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Joseph CORBETT Jr.





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping attempt
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: December 21, 1950 / February 9, 1960
Date of arrest: October 29, 1960 (in Vancouver, Canada)
Date of birth: October 25, 1928
Victim profile: A hitchhiker / Adolph Coors III, 44 (heir to the Coors Beer fortune)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Marin County, California / Jefferson County, Colorado, USA
Status: Pleads guilty to second-degree murder. Sentenced to five years to life on March 15, 1951. Corbett sneaks out of his dorm at a minimum-security prison and disappears on August 1, 1955. Sentenced to life in prison on March 29, 1961. Paroled on June 15, 1978. Committed suicide by shooting himself on August 24, 2009

photo gallery


Joseph Corbett, Jr. (October 25, 1928 – August 24, 2009) a former Fulbright scholar, became the 127th fugitive named on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, placed there March 30, 1960 for the kidnap and subsequent murder of Adolph Coors III, heir to the Coors Beer fortune.

Corbett was convicted of shooting a man in the back of the head in 1951. He claimed it was self-defense. He was placed in a maximum security prison and due to good behavior, he was later transferred to minimum security, from which he then escaped.

After Coors was missing and Corbett was implicated, a nationwide manhunt was conducted that spanned from California to Atlantic City, New Jersey, and eventually to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He was finally arrested October 29, 1960 in Vancouver by Canadian police after two Canadian citizens recognized him from a November 1960 Reader's Digest article.

Corbett was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was paroled in 1978.

On Monday August 24, 2009 Corbett, who was 80 and had been suffering from cancer, was found dead in his apartment of a single self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.


Coors brewery heir is kidnapped

February 9, 1960

Adolph Coors disappears while driving to work from his Morrison, Colorado, home. The grandson of the Coors' founder and chairman of the Golden, Colorado, brewery was kidnapped and held for ransom before being shot to death. Surrounding evidence launched one of the FBI's largest manhunts: the search for Joe Corbett.

Corbett, a Fulbright scholar at the University of Oregon, was headed to medical school when, in 1951, he got into an altercation with an Air Force sergeant. During the fight, he shot the man and ended up pleading guilty to second-degree murder. He was sent to San Quentin Prison for several years before being transferred to a minimum-security facility, where he easily escaped and began living under an alias, Walter Osborne.

Eight days after Coors was kidnapped, a car was found on fire in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The gasoline-fueled fire had been deliberately set, but it couldn't destroy the serial number imprinted on the engine. The car was traced back to Corbett, whose yellow Mercury had been spotted by many witnesses in the area of the crime in the days leading up to the abduction. Dirt from the car was ultimately traced back to the area where Coors was grabbed and taken hostage.

Seven months after the abduction of Adolph Coors in 1960, the millionaire's clothes were found in a dump near Sedalia, Colorado. This evidence led to the discovery of Coors' remains nearby. A ransom letter was traced back to Joe Corbett's typewriter. He had also ordered handcuffs, leg irons, and a gun through the mail in the months preceding the kidnapping. The FBI distributed 1.5 million posters with Corbett's picture and then tracked him all the way across Canada, from Toronto to Vancouver, where he was finally apprehended.

Corbett never testified at his trial and never made any statement, but the evidence was enough to convince the jury who convicted him in 1961. He was released in 1978.


The case of Adolph Coors

By Mara Bovsun -

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the weeks leading up to February 1960, the canary yellow 1951 Mercury had become part of the scenery around the majestic Rocky Mountains, not far from Denver.

People saw the car, and the man who drove it, often enough to make them uneasy, often enough to make one man take a mental note of the license plate number.

Lucky he did, because that car would later become the key to solving a murder.

The victim was Adolph Coors 3d, known as Ad, the 44-year-old scion to the beer empire started by his grandfather in 1873. Coors, himself allergic to beer, was president of the company, which he ran with his brothers William and Joseph.

Married for 20 years and the father of four children, Ad Coors’ reputation was of someone quiet, competent, and reserved, a good businessman and a good family man.

In all, a good target.

A little before 8 on the morning of Feb. 9, Coors got into his International Travelall station wagon and started out on the 12-mile trip from his ranch in Morrison to the brewery in Golden, Colo.

Three hours later, a milkman found the green-and-white car, with its motor running, abandoned on a rickety wooden bridge over Turkey Creek, two miles north of Coors’ home.

Blood stained the road near the car and a railing on the bridge. Down below, on the creek bank, searchers found the baseball-style cap that Coors was wearing when he left home that morning, and the plastic-rim glasses that he always wore because he was terribly nearsighted.

No one had any doubt that this was the work of professional kidnappers.

Coors had no known enemies.

“I cannot be emotional about this,” the missing man’s father, Adolph Coors II, told reporters. “The crooks have something I want to buy, my son. The price is secondary.”

The next day, FBI agents recovered a letter in the Morrison post office, addressed to Coors’ wife, Mary. It demanded $500,000, in tens and twenties, and instructed her to advertise a tractor for sale in the Denver Post, and then to wait for the call. “Call the police or FBI: he dies. Cooperate: he lives,” the kidnapper wrote.

Mary Coors placed the ad, as instructed, and waited. But there was no call, nor any word or whisper of what had happened to her husband. In the weeks to come, she’d receive more than 50 ransom notes, all cruel hoaxes. But there was no call from the kidnapper.

With little to go on, the FBI focused on a few slim clues. Most of the attention was aimed at the canary yellow Mercury. One man remembered that the license plate had an “AT” and the numerals “62.”

Based on that one tidbit, FBI agents traced the car to Denver resident Walter Osborne, who had, until recently, been working in a paint factory.

Further investigation matched the fingerprint from Osborne’s driver’s license application to that of a convicted murderer who had escaped from a California prison five years earlier — Joseph Corbett, Jr. 31.

Born in Seattle, the son of a newspaper editor and his wife, Corbett had an average upbringing and an above-average IQ. As a child, he seemed to have a bright future.

But by 1950 his behavior was becoming erratic. He began to unravel completely when his mother fell from a balcony in the family home and died.

Six months later, Corbett shot a hitchhiker in the head, and was sent to prison for life. The sentence was cut short in 1955, when Corbett escaped from a minimum-security cell in Chino.

Within the year, a man calling himself Walter Osborne showed up in Denver.

A few days after Coors disappeared, the FBI arrived at the Denver apartment Osborne had rented, but he was already gone. The landlord said that his quiet tenant explained he was going to Boulder, Colo., to finish his studies, then packed up and took off.

Around the same time, police in New Jersey found a smoldering burnt-out car in an Atlantic City dump — a canary yellow 1951 Mercury, its motor number matching that of the car purchased by Corbett, under his alias Osborne.

On March 30th, Corbett appeared on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List. But through the summer, despite a gigantic manhunt, there was sign of neither the fugitive nor the missing beer magnate.

Then, on Sept. 11, a pizza truck driver went out for some target practice near a dump in the Rocky Mountain foothills southwest of Denver. He found a pair of trousers, with a label that read, “Expressly for Mr. A. Coors, III” and a penknife in the pocket with the inscription “A.C. III.” He called police.

About 500 yards away, they found human bones, from a man about six foot one, which was Coors’ height, and a skull. Dental records would later confirm the family’s worst fears.

Coors had been shot twice in the back, at close range.

Corbett’s picture was spread around the world through newspapers, magazines, and thousands of “Wanted by FBI” posters. In Toronto, someone saw Corbett’s picture in a Reader’s Digest article, and told police that he looked very much like a former co-worker.

The hunt moved north, but by the time the FBI made it to Toronto, Corbett had fled.

It would be Oct. 29 before the law would catch up with the fugitive in Vancouver, British Columbia, tipped off, in part, by another flashy automobile. For his dash to the north, Corbett rented a fire-engine red Pontiac, the kind of car no one could ignore.

In the end, there were no guns blazing, no desperate attempts at flight, just a knock on the door. “I’m your man,” Corbett said as he gave himself up.

No one had actually seen the killing, but prosecutors had a strong case based on circumstantial evidence. Co-workers told of the defendant’s boasts that he was planning “something big” and it would net him a million dollars. Forensic scientists showed that the ransom note came from a typewriter Corbett had purchased.

The star witness, however, was the yellow Mercury. By examining dirt on the undercarriage, investigators drew a map of the car’s journey. There were four layers. One contained dirt and particles matching those in the Atlantic City dump. But the others contained pink feldspar and granite, the kind of rocks and minerals found at the site where Coors’ body had been found and on the roads around the Coors ranch.

On March 29, 1961, the jury found Corbett guilty.

Although sentenced to life, Corbett, a model prisoner, was paroled in December 1980. He took a job in Denver as a truck driver for the Salvation Army, and lived quietly, speaking rarely of the case. In a 1996 interview with the Denver Post, one of the few times he broke his silence, he insisted he was innocent and that the FBI had framed him.

On Aug. 24, 2009, the body of the frail 80-year-old, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, was found in the apartment where he had lived in near-seclusion for the past 29 years. Joseph Corbett had claimed his final victim.


Coors killer Corbett takes his own life

Man convicted in 1960 killing of Adolph Coors III commits suicide

By Joey Bunch and Kevin Vaughan - The Denver Post

August 26, 2009

Joe Corbett, 80 years old, diagnosed with cancer but free from prison since 1980 for the murder of Adolph Coors III, took his own life Monday with a gunshot to his head.

Corbett was convicted in 1961 for the kidnapping and slaying a year earlier of the grandson of the founder of the Coors brewery — a crime that riveted Colorado — but always maintained that he was innocent.

If his conviction was valid, Corbett took any firsthand knowledge of Coors' abduction and death to his grave.

He told The Denver Post in 1996 that he wished only to be left alone, and that trying to prove his innocence would only attract unwanted attention.

"I don't want to stir things up again, because it just gets me all wrought up," he said in one of the only interviews he ever gave.

He said he was haunted by whispers: "There goes the guy who killed Adolph Coors."

His neighbors at the Royal Chateau Apartments along South Federal Boulevard, where he spent the last third of his life, knew little about him.

"Every time I went to the bank, I'd see him walking," said Tom Dang, owner of the Barn Store, across the street from the apartments.

He would see Corbett returning home lugging sacks from the King Soopers a mile and a half away, and was struck by Corbett's spry pace.

"I figured out the guy was strong and fast," Dang said.

Dang had no idea the man was convicted in one of Colorado's most notorious crimes, and he never knew Corbett's name until he heard of the suicide and asked the apartment manager.

The story riveted Coloradans nearly 50 years ago — from Adolph Coors III's disappearance to the discovery of his body in a Douglas County dump seven months later to Corbett's arrest in Canada in 1960.

"I see myself as a pretty commonplace man who through sheer, bizarre circumstances got involved in something notorious," Corbett told a parole board in 1979.

Coors was a 44-year-old husband, father of four and chairman of the Golden brewery. He was on his way to work in his International Travelall when he was abducted.

Investigators turned their attention to a canary-yellow Mercury seen in the area — a car that eventually led them to Corbett. It turned up eight days later, set afire in Atlantic City, N.J. Investigators tracked Corbett from there to Toronto and on to Vancouver.

When he was arrested, he reportedly told the FBI agent, "I'm your man."

Coors had been shot twice in the back.

Investigators made a case that the $500,000 ransom note was produced by Corbett's typewriter, and a store clerk remembered him buying the brand of typing paper used for the letter.

Corbett's co-workers at the Benjamin Moore Paint Co. told police he had bragged of an impending "big score" of a half-million dollars or more.

Corbett had escaped from prison in California in 1955 after serving two years for murder after shooting an Air Force sergeant during a fight in 1951.

Corbett refused to talk to investigators about the Coors murder or provide an alibi. He did not testify at his trial.

After he was freed from prison in Cañon City in 1980, Corbett drove a truck for the Salvation Army until he retired.


Adolph Coors murder: Notorious killer's quiet end

By Kevin Vaughan - The Denver Post

August 30, 2009

Monday, Aug. 24, 2009. It was just after 8 a.m., and something was wrong in Apartment 307. The morning paper, wrapped in a yellow-green plastic bag, rested on the concrete walkway in front of the door. It should not have been there — not then, not that late in the morning. The apartment house manager looked at the paper, reached up to the door and rapped. Nothing.

Everyone in the 32-unit building knew the bespectacled 80-year-old man in unit 307 rose early, cracking his door and picking up his paper before many of his neighbors were even awake.

Some of them even knew his name: Joe Corbett.

They knew he was reclusive to the point that a whispered "hello" or a barely perceptible nod might be his only response to a greeting, that he could go years without speaking to a neighbor. They knew he walked everywhere — to the grocery store, to the library — in threadbare blue trousers and work shirts that made him look like a janitor.

Only a few knew his story, whispered snippets of things that had happened a long time ago. That he was a Fulbright Scholar with a genius-level IQ who killed a California hitchhiker. A prison escapee who came to Colorado and murdered the head of the Coors brewing empire in a botched kidnapping. A man once sought more urgently than any outlaw since John Dillinger. A man living out the last years of his life in a one-bedroom apartment, surrounded by the din of South Federal Boulevard.

The manager backed away from Apartment 307, descended to his ground-floor office and grabbed a key. A moment later, he slipped the key into the knob and turned it.

Tuesday, Feb. 9, 1960. A milk delivery man on his morning rounds pulled up to a narrow timber bridge over Turkey Creek and stopped, his path blocked by an International Travelall, its engine idling, its radio playing.

This wasn't just any station wagon, though. It belonged to Adolph Coors III, the 44-year-old chairman of the Golden brewery and the grandson of its founder — one of the state's best known and most influential citizens.

Blood spattered on a bridge railing and the discovery of a hat and pair of glasses belonging to Coors sparked a massive manhunt. The kidnapper mailed a ransom note to Coors' wife, Mary, instructing her to put together $500,000 and then take out a classified ad for a tractor in The Denver Post.

She got the money and bought the ad, but never heard from the kidnapper.

Within days, the investigation was focused on a man who drove a canary yellow 1951 Mercury seen in the area, a man who had been living in Capitol Hill for four years under the name of Walter Osborne.

A man who was really Joseph Corbett Jr., a 31-year-old convicted murderer who walked away from a minimum-security prison in California 4 1/2 years earlier. A man who vanished early the morning after Coors disappeared.

The Mercury turned up in New Jersey, abandoned and set ablaze. Detectives found that Corbett, using the name Osborne, had ordered handcuffs and shackles and guns through the mail, had bought a typewriter like the one used to write the ransom note.

Seven weeks after the murder, Corbett would be added to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, and a transcontinental international pursuit would unfold.

Before it ended, a man target shooting at a crude Douglas County dump would discover clothing and an engraved penknife belonging to Coors, and investigators would find his bones scattered in a forest.

Saturday, Oct. 29, 1960. Two detectives and an FBI agent closed in on the Maxine Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the landlady described a man believed to be Corbett staying in a room under the name Thomas C. Wainwright.

They had picked up Corbett's trail days earlier in Toronto, where they discovered an apartment he had rented and possessions he had left behind, including chains and padlocks and a paperback copy of Robert Traver's book "Anatomy of a Murder."

Now, they knocked on the door, and when Corbett cracked it, they forced their way in.

"OK," he said, "I give up."

A little more than 13 months after Adolph Coors III met his fate on a dilapidated bridge, Corbett would face a Golden jury.

That jury would hear about Corbett's life as Walter Osborne, about the leg irons and handcuffs and guns, about the sightings of that yellow Mercury in the foothills south of Morrison, near the Coors ranch. That jury would deliberate for two days and take 12 ballots before convicting Corbett of first-degree murder.

Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009. Ron Kirkman sat in his first-floor apartment in the middle of the day, passing the time with his door open. He caught a glimpse of Corbett, moving slowly, struggling to walk. Corbett had a look on his face that Kirkman later described as "despondent."

"Hello, Mr. Corbett," he called — his usual greeting.

Corbett, shuffling toward the mail room, acknowledged him with a nod and a grunt.

Kirkman didn't know Corbett had been diagnosed with cancer, but he'd seen his rapid deterioration in recent weeks, seen him the day several people had to help him across the street to the steps outside, where he sat and caught his breath before climbing the stairs to his apartment.

Kirkman was one of the few people living in the complex who knew the quiet, bespectacled man in Apartment 307 had killed Adolph Coors III in one of Colorado's most notorious crimes.

And yet, he never passed judgment on Corbett.

"I couldn't have asked for a better neighbor," Kirkman would later say. "I am going to miss him — I really am."

Corbett was alone in the world, in a prison he created. He had no family left, to speak of. His cousin, Gordon Myers, who tried years earlier to help him get back on his feet, had no contact with him in nearly 30 years.

"I would like to have, but he didn't seem very interested," Myers said.

Friday, Dec. 12, 1980. Joe Corbett walked out the front gate of the Cañon City prison. Again.

Corbett was originally released on parole in July 1979 after serving a little less than 19 years for Coors' murder. He immediately boarded a plane for San Francisco, where he had a place to live, then flew back to Denver the next day to close his bank account — a violation of the terms of his parole.

For three days, officials wrung their hands, unsure where Corbett was, before he turned himself in. He was sent back to prison.

Over the ensuing months, as he applied again for release, the public debated whether he should be given another chance. Prosecutors and even Gov. Dick Lamm questioned the wisdom of allowing a two-time convicted killer back into society.

Finally, more than 17 months after his first taste of freedom, Corbett was moved to Denver and ordered to spend five years on supervised parole. He found work first in a manufacturing plant and then as a truck driver for the Salvation Army.

And although he was fastidious in his appointments with his parole officer, he also exhibited two very different sides to his personality.

"I knew him as intellectually very, very sharp," Ron Olson said. "Emotionally, very immature. High strung. Excitable."

Monday, Feb. 5, 1996, and Wednesday, Feb. 7, 1996. Over the years, reporters tried to get Corbett to talk, to tell his story. But he was elusive, and closed-mouth.

More than once, a writer stood in front of the door at Apartment 307, notebook in hand, suspecting that Corbett was behind those drawn shades, ignoring the knocks.

Only in 1996 did he open the door, for Denver Post reporters Paul Hutchinson and Marilyn Robinson.

He expressed a fascination with the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby, talked of the hostility he felt from some strangers, and denied — again — any involvement in the Coors murder.

"It would be futile to retry the case now," he said. "What's the point? It just goes against all my instincts, all my conditioning, to say anything at all now that would add to my notoriety."

Monday, Aug. 24, 2009. Mark Johnsen, the manager at the Royal Chateau Apartments where Corbett lived for more than 25 years, turned the knob and pushed open the green-trimmed door on unit 307.

In the bedroom, he encountered a shocking scene.

Corbett lay in bed, motionless. He had a single gunshot wound to his head. A pistol lay nearby.

Johnsen called 911. Paramedics, police officers and firefighters swarmed the apartment complex.

They confirmed the obvious. At 8:28 a.m., Joe Corbett was pronounced dead.

He left no note and no one to claim his body.

Additional research conducted by Denver Post librarians Vickie Makings, Barry Osborne and Jan Torpy.


Corbett no stranger to running from law

Oct. 25, 1928: Joseph Corbett Jr. is born in Seattle.

June 7, 1949: Corbett's mother, Marion, falls from a balcony where the railing had been removed. She dies five days later.

Dec. 21, 1950: Corbett shoots and kills a hitchhiker near Hamilton Air Force Base north of San Francisco.

March 15, 1951: Corbett pleads guilty to second-degree murder; a judge sentences him to five years to life.

Aug. 1, 1955: Corbett sneaks out of his dorm at a minimum- security prison and disappears.

Late 1955: Corbett arrives in Denver, adopts the name Walter Osborne and eventually lands a job at the Benjamin Moore paint plant north of downtown.

April 1, 1956: Corbett moves into a third-floor apartment at 1435 Pearl St.

June 8, 1957: Corbett orders a pistol through the mail, one of several guns he purchased.

Feb. 24, 1959: Corbett orders four pairs of leg irons.

May 1, 1959: Three pairs of handcuffs are shipped to Corbett.

Jan. 8, 1960: Corbett buys a yellow 1951 Mercury.

Jan. 25, 1960: Corbett is ticketed about 3 miles from Morrison while driving the yellow Mercury.

Feb. 9, 1960: Adolph Coors III leaves his Morrison-area home, headed to the family's brewery. His vehicle is later found idling on a narrow bridge. Detectives find blood and Coors' hat and glasses in the creek below.

Feb. 10, 1960: Corbett moves out of his Capitol Hill apartment and vanishes. The same day, Mary Coors receives a ransom note instructing her to come up with $500,000 and to place an ad for a tractor in The Denver Post's classified section once she has the money.

Feb. 14, 1960: The Coors family places the ad, offering a John Deere tractor for sale.

Feb. 17, 1960: Corbett's yellow 1951 Mercury is discovered ablaze near Atlantic City, N.J.

March 30, 1960: The FBI places Corbett on its 10 Most Wanted List.

Sept. 11, 1960: The bones of Adolph Coors III are discovered in Douglas County. Experts conclude he was shot twice in the back.

Oct. 25, 1960: FBI agents pick up Corbett's trail in Toronto, where he again used the name Walter Osborne.

Oct. 29, 1960: Corbett is arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia.

March 13, 1961: Corbett's murder trial opens in Golden.

March 29, 1961: The jury returns a guilty verdict, meaning a life sentence.

June 15, 1978: Corbett is granted parole.

July 6, 1978: Corbett's parole is revoked after a public outcry.

July 5, 1979: Corbett is granted parole again.

July 10, 1979: Corbett is released and flies to California.

July 11, 1979: Corbett flies back to Colorado to close a bank account.

July 15, 1979: Corbett is arrested in California for violating parole by returning to Colorado.

July 31, 1979: Corbett's parole is revoked.

Dec. 12, 1980: Corbett is paroled yet again. He rents an apartment at 2801 S. Federal Blvd.

Dec. 12, 1985: Corbett is released from supervision.

Aug. 24, 2009: Corbett is found dead in his southwest Denver apartment, a victim of suicide.


1996 interview with Joe Corbett

By The Denver Post

Editor's Note: Below is a transcript of an interview The Denver Post conducted with Joe Corbett in 1996. The article appeared in print on Sunday, Feb. 11, 1996.

Coors killer breaks his silence

Ex-con still claims innocence after 36 years

By Paul Hutchinson and Marilyn Robinson - The Denver Post

Sixteen years out of prison, Joe Corbett still lives behind bars.

He's a prisoner of his mind, a hostage to his dreams, the slave of his own disgrace. When he walks the neighborhood, a few old-timers still nod and whisper: "There goes the guy who killed Adolph Coors."

For the first time since the kidnapping and slaying of Adolph Coors III 36 years ago — on Feb. 9, 1960 — Corbett has spoken publicly about the crime he claims he didn't commit. In two interviews with The Denver Post last week, Corbett talked of his childhood, his years in prison and his recent life in southwest Denver.

He also revealed a lifelong fascination with the Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932.

Aging and slightly stooped, Corbett resembles a chemistry professor as he squints through wire-rimmed bifocals. Few would guess that his campuses were San Quentin and Canon City, not Berkeley or Boulder.

Despite convincing evidence against him, Corbett denies any role in the Coors kidnapping. At the time of his death, Coors was a 44-year-old husband, the father of four children, chairman of the Golden brewery and, as grandson of the company founder, one of Colorado's most prominent citizens.

Soon after Coors vanished near Morrison while driving to work, Corbett would become one of Colorado's most prominent criminals.

Reclusive, bookish, virtually friendless and without family, Joseph Corbett Jr., now 67, wants nothing these days so much as privacy. Because he is still recognized in public, the man with the 148 IQ spends his days in a small apartment, drapes drawn tight with safety pins, reading his books and magazines, pondering what might have been.

He disconnected his phone years ago, he said, because of crank callers.

Corbett's has been a squandered life. This much he admits. If brains were computer chips, his would be a Pentium 150. Before his life fell apart, Corbett was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Oregon.

As a boy, a love of science propelled him toward medical school. Instead, he graduated from San Quentin prison in California for a murder he admits, and from Old Max in Colorado for a murder he denies.

"Sometimes things take such a turn," he said last week, "you just can't believe it."

Few people are willing to believe in Corbett's innocence. Quite possibly, though, Joe Corbett believes in it himself.

For 14 months — from Coors' disappearance on a winter morning, to the discovery of his remains seven months later, to the dramatic capture of Corbett in Canada and his conviction in March 1961 — the case riveted Coloradans as few crimes before or since.

On the subject of Coors, Corbett never talked to police and FBI agents. He never took the witness stand at his trial in Golden District Court. He never allowed interviews with the press. Through the years, he discussed the Coors case with no one, except to proclaim his innocence during parole hearings.

"I see myself as a pretty commonplace man who through sheer, bizarre circumstances got involved in something notorious," Corbett told the parole board in 1979.

Stirring things up

Even now, Corbett won't be formally interviewed. Yet he spent more than an hour last week, in two different sessions, patiently answering reporters' questions. Standing in the doorway of his tidy apartment, he wore a short-sleeved blue denim shirt, gray flannel trousers, black leather belt and shoes. It could have been a prison uniform.

"I don't want to stir things up again, because it just gets me all wrought up," he said.

As he spoke Wednesday, though, Corbett already was wrought up over a piece he'd just read in The New Yorker by the noted writer John McPhee.

The magazine's Jan. 29 edition described in damning detail the evidence used to convict Corbett — especially "dirt evidence" scraped from the undercarriage of his canary-yellow 1951 Mercury. McPhee's article, part of a larger work on forensic geology, included this bewitching sentence:

"While careful at all times to cover his tracks, (Corbett) had been writing his itinerary on the bottom of his car."

Nice literary touch, Corbett agreed.

"It's a work of fiction, though," Corbett said, voice rising. "He's got stuff in there that, if it were true, it would have been brought out at the trial. I can see why so many people think I'm guilty, that it's an open-and-shut case. But it wasn't. The jury was out three days. I sat there in the library reading this (New Yorker), and I was thinking, "Where did he get all this?'"

Upon Corbett's release from prison in 1980, he said, he set out to prove his innocence but quickly gave up hope. Unable to find work as an X-ray technician — he learned the skill in prison — he went to work for the Salvation Army driving a truck. He's now retired and living on Social Security.

"It would be futile to retry the case now," Corbett said. "What's the point? It just goes against all my instincts, all my conditioning, to say anything at all now that would add to my notoriety."

But say it he did.

Corbett described his keen interest in the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in 1932, when the American aviator's infant son disappeared from his bedroom and later was found dead. A suspect, Bruno Hauptmann, was tried and convicted based on circumstantial evidence. The German immigrant went to the electric chair claiming his innocence, and the case remained controversial for years.

Corbett was not yet 4 years old when the Lindbergh case broke. As a precocious youngster and the son of a newspaperman, he was drawn to the "crime of the century."

"There's a whole shelf of books on it," Corbett said. "Lindbergh was a hero of my generation. You can't help but run into it (the kidnapping story) from time to time."

No alibi witnesses

Corbett believes Charles Lindbergh himself may have been the real killer. He recites a plausible if far-fetched scenario supporting such a view, pinning the theory on a recently published book written by a police officer.

Corbett's eagerness to believe in Hauptmann's innocence matches his desire for others to believe in his. Yet he turned down an opportunity to produce an alibi at his trial. That would have amounted to a lie, he said, and Joe Corbett is no liar.

He describes two alibi witnesses: "We had a man and his son who were all ready to testify that I was at a gas station having my car fixed (on the day Coors disappeared). But I told (my lawyer), "That's just not true. Someone may have been at that gas station. But it wasn't me.'"

So the alibi witnesses were never called. This story was confirmed by Corbett's former defense attorney, William Erickson, who later was appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court and will retire this spring.

"Everything Joe Corbett told me was accurate — that I was able to investigate," Erickson said Friday.

Despite impressive — some would say overwhelming — evidence presented at his trial in 1961, Corbett passionately denies kidnapping Coors near his home in Jefferson County. The millionaire's clothes were found seven months later in a dump near Sedalia, leading to the discovery of his bones.

A note demanding $500,000 in ransom was traced to a Royalite typewriter purchased by Corbett at May D&F, according to the FBI. Likewise, the FBI found a clerk who identified Corbett as the buyer of a certain brand of typing paper.

That's the trouble with being Joe Corbett: People remember you — months, even years later.

Coors had been shot twice in the back. The handcuffs and leg irons that Corbett had ordered through the mail in the months before the killing — under his alias Walter Osborne — apparently went unused. The handgun that he likewise ordered through the mail apparently was used but never found.

Dirt scraped from the wheel wells of Corbett's car would place him in the vicinity of Morrison and Sedalia. The FBI collected 450 dirt samples in its effort. Corbett, though, never denied being in the area. His interest in the outdoors had naturally taken him near both sites, he said.

The McPhee article re-creates the kidnapping scene based on recovered evidence and the author's imagination. What upset Corbett most, though, was McPhee's claim that Coors' 16-year-old daughter had seen Corbett several times near the family property in the months before the kidnapping. McPhee interviewed the daughter, Cecily Garnsey, for his story.

She had figured Corbett for a deer poacher, Garnsey said.

"(The article) said repeatedly that this girl was out on horseback and spotted me, and that I had a rifle, and so on," Corbett said. "I would think the kidnapper would have grabbed her, really. She would have been easier to grab than the old man would have been.

"It's just pure make-believe. Nobody testified at the trial that I hung around the Coors property, or talked to their daughter on horseback. Anything as devastating as that, they would have had her out there on the witness stand."

True, Coors' daughter never testified at trial. But Corbett sightings in the foothills southwest of Denver — and near the bridge where Coors was abducted — were numerous in the early weeks of 1960. And Corbett's jury heard about them. A bright yellow Mercury would tend to attract attention.

The car was found eight days after the kidnapping, smoldering near Atlantic City, N.J. Someone had poured gasoline on the seats and set it afire. Through a serial number on the engine, the FBI traced the car to Osborne, aka Corbett. Meanwhile, agents tracked Corbett through Toronto, then 2,500 miles west to Vancouver, where he was captured 8 1/2 months after the kidnapping.

"I'm your man," he told agent Alfred Gunn. "I'm not armed. I give up." A loaded pistol — not the Coors murder weapon — was found in a zippered bag in his hotel room.

The FBI called it one of the biggest manhunts in its history. The agency had circulated 1.5 million posters bearing Corbett's picture. Posters appeared in barbershops, bus stations, optometry offices (Corbett couldn't get along without his glasses) and YMCAs.

Because Corbett was unwilling to discuss his case in detail last week, many questions went unasked. He did, however, explain why he fled his Capitol Hill apartment just one day after Coors was reported missing.

"I was a fugitive from California, and I had been in that area (where Coors was kidnapped)," he said. Intuition told him that police would come knocking, so he fled.

Corbett had pleaded guilty in 1951 to second-degree murder in the slaying of an Air Force sergeant.

"I shot the guy," he said. "There was a fight, and I shot him. It was a terrible thing, but I pleaded guilty."

He was sentenced to five years to life. After a stretch in San Quentin, he was transferred to a lighter-security prison in Chino. He walked away in 1955 and headed for Denver on the advice of a fellow con.

"I didn't like being locked up. That was a young man's natural desire to be free. I thought, 'Heck, I'll go to Denver.'"

Going by his alias, Osborne, he took a job as an alkali cooker for the Benjamin Moore Paint Co. According to employees, their quiet colleague suffered a curious flaw: an occasional big mouth. Co-workers told police that Corbett had bragged about scheming for "a big score" that would net him a half-million dollars or more.

For four years, the fugitive Corbett lived quietly in a third-floor apartment at 1435 Pearl St. By one report, he was tagged "Mystery Boy" by some tenants in his building.

Even now he remains mysterious. Some neighbors in the apartment building where he's lived more than 10 years didn't recognize his picture last week. His apartment manager said she never speaks to him. "I was told (by the owners) to leave him alone," she said.

Across the street, the operator of a small business remembered seeing Corbett take frequent walks. "I would see him out there sometimes and tell my boys, "That's the guy who killed Adolph Coors,'" the longtime Denverite said.

Corbett said he has learned to live with that reaction.

"Some people are very warm and nice," he said. Others are hostile. They swear at him, or glare, or, as once happened, try to run him off the road. "You wonder, "What did I do to this person to cause such hostility?'"

To believe Joe Corbett's story, you would have to believe that he's the victim of some cosmic conspiracy and a massive frameup by the FBI. But Corbett wants neither sympathy nor victimhood.

"Now, everybody wants to be a victim, and preferably of someone they can sue for a million dollars," he said. "There's just so much of this stuff — people whining and sniveling about things that are just part of life.

"I just take it in stride. It's one of those bizarre things that happened."

With his over-the-top IQ, Joe Corbett may be the only person in the world who really believes that. He seems destined to die behind bars he built himself.



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