Case of Adolph Coors

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Case of Adolph Coors

The case of Adolph Coors

Monday, Aug. 24, 2009. It was just after 8 a.m., and something was wrong in Apartment 307. The morning paper, wrapped in a yellow-green plastic bag, rested on the concrete walkway in front of the door. It should not have been there — not then, not that late in the morning. The apartment house manager looked at the paper, reached up to the door and rapped. Nothing.Everyone in the 32-unit building knew the bespectacled 80-year-old man in unit 307 rose early, cracking his door and picking up his paper before many of his neighbors were even awake.Some of them even knew his name: Joe Corbett.They knew he was reclusive to the point that a whispered "hello" or a barely perceptible nod might be his only response to a greeting, that he could go years without speaking to a neighbor. They knew he walked everywhere — to the grocery store, to the library — in threadbare blue trousers and work shirts that made him look like a janitor.Only a few knew his story, whispered snippets of things that had happened a long time ago. That he was a Fulbright Scholar with a genius-level IQ who killed a California hitchhiker. A prison escapee who came to Colorado and murdered the head of the Coors brewing empire in a botched kidnapping. A man once sought more urgently than any outlaw since John Dillinger. A man living out the last years of his life in a one-bedroom apartment, surrounded by the din of South Federal Boulevard.The manager backed away from Apartment 307, descended to his ground-floor office and grabbed a key. A moment later, he slipped the key into the knob and turned it.Tuesday, Feb. 9, 1960. A milk delivery man on his morning rounds pulled up to a narrow timber bridge over Turkey Creek and stopped, his path blocked by an International Travelall, its engine idling, its radio playing.This wasn't just any station wagon, though. It belonged to Adolph Coors III, the 44-year-old chairman of the Golden brewery and the grandson of its founder — one of the state's best known and most influential citizens.Blood spattered on a bridge railing and the discovery of a hat and pair of glasses belonging to Coors sparked a massive manhunt. The kidnapper mailed a ransom note to Coors' wife, Mary, instructing her to put together $500,000 and then take out a classified ad for a tractor in The Denver Post.She got the money and bought the ad, but never heard from the kidnapper.Within days, the investigation was focused on a man who drove a canary yellow 1951 Mercury seen in the area, a man who had been living in Capitol Hill for four years under the name of Walter Osborne.A man who was really Joseph Corbett Jr., a 31-year-old convicted murderer who walked away from a minimum-security prison in California 4 1/2 years earlier. A man who vanished early the morning after Coors disappeared.The Mercury turned up in New Jersey, abandoned and set ablaze. Detectives found that Corbett, using the name Osborne, had ordered handcuffs and shackles and guns through the mail, had bought a typewriter like the one used to write the ransom note.Seven weeks after the murder, Corbett would be added to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, and a transcontinental international pursuit would unfold.Before it ended, a man target shooting at a crude Douglas County dump would discover clothing and an engraved penknife belonging to Coors, and investigators would find his bones scattered in a forest.Joe Corbett’s 1960 booking mug.Joe Corbett's 1960 booking mug. (Douglas County History Research Center, Douglas County Libraries)Saturday, Oct. 29, 1960. Two detec-tives and an FBI agent closed in on the Maxine Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the landlady described a man believed to be Corbett staying in a room under the name Thomas C. Wainwright.They had picked up Corbett's trail days earlier in Toronto, where they discovered an apartment he had rented and possessions he had left behind, including chains and padlocks and a paperback copy of Robert Traver's book "Anatomy of a Murder."Now, they knocked on the door, and when Corbett cracked it, they forced their way in."OK," he said, "I give up."A little more than 13 months after Adolph Coors III met his fate on a dilapidated bridge, Corbett would face a Golden jury. That jury would hear about Corbett's life as Walter Osborne, about the leg irons and handcuffs and guns, about the sightings of that yellow Mercury in the foothills south of Morrison, near the Coors ranch. That jury would deliberate for two days and take 12 ballots before convicting Corbett of first-degree murder.Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009. Ron Kirkman sat in his first-floor apartment in the middle of the day, passing the time with his door open. He caught a glimpse of Corbett, moving slowly, struggling to walk. Corbett had a look on his face that Kirkman later described as "despondent.""Hello, Mr. Corbett," he called — his usual greeting.Corbett, shuffling toward the mail room, acknowledged him with a nod and a grunt.Kirkman didn't know Corbett had been diagnosed with cancer, but he'd seen his rapid deterioration in recent weeks, seen him the day several people had to help him across the street to the steps outside, where he sat and caught his breath before climbing the stairs to his apartment.Kirkman was one of the few people living in the complex who knew the quiet, bespectacled man in Apartment 307 had killed Adolph Coors III in one of Colorado's most notorious crimes.And yet, he never passed judgment on Corbett."I couldn't have asked for a better neighbor," Kirkman would later say. "I am going to miss him — I really am."Corbett was alone in the world, in a prison he created. He had no family left, to speak of. His cousin, Gordon Myers, who tried years earlier to help him get back on his feet, had no contact with him in nearly 30 years."I would like to have, but he didn't seem very interested," Myers said.Friday, Dec. 12, 1980. Joe Corbett walked out the front gate of the Cañon City prison. Again.Corbett was originally released on parole in July 1979 after serving a little less than 19 years for Coors' murder. He immediately boarded a plane for San Francisco, where he had a place to live, then flew back to Denver the next day to close his bank account — a violation of the terms of his parole.For three days, officials wrung their hands, unsure where Corbett was, before he turned himself in. He was sent back to prison.Over the ensuing months, as he applied again for release, the public debated whether he should be given another chance. Prosecutors and even Gov. Dick Lamm questioned the wisdom of allowing a two-time convicted killer back into society.Finally, more than 17 months after his first taste of freedom, Corbett was moved to Denver and ordered to spend five years on supervised parole. He found work first in a manufacturing plant and then as a truck driver for the Salvation Army.And although he was fastidious in his appointments with his parole officer, he also exhibited two very different sides to his personality."I knew him as intellectually very, very sharp," Ron Olson said. "Emotionally, very immature. High strung. Excitable."Monday, Feb. 5, 1996, and Wednesday, Feb. 7, 1996. Over the years, reporters tried to get Corbett to talk, to tell his story. But he was elusive, and closed-mouth.More than once, a writer stood in front of the door at Apartment 307, notebook in hand, suspecting that Corbett was behind those drawn shades, ignoring the knocks.Only in 1996 did he open the door, for Denver Post reporters Paul Hutchinson and Marilyn Robinson.He expressed a fascination with the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby, talked of the hostility he felt from some strangers, and denied — again — any involvement in the Coors murder."It would be futile to retry the case now," he said. "What's the point? It just goes against all my instincts, all my conditioning, to say anything at all now that would add to my notoriety."Monday, Aug. 24, 2009. Mark John-sen, the manager at the Royal Chateau Apartments where Corbett lived for more than 25 years, turned the knob and pushed open the green-trimmed door on unit 307.In the bedroom, he encountered a shocking scene.Corbett lay in bed, motionless. He had a single gunshot wound to his head. A pistol lay nearby.Johnsen called 911. Paramedics, police officers and firefighters swarmed the apartment complex.They confirmed the obvious. At 8:28 a.m., Joe Corbett was pronounced dead.He left no note and no one to claim his body.Additional research conducted by Denver Post librarians Vickie Makings, Barry Osborne and Jan Torpy.Corbett no stranger to running from lawOct. 25, 1928: Joseph Corbett Jr. is born in Seattle.June 7, 1949: Corbett's mother, Marion, falls from a balcony where the railing had been removed. She dies five days later.Dec. 21, 1950: Corbett shoots and kills a hitchhiker near Hamilton Air Force Base north of San Francisco.March 15, 1951: Corbett pleads guilty to second-degree murder; a judge sentences him to five years to life.Aug. 1, 1955: Corbett sneaks out of his dorm at a minimum- security prison and disappears.Late 1955: Corbett arrives in Denver, adopts the name Walter Osborne and eventually lands a job at the Benjamin Moore paint plant north of downtown.April 1, 1956: Corbett moves into a third-floor apartment at 1435 Pearl St.June 8, 1957: Corbett orders a pistol through the mail, one of several guns he purchased.Feb. 24, 1959: Corbett orders four pairs of leg irons.May 1, 1959: Three pairs of handcuffs are shipped to Corbett.Jan. 8, 1960: Corbett buys a yellow 1951 Mercury.Jan. 25, 1960: Corbett is ticketed about 3 miles from Morrison while driving the yellow Mercury.Feb. 9, 1960: Adolph Coors III leaves his Morrison-area home, headed to the family's brewery. His vehicle is later found idling on a narrow bridge. Detectives find blood and Coors' hat and glasses in the creek below.Feb. 10, 1960: Corbett moves out of his Capitol Hill apartment and vanishes. The same day, Mary Coors receives a ransom note instructing her to come up with $500,000 and to place an ad for a tractor in The Denver Post's classified section once she has the money.Feb. 14, 1960: The Coors family places the ad, offering a John Deere tractor for sale.Feb. 17, 1960: Corbett's yellow 1951 Mercury is discovered ablaze near Atlantic City, N.J.March 30, 1960: The FBI places Corbett on its 10 Most Wanted List.Sept. 11, 1960: The bones of Adolph Coors III are discovered in Douglas County. Experts conclude he was shot twice in the back.Oct. 25, 1960: FBI agents pick up Corbett's trail in Toronto, where he again used the name Walter Osborne.Oct. 29, 1960: Corbett is arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia.March 13, 1961: Corbett's murder trial opens in Golden.March 29, 1961: The jury returns a guilty verdict, meaning a life sentence.June 15, 1978: Corbett is granted parole.July 6, 1978: Corbett's parole is revoked after a public outcry.July 5, 1979: Corbett is granted parole again.July 10, 1979: Corbett is released and flies to California.July 11, 1979: Corbett flies back to Colorado to close a bank account.July 15, 1979: Corbett is arrested in California for violating parole by returning to Colorado.July 31, 1979: Corbett's parole is revoked.Dec. 12, 1980: Corbett is paroled yet again. He rents an apartment at 2801 S. Federal Blvd.Dec. 12, 1985: Corbett is released from supervision.Aug. 24, 2009: Corbett is found dead in his southwest Denver apartment, a victim of suicide.

In the weeks leading up to February 1960, the canary yellow 1951 Mercury had become part of the scenery around the majestic Rocky Mountains, not far from Denver.People saw the car, and the man who drove it, often enough to make them uneasy, often enough to make one man take a mental note of the license plate number.Lucky he did, because that car would later become the key to solving a murder.The victim was Adolph Coors 3d, known as Ad, the 44-year-old scion to the beer empire started by his grandfather in 1873. Coors, himself allergic to beer, was president of the company, which he ran with his brothers William and Joseph.Married for 20 years and the father of four children, Ad Coors’ reputation was of someone quiet, competent, and reserved, a good businessman and a good family man.In all, a good target.A little before 8 on the morning of Feb. 9, Coors got into his International Travelall station wagon and started out on the 12-mile trip from his ranch in Morrison to the brewery in Golden, Colo.Three hours later, a milkman found the green-and-white car, with its motor running, abandoned on a rickety wooden bridge over Turkey Creek, two miles north of Coors’ home.Blood stained the road near the car and a railing on the bridge. Down below, on the creek bank, searchers found the baseball-style cap that Coors was wearing when he left home that morning, and the plastic-rim glasses that he always wore because he was terribly nearsighted.No one had any doubt that this was the work of professional kidnappers.Coors had no known enemies.

“I cannot be emotional about this,” the missing man’s father, Adolph Coors II, told reporters. “The crooks have something I want to buy, my son. The price is secondary.”The next day, FBI agents recovered a letter in the Morrison post office, addressed to Coors’ wife, Mary. It demanded $500,000, in tens and twenties, and instructed her to advertise a tractor for sale in the Denver Post, and then to wait for the call. “Call the police or FBI: he dies. Cooperate: he lives,” the kidnapper wrote.Mary Coors placed the ad, as instructed, and waited. But there was no call, nor any word or whisper of what had happened to her husband. In the weeks to come, she’d receive more than 50 ransom notes, all cruel hoaxes. But there was no call from the kidnapper.With little to go on, the FBI focused on a few slim clues. Most of the attention was aimed at the canary yellow Mercury. One man remembered that the license plate had an “AT” and the numerals “62.”Based on that one tidbit, FBI agents traced the car to Denver resident Walter Osborne, who had, until recently, been working in a paint factory.Further investigation matched the fingerprint from Osborne’s driver’s license application to that of a convicted murderer who had escaped from a California prison five years earlier — Joseph Corbett, Jr. 31.Born in Seattle, the son of a newspaper editor and his wife, Corbett had an average upbringing and an above-average IQ. As a child, he seemed to have a bright future.But by 1950 his behavior was becoming erratic. He began to unravel completely when his mother fell from a balcony in the family home and died.Six months later, Corbett shot a hitchhiker in the head, and was sent to prison for life. The sentence was cut short in 1955, when Corbett escaped from a minimum-security cell in Chino.Within the year, a man calling himself Walter Osborne showed up in Denver.A few days after Coors disappeared, the FBI arrived at the Denver apartment Osborne had rented, but he was already gone. The landlord said that his quiet tenant explained he was going to Boulder, Colo., to finish his studies, then packed up and took off.Around the same time, police in New Jersey found a smoldering burnt-out car in an Atlantic City dump — a canary yellow 1951 Mercury, its motor number matching that of the car purchased by Corbett, under his alias Osborne.On March 30th, Corbett appeared on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List. But through the summer, despite a gigantic manhunt, there was sign of neither the fugitive nor the missing beer magnate.Then, on Sept. 11, a pizza truck driver went out for some target practice near a dump in the Rocky Mountain foothills southwest of Denver. He found a pair of trousers, with a label that read, “Expressly for Mr. A. Coors, III” and a penknife in the pocket with the inscription “A.C. III.” He called police.About 500 yards away, they found human bones, from a man about six foot one, which was Coors’ height, and a skull. Dental records would later confirm the family’s worst fears.Coors had been shot twice in the back, at close range.Corbett’s picture was spread around the world through newspapers, magazines, and thousands of “Wanted by FBI” posters. In Toronto, someone saw Corbett’s picture in a Reader’s Digest article, and told police that he looked very much like a former co-worker.The hunt moved north, but by the time the FBI made it to Toronto, Corbett had fled.It would be Oct. 29 before the law would catch up with the fugitive in Vancouver, British Columbia, tipped off, in part, by another flashy automobile. For his dash to the north, Corbett rented a fire-engine red Pontiac, the kind of car no one could ignore.In the end, there were no guns blazing, no desperate attempts at flight, just a knock on the door. “I’m your man,” Corbett said as he gave himself up.No one had actually seen the killing, but prosecutors had a strong case based on circumstantial evidence. Co-workers told of the defendant’s boasts that he was planning “something big” and it would net him a million dollars. Forensic scientists showed that the ransom note came from a typewriter Corbett had purchased.The star witness, however, was the yellow Mercury. By examining dirt on the undercarriage, investigators drew a map of the car’s journey. There were four layers. One contained dirt and particles matching those in the Atlantic City dump. But the others contained pink feldspar and granite, the kind of rocks and minerals found at the site where Coors’ body had been found and on the roads around the Coors ranch.On March 29, 1961, the jury found Corbett guilty.Although sentenced to life, Corbett, a model prisoner, was paroled in December 1980. He took a job in Denver as a truck driver for the Salvation Army, and lived quietly, speaking rarely of the case. In a 1996 interview with the Denver Post, one of the few times he broke his silence, he insisted he was innocent and that the FBI had framed him.On Aug. 24, 2009, the body of the frail 80-year-old, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, was found in the apartment where he had lived in near-seclusion for the past 29 years. Joseph Corbett had claimed his final victim.

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