The Kidnapping of the Heir to the Coors Beer Empire Shocked the Nation in 1960

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High-profile kidnappings often capture the American public’s attention, as was the case with the 1960 disappearance of the heir to one of America’s most well-known business families. On February 9, 1960, 44-year-old Adolph Coors III, the grandson of the founder of Coors and the current chairman of the company, vanished.

That morning, a milk delivery man pulled behind a car that was blocking a bridge in Colorado, home to the famous brewery. The car was running and the radio was playing, but it was empty. The delivery man noticed what appeared to be a bloodstain on the railing of the bridge, and a hat floating in the water below. Police investigated and realized the abandoned car belonged to Adolph Coors III, who never made it to work that day.

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Police focused their attention on a man who was seen driving a yellow Mercury in the area where Coors disappeared. The man lived in Denver and went by the name Walter Osbourne. His real name, however, was Joseph Corbett, Jr., and he was a convicted murderer who had escaped from a California minimum-security prison in 1955. Corbett had shot and killed a hitchhiker near San Francisco in 1950 and received a sentence of 5-years-to-life. When police further delved into Corbett’s background, they discovered he had previously ordered guns, leg irons, and a typewriter through the mail. Corbett’s yellow Mercury was found on fire, deserted in New Jersey.

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Police searched high and low for Corbett, while also trying to discover what had happened to Coors. That September, seven months after his disappearance, Coors’ bones and clothing were finally found in a remote forest. Coors had been shot and killed. It appeared that the attempted kidnapping of Coors had taken a wrong turn, and the man ended up dead. Corbett was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted list, but there was still no trace of him.

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In October 1960, police received a break from north of the border. A tipster in Toronto told police that Corbett had been renting an apartment in the city. The next clue came from further west in Canada, in Winnipeg, where Corbett had rented a room, but had moved on. Finally, authorities traced the killer to Vancouver, British Columbia. A woman told investigators that a man she believed was Corbett was staying at her hotel under the name of Thomas C. Wainwright.

Police knocked on the door on October 29, 1960. Joseph Corbett cracked the door and immediately told the authorities, “OK, I give up.” Corbett was extradited back to Colorado to face justice. It took a jury two days to find him guilty of first-degree murder.

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Corbett served nearly 20 years in a Colorado prison for the murder of Coors before he was paroled in December 1980. Corbett found a place to live in Denver and worked as a truck driver for the Salvation Army. Corbett lived quietly after his release, and neighbors remembered him as extremely private. In a 1996 interview with the Denver Post, Corbett claimed he had no involvement with the Coors kidnapping and murder.

In his later years, Corbett received a cancer diagnosis. On August 24, 2009, Corbett was found dead in his apartment with a gunshot wound to the head. The 80-year-old man, once the most hunted person in America, had committed suicide.

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