Breckenridge investigator looking for new clues in unsolved 1982 double homicide
IF YOU GO
What: Investigators Charlie McCormick and Gary Lindstrom, with the 11th Judicial District Homicide Task Force, will present records detailing the 1982 murders of Bobbie Jo Oberholtzer and Annette Kay Schnee. The public presentation will last about an hour and 15 minutes and will be followed by a Q&A.
When: Jan. 13 (Fairplay) and Jan. 14 (Frisco) from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Where: In Fairplay, at South Park High School (640 Hathaway St.), in the Foss-Smith multipurpose room. In Frisco, at the Summit County Community and Senior Center (83 Nancy’s Place), in the Fremont room.
For more information about the homicides, visit rockymountaincoldcase.com.
For 26 years, one Breckenridge man has studied the 1982 murders of two local women, trying to find who killed them.
Charlie McCormick, a private investigator in Breckenridge since the late 1970s, revisited case records in about 40 5-inch binders stored along a wall of his home office.
“If paperwork could solve this case, this would’ve been solved a long time ago,” said McCormick, 75. “It’s got everything that a murder case wants except being solved.”
About a month ago he moved those binders to the District Attorney’s Office in Park County. He worried the original records could be lost to fire in his 150-plus-year-old wood home.
Using digital files, McCormick and a couple of other investigators made a slideshow a few years ago that they presented to law enforcement agencies and coroners.
Now, for the first time, McCormick will present the files and the story of the murders to the public in Summit and Park counties, the two communities where the crimes took place.
“We’ve often thought for years now there has to be a local connection to the murders,” he said.
He and the other four members of the task force investigating the murders believe it’s highly unlikely they were committed by a person, or multiple people, just passing through.
Thanks to support from the Douglas County Coroner, about 200 people came to see the hour-long, 120-slide presentation there recently.
That meeting led to a handful of potentially helpful tips, and McCormick hopes to keep stirring up memories when he and fellow investigator Gary Lindstrom share new details from the homicides on Jan. 13 in Fairplay and Jan. 14 in Frisco.
“It’s always interesting to see what fresh eyes have to see,” he said. “There’s somebody out there that knows.”
A BONE-CHILLING NIGHT
On Jan. 6, 1982, 29-year-old Bobbie Jo Oberholtzer was last seen trying to hitchhike to her home in Alma around 8 p.m. Historical data for Breckenridge shows the low approached 15 degrees, but McCormick remembered it as well below zero.
The next day, after her husband reported her missing, a search party found her body just south of the parking lot at the summit of Hoosier Pass.
She had been shot, and an autopsy determined she bled and froze to death.
McCormick, who was then a detective with the Denver Police Department, saw the news stories.
“I remember thinking, ‘Thank god I’m not doing this anymore,’” he said.
Though the Denver native loved homicide investigations, he’d had enough after six years of morning coffee at the morgue.
In the days following Oberholtzer’s murder, her belongings were found scattered along Highway 285 between Fairplay and Como.
Then, 21-year-old Annette Kay Schnee was reported missing. She was last seen at a Breckenridge pharmacy the same night Oberholtzer disappeared.
A 9-year-old boy found Schnee’s body six months later while fishing in a creek near Fairplay.
Schnee was wearing the match of an orange bootie found near Oberholtzer’s body. Schnee’s body was preserved enough by the cold for medical examiners to find a gunshot wound and determine that she also bled and froze to death.
At the time, detectives with four agencies — the sheriff’s offices of Summit and Park counties, the Breckenridge Police Department and the Colorado Bureau of Investigations — worked the case, McCormick said. “Nobody really took charge.”
Though he didn’t want to fault them, he said the agencies made mistakes with documentation and following up on leads.
Six years later, Richard Eaton, a Summit sheriff’s detective who’d been assigned to look into the murders in his free time, reached out to McCormick. The case files in 1988 were contained in two 3-inch binders, one for each victim.
“I took them home, and I just could not put them down,” he said. “I don’t even think I slept that weekend.”
SUSPECTS AND PSYCHICS
Much of the investigative work over the years has been searching for leads and tracking down suspects.
In 1999, McCormick, Eaton and another detective named Leonard Post formed a task force to investigate the murder. The team has since been joined by Lindstrom and Wendy Kipple, and now they meet about once a year, as needed.
Major developments came after the case was aired on national TV, first in 1993 on the show “Unsolved Mysteries” and then in 2007 on the Discovery Channel show “Sensing Murders.”
“A lot of it is pretty outlandish,” McCormick said, describing a false lead from an anonymous angry woman suggesting the team look into her husband and another call from a man excited he recorded the license plate of a van used to portray the murders for TV.
However, the investigative team received plenty of genuine tips after the first TV airing, enough to keep them busy for three years, and the second show yielded some surprises.
For “Sensing Murder,” producers brought in two psychics with long histories of success helping law enforcement with homicides. The women were kept separate, told almost nothing about the case, brought to the crime scenes and shown the evidence.
McCormick said though he maintains a healthy skepticism about psychic abilities, “these two women were absolutely astounding.”
For example, he said, both women described a vehicle similar to the Ford Ranchero, a combination pickup and luxury car popular at the time.
“That caused a huge amount of work,” he said, as one of the major Summit County drug dealers drove a similar car in the early ’80s.
The most optimistic development in the case came with improvements to DNA testing in the early 2000s that changed the team’s ideas about Oberholtzer’s glove and a tissue, both stained with blood.
“Back then, all they could do was type the blood, and it came out as the same type as Bobbie Jo’s,” he said.
Detectives believed the blood was Oberholtzer’s.
More detailed DNA testing two decades later, however, revealed the blood was neither Oberholtzer’s nor Schnee’s but instead came from a male. In fighting back, Oberholtzer likely drew blood from her attacker.
The DNA sample was entered into a national database in 2002, and around that time, the feds sent an unfunded mandate to the states to collect DNA samples from all convicted felons.
The testing, which now costs about $30 and takes 30 minutes, used to cost $3,000 and take about three months. States decided to wait until felons were released from prison to collect their DNA.
“That kicked evidence down the line, and it created a lot of holes in the system,” McCormick said.
While Colorado is caught up, some states are not. Mississippi is one of the farthest behind, he said.
That may be why the blood sample has returned no matches in the last 12 years.
Plus, some men serving time for crimes from the 1980s and 1990s, or “the pool that we’re interested in swimming in,” McCormick said, are serving life sentences or have died in prison.
The primary suspect at first was Jeff Oberholtzer, Bobbie Jo’s husband, because he found most of the evidence.
“That kind of stalemated the investigation,” McCormick said, because so much attention was focused on Jeff, who was later eliminated from the suspect list.
The team has since examined a half-dozen good suspects, including a former Frisco resident now serving two life sentences for other murders.
Each of those suspects has a horrifying past. Each does not match the DNA evidence.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t involved in the murders, though, McCormick said.
‘NOT DEAD YET’
The 33rd anniversary of Oberholtzer’s and Schnee’s deaths will be this January. About half the people initially interviewed in case records have died, and the rest have faded memories.
Though that would make the case more complicated in court, the case is both solvable and prosecutable, McCormick said. “The blood DNA evidence would be pretty difficult to refute if we could identify who it came from.”
He has accepted that whomever killed the two women might never be found.
After all, he can’t walk through a single neighborhood in the city of Denver without recalling a murder that either he or another detective didn’t solve.
Still, he won’t let the case go.
“There’s no reason to walk away from it. It’s not dead yet,” he said. “In my mind, something has always come up that needs to be done.”
Things that a professional investigator can’t just disregard.
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