On the night of January 6, 1982, two women were murdered in the Rocky Mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado. Nearly four decades passed without anything to go on other than a pair of orange socks linking the two crimes together. This year, revolutionary genetic genealogy led law enforcement to a familiar face — although they’d never considered him as a suspect before.
The Murders Of Barbara Oberholtzer And Annette Schnee
In the dead of winter in 1982, Barbara “Bobbi Jo” Oberholtzer, 29, went out to a bar to celebrate a promotion at work. After telling her coworkers she’d hitch a ride back home, she disappeared into the night. The next day, law enforcement found Oberholtzer’s body with a bullet wound to the chest on the snowy summit of Hoosier’s Pass. Officers found her belongings scattered in the snow along the nearby road, including a single orange sock. Without any leads to go on, Oberholtzer’s case stalled.
That was until six months later when officers discovered another body near Breckenridge. This time, they found the victim face-down in a stream with a bullet wound to the back. They later identified the body as 22-year-old Annette Schnee, who had gone missing the same night as Oberholtzer. Like Oberholtzer, Schnee planned to hitchhike home that very same night. After officers matched a single orange sock Schnee was wearing to the one found near Oberholtzer, they saw the seemingly unrelated cases in an entirely new light. But without any physical evidence to tie anyone to the crimes, their killer walked free for decades.
Investigations Into The Murders
Investigators tossed around many names as possible suspects, including Oberholtzer’s husband, Jeff. Near Schnee’s remains, law enforcement found a backpack belonging to the victim. Officers found Jeff Oberholtzer’s business card among Schee’s belongings. At the time, Jeff denied ever having met Schnee. His story changed later, and he admitted to giving her a ride once. While it’s a strange coincidence, investigators cleared Jeff as a potential suspect. Officers went on to investigate and dismiss many other tips and false confessions at the time.
That was until further DNA testing revealed that blood found on Oberholtzer’s glove, while the same blood type, was not a match for Oberholtzer’s — signaling to investigators that it must belong to her killer. In 2020, investigators turned to genetic genealogy testing in hopes of finding a match. This revolutionary DNA testing, the same used in genetic ancestry like 23andMe, also put Joseph James DeAngelo behind bars for his crimes as the Golden State Killer just last year.
And it was this test that narrowed the pool of possible suspects for Schnee and Oberholtzer’s murders down to one man: Alan Lee Phillips. Phillips hadn’t been on the police’s radar throughout the investigation, but he wasn’t a stranger. In fact, Phillips came into contact with the police on the same night of the murders.
The Rescue Of Alan Lee Phillips
On the night of January 6, 1982, Phillips’ truck became stranded in a snowdrift off of a nearby mountain pass. Without any way to get out, Phillips flashed SOS with his headlights. It was by complete chance that a Jefferson County Sheriff happened to be on an airline flight overhead. The sheriff alerted the flight crew who were able to radio for rescue.
When law enforcement arrived on the scene, they found Phillips was slightly intoxicated and had a large bruise on his face. He told the officers a story about driving drunk and pulling off the road to relieve himself. He explained the bruise by claiming he got blinded by the snow and hit his face on his truck. The officers, having no knowledge yet of the double homicide committed earlier that night, dismissed Phillips, insisting he was lucky to be alive. For 38 years, his name never came up in connection to the crimes.
In February 2021, officers finally arrested Phillips for the kidnapping, assault, and murder of both women. Earlier this month, Phillips faced a preliminary hearing where a Park County Judge ordered him to stand trial for all charges. While Phillips is still awaiting trial, the victims’ families are finally close to the answers they’ve waited 39 years for.