinary police work, and an unwavering commitment to justice for Bobbie Jo, Annette and their families,” he said.
[Images via Park County Sheriff’s Office]
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