The Murder of Coors Beer Mogul

The Coors family started brewing in the late 19th century and pushed through prohibition relatively unscathed. What almost decimated the company however was the abduction and murder of Adolph Coors III. in 1960. Today we are going to take a look at how the murder of beer mogul Adolph Coors III. launched the FBI’s biggest manhunt in decades.

For more history of the American beer industry check our The Rise of Light Beer & Beer Industry Changes.

Coors brewing made the family extremly wealthy

In 1873 a German immigrant named Adolph Coors along with his partner Jacob Schueler purchased a recipe for a pilsner-style beer from a man named William Silhan. With $ 20 000 in investment money the two founded a brewery which they called the Golden Brewery. By 1880 Corrs had bought his partner out and became the sole owner. He renamed the business and it became the Coors Brewing Company.

Originally marketed only in the American West, Coors developed a mystique on the East Coast even becoming a centerpiece of the 1977 hit film Smokey and the Bandit. By 2015 the family was one of the Forbes 100 Richest Families in America worth over $ 4 billion.

February 9th 1960 started out as an average day for Adolph

The scene of the crime.
Credit: https://longreads.com/2017/09/26/the-death-of-an-heir-adolph-coors-iii-and-the-murder-that-rocked-an-american-brewing-dynasty/

He woke up at 5 30 AM and went to check on his horses. At 7 55 AM, he drove to work at the family business as per his usual routine. On the way however he stopped to help what appeared to be a motorist in distress. But as they say, no good deed goes unpunished and the motorist actually turned out to be Joseph Corbett who planned to kidnap and ransom the Coors heir.

Corbett had been carefully planning the abduction for years. For days leading up to the crime, Corbett’s car was seen in the area. Then on the morning of February 9th, he waited for Coors at the bridge near Morrison, Colorado. Corbett’s plan was simple. He blocked the one-lane bridge with his car and then left the hood open to create an appearance of having engine trouble. Everything was going exactly as planned but it wouldn’t last. Things quickly went awry. And rather than merely being abducted Coors wound up being killed.

His wife received a ransom note

An estimated 3 hours after Coors encountered Corbett his car was discovered by a milkman passing by the area. The car was still running and the milkman notices a brownish stain, a pair of glasses, and a hat on the bridge. He called the authorities who soon identified the car as that of Adolph Coors.

the day after the disappearance of Adolph Coors his wife Mary received a ransom note asking for $ 500 000. And as a sign that the money was ready and ad to be placed in the Denver Post offering a tractor for sale. With the assistance of the FBI, Mary followed the instructions but no further communications occurred. And Coors remained missing. During the following weeks, Mary Coors received over 50 hoax letters.

The largest manhunt since the Lindbergh baby

The Coors family
Credit: https://www.denverpost.com/2016/09/16/joe-coors-jr-dead-74/

Only 24 hours after his car was discovered on the bridge the Federal Kidnapping Statute was invoked. And the FBI joined forces with the local Colorado authorities to launch a full investigation. The search conducted in 1960 was the largest the FBI had undertaken since the disappearance of the Lindbergh baby in 1932.

None less than J. Edgar Hoover himself assured the Coors family that the investigation would the FBI’s top priority. Eventually, authorities identified the owner of the yellow Mercury as Walter Osborne. But when they tried to trace him nobody reported seeing him in several days. through tracing Osborne’s insurance policy which named Joseph Corbett as the beneficiary they were finally able to name a chief suspect.

Corbett was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives List and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Joseph Corbett was a native of Seattle, Washington who later became a Fulbright scholar and attended the University of Oregon.

Body discovered several months later

Corbetts burned out yellow Mercury was found in Atlantic City, New Jersey 8 days after Coors disappeared. But there was no trace of the beer scion himself. During the spring and summer of 1960, there were still no answers.

In September of 1960 almost 7 months after Coors disappearance a hunter found a pair of pants with Coors initials on the label. As well as a penknife with his initials engraved into it. He called the police and they soon found bones and a skull.

Corbett left a trail as he fled across the continent. As 1960 progressed the search for Corbett intensified. He was ultimately caught because he was sighted up in Canada. Finally, on October 29 1960 the police knocked on the door of a hotel room in Vancouver and were met by Corbett. He was tried for his crimes by the state of Colorado. Corbett, himself never testified at the trial. He refused to speak with investigators at all and never offered an alibi.

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