Dumont man arrested for cold case homicides

Police say DNA helped ID suspect in 1982 murders

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A Dumont man has been arrested on suspicion of murdering two women in 1982.

Alan Lee Phillips, 70, was arrested during a Feb. 24 traffic stop in Clear Creek County, and is being held at the Park County jail, law enforcement agencies announced at a Wednesday afternoon press conference. He is scheduled for a court appearance Friday afternoon.

Phillips is suspected of kidnapping, assaulting and murdering Barbara Jo Oberholtzer, 29, and Annette Kay Schnee, 31.

Both women were last seen separately hitchhiking outside Breckenridge on Jan. 6, 1982. Oberholtzer's body was found the next day on the summit of Hoosier Pass, and Schnee's body was found six months later in Sacramento Creek, a rural part of Park County. Both had been shot.

New information recently developed in the case through genetic genealogy, which identified Phillips as a potential suspect, Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw stated.

“This arrest is the culmination of technology, extraordinary police work, and an unwavering commitment to justice for Bobbie Jo, Annette and their families,” he continued.

The suspect

According to McGraw and Clear Creek Undersheriff Bruce Snelling, Phillips is a semi-retired auto mechanic who has lived in Clear Creek much of his life. Phillips didn't have any major arrests or criminal history since 1982, McGraw and Snelling said.

The Courant has obtained documents from a January 2005 restraining order case against Phillips, then a driver for Scorpion Towing, after he engaged in violent behavior toward other tow operators.

The other operators were helping a family stranded on eastbound Interstate 70, when Phillips attempted to hit the other operators' vehicle, yelled at one of them, stood on their hood, and bent their windshield wiper. Witnesses described him as behaving like a “mad man,” scaring everyone present, including two children.

The judge granted the restraining order, which said Phillips was never to have contact with the other operators again.

Under surveillance

Snelling described how his department worked with Park County, state and federal investigators to surveil Phillips for several weeks and obtain DNA samples that could then be compared to DNA evidence from the cases.

Snelling confirmed that the current DNA sample was pulled from a fast food bag Phillips reportedly discarded in a post office. Investigators saw Phillips enter the post office with the fast food bag and leave without it, and they went in afterward to grab it.

McGraw commented: “A lot of manpower was used in that case, and we definitely appreciate all the help we got from (Clear Creek, state and federal investigators).”

During the press conference, McGraw shared a photo of Phillips as he looked around 1982, hoping it would generate tips for these cases and/or others.

While investigators aren't sure whether Phillips is connected to other, similar cases, McGraw stated, “In 38 years of law enforcement for myself, anybody who can commit a crime like this … I think could have the tendency to commit other violent acts. But we're following up on everything, and down the road, we'll see where that goes.”

To report information about these cases or about this suspect, call 720-248-8378.

Clear Creek cold cases

Snelling said that now that Phillips' arrest is public, investigators will be researching his life and background to see if he could possibly be a suspect in other unsolved cases.

One prominent local cold case is the disappearance of Idaho Springs' Beth Miller, who was last seen jogging around Idaho Springs on August 16, 1983 — her 14th birthday.

Snelling described how he and other deputies have been following up on potential leads in the Miller case for years, always trying to piece together where any person of interest was in 1983.

The Sheriff's Office will do the same with Phillips, he added, given the recent arrest and Clear Creek connection.

A man who reportedly flirted with Miller a few days before her disappearance is a person of interest in the case.

He's described as in his 30s, fair-skinned, about 175 pounds, light brown collar-length hair, and wearing prescription glasses. He was seen driving a small, red pickup truck with a white camper shell and out-of-state license plates.

One thing making the Miller investigation tougher than the ones for Oberholtzer and Schnee is that there is no crime scene and no evidence.

“We would need somebody to come forward and say `I did it,' and take us to where she's buried,” Snelling said.

According to Snelling, while there are about 10 cold cases in Clear Creek, none have evidence with a good genetic marker that local investigators could then use genetic genealogy to identify a suspect.

Along with Miller's disappearance, other cold cases include several unidentified skulls that have been found in the county, Snelling said, although it's difficult if not impossible to determine how those individuals died just based on the skull.

Some of them have teeth that the Sheriff's Office has sent to a laboratory in Texas to have DNA samples pulled from them and added to CODIS — the Combined DNA Index System, which is nationwide. Others, he added, don't have teeth to pull DNA samples from.

It requires a lot of time, funding and expertise to use genetic genealogy to help identify remains and potential suspects, said Snelling, who sits on a statewide cold case review team.

“We look at that possibility all the time,” Snelling said of using genetic genealogy to resolve Clear Creek cold cases. “ … I have seen this science evolve a lot, especially over the last 10 years.”

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