Below is an excerpt from The Death of an Heir, Philip Jett’s absorbing new book of true crime, about the botched kidnapping of Adolph Coors III, the Coors brewery CEO, which launched one of the largest manhunts in US history and seems to have taken its cues from the Hollywood playbook. Our thanks to Jett and St. Martin’s Press for letting us share this story with the Longreads community.
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At barely half a rod wide and three hands deep, Turkey Creek was not unlike hundreds of tributaries snaking their way through Colorado canyons. That would soon change. The creek flowed only a few miles, spanned here and there by rough-hewn lumber bridges like the one in Turkey Creek Canyon, with its crude railings and two wooden tracks burrowed in gravel, wide enough for a single car to cross. Fewer than half a dozen vehicles crossed Turkey Creek Bridge each morning. That included the local school bus and a milk delivery truck—and for the last month, the white-over-turquoise International Harvester Travelall driven by Adolph Herman Joseph Coors III.
The name fit for a crown prince belonged to the forty-four-year-old chairman of the board and CEO of the multimillion-dollar Adolph Coors Company in Golden, Colorado, and first-born grandson of the brewery’s founder. Known simply as “Ad” to most who knew him, he was well-liked by associates and employees for his friendliness and reserve. And despite being the eldest successor to the giant Colorado beer empire and an accomplished man, Ad preferred the simple life on his horse ranch southwest of Denver, where he lived contently with his wife, Mary, and their four young children.
On the crisp, windy morning of Tuesday, February 9, 1960, Ad rose before sunrise and began his daily exercise regime. After showering, he dressed for work and joined Mary at the kitchen table for coffee. They talked as they did every morning.
Before leaving for the brewery, Ad headed outside to check his horses, pitching hay and breaking ice in their troughs. He soon returned to kiss Mary and his children goodbye, but his children had boarded a school bus minutes earlier. Grabbing a tan baseball cap and slipping on his favorite navy-blue nylon jacket, he stepped out onto the carport, started his Travelall, and headed down the driveway. He waved to his ranch manager as he passed. It was 7:55 a.m.
Ad’s normal route to the brewery, twelve miles away, would have carried him less than a mile to paved US Highway 285, but a section of the highway had been closed for construction since January. The closure forced him to detour along a winding, lonely stretch of gravel road for four miles to Turkey Creek Canyon, where it connected to a state road that led back to Highway 285.
As Ad drove along the secluded road that morning, his Travelall rambled around the last bend before reaching Turkey Creek Bridge, just out of view. Waiting on the bridge was thirty-one-year-old Joseph Corbett Jr., who had stalked Ad for many months awaiting the chance to carry out his scheme. The road closure and detour across Turkey Creek Bridge gave him that chance.
Corbett backed his canary-yellow Mercury sedan onto the one-lane bridge just minutes before Ad’s arrival. Handcuffs and leg irons lay on the back seat. A ransom note in an envelope ready for mailing later that day lay in the glove box. Concealing a pistol in his coat pocket, he exited the four-door car, leaving the driver’s door open. He opened a rear door and raised the hood, signaling engine trouble, and stood by the car, waiting for his victim. All he had to do was lure Ad away from his Travelall. Then the Coors CEO and heir wouldn’t be so rich and powerful. Instead, he’d be a hostage worth many times his weight in gold and, if all went according to plan, would make Corbett a very rich man by week’s end.
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As Ad drove around that last bend, he spotted the yellow Mercury stranded on the narrow bridge. It was 8:00 a.m. Just as Corbett had planned, Ad pulled onto the bridge behind the Mercury. He shouted through a rolled-down window, asking if he could help. Corbett shouted back his rehearsed reply. Eager to get going, Ad stepped out of the Travelall and shut the door, leaving the engine running and radio playing. He didn’t expect to be long. He figured he’d help push the stranded car out of the way and give its driver a ride to the nearest filling station.
But as Ad approached, Corbett stepped forward and drew his pistol, taking the beer magnate by surprise. Ad was an intelligent but stubborn man, not the kind to don shackles and meekly slide into an assailant’s car. As Corbett drew nearer, the six-foot-one, 185-pound Ad Coors seized his abductor’s hand that gripped the gun. The two, almost identical in height and weight, struggled. Ad shoved his younger assailant backward, and they slammed against the crude bridge railing. Ad’s baseball cap along with Corbett’s fedora flew into the creek. Ad’s eyeglasses fell, too, cracking the left lens on impact. Ad pushed his antagonist away and made a break for the Travelall. But Corbett, seeing his ransom trying to escape, extended the pistol and fired. The sound of shots echoed up the canyon.
Those two shots set off the largest US manhunt since the Lindbergh kidnapping.
“It was about eight o’clock,” Rosemary Stitt would later testify in the First District Court of Colorado. “Right after I sent my kids off to school, about twenty minutes after. First, it sounded like somebody hollered down at the bridge. I was sittin’ in front of my sewing machine by the window. It sounded like one or two words is all. It was two different people, I think. Then I heard a crackling noise like lightnin’ striking a tree. I looked out the kitchen window to see if a tree fell down out back but didn’t see nothing. So it was then I got to thinking it might be a gunshot. Just one shot. Or, it coulda been two really close together.”
Those two shots set off the largest US manhunt since the Lindbergh kidnapping. State and local authorities, along with the FBI, burst into action, attempting to locate Ad Coors and arrest his kidnapper. Ad’s influential father demanded that the perpetrator be caught and his son returned, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover gave assurances that he would make it his top priority domestically. Once the evidence pointed to Corbett, Hoover backed up his promises by placing Corbett on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, describing him as the most hunted suspect since John Dillinger. The manhunt would span the continent and involve hundreds of law enforcement officers. Yet as months passed with little success, Ad’s tormented wife and children clutched tenuously to their hopes. Like them, everyone wondered where Colorado’s favorite son and his abductor could be.
Snow swirled past the windows outside Ad’s barn at eight o’clock on the night of Monday, February 8. Ad wanted to confer with his ranch manager about when they would auction the cattle. They decided to wait a bit, when the market was up. He also asked if his manager could accompany him Saturday to size up some horses in La Junta, and he agreed.
Mary called Ad to dinner. Afterward, Ad sat at the kitchen table near sweat-streaked windows, reviewing some of the ranch accounts. He was bushed and hoped to turn in soon. He’d been back from Miami for forty-eight hours, and his first day at the brewery had been a busy one, with more meetings and telephone conferences scheduled for Tuesday. At least his father was on vacation in Hawaii with his mother and wouldn’t return for another two weeks. Things wouldn’t be as tense with Mr. Coors away.
Cecily was seated across the kitchen table from her father with Spike seated beside her, both doing homework. The youngest of the Coors children, Jim, lay on the den floor in front of the fireplace with a toy truck and horse trailer he’d gotten for Christmas. Mary sat watching television with the volume low so not to disturb those at the table. She’d finished putting the dishes away earlier with the help of Brooke, who now stretched out in the hallway floor with the telephone.
Mary couldn’t help thinking how nice it was to be home with the kids and Ad and her fireplace and her favorite chair and everything feeling like it should. She wished she could freeze the moment and keep things just the way they were forever. She knew things at home were changing and the kids were growing up. What Mary didn’t realize was that night would be the best it would be, forever more.
“Three dollars—regular,” Corbett told gas attendant Lynn Westerbuhr at the Conoco Service Station on East Fourteenth Avenue, around the corner from Corbett’s apartment.
It was a cold night, and the young attendant inserted the hose nozzle into the automobile and turned the pump lever. He stomped his feet on the icy concrete and cupped his gloved hands, blowing on them to provide a little warmth.
“He stopped by regularly, usually once a week. He asked for three dollars’ worth of gas every time,” said Westerbuhr. “Never told me his name. Always paid cash.”
The attendant removed the hose and hooked it on the side of the pump. “That’s three dollars,” said Westerbuhr, waiting for Corbett to slip three bills through the sliver of open window. “Whatcha got back there? Moving?”
“A sleeping bag and tent.”
“You going camping in this weather?” asked the attendant, just like the clerk had at the Sears department store.
“Here’s your money,” said Corbett. He detested snoops.
“He was driving a dark maroon Dodge, ’tween a ’46 to ’49 year model, I think,” Westerbuhr soon would tell authorities. “Around Christmas, I seen him in a bright-yellow Mercury and again in January, ’bout through the second week of January, I’d say. I seen him in several cars over the last year, though—a light blue Ford wagon, gray-and-white Ford sedan. He liked cars. Most times, he was by himself. Sometimes with another man. A big fella, about thirty-five, usually in dirty work clothes, might ’ave been an Indian or an Italian, I don’t know.”
After leaving the station that Monday night, Corbett returned to his Perlmor apartment. Soon, metallic sounds filled the air. Gun chambers snapped, shackles clanked, and handcuffs clattered eerily in the sparse room. Corbett was making ready for the following day. He brushed his coat and spit-shined his shoes, like preparing for a job interview, a compulsion he’d picked up in prison. He’d gotten a haircut earlier in the day. A freshly dry-cleaned suit hung on a doorknob.
Later that evening, Corbett hurried down the back stairs to the first-floor hallway and out the back door. A pistol, a rifle, cuffs, and leg irons draped in a blanket filled his arms. A sedan waited for him across the alley behind his apartment with its trunk raised and front-and rear-passenger doors open on the passenger side. He’d already loaded blankets, canned food, water in glass jugs, and his Coleman stove, lantern, and other camping equipment in the trunk. He checked for anyone who might be watching him before stretching out the blanket and removing the pistol and placing it in the glove compartment.
“He seemed like he was in a hurry,” said Terrence Smith, a tenant in room 106. “I saw blankets on the back seat, two rifle cases, a telescopic case, and a pistol case, all zipped up along the side.”
Corbett slammed the trunk closed, removed his hat, and wiped his forehead, running his fingers through his hair that was soaked with sweat despite the cold night’s sleet pelting down. Scaling flights of stairs half a dozen times made him perspire, but he was also suffering from nervousness, anxiety, and fear of detection. He was afraid, all right, even though he’d spent months, almost thirty of them, planning this job. Despite being proud of his intellect (he’d been tested as having an IQ of 148) and his methodical, almost obsessive analytical approach to things, he knew he wasn’t infallible. After all, he had been captured for shooting a man and imprisoned in California a decade earlier.
To calm himself, he sat in his apartment and turned on the television to Peter Gunn. Soon, he pulled open a drawer and stuffed the letter he’d perfected into the pocket of his coat hanging in the closet. He planned to mail it the next day.
Corbett hadn’t seen his family for ages, and if the letter procured him what he expected, he doubted he’d have a chance to see them for a long time to come. He didn’t have a family of his own, not yet, only a father, stepmother, and stepbrother.
“It says here that he’s got a wife—name’s Marion,” said one of Corbett’s former bosses reviewing his unemployment records with an FBI agent later. “Some of the boys said Walt told ’em he was married. But later he said he was married to ‘Anne’ and listed her as his wife on his company health insurance policy. Seems to me a man should know the name of his wife, and polygamy is frowned on in Colorado.”
His female neighbors, however, never saw a wife or a girlfriend or any woman visiting, for that matter. If any woman said hello, she was lucky to receive eye contact from Corbett, much less a response. Many of his female neighbors who’d been rebuffed by Corbett’s shyness and abrupt exits referred to him as “Mystery Boy.”
“When we’d go to the city café to eat, which we did a lot, he’d never talk to the waitresses,” said one of Corbett’s coworkers. “Some were interested, but he’d never say as much as a how-do-you-do. He’d just order his food.”
“Women aren’t to be trusted,” Corbett would say. “They’re dirty, disagreeable, expensive, and worst of all, can’t keep confidential information to themselves.”
Corbett clicked off the television set. He had things to do tomorrow—confidential things. He stretched out on his sleeper sofa. It was dark, but trails of light passing through the metal venetian blinds laid stripes across a portion of the ceiling and one wall. He stared at the faint luminescent strands above him. It was late. His preparations had taken longer than he’d planned. But he wasn’t sleepy. Adrenaline pumped through his veins. Soon, his mind raced through the details of his plan. It was a good plan.
* * *
Golden is located on the Colorado Front Range, the first upwelling of the Rocky Mountains from the Great Plains. Founded in 1859 as part of the Colorado gold rush, the mining town became the first capital of the Colorado Territory and the seat of Jefferson County. After the gold panned out, German, Swedish, Italian, and Chinese immigrants stayed to make Golden their home. From 1860 to the 1950s, the population seesawed between 1,000 and 2,500 before swelling to more than 8,000 residents by 1960.
Residents of Golden enjoyed a traditional Western way of life. Men and women in boots and cowboys hats walked along sidewalks shared by those in suits and fashionable dresses. On Washington Avenue, the main thoroughfare, automobiles shared the road with horses and an electric trolley. Few communities can boast the picturesque scenery that surrounds the valley town—a river rushing through the middle called Clear Creek. Lookout Mountain to the southwest (where Buffalo Bill is buried), North Table Mountain on the north side, and to the south, South Table Mountain with its Castle Rock casting a crown above the Coors brewing and porcelain companies. And if its citizens wanted a change of pace from the serenity, Denver awaited only fifteen miles to the east.
On the morning of Wednesday, February 10, the citizens of Golden awoke to headlines on the front page of Rocky Mountain News: ADOLPH COORS III FEARED KIDNAPED! and The Denver Post: ADOLPH COORS III DISAPPEARS; FBI ENTERS SEARCH. They were stunned. It seemed unfathomable to them. The outpouring of concern and kindhearted remarks by the townspeople filled the airwaves and print.
“I don’t know of anybody who didn’t like Ad Coors,” said Walter G. Brown, Golden city manager.
Kriss Barnes, assistant vice president of Golden’s First National Bank, told reporters, “I can’t understand how anybody in the world would have anything against Ad Coors. He’s reassuring, mild-mannered, and considerate.”
“Ad is kind and generous,” said Pete Puck, who worked at the Coors Porcelain plant and helped out on Ad’s ranch. “This disappearance is a terrible thing, a terrible thing.”
Ad’s ranch manager, Bill Hosler, agreed. “He’s just as nice as can be.”
Many people in town knew Ad. They’d gone to school with him, hunted, skied, or transacted business with him. Many had a genuine affinity for the eldest Coors brother.
“He’d always smile and call me by my first name. Just a real nice guy,” said Louis Kubat, who played softball with Ad in the Arvada League when Ad played first base for Golden years earlier.
Almost anyone asked would say he was a good man. Good, despite the fact he was rich. But Goldenites couldn’t begrudge him that. He wore his wealth humbly. That was one of the things people liked most about the Coors family: their humility.
“Nicest guy you’d ever meet,” said Arthur Jensen, the chief brewer in the Coors kettle room. “Always wore a smile and said hello and called you by your first name, and let you call him Ad, not Mr. Coors or whatever. He always seemed interested in what I was doing, and I liked that about him.”
“Everyone in town knew my father,” Spike recounted as an adult. “He was just like Grandpa and Great-Grandpa, a complete workaholic, a financial success, active in the town, and respected by everyone.”
That’s why townspeople were in disbelief. At gas stations, taverns, and beauty and barbershops all around town, everyone was talking about the disappearance. To many, an attack on a Coors was an attack on Golden and everyone in it. Coors was Golden, and Golden was Coors.
Who would do such a thing? That was the question of the day at establishments all around town. Anyone who dared denounce a Coors now did so at his peril. Even a person who had no beef with a Coors could become a suspect just because he was peculiar. For instance, Jack Peters, in charge of Coors plant security, heard from a guard that a man named Robert Everhart should be checked out. Peters telephoned Captain Bray and told him that although he couldn’t put his finger on anything specific, there were “suspicious and odd circumstances surrounding Everhart, too numerable to mention.” He was investigated and eliminated as a suspect.
Others were more specific in their charges. Anyone who’d ever harbored ill feelings toward a Coors was suspected. Anyone in a dispute over property rights years earlier, or someone Ad may have cut off in traffic, or an employee that had been fired by a Coors, any kind of run-in was enough to raise suspicion. The theories and suspects abounded that morning and throughout the day. One possibility in particular made everyone in town a bit nervous: could it be a union man?
“Both major Coors industries have been embroiled in labor strife during the past few years,” reported Rocky Mountain News that day. “Colorado unions, in recent months, have placed an unofficial boycott on Coors products because of what they term unfair labor practices at Coors. . . . Bill Coors, however, did say Tuesday night that he discounted any beliefs his brother’s disappearance stemmed from labor difficulties at the Coors firms.”
“Ad was never a part of the difficulty at the brewery,” Walter Brown said.
Union leaders especially hoped a member hadn’t committed this crime. If he had, the news would drive a stake through Local 366 once and for all.
When asked about the possibility, Joe Coors scoffed. “All we want, all the whole family wants, is Ad’s safe return.” When pressed by a reporter, Joe said, “Ad’s received no threats from anyone, particularly labor. We are completely baffled. Bill and I are very strong in the feeling, however, that this has nothing to do with the labor movement.”
That same morning, a motorcade of four dark, unmarked sedans drove down Washington Avenue, passing beneath the famous banner that stretched across the street:
WELCOME TO GOLDEN
WHERE THE WEST REMAINS
The FBI was officially on the case. Code name: COORNAP. Each sedan carried FBI field agents as unmarked as their cars—dark suits, ties, starched white shirts, fedoras, trench coats, trimmed hair, shaven faces, and sunglasses or eyeglasses. That was the directive from J. Edgar Hoover in Washington, D.C., the agency’s director since 1924. Another fifty officers of the FBI Western Kidnap Squad were combing a thirty-mile radius. Hoover stamped the case top priority. He’d given Mr. Coors his private assurances. A quick resolution of the high-profile case would also give the agency a gold star just as the motion picture The FBI Story was playing in theaters around the country.
One of the bureau-issued sedans dropped two agents at Mr. Coors’s house and Joe’s home to man the telephone surveillance and recording devices that had been set up by Denver undersheriff A. S. Reider and Denver Police chief Walter Nelson, with the help of Golden Telephone Company employee Carl Horblett. Other agents stopped in Golden to question persons in town. The remaining agents stopped at the Adolph Coors Company to question anyone who might have useful information, particularly Bill and Joe Coors, who had returned to work that day.
Similar cars with agents headed to Bill Coors’s house in Denver to operate the telephone recorder and to Ad’s home near Morrison to question Mary and relieve the county deputies who were conducting surveillance inside and outside her home, watching for kidnappers who might be staking out the ranch to drop off a ransom note. One agent joined deputies standing on the road in front of Ad and Mary’s house, stopping all passing cars and trucks and questioning their occupants. Other agents drove to the sheriff’s office to question deputies and investigators, and to Turkey Creek Bridge to question anyone who lived nearby who might have seen or heard anything Tuesday morning.
Agents arriving at the bridge site were met by newsmen from Denver, Golden, and other Colorado towns, and by correspondents from national news services who’d flown into Denver the night before. Reporters in turn were met with a curt “No comment.” All questions were referred to Special Agent in Charge Scott Werner at the FBI office in Denver. “The FBI will maintain complete silence until the release of the victim,” said FBI special agent Edward Kemper. “Our interest is the safe return of Mr. Coors.” The FBI also instructed members of the Coors family not to speak to reporters.
County investigators had completed their collection of evidence at the bridge the day before the FBI’s arrival. The remaining task for the sheriff’s office at Turkey Creek Canyon was to find Ad Coors. Volunteers arrived early that morning and set up tables near the bridge with pots of hot coffee, doughnuts, sandwiches, and water for those men in the mounted posse and jeep patrol who had spent the entire night searching and for those who’d arrived at sunup to join or relieve them.
An H-19 helicopter sent from Lowry Air Force Base outside Denver hovered above the lifting fog, trying to spot a man stranded or hurt, or anything that appeared out of the ordinary among the rocky hills and ravines. US Air Force C-45 and C-47 airplanes and Civil Air Patrol Piper Super Cubs were standing by to take off if needed.
Despite all the manpower, horses, jeeps, and aircraft, there was no sign of Ad Coors. “We haven’t been able to find a thing,” said Captain Morris of the sheriff’s office. “We’re as baffled now as we were yesterday.”
Coors was Golden, and Golden was Coors.
The FBI took a different tactic. Agents, along with some county investigators, visited all houses in the Turkey Creek Canyon area and interviewed their residents.
“It was about eight o’clock,” Mrs. Rosemary Stitt said. “Right after I sent my kids off to school, about twenty minutes after. The bus picks them up around twenty till every morning. First, it sounded like somebody hollered down at the bridge. I can hear people talkin’ down there pretty plain most times. Hear their cars crossing over. I live only ’bout a quarter mile away. But yesterday the wind was blowing really hard so I couldn’t hear so plain. I was sittin’ in front of my sewing machine by the window. It sounded like one or two words is all. It was two different people, I think. Then I heard a cracklin’ noise like lightnin’ striking a tree. As a little girl, I heard lightnin’ split a tree in half right next to the house. That’s what it sounded like. I looked out the kitchen window to see if a tree fell down out back but didn’t see nothin’. So it was then I got to thinkin’ it might be a gunshot. Just one shot. Or, it coulda been two really close together.”
“What type of shot was it? Pistol, rifle, shotgun? Any idea of caliber?” an agent asked Mrs. Stitt.
“I talked to Bill about it last night, that’s my husband, and he asked if it sounded like a .22 that him and my son shoot at rabbits or like a .38 they shoot ever once in a while at targets they set up in the hills. I said it sounded more like the .38 ’cause it sounded like lightnin’. The shot came about a minute or two after I heard the hollerin’. I thought it might be poachers shootin’ game on the preserve. We’ve had some trouble with hunters up here. Or maybe some surveyors I seen workin’. I didn’t hear nothin’ else, so I went back to doin’ housework. . . . Later on in the mornin’, though, about ten thirty, eleven o’clock, I heard summore hollerin’ and a horn honkin’. About fifteen, twenty minutes after that, the milkman showed up and told me about a car blockin’ the bridge down yonder. He asked to use the telephone, but we ain’t got one. So he left and said he’d telephone the police at his next stop.”
Mrs. Pauline Moore, who lived with her husband, Cloyce, two and a half miles from Turkey Creek Bridge, told the FBI a similar story:
Right around eight o’clock yesterdee, I was hangin’ the wash on a clothesline out back. The wind was blowin’ real hard. I could barely get a clothespin on ’em. Then I heard a shot in the canyon real clear. I usually work on Tuesdays cleanin’ folks’ houses in Denver, but my boss called the night before and told me not to come in. The shot I heard was a far-off shot, not a close up, but a far off-shot, towards the bridge.
After hours of exhaustive interviews, the FBI learned that no one in the area had actually seen Ad Coors or his abductors on the bridge. No one could tell how many kidnappers there were. No one reported seeing a struggle or a shooting. No one saw the abductors’ car leaving the scene. Several did, however, report seeing suspicious vehicles at or near the bridge during the days before the disappearance. There was only one problem. They saw too many.
Mrs. Stitt told the FBI, “My husband said he seen a 1954 blue-green Ford parked on the bridge the week before, once with the doors open and lights on, but nobody around. Coulda been a 1955 or ’56, he said.”
Ranch hand Bill Hosler and Mary Coors’s maid told the FBI they’d seen a late-model green Dodge with red-and-white license plates parked near the ranch on Monday. Both said they saw at least two men in the car that appeared to be watching the ranch for at least an hour. One was tall and thin, and the other was short and stocky with a dark complexion. Hosler said the same car had been there the week before. They also stated he’d seen a yellow car there on more than one occasion.
Hilton Pace, who leased and worked a uranium mine near Turkey Creek Bridge, said he’d seen a man driving a white-over-gray Ford in the area a few times. He’d even spoken with him one day.
Janette Erickson, who lived less than a mile and a half from the bridge, said she’d seen a yellow car near the bridge on that Sunday. Charlotte Carter and Viola Ranch said the same thing. Other witnesses said they saw a car resembling a 1951 Mercury in the vicinity. Three said it was yellow; one said cream. Two said it was a solid color; two said it had a black top. Viola Ranch said it had a green cloth top.
Former Morrison town constable James Cable, a caretaker at the uranium mine leased by Hilton Pace, said he and his wife, Margaret, saw a yellow 1951 or ’52 Mercury near the bridge several times, including at eight o’clock Monday, the morning before the disappearance, about a hundred feet from the bridge. That was the morning Ad took a different route, driving to Denver before going to the brewery.
Miss Nadene Carder said she’d seen a yellow car parked near the bridge three consecutive days when she was on her way to work at the Colorado School of Mines the week before the disappearance. That was while Ad was in Miami.
Jim Massey said he often saw a yellow Mercury near the bridge. He told the FBI he’d seen it around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, with a man standing beside it wearing a brown hat and eyeglasses. His wife said she’d seen the car around 1:00 p.m. on Monday, a mere nineteen hours before the disappearance.
The one thing all eyewitnesses did agree on was that none had seen any of the cars since the disappearance.
But James Cable saw something no one else had. When interviewed, he gave the FBI a clue so important that without it the case may never have been solved. He had a partial license plate number. “It was a 1960 Colorado-style plate. Read AT-62,” he said. “It may have been AT-6205. I’m not a hundred percent sure about the last two numbers.” A was the county designation for Denver.
Agents hoped the plates weren’t stolen.
When newspapermen asked about rumors of car sightings the evening after Ad’s disappearance, FBI agents said, “Refer all questions to Special Agent in Charge Scott Werner at the Denver office.” When Bill was asked what he knew, he replied, “The FBI has requested that we make no further statements.” Sheriff Wermuth, however, was happy to oblige.
“We’re looking for two, possibly three assailants in a green Dodge that’s been seen parked near Ad Coors’s home,” the sheriff said to reporters. “That’s the strongest lead we’ve got in the case at the present time. . . . I believe we’ll have a break in the case by noon Saturday. . . . I’m basing that on studies of other kidnap cases. The crucial time in other reported cases is thirty-six hours to four and a half days after the abduction is made. . . . Yes, it’s my belief that Ad Coors is alive and held somewhere in the state. . . . According to a witness, the green Dodge had red-and-white license plates, which means it’s an out-of-state car, possibly Utah, Florida, or Ohio. . . . We believe they’ve split up. One of the three men is a good suspect centered around Denver. We’re anxious to check his movements. . . . I can’t tell you that right now. The other two are believed to be somewhere southeast of Golden.”
Reporters continued barking out their questions to the sheriff.
“No, I haven’t positively identified the blood yet. Lew Hawley telephoned me from Washington to tell me the blood found on the bridge is group A, but we haven’t located any medical records that show Ad Coors’s blood type. . . . No, the blood on Kipling Street was canine. That’s right, just a dog hit by a car. No connection there. . . . The tan cap and eyeglasses have been identified as belonging to Ad Coors. . . . No, we’ll keep the mounted posse and jeep patrol out there through tomorrow and then I’ll decide whether to suspend the search depending on the snowstorm they’re calling for late Thursday. . . . Yes, group A. Okay, that’s all I got for now, fellas.”
Amid the barrage of questions, Wermuth told reporters that Mr. and Mrs. Coors were due to land at Denver’s Stapleton Airfield that night. They had boarded a plane very early that morning to make the long flight home. Despite the earliness, reporters were waiting for them as they boarded.
“Mr. Coors! A few words about your son, sir! Please!” one of the correspondents asked, holding a pad and pencil.
The Hawaiian sun beamed on the tarmac at the Honolulu airport. Mr. Coors had telephoned FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who assured Mr. Coors he would personally oversee the investigation into catching the kidnappers and bringing Ad home safely.
“I am dealing with crooks who are in business,” Mr. Coors replied. A hot gust of wind almost blew the gray fedora from his head. “They have something I want to buy—my son. The price is secondary.”
“So you’ve been told your son’s definitely kidnapped?”
“No, but logic tells me he has been kidnapped. It’s a matter of now waiting for an offer. It’s like any other business transaction at this point.”
“You’re treating the kidnapping of your son like a business deal?”
“That’s what it is. Besides, I cannot be emotional about this.”
“Any idea who’d want to kidnap your son?” asked a different reporter.
“The union?” asked another.
“I don’t know. No, we don’t have any enemies in Golden. Excuse us, we have to board now.”
“Good luck, sir!”
FBI agents assigned to coordinate the exchange of evidence with local law enforcement were about to finish up around the bridge site. They’d walked the creek bank on both sides and in the middle. They’d scoped the typography and investigated a pit silo and a cave directly across the state road from the bridge. They dusted for prints, including inside and outside the Travelall, took additional soil samples and bridge scrapings, and reviewed the deputies’ reports. Dale Ryder had shown the agents where the Travelall was found by the milkman and where the cap and hat, eyeglasses, and blood had been discovered. He showed them sketches that county detectives had etched out using precise measurements that revealed the exact locations of the cap, hat, blood, scuff marks, and tire tracks. The last thing was to view the crime-scene photos. The two agents leaned on the hood of their sedan and observed as Dale Ryder flipped through the crisp black-and-white photos he’d taken the day before, one by one.
“The splash pattern was in that direction? Toward the southeast?” The agent nodded in a southeasterly direction as he asked about the blood spray.
“That’s correct,” said Ryder.
“I don’t know. That’s a—” The agent stopped as he spotted Bill walking up to the bridge. He was on his way back to Mary’s after work and saw the officers standing round and decided to stop.
“Go ahead,” said Bill. “Go ahead with what you were saying. I don’t want to interrupt.”
The agent introduced himself. “Now this is just my opinion, you understand, not the official FBI position.” The agent paused.
“Go on,” said Bill.
Mary held a ransom note in her hands. She put on her glasses, fearful of what the letter might say, but grateful to have it at all. She began to read:
Your husband has been kidnaped. His car is by Turkey Creek.
Call the police or F.B.I.: he dies.
Cooperate: he lives.
Ransom: $200,000 in tens and $300,000 in twenties.
There will be no negotiating.
Bills: used / non-consecutive / unrecorded / unmarked.
Warning: we will know if you call the police or record the serial numbers.
Directions: Place money & this letter & envelope in one suitcase
Have two men with a car ready to make the delivery.
When all set, advertise a tractor for sale in Denver Post section 69. Sign ad King Ranch, Fort Lupton.
Wait at NA 9-4455 for instructions after ad appears.
Deliver immediately after receiving call. Any delay will be regarded as a stall to set up a stake-out.
Understand this: Adolph’s life is in your hands. We have no desire
to commit murder. All we want is that money. If you follow the instructions, he will be released unharmed within 48 hours after
the money is received.
Sitting in her chair in the den she enjoyed so much, Mary rested the letter in her lap, removed her glasses, and looked up at the FBI agents standing round. Her eyes were weak from lack of sleep and the dulling effects of sedatives. “Ad’s still alive,” Mary said. “He’s alive. All they want’s the money.”
FBI agents in their dark suits and ties said nothing. It was Wednesday. Ad had been missing almost two days.
Mary didn’t appreciate their silence. “It says right here,” she said forcefully, holding up the note. “‘We have no desire to commit murder.’”
Bill spoke up. “Sure he’s alive. That’s the only way the lousy kidnappers collect.”
“Of course he is,” said Gerald Phipps, who’d joined Mary with his wife, Janet, to provide comfort and support on that terrible day. Gerald and Janet were close friends with Ad and Mary. They had hosted a wedding shower for Ad and Mary twenty years earlier, and they traveled in the same elevated circle of affluent Coloradans. Gerald Phipps’s father had been a US senator and an executive at Carnegie Steel. Janet’s father was the head of US Rubber. Also visiting were the elder Mrs. Coors’s brother, Erle Kistler, and the well-to-do Kenneth and Sheilagh Malo.
After hours of exhaustive interviews, the FBI learned that no one in the area had actually seen Ad Coors or his abductors on the bridge.
Mary reached for her gin and tonic on the side table and rose from her chair. “We’ve got to get the money ready. Bill? Joe? How do we do that?” Mary said, ignoring the agents. “Will you two deliver it?”
Special Agent Donald Hostetter, special agent in charge of the Detroit field office and head of the Western Kidnap Squad, interrupted. “May I please have the letter, Mrs. Coors? Thank you.” He handed it to another agent. It was a copy. The original was on its way to the FBI Laboratory. “You’re correct, Mrs. Coors. Your family should begin making arrangements to obtain the money immediately. We will assist you and your bank in coordinating the selection of denominations and recording the serial numbers. I’ll have two agents make the delivery. We don’t want anyone else in harm’s way.”
“But the letter,” said Mary. “It says if we call the police or FBI, or if you mark the money, they’ll hurt Ad. I’m sure we can find some friends or someone at the brewery to deliver the ransom.”
“The kidnappers already know the sheriff and FBI are involved,” Joe said. “It was in the papers this morning.”
“But . . .” Mary placed her drink on the table. “Oh, I don’t know what to do.” She lowered her head and shielded her face with one hand.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Coors. That’s why we’re here. We do know what to do,” said Hostetter. “All kidnappers say don’t contact the authorities. Most victims’ families do because it’s the proper thing to do. The kidnappers had to have known that by leaving your husband’s car on the bridge, law enforcement would become involved. And there’s no way they’ll know we’ve recorded the serial numbers. It’s scare tactics.”
“That’s right,” said Joe. “How would they know something like that?”
“Not possible,” replied Hostetter. “Now, when the time comes, my agents will handle the drop-off. We’ll dress them like ranchers or choose men who resemble your husband’s brothers. I haven’t exactly decided yet, but believe me, we’ll do whatever it takes to procure your husband’s safe return. That’s priority number one. Apprehension is always secondary in these cases.”
“I don’t know. I know you men are professionals at what you do,” began Mary, “but to tell you the truth, I don’t care about the money or if they’re caught. I just want Ad back. What do you think, Bill?”
“I think you have to trust the FBI,” replied Bill. “But I will say this: I agree with Mary that the main thing is getting Ad back. The family doesn’t want anyone, and that includes the FBI, doing anything that jeopardizes Ad’s safe return.”
“We don’t either,” said Hostetter.
Jefferson County investigator William Flint had intercepted the ransom note at the Morrison post office that Wednesday at 9:40 a.m. and immediately turned it over to the FBI, which dusted the envelope and letter for prints and made copies. Postal employee Joe Murphy said, “With the 3:00 p.m. Denver postmark on the envelope, the letter had to have been mailed in Denver on Tuesday, between 1:45 and 2:15 p.m.”
Agents were pleased to have the letter. It represented the first piece of physical evidence, other than the brown felt hat, belonging to the kidnappers. Agents in Denver would receive a report from the FBI Laboratory in Washington two days later detailing the lab’s findings:
In the lower left-hand corner of the envelope was typed the word “PERSONAL”; in the center of the envelope the words “Mrs. Adolph Coors III, Morrison, Colorado,” and on the upper right-hand corner of the envelope were typed the words “SPECIAL DELIVERY.” The envelope bore a postmark “Denver, Colo, 2 1960” on the outer circumference of the circular postmark and in the center of the postmark the letters and numbers “FE 9 3 PM” . . .
The envelope and note were treated for fingerprints by the use of triketohydrindene hydrate and silver nitrate. No latent impressions of value were found . . .
The typist is experienced and made no errors in punctuation or spelling; double spaces after a period, which is taught in typing schools; but does overuse colons and uses only one space after a colon rather than two as is the approved practice in typing.
The author is reasonably well educated; writes well . . .
The letter was typed with either a Hermes or Royalite portable typewriter; both are sold extensively in the United States. The Royalite has been on the market for less than three years. It is an inexpensive machine sold in large drug and department stores. Inquiry was made at the Royal McBee Corporation, manufacturer of Royalite typewriters, to determine retail outlets in the Denver area that sell the Royalite and the serial numbers of typewriters shipped. A representative of the manufacturer advised that two businesses sell the Royalite portable typewriter. They are the Denver Dry Goods Company, 16th & California Streets, and the May-D&F Company, 16th & Tremont. . . . This particular machine has a defect. The letter “s” is defectively applied. It is struck lower than all other type in the letter. . . . The typewriting on the envelope and note were compared with those in the Anonymous Letter File and the National Fraudulent Checks File. No matches were realized . . .
The envelope measures 4.24 inches in width and 9.37 inches in length. The paper has a substance weight of 20, measures 8.42 inches in width and 10.94 inches in length. Both contain the watermark, “EATON’S DIAMOND WHITE BOND BERKSHIRE COTTON FIBER CONTENT,” and are sold by the Eaton Paper Corporation, 75 South Church Street, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A code mark under the first “E” in “BERKSHIRE” indicates the envelope and paper were manufactured in 1959. A representative from the manufacturer advised subject envelope and paper were shipped in reams and boxes after February 10, 1959, to five businesses in the metropolitan Denver area. Only two stores sell both the paper and the envelopes. These are the Denver Dry Goods Company, 16th & California Streets, and the May-D&F Company, 16th & Tremont. Dates and amounts of purchase have been recorded. Interviews of sales clerks at each store to follow.
As Agent Hostetter left Ad and Mary’s home, he instructed two of his agents to relieve those who’d manned the recorder the night before. “I want to remind everyone not to say anything to reporters. If pressed, tell them the FBI told you to remain silent. Not only do leaks about our evidence, suspects, and theories compromise the investigation, more importantly, they put Mr. Coors in added jeopardy.” He would relay the same message by telephone to the foremost offender, Sheriff Wermuth.
More than a year later, Mary testified in a crowded Jefferson County court, “I felt a little bit relieved because the ransom note gave us hope that Ad could still be alive.”
* * *
From The Death of an Heir by Philip Jett. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.