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On the night of January 6, 1982, Alan Phillips was found trapped in his vehicle at Guanella Pass in the Rocky Mountains of Central Colorado.
He had an emergency blanket, clothes, and a flashlight, the latter of which he pointed at the sky flashing SOS in morse code. Jefferson County Sherriff, Harold Bray happened to be a passenger on a commercial flight overhead; he recognized the SOS and alerted the flight crew, who in turn, notified the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office below.
Soon, local Fire Chief Dave Montoya of Clear Creek County came to the rescue.
“Sure as heck, there he was in his little pickup," said Montoya in an interview with 9News,. "...and he saw me and said ‘Oh, God, I’m saved!’” He recognized Phillips as a local man. Phillips refused to seek medical attention, despite a “sizeable” bruise on his face.
But what his rescuers couldn’t have known on that night 40 years ago was that two women had been shot to death that night. Now, Phillips is a suspect in their murders.
According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Annette Kay Schnee, 22, was last seen in the early evening on Jan. 6 while hitchhiking south of Breckenridge. Separately, witnesses last saw Barbara “Bobbie” Jo Oberholtzer hitchhiking in the same area a few hours later. The New York Times reports that Oberholtzer's body was found the next morning off of Highway 9. She'd suffered a gunshot wound to the chest. Schnee was found six months later near Park City. She'd been shot in the back. The same kind of handgun was used in both killings.
Despite many tips over the years, the Park County Sheriff’s Office made no arrests. But now, advancements in genetic genealogy and DNA evidence point to the man police rescued the night Oberholtzer and Schnee disappeared – 70-year-old Alan Phillips of Dumont.
Four decades later, the families of the two women are expressing their gratitude to the investigating agencies for following up on the physical evidence.
"I pray that the arrest of Alan Phillips for the murder of my wife Bobbi Jo and Annette Schnee will finally, after all these decades, bring closure and peace to this hideous nightmare for myself, along with all the lives he has horribly affected by his actions," said Oberholtzer’s husband, Jeff Oberholtzer, in a statement read at a press conference by Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw.
Genetic genealogy, which combines DNA analysis/profiling and genealogy, is an advancing scientific method being used more frequently among law enforcement professionals worldwide. Perhaps most famously, it helped lead authorities identify the Golden State Killer, Joseph DeAngelo.
"You know, I thought there'd be no closure," said Annette Schnee’s mother, Eileen Franklin, 88, to The Denver Channel. "I thought maybe I'd be gone before I had closure to this case. So that really — I'm ready to go when it's my time now."
Alan Phillips is being charged with two counts of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree assault, and first-degree murder. A date for the preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 13. It's unclear if Phillips has retained legal representation who can speak on his behalf.
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