Almost four decades after two female hitchhikers were found dead in rural Colorado, a 70-year-old man has been charged with their murder.
It was a brutally cold night in the tiny town of Breckenridge, Colorado on Jan. 6, 1982. Temperatures dropped to minus 20 degrees as 21-year-old Annette Schnee and 29-year-old Barbara Oberholtzer stood several miles apart along a snowy highway, as outlined in a case files uploaded by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
The following day, Oberholtzer was found dead behind a snowbank off a mountain pass, having been shot at close range. Her key ring and an orange sock were found nearby, according to ABC-7 News.
Six months later, a young boy was on a fishing trip with his father when he stumbled on Schnee’s dead body in a creek about 10 miles away. She had been shot once from behind and was wearing a sock that matched one found near Oberholtzer, according to the local station. Investigators were also able to collect blood from one of Oberholtzer’s gloves, but it never matched any DNA on file.
For the next 39 years, detectives looking at the case had little other evidence — but that didn’t stop private investigator Charlie McCormick.
“It just kind of lit my fire, and I’ve been on it ever since,” he told ABC-7.
Working for Schnee’s family at a fee of $1 a year, McCormick has spent the past several decades gradually piecing together small details of what happened that night, according to the outlet. A fuller story gradually emerged of where Schnee and Oberholtzer had been and who they’d talked to that frigid night, but no arrests were ever made in the case.
Alongside Richard Eaton, a detective with the Summit County Sheriff's Office, he traveled the country while tracking leads as far as the East Coast in New Jersey, West Virginia and Vermont, ABC-7 reported.
When a reporter from the station spoke to McCormick about the case in July, he said he was losing hope of ever catching the killer.
“Maybe he found Jesus. Maybe he’s dead,” McCormick said at the time.
But on Feb. 24, 70-year-old Alan Lee Phillips was arrested on charges of murder, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon related to this case, local station KUSA reports.
Investigators have not yet announced how they tracked down Phillips. However, Metro Denver Crime Stoppers helped fund a genetic genealogy project that compared DNA collected from this case's crime scenes with DNA uploaded to public databases, a Crime Stoppers board member told the station.
Phillips is being held without bond. His next court date is scheduled for this Friday, local station KDVR reports.
The arrest has had a major impact on McCormick.
"I've been trying to define my emotions, and it's been very hard to do," he told KUSA. "It's like a new beginning or an old death...I'd never thought I'd see the day, frankly."
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