A Case From ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ Has Been Solved Using Ancestry DNA

Charlie McCormick, an octogenerian retired detective and private investigator, couldn’t get two women who were found murdered in Breckenridge, CO in 1982 out of his head. The two young women who worked in town went missing and were later found dead of gunshot wounds. They did not know each other and no connection between the two women was identified other than they appeared to be victims of the same predator.

Barbara “Bobbi Jo” Oberholtzer, 29, and Annette Schnee, 21, both disappeared on Jan. 6, 1982. Both were hitchhiking, a common means of transportation in the area at the time. Bobbi Jo was found dead the following day in a snowbank with a pair of zip ties attached to one wrist. Investigators think she may have escaped the suspect’s car and ran about 300 feet away before being shot at close range in the chest. Her cause of death was blood loss and exposure to the below freezing temperature. Annette was found six months later in a creek 10 miles south of where Bobbi Jo was found. She had also been shot and had also died from blood loss and exposure. An orange sock was found with Annette that matched one found with Bobbi Jo’s body. The socks had been a recent gift to Annette from her mother. The remote location of Annette’s body led investigators to believe the killer was a local.

A strange clue: when Annette Schnee’s backpack was found in September 1982, it contained a business card for the repair business Bobbi Jo’s husband, Jeff Oberholtzer, owned and operated. When police contacted Jeff, he said he’d once given a ride to Annette when she was hitchiking but that he was at home the day his wife and Annette disappeared. As DNA evidence emerged as a forensic science powerhouse, investigators were able to determine that blood found on Bobbi Jo’s glove did not belong to Bobbi Jo or to her husband Jeff. Jeff Oberholtzer also passed two polygraph tests and voluntarily allowed police to search his home. He appeared on the Paula Zahn show as recently as 2019 publicly appealing for information about his wife’s murder that could end speculation and bring her family closure.

Charlie McCormick has been working this case since 1989. He charged Annette Schnee’s family a fee for his services of $1 per year. After finding that the blood found on Bobbi Jo’s glove wasn’t a match for Jeff Oberholtzer, McCormick and Richard Eaton, a Summit County Sheriff’s Office detective, tested it against the DNA of any other suspects they could think of. They never found a match.

Six weeks after Bobbi Jo and Annette were murdered, a man named Tom Luther was arrested and convicted of impersonating a cab driver and then beating and raping the woman he picked up with a hammer. After he was arrested, he told fellow inmates he also murdered two women in Breckenridge, one of whom he promised authorities would “never find”. (This was before Annette Schnee’s body was found. The location of her body is what made authorities believe the killer was a local, as it wasn’t a well known place). Luther served his time and was released. He was then accused of murdering another Colorado woman named Cher Elder.

Detectives McCormick and Eaton found the men Luther confessed his murder to. Almost 40 years later, they stood by their original claims. The detectives then interviewed Tom Luther, imprisoned for another rape. Luther said, “They aren’t my girls”. His DNA didn’t match the bloody glove either.

Around this time the popular television show Unsolved Mysteries aired a segment on Bobbi Jo Oberholtzer and Annette Schnee. In 2007, the case was the subject of an episode of a Discovery channel show that used psychics to try to solve cold cases, Sensing Murder. The case was also featured on an episode of the Crimepedia podcast.

Charles McCormick believed he would die before the case was closed. It was a pleasant surprise for him when The Park County Sheriff’s Office announced in February 2021 that they had made an arrest in the almost 40 year old case. The Park County Sheriff’s office made the arrest after building a family tree for the unidentified suspect whose blood was found on Bobbi Jo’s blood. That suspect turned out to be Alan Lee Phillips, a 70-year-old man living in Durmont, Colorado, a 50-minute drive northwest from Breckenridge.

Annette Schnee’s mother, Eileen Franklin, is now 88-years-old and said she is relieved to find an end to the mystery of her daughter’s murder. Bobbi Jo’s husband, Jeff Oberholtzer, said: “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. I cannot thank enough all who never gave up the search for the truth.”

Jeff and Bobbi Jo’s daughter also made a statement:

“I, the daughter of Bobbi Jo Oberholtzer, would like to thank both Charlie McCormick and Richard Eaton for never giving up on solving my mom’s case. When I look into my child’s blue eyes, which are truly beautiful like my mom’s, I see her. 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.”

About the author
Chrissy is the author of What I Didn't Post On Instagram and a poetry book, We Are All Just A Collection of Cords. Follow Chrissy on Instagram or read more articles from Chrissy on Thought Catalog.

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