DENVER (AP) – A man convicted of killing two women who disappeared near a Colorado ski resort nearly 40 years ago after DNA testing identified him as the suspect was sentenced Monday to two life sentences after the women’s relatives called for the maximum sentence for the murders that changed their families forever.
Alan Lee Phillips, 71, was convicted in September of two counts of first-degree murder and other charges in the murders of Annette Schnee, 21, and Barbara “Bobbi Jo” Oberholtzer, 29. Authorities said the two women, whose bodies were found in separate locations, were not related. Both are believed to have been killed while hitchhiking outside Breckenridge, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) southwest of Denver, when they disappeared on January 6, 1982.
Friends and family discovered Oberholtzer’s body the next day in a snowdrift atop the 11,542-foot (3,463-meter) Hoosier Pass, near Breckenridge. Six months later, fully clothed, Schnee’s body was discovered by a boy fishing in a stream in rural Park County. Both women were shot.
Investigators said Phillips was rescued the night the women disappeared from the top of nearby Guanella Pass when his truck got stuck during a snowstorm, KUSA-TV reported.
Phillips, a miner and auto mechanic, was arrested last year in Dumont, a small mountain town about an hour’s drive from Breckenridge, after living in the area for the past four decades. He plans to appeal the conviction, arguing that the DNA evidence used against him was contaminated and mishandled.
Schnee’s sister Cindy French was 11 when her older sister, who wanted to be a flight attendant, disappeared. In a statement to Judge Stephen Broome read by Deputy District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, she said she remembers her mother breaking down and crying during the six months Schnee was missing. A French woman named her eldest daughter after her sister. She said that while her sister was not alive to raise a family, Phillips was able to remain single for decades and have wives and children.
Oberholtzer’s daughter, Jackie Vukos-Walker, was about the same age when her mother was killed. Her childhood was marked by sadness, depression and anxiety, she said in a statement read by Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Miller. She couldn’t connect with the other children and cried so many tears into the horse-decorated pillow that it was impossible to tell where the drops fell, she said. Vukos-Walker said she was constantly reminded of her mother, whom she resembled, and refrained from talking about her loss because it upset other people.
“I felt like I made everyone sad,” Vukos-Walker said.
She also said that references to serial killers in the abundance of crime shows on television continue to stir up emotions, whether in public or private.
Phillips did not address the court, but his daughter Andrea Shelton did, the only person to speak on his behalf. She expressed her condolences to the Schnee and Oberholtzer families, but said she believes in forgiveness and redemption. She told Broome that Phillips taught her and her siblings about honesty and ethics when they were growing up.
“He’s a good man and I thought somebody should say something,” Shelton said.
Broome said he would impose life sentences without the possibility of parole on each of the two women, ordering them to technically be served one after the other, rather than concurrently, to allow for the maximum sentence under the law. Prosecutors asked for this to allow recognition of the loss of each woman’s life.
“I hope the healing begins today and that God is with you,” he told their families.