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The Murder Of Beer Mogul Adolph Coors III Launched The FBI's Biggest Manhunt In Decades

Coors is a regional sector of the world's third-largest brewer, Molson Coors, and operates the largest single brewery facility in the world from its headquarters in Golden, Colorado. After the CEO of Coors – who was also heir to the Coors industry – tragically perished, however, the Coors family nearly los its beer-brewing fortune.

The Coors beer family started brewing in the late 19th century and pushed through Prohibition relatively unscathed. What almost decimated the company, however, was the abduction and slaughter of Adolph Coors III in 1960. The crime received substantial international attention, but even after after the CEO's death was confirmed, the suspect remained at large. Eventually, the culprit, Joe Corbett, was tracked down in Canada after having spent months on the FBI's Most Wanted list. 

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  • On February 9, 1960, The CEO Of Coors Was Abducted On His Way To Work

    Adolph "Ad" Coors woke up at 5:30 AM  on February 9, 1960, and drove to work at the family business as per his usual routine. On the way, he stopped to help what looked like a motorist in distress. The motorist was actually Joseph Corbett, who planned to ransom the Coors heir. 

    Corbett had been planning the abduction for years. For days leading up to the crime, Corbett's car, a yellow Mercury, was seen in the area as he cased the route Coors drove every morning. On the morning of February 9, he was waiting for Coors at a bridge near Morrison, Colorado. After Coors stopped,  Corbett's plan quickly went awry – rather than being abducted, Coors was slain.

  • His Wife Received A Ransom Note The Next Day

    An estimated three hours after Coors encountered Corbett, his car was discovered by a milkman passing by the area. The car was still running, and the milkman noticed 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 Ad Coors.

    The day after Coors's disappearance, his wife, Mary, received a ransom note asking for $500,000 and, as a sign that the money was ready, an ad to be placed in The Denver Post offering a John Deere tractor for sale. The note was typewritten, and read in part: "Call the police or FBI: he dies. Cooperate: he lives."

    With the assistance of the FBI, Mary followed the instructions, but no further communication occurred, and Coors remained missing. During the following weeks, Mary Coors received over 50 hoax notes, but there was never any word from her husband, nor from Corbett.

  • The FBI Conducted The Largest Manhunt Since The Lindbergh Baby

     The search for Adolph Coors III in 1960 was the largest the FBI had undertaken since the disappearance of the Lindbergh Baby in 1932. Though Mary Coors followed the ransom instructions to the letter, her husband's disappearance was automatically a high-profile case. 

    24 hours after his car was discovered on the bridge, the federal kidnaping statute was invoked and the FBI joined forces with local Colorado authorities to launch a full investigation. They started with the ransom note, which reportedly had a watermark and unique typeface. 

    Eventually authorities identified the owner of the yellow Mercury as William Osborne, but when they tried to trace him, nobody had reported seeing him in several days. Osborne was also known to have acquired a firearm, handcuffs, and a typewriter before he disappeared.

    Through tracing Osborne's insurance policy – which named Joseph Corbett as the beneficiary –they finally named a chief suspect. He was placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

  • Joseph Corbett Was Already A Fugitive

    Joseph Corbett was a native of Seattle, WA, and a Fulbright scholar who attended the University of Oregon. He was bound for medical school when he engaged in a fight with an Air Force sergeant in 1951 (or, by one account, a hitchhiker) and fatally shot him.

    Corbett plead guilty to second-degree murder and was incarcerated at San Quentin for several years. During a prison transfer to a minimum-security facility, Corbett escaped. He made his way to Colorado, using the alias William Osborne. 

  • Coors's Body Was Discovered Seven Months After He Disappeared

    Corbett's burned-out yellow Mercury was found in Atlantic City, NJ, eight 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. His 14-year-old son, Adolph IV, recalled crying himself to sleep every night, clueless as to his father's whereabouts or when he'd return.

    In September, 1960, almost seven months after Coors's disappearance, a hunter (or possibly hikers) found a pair of pants with Coors's 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. Following a report on Coors's remains, investigators discovered that he received two fatal gunshot wounds to the back, indicating that he had tried to flee.

  • Adolph Coors III Ran Coors With His Brothers
    Photo: Laura / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Adolph Coors III Ran Coors With His Brothers

    Ad Coors became president and CEO of the family empire after his father stepped down. He ran the business with his two brothers, William and Joseph. Coors was based in Golden, Colorado, where Ad lived a quiet life with his wife and four children. The high-profile case almost devastated the business. 

    Aside from a stint in the 1970s when a member of the Coors family, Pete Coors, ran for Governor of Colorado, the family mostly kept a low profile, despite their well-known status as the beer barons of the American West.