A man who was rescued from a snowdrift in the Rocky Mountains in 1982 after signaling for help has been charged in the cold case killings of two women he allegedly murdered just hours before his own salvation.
Alan Lee Phillips, 70, was arrested for the cold case murders in March but has since been charged with the murder, kidnapping and assault of two women, KUSA reported.
Phillips, then 30, was rescued on January 6, 1982 after a local sheriff on a United Airlines flight to California spotted him flashing ‘SOS’ in Morse Code with his truck’s headlights as the plane flew over Guanella Pass.
Harold E. Bray, the former Jefferson County Sheriff, alerted the flight’s captain of the message – who radioed down to officials on the ground, the Washington Post reported.
Alan Lee Phillips, pictured in 2021 left, has been charged with the murder, kidnapping and assault of two women just hours before he was rescued from a snowdrift in 1982. He is pictured right in the 1980s
Barbara “Bobbie” Jo Oberholtzer is pictured before her 1982 murder while she was hitch-hiking in Colorado
Annette Schnee is pictured before her 1982 murder while she was hitch-hiking in Colorado
Dave Montoya, then the fire chief in Clear Creek County, recalled rescuers trudging up the 10,000-foot mountain pass in -20 degree temperatures to rescue Phillips – whose pickup truck had been caught in a snowdrift.
The next day, the body of Barbara Oberholtzer, 29, was found at Hoosier Pass – not far from Guanella Pass – after she went missing from Breckenridge. The body of Annette Schnee, 22, was found six months later.
Oberholtzer and Schnee were said to have been separately hitchhiking home when they were allegedly abducted and shot to death. Both women worked at the Rocky Mountains’ Tenmile Range.
Oberholtzer’s family found her body in a snow drift just south of Breckenridge on Hoosier Pass. Schnee’s body was found by a boy who stumbled upon her body, fully clothed, in a creek near Fairplay.
‘We ended up picking up the guy straight out of hell,’ Montoya said.
The daring rescue and the cold case murders had not been tied together until genetic genealogy revealed Phillips as the primary suspect in the cold case murders.
The rescue was the ‘craziest thing’ he had ever heard of, Montoya told KUSA.
‘Sure as heck, there he was in his little pickup, and he saw me and said, ‘Oh, God, I’m saved’,’ Montoya said.
‘He said he got drunk and decided to drive home. 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?’
Montoya said he found Phillips with a large bruise on one side of his face. Phillips allegedly told him he stepped out of his truck to relieve himself when he was blinded by the snow and slammed headfirst into the corner of the truck.
‘He got his mercy, he got saved, he got his life saved, he didn’t die up there, but he did bad things before that and he’s got to pay for them,’ Montoya said.
A case file photo shows the crime scene where Bobbie Jo Oberholtzer’s body was found on January 7, 1982
Evidence photos show the partial contents of a backpack belonging to Annette Schnee
Annette Schnee was found with both shoes on, but wearing one orange bootie sock on her left foot
Annette Schnee was found with both shoes on, but wearing a long striped sock on her right foot
The second orange sock had been found six months earlier at the Oberholtzer crime scene
Oberholtzer’s bloodstained wool glove, and a bloodstained tissue, were found near her body
An evidence photo shows Oberholtzer’s backpack and some of the contents, which were found near her body
A pair of 18-inch zip-ties were found on one of Oberholtzer’s wrists suggesting that someone had attempted to bind her
The second of Annette Schnee’s long striped socks was found in the pocket of her blue hooded sweatshirt
Oberholtzer’s key ring, with a metal hook defensive weapon made for her by her husband, was found in the parking lot at the summit of Hoosier Pass
Among the items found in Annette Schnee’s backpack was a photograph of a man who has never been identified
Phillips, a father of three, had been living behind a popular rest area off Interstate 70 in Dumont – just 20 miles from where he was rescued – at the time of his arrest.
Court records show Phillips is being held in the Park County Jail and he is scheduled to appear in court on September 13 for a preliminary hearing.
Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw told The Denver Post in March that he was ‘not shocked’ that Phillips still lived in the area.
He said Phillips had been under surveillance when he was arrested in a planned traffic stop without incident.
Schnee’s mother, 88-year-old Eileen Franklin, had been holding onto some hope that someone would come forward with more information after her family endured ’39 years of hell,’ she told KMGH-TV.
‘I thought there’d be no closure. I thought maybe I’d be gone before I had closure to this case. I’m ready to go when it’s my time now,’ she said.
She noted in a statement that the case had been featured in episodes of the hit true crime and investigation series Unsolved Mysteries, On the Case with Paula Zahn, and Sensing Murder over the years – thanking the TV teams for their assistance.
Evidence was found throughout Colorado pertaining to both murders
Oberholtzer’s husband Jeff said in a statement after Phillips’ arrest that he is ‘finally in the hands of the judicial system.’
He said he hopes the arrest will ‘bring closure and peace to this hideous nightmare for myself, along with all the lives he has horribly affected by his actions.’
Unsolved Mysteries noted in its 1991 episode that Jeff Oberholtzer had once been viewed as the ‘primary suspect’ by law enforcement working the case.
Police noted to Unsolved Mysteries at the time that a single orange sock was found near Oberholtzer’s body and backpack that belonged to her.
Police found Schnee wearing the other orange sock when her body was discovered six months later, with Jeff Oberholtzer’s business card in her wallet.
Former Colorado Bureau of Investigations Agent Jim Hardtke, who investigated the case, said that Jeff Oberholtzer initially denied knowing Schnee when asked about his connection to her.
‘It was several days later, after seeing her picture in the newspaper, that he came to me and said that he did know Annette and he gave her a business card,’ Hardtke told Unsolved Mysteries.
Annette Schnee is pictured in an undated photo
Jeff Oberholtzer claimed he had once picked up Schnee while she was hitchhiking but had never saw or heard from her again.
He later took and passed a polygraph test and was determined to have a ‘rock solid alibi,’ clearing him as a suspect in the investigation.
The cases remained unsolved for decades while Schnee’s family hired retired Denver homicide detective Charlie McCormick as a private investigator. He remained involved investigating the case for the next 32 years.
‘We had the leads of two or three serial killers in Montana and Idaho, so we spent a lot of time researching and going there,’ McCormick told KUSA.
He added during a news conference that defining his emotions after hearing the news that the suspect had finally been found has ‘been hard to do.’
‘I never thought I would see the day. It’s been a long haul,’ he said in March.
Oberholtzer’s daughter Jackie Vucas Walker said in a statement obtained by KMGH-TV that she can ‘rest knowing justice will be served.
‘I have lived with a monster in my mind since I was 11 years old, and now I can rest knowing justice will be served,’ she said.