The Killing of Adolph Coors III

59 years ago today, one of the largest manhunts in American history was underway as police tried to figure out what happened to the missing Adolph Coors III, the 44 year old father of four and heir to the beer dynasty of his family’s name.  Little did the hundreds of police, F.B.I., and volunteers who searched for clues that day and many months that followed  know that Coors  was the victim of a botched kidnapping attempt that would leave him dead.  Few people know the story today, but it gripped the nation in the early 1960’s.

Coors Beer: an American success story:

Adolph Coors I was born in Prussia in 1847.  When he was 15, both of his parents died of Tuberculosis.  Adolph was left to fend for himself, and got by working at a brewery.  At the age of 20, he feared an impending war to unify Germany and decided to join a half million other Germans who emigrated to America between 1866 and 1870.  Dreams of freedom, opportunity, and peace led him to stow away on a ship bound for the United States.  He did not have legal papers, or a penny to his name.  He was caught by the captain, who showed mercy and told Coors he could pay off his voyage by serving as an apprentice in Baltimore.  When he finished his apprenticeship, he left for Illinois where he worked for two years as a foreman in a brewery.  

Coors then made his way to  Colorado, where he purchased a bottling company in Denver.  He was successful, but wanted to pursue his dreams of becoming a brewer.   Coors found the perfect location for a brewery at the base of Table Mountain near Golden, Colorado.  He thought the crystal clear Rocky Mountain water would be perfect for brewing.   He acquired a partner who was willing to invest $18,000, and Coors Beer was born.  Over the course of the next two decades, Coors would become one of the most popular beers in America.  However, when prohibition came in then next decade, the Coors company wold have to dump all of their alcohol and become Coors malted milk company and the Coors ceramic company.

In 1929, Adolph Coors fell to his death out of a room on the sixth floor of a Virginia Beach Hotel.  Most believe it was an accident, some believe it was suicide, yet others  believe it was a murder.  The truth is likely lost forever.  Adolph Coors II became the second President of the Coors Company, which would go back to brewing beer when prohibition ended in 1933.

February 9, 1960: The Kidnapping and Murder of Adolph Coors III

Adolph Coors III went by the nickname “Ad”, and unlike his father and grandfather he was a very easy going, cheerful man who was liked by nearly everyone. He was a graduate of Cornell University, a former semi-professional baseball player, and the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Coors Brewing.  On the morning  of February 9, he had breakfast and coffee with his wife like he always did, and then embarked on the 12 mile journey to work at the brewery.

About a mile from home, Coors saw a yellow sedan on the side of the road.  He stopped to ask the man in standing by the car if he needed help.  The man was Joe Corbett, a former Fulbright scholar from the University of Oregon who had escaped from minimum security prison, and had been plotting to kidnap the millionaire heir to the beer empire.  Corbett had been convicted of second degree murder in 1951 after an altercation with an Air Force Sergeant, which led to Corbett shooting him in the back of the head.  After his escape from Prison, Corbett lived under the Walter Osborne.  Corbett stalked Coors for weeks before the murder, knowing the time he typically left for work, and the route he took.  Corbett’s plan was likely to kidnap Coors, and then trade him in for a hefty ransom. However, when the attempted abduction occurred, Coors fought back, and Corbett shot him twice in the back.

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The abandoned car of Adolph Coors III.  February 10, 1960
Photo Credit: Longreads

Eight days after the abduction, a badly burned car was found near Atlantic City, New Jersey.  The yellow mercury had dirt which matched the dirt in the area Coors had disappeared.  The V.I.N. number was still visible, it was traced to the escaped murderer Joe Corbett.  The manhunt was on. The car also matched the description of one that was seen in the area by several witnesses on the day of Coors’ disappearance.   F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover promised to use “every available resource” of the bureau, and Corbett became the 127th person in American history to be placed on the famous “F.B.I. most wanted” list.  The search stretched from California to New Jersey, and Corbett’s picture was placed in nearly every newspaper and magazine in America.  The F.B.I. distributed 1.5 million posters with the picture and description of Corbett.   It was the largest manhunt since the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby in 1932.

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Photo Credit: F.B.I.

In September of 1960, the bloody clothes of Adolph Coors III were found in a dumpster. Less than a week later, his body was recovered not far from Pike’s peak.  Still, the search for Corbett dragged on.  On Saturday, October 29, 1960 two detectives and an F.B.I. agent found Corbett in the Maxine Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia. They had picked up his trail a week earlier in Toronto, where they discovered an apartment he rented under the name Thomas Wainright.  He had left a book there titled, ” The Anatomy of a Murder.”  They knocked on the door of the hotel, Corbett did not resist.  He simply said, “Okay, I give up. I’m the man you are looking for.”

Thirteen months after the murder of Adolph Coors III, Joseph Corbett Jr. was tried for first degree murder in Golden, Colorado and found guilty  However, he served less than 20 years before he was released for good behavior.  For the next two decades he drove a truck in Denver for the Salvation Army.  On August 29, 2009 he was found dead by a single, self inflicted gunshot wound to the head in a Denver apartment.  He left no suicide note, and no one came to claim the body.


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