Anatomy of a Murder

In February of 1960, Adolph Coors III was murdered by Joseph Corbett Jr., sending a shock throughout Denver. Robert Sanchez looks back at one of the most sensational crimes in Colorado history.

February 2009

The boys eventually were rewarded for their obedience. By the mid-1950s, Bill was in charge of the brewery, and Joe was head of the porcelain business. Adolph III, known as Ad, was made president of the entire company.

By Christmas 1959, as Ad Coors was nearing his 44th birthday, Coors brewing had claimed a majority of beer markets across the West. Ad and his wife of nearly two decades, Mary Grant Coors, had four children, three of whom were now teenagers. The family had moved to a foothills ranch, about 15 miles outside Denver, fastened atop a rocky cliff along a road that ran a crooked path north to Golden. Decorated in Mary's old-money style of antique, high-backed chairs and Oriental rugs, the house's interior hardly resembled the rugged, Old West atmosphere Ad cultivated outside. Nestled among the 480 acres of Jefferson County prairie were Coors' Black Angus cattle, a brood that in February 1960 included a newly purchased prize bull from Kansas that had become Ad's favorite.

Coors was almost six-foot-two and slender; he skied, played softball, rode horses, and drove cattle at his ranch. As he neared middle age, Ad Coors had taken the long view. In his new foothills home, he felt free, a world away from the demands of the brewery. He certainly had no idea that Joseph Corbett Jr. had witnessed this transformation firsthand, from the front seat of his car, a rifle at his side.

Corbett called the plot to solve his financial woes the "big score," and he planned his crime the way an honor student might prepare for a final exam. He targeted Adolph Coors III for a kidnapping almost immediately after arriving in Denver in 1955. Corbett intended to ask for at least $250,000 in ransom but no more than $500,000—the maximum he figured he could take without raising suspicions when he moved to a new community.

Much of Corbett's time in January 1960 was spent outside the Coors' Jefferson County home, where he sat in his car along the dirt road that connected the Coors' ranch with Golden. Less than two miles northeast of the home was a log-reinforced bridge that crossed Turkey Creek. It was old, with rickety railings and worn wooden planks. The bridge was wide enough for one vehicle to pass at a time, and it gave Corbett an excellent vantage point from which to initiate his attack.

On February 8, 1960, Corbett headed to the foothills in his Mercury on what would be his final trip before the abduction. He parked his vehicle near the bridge. At around 8 a.m., a local miner saw the yellow car partially blocking the bridge. The miner noted the first four characters of the Mercury's license plate: Colorado AT-62.

In the morning light of Tuesday, February 9, Ad Coors put on a pair of flesh-colored, rimmed glasses, then slipped on gray flannel pants with his name embroidered on the inside of the waistband. He buttoned a green-checkered shirt, wrapped a tie around his neck, and fixed a clip, monogrammed "AC III," on it. He placed a monogrammed penknife in his pocket, along with 43 cents. He said good-bye to Mary, then added a navy parka and a khaki cap, and opened the door.

His breath blew white in the morning air. Coors stepped into his company-owned green and white Travelall station wagon, switched on the radio, and made his way down the muddy, switchback driveway about 30 yards to the road below, en route to a morning meeting with his brothers. It was 7:55 a.m.

He turned north and headed into the morning chill toward the one-lane bridge over Turkey Creek. It was there that he saw a yellow vehicle blocking his path.

He was brilliant. Even the psychiatrists saw it. His unusual grasp of science; his vocabulary; his interest in 19th century philosophy and foreign languages. It was clear that Joseph Corbett Jr. had a special mind.