‘Death Of An Heir’ Recounts The Notorious Kidnapping-Turned-Murder Of Adolph Coors III

Listen Now
Photo: 196 Adolph Coors Murder 1 | Joseph Corbett Arrest - AP
Joseph Corbett, Jr., the FBI's most-wanted man until his capture in Vancouver, B.C., appeared meek and subdued as he is led before Federal Dist. Judge W.J. Lindburg in Seattle, Wash., Oct. 31, 1960. The judge ordered his removal to Colorado where was charged in the kidnap-slaying of prominent brewer Adolph Coors III.

Colorado was a sleepy place in 1960. But when an heir to one of its most fabled companies disappeared — leaving spatters of blood, a pair of glasses and a hat behind — the crime became international news.

A new book, “The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III and the Murder That Rocked An American Brewing Dynasty,” recounts the notorious kidnapping-turned​-murder.

“The Coors brewery. The Coors family. The Coors name. The Coors money. The Coors power,” said author Philip Jett. “If you didn’t know Coors and you lived in Colorado, something was wrong.”

Adolph Coors III left his house west of Denver on a February morning headed to work at the brewery, where he was CEO. A car blocked his way on a bridge, where he encountered Joseph Corbett Jr. A very intelligent man with a previous criminal charge for the death of a hitchhiker, Corbett had bounced from job to job until he found himself in Denver.

“[Corbett] decided that he didn’t want to work at minimum wage, he was looking for some way to get rich,” Jett said. “He considered back robbery, considered a lot of things. And decided he would kidnap someone.”

If you were in Denver at the time, the list is pretty short and Coors was at the top. The attempt went awry though, and ended right there on that bridge, where Corbett shot Coors twice in the back and fled with the body.

Photo: 1960 Adolph Coors Murder 2 | Remains Found - AP
District Attorney Leo Rector of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Sheriff John Hammond, look at a dump area where clothing and bones identified as belonging to Adolph Coors III were found, Sept. 15, 1960.

Adolph Coors Jr., Adolph III’s father, called J. Edgar Hoover personally and asked for his help. Jett points out that “[Hoover] sent more men, FBI agents on this case, than had been involved since the Lindbergh kidnapping. That shows you how big a deal this was.”

The search ended months later with the discovery of Coors’ remains and Corbett’s arrest. After a heavily publicized trial and a nearly hung jury, Corbett was convicted and served 18 years in prison. He committed suicide several years later.

So how did an author who calls Nashville home become engrossed in a crime story with a Centennial State family dynasty?

A beer tour of course. In 2010, during a visit to the brewery in Golden, Colorado, he was looking at historic photos on the way out of the tasting room. After a certain time period, photos of Adolph Coors III just stopped. His curiosity piqued, he researched the case’s history.

Read An Excerpt From "Death Of An Heir":

Photo: Coors Book CoverThe brothers hardly spoke during the twenty-minute drive south on Highway 285 to Morrison in Bill’s company car. When they arrived, Patrolman Hedricks identified himself, and then Ad’s brothers followed along behind the patrol car to Turkey Creek Bridge. Frost followed in his automobile.

As they drove along the bumpy gravel road, the Travelall appeared, parked off the road near the bridge, its front wheels pointing hard to the left. It was 12:40.

Bill and Joe got out. “A milkman backed it over there out of his way,” Hedricks said. The four men walked over to the Travelall. They opened the doors and examined the interior. They didn’t notice anything unusual. The men split up and searched for footprints and clues.

The brothers saw nothing out of the ordinary. But Hedricks approached holding a cap and a hat he’d spotted earlier. “I found these washed up on the creek bank by the bridge. They’re not soaked through. Still mostly dry. Recognize them?”

Bill took the tan cap in his hands. Joe took the brown fedora.”This one’s Ad’s, my brother’s,” said Bill.

“You sure about that?” Hedricks asked.

“Yeah. That’s Ad’s cap, all right,” said Joe. “Calls it his ‘luck hat.’ “

“What about the fedora?” asked Hedricks.

“Never seen it before. You, Joe?” Bill asked.

“No. I don’t think it’s Ad’s,” said Joe. “Says on the inside here, ‘Cruiser’ from the May Company, size 7 3⁄8.”

Bill examined the inside band, and then looked inside Ad’s cap. The worn label displayed size 71⁄8. “Different sizes,” said Bill. Hedricks had already noticed. They looked inside Ad’s Cap. The worn label displayed size. 7 1/8.

“Different sizes,” said Bill.

Hedricks returned to his patrol car to place the hats on the front seat. “I’m going to walk along the creek and see if I can find anything,”

Joe said. “Ray, why don’t you come along with me? You go upstream. I’ll search down.”

Each hiked slowly, struggling a hundred yards along the stream, and saw nothing. Bill and Hedricks combed the roadway on the bridge’s ends. Bill saw what appeared to be tire marks, scratching out gravel, headed east on State Road 70. The four men gathered around the tire tracks.

“Looks like someone left in a hurry,” said Bill.

“Maybe some souped-up job,” said Joe softly.

“Based on the tire size, it’s probably stock,” said Hedricks.

Uneasy silence fell over the men. They could hear the shallow creek rippling over the rocky creek bed and the wind whistling as a crow cawed in the distance, all producing an eerie cacophony.

Bill finally offered, “It looks to me like there’s only one explanation.”

“What’s that?” asked Joe.

“Ad’s been kidnapped.”

“Kidnapped!” barked Ray.

“Looks that way to me, too,” said Hedricks. “Hijacked.”

“There’s another possibility,” said Ray. “Ad could’ve taken somebody to the hospital and went in their car to save time, or maybe Ad was the one hurt.”

“And not call the brewery or pick up his car? It’s been more than four hours,” said Bill. “By the same token, if Ad had been taken to the hospital, they would’ve called by now. They’d have his billfold with his driver’s license, and there’s his car with the registration on the steering column. No, I’m afraid kidnapping’s the only scenario that makes sense.”