The Kidnapping and Murder of Adolph Coors III With Author Philip Jett

Jan 26, 2018 | 20:07 GMT

February 10, 1960 cover of The Rocky Mountain News

Rocky Mountain News/Wikimedia Commons

One of the executive security risks Stratfor continues to track closely is the kidnapping threat to high net worth individuals and their families. In this episode of the podcast, we turn back the clock to the 1960s and take a look at the high-profile kidnapping of brewing empire heir Adolph Coors III.

Stratfor Chief Security Officer Fred Burton sits down with author Philip Jett to discuss his book, The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty.

Related Reading

The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty by Philip Jett

Webcast recording: The Threat of High-Value Target Kidnappings to Executives and Their Families

A Warrior’s Mind, A Guardian’s Heart: Character Traits and Mental Disciplines for Executive Protection Operators

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Faisel Pervaiz [00:00:00] Hello, I'm Faisel Pervaiz, a South Asia Analyst at Stratfor, and this podcast is brought to you by Stratfor Worldview, the world's leading geopolitical intelligence platform. Individual, team, and enterprise memberships are available at worldview.stratfor.com/subscribe.

Philip Jett [00:00:30] He was not your typical kidnapper he was a very smart man, as I discuss in my author's notes at the end of the book. He'd do a good job planning, but things didn't go so well for him, and he didn't seem so smart by the time you get to the end of the book.

Ben Sheen [00:00:49] Welcome to the Stratfor podcast, focused on geopolitics and world affairs from Stratfor.com. I'm your host, Ben Sheen. One of the security issues we've explored in great detail here at Stratfor over the years, and continue to watch closely with our Threat Lens team, is the kidnapping threat to high net-worth individuals. In this episode of the podcast, we turn back the clock to the 1930s, and take a look at one of the early and very high profile kidnapping cases in U.S. history, with author Philip Jett. Stratfor Chief Security Officer Fred Burton sits down with Jett to discuss his book, The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III, and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty. Thanks for joining us.

Fred Burton [00:01:39] Hi, I'm Fred Burton here with Philip Jett who has written a great book called The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III, and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty. It was published by St. Martin's Press. Philip, thanks for joining me today.

Philip Jett [00:01:56] Hi Fred, thank you very much for having me.

Fred Burton [00:01:59] Philip, I read this book and having been a former special agent and worked kidnapping cases, I was overwhelmed with how good this book was, especially with the tick-tock of a kidnapping, and one that took place in 1960. I know from my own research in doing books from predominantly the 70's how difficult it is. First, what made you want to write about the kidnapping of Adolph Coors?

Philip Jett [00:02:31] Well it's funny, how things happen. I was out in Colorado. I go out there a couple of times a year. I snow ski and I fly fish. And I took the tour of the Coors Brewing Company, I don't know if you've ever done that—

Fred Burton [00:02:45] I have, yeah.

Philip Jett [00:02:47] And I love it because they give you free beer at the end. On the way out there's a hallway and they have a lot of photos from the beginnings all the way to the present of the Coors Brewing Company with all of the Coors family members. And so I'm walking along looking and I get to the 50s/60s, and the three sons, Ad Coors III, his brothers Bill and Joe Coors, and I noticed that Ad Coors disappeared from the wall. And that intrigued me, I don't know why, it just did. And so I was staying at the Golden Hotel and I went over there and I googled Ad Coors III and I found the story. And I'm like, "That's a really good story. I haven't heard that, I've never heard that story." And the next thing I did almost immediately was, I plugged it into Amazon to see if anyone had ever written a book. And no one had, and I'm like okay, well this is it. That's how it happened, it was just kind of a strange situation but I recognized the story immediately as what I thought would be a solid story.

Fred Burton [00:03:57] Well you really have done a great job. I was fascinated with the amount of detail that not only do you have footnoted but the academic research, the investigative work, the gumshoe work to put the case together. And just having worked cases like this in the past, there were certain things that leaped out at me such as the date of point that you had in there, that 30 years before the kidnapping of Ad Coors, Mr. Coor's name had surfaced on a list to possibly be kidnapped. And my question Philip, in looking at this, why was the fixation on kidnapping Ad Coors? Was it because of the wealth that these individuals had in that time period? But the bad guys are looking at people to try to kidnap in these days of gangsters and Tommy guns and so forth going back that far, but any supposition on your part with why they were fixated on brewers?

Philip Jett [00:05:06] At that time, as I recall that was 1933, not long after the Lindbergh baby kidnapping... And in Colorado it's funny, just taking it on a state-by-state basis, the kidnappers in Colorado, there were only a few people of great wealth. In fact Adolph Coors Jr., was one of them but he had a best friend who was even wealthier than him and he was kidnapped. And Adolph Coors Jr. was due to be kidnapped but escaped that plot. It was more simplistic and in fact, the kidnapper that kidnapped Adolph Coors Jr.'s friend became the first Public Enemy Number One which I always thought that was interesting. He was the first number one public enemy. But I think it's more simplistic. It was just they had the money, and they were well known in the area. And kidnappings back then, unlike today in the U.S., were pretty prevalent. And it was before all this technology we have. You just grab somebody, hop in a car and take off. That's what it was. And that's what happened with Adolph Coors III. The person who kidnapped him had escaped prison from California. He goes to Denver and he's looking for easy money. And he finally comes up with the idea to kidnap someone on the short list. Coors is on the short list, and he chose Coors for whatever reason in his mind, but it was primarily because he was wealthy family.

Fred Burton [00:06:42] That's very interesting and I know from just dissecting these kinds of cases and looking at it from an attack cycle, or from a criminal attack cycle perspective, that there's a phase called pre-operational surveillance which you go into in great detail in "The Death of an Heir," which to me as a practitioner and a former agent, I find most interesting because you discuss in the book how the kidnapper went about doing the surveillance which, there's a tremendous amount of takeaways from the case from 1960 that I even think resonate today, as to how kidnappers and bad guys pick their targets. And when you look at this kidnapper, that did the abduction of Ad Coors at the time, who was the CEO of Coors, correct?

Philip Jett [00:07:39] Yes, CEO, Chairman of the Board.

Fred Burton [00:07:42] He was a little bit different. This was a guy that had been in college and a Fulbright scholar, correct?

Philip Jett [00:07:50] That's correct. That was one of the things that troubled the FBI and Mrs. Coors, Ad Coors the III's wife. You tend to stereotype these folks and you expect them to have a long criminal rap sheet and maybe some tattoos and a scar here or there. But he was very professional looking, well spoken, well educated, had an IQ that tested out at 148. Was a Fulbright scholar, and things went awry for him. He was not your typical kidnapper. He was a very smart man, as I discuss in my author's notes at the end of the book. He did a good job planning but things didn't go so well for him and he didn't seem so smart by the time you get to the end of the book.

Fred Burton [00:08:46] Right. He certainly had the wherewithal to pull this off and what I also find interesting is here you have the emergence of the FBI under Hoover that recognized immediately that this was a case they needed to jump in on and you painted a very good picture of the local and state turf issues that surfaced surrounding the kidnapping. One of the other things things that I datamined out of it which struck me as very interesting, I actually chuckled, was the FBI labeled this case Coornap, obviously for Coors and then the kidnapping. One of the cases that I worked in the 80's was called Lebnap. I picked that out, so that kind of detail to me was just absolutely fascinating.

Ben Sheen [00:09:48] We'll get back to our conversation with Fred Burton and author Philip Jett in just one moment. But if you're interested in learning more about evolving kidnapping risks, we'll include some related links to Stratfor analysis in our show notes. If you're not already a Stratfor working member, you could learn about individual team and enterprise memberships at worldview.stratfor.com/subscribe. We'll also share a link to the recording of a Stratfor Threat Lens webcast with Fred Burton, and VP of Tactical Analysis Scott Stewart, discussing the threat of high-value target kidnappings to executives and their families. And if you're interested in reading Philip Jett's book The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty, you'll find that link in our show notes as well. Now, back to our conversation with Stratfor's Fred Burton and Philip Jett.

Fred Burton [00:10:38] In the course of doing this Philip, what's the one thing that you uncovered that totally surprised you?

Philip Jett [00:10:47] Oh my, you know I have never been asked that question. I guess the thing that surprised me the most was, when I finished everything I was surprised that the kidnapper did such a poor job of covering his trail. It took a long time for the FBI to find him. But it seemed like once things went wrong he fell apart. And I thought, as I was researching him on the front end I felt like this is a smart guy, cool customer. Everyone said he was cold-eyed and unemotional, but the thing that surprised me the most was how he did things that one of my teenage sons probably would know better. Although some times I wonder, but— That was the most surprising thing to me and I mention that at the end of the book, is he did such a really poor job. He didn't change his alias, he didn't change his appearance, when he would sign forms to get a job or to get in a boarding house he would use his alias and he would use his last place of residence. That's not what you typically do when you're trying to cover your trail.

Fred Burton [00:12:07] Without a doubt. The other thing to me that stepping back, being a product of having been born in the 50's was looking at Ad Coors, on the morning of his abduction was driving that 1959 white over turquoise International Harvester travel all.

Philip Jett [00:12:30] I loved that vehicle—

Fred Burton [00:12:32] Oh, I loved that vehicle too, I'd love to try to get my hands on one today. Were you able to figure out what happened to that victim's car?

Philip Jett [00:12:40] I never tracked that to see where it ended up. I must digress, I met my son recently over in East Tennessee, in Knoxville and we went over to Gatlinburg, and we went into some kind of a museum they have there about crime, and they had O.J.'s Bronco there. And I'm thinking of all the places in the world for O.J.'s Bronco to end up, it ended up in a museum outside of Knoxville. I have no idea where this vehicle ended up but that's a good question. Now you may have sparked something in me and I'll have to go try to locate it.

Fred Burton [00:13:21] I'm just curious, I had a similar kind of case in book from the 70's and I looked forever for the car, and I was not able to find it. It ended up on an auction block somewhere, and Lord knows where from there. But, that was such a unique kind of vehicle, I was just curious if it went back to the Coors family or if it ended up in a museum.

Philip Jett [00:13:47] No, when I did my research I pulled up the vehicle. Of course I had photos of the actual vehicle but I also pulled up photos from auctions like Mecum's Auctions and things like that to see other vehicles that were very similar and I wanted to see the interior, I wanted to see the seat cushions, I wanted to see the dashboard, everything. I could just get the feel of that vehicle. I drove a Land Rover for a long time and I just love those kind of vehicles.

Fred Burton [00:14:16] And the selection point for the kidnapping struck me as there's a brilliance and simplicity with how the actual kidnapping took place. Not only the pre-operational surveillance of Mr. Coors, but how the kidnapper chose that bridge for this to take place on, and the ... operation was brilliant in many ways 'till things kind of went south. I won't spoil it for those of you that haven't read the book yet, but to me that was a good choice of where to carry out this kidnapping.

Philip Jett [00:14:50] It was, and it happened by accident. He'd spent two and a half years doing his surveillance and planning, and he initially had planned to kidnap Ad Coors in Denver, because the Coors family had lived in a nice sub-division there in Denver. And during his surveillance, I'm assuming he saw a moving van one day, and they had moved out to a little area called Morrison, south of Denver, and built a house on a ranch. He had to scrap all of his surveillance and start over. He's out in this remote area watching Coor's movements, and it so happened that a stretch of highway that Adolph Coors drove every day got closed for construction. The detour took them along this little desolate one-lane gravel road that crossed a one-lane bridge. The kidnapper recognized this is his opportunity.

Fred Burton [00:16:00] The family of the kidnapper... I'm struck as I read your story, that clearly the father of the kidnapper is really struggling with what went wrong here. A loving dad that finds it hard to believe for a while that his son has done this. But, any sense on your part as to what caused the kidnapper to initially get so violent and engage in that first murder?

Philip Jett [00:16:28] I couldn't find anything definitive. In fact, the kidnapper had murdered someone in California, I think he was 21-22 years old at the time. His first murder. And they got psychiatrists to review him they interviewed people in college, his professors, and they just said something seemed to have snapped in him. But during my research I found that even when he was a youngster he was shoplifting and doing things that were pretty dangerous, and as one of his friends said, he even said he wondered how it would feel to kill someone. I'm not so sure it was snapping, or he just came of age. The one thing that happened during that time period was that his mother died, and fell from a second story balcony there at home. The kidnapper was the only one home with her, and there's a part of me that suspects that he pushed her but I don't know that for sure. Just based on some statements that I saw, he either felt very guilty about it because he was supposed to repair the balcony, or he may have done more, it's difficult to tell. But to answer your question, what truly happened in his mind, only he knew.

Fred Burton [00:17:53] The fact that he did not get the death penalty and he is eventually let out of prison and he's living this obscure life for a while until the end to me is also fascinating.

Philip Jett [00:18:06] Oh yeah, today we tend to think you kill someone, especially someone important, you're going to be in prison for life more than likely, or may be paroled when you're very old, and I was shocked at the term of sentence he served. In Colorado at that time, in order to get the death penalty, you had to have an eye witness or a confession. There wasn't an eye witness and he was not going to confess, he wasn't that stupid. He was given life, it's funny they said life sentence and hard labor. Well, he wasn't doing any hard labor and he ended up being paroled only after about 16 years. The Coors family and the Governor came out and put pressure on the parole board so they rescinded it. But he was again paroled the following year. And so he served only about 18 years. When he walked out the door for the last time he was 50 years old. And just stayed there in Denver and lived. I have heard from many sources... I don't think I put this in the book that the Coors family kept an eye on him. They never did trust him for the rest of his life.

Fred Burton [00:19:24] Yeah, and not surprising that they would be concerned about an individual like this that had been engaged in such violent actions. And the one take-away, and I know this myself Philip, from just talking to victims over the years from various terrorist attacks and events and so forth, that clearly this event devastated the Coors family.

Philip Jett [00:19:49] It did, and it still lingers to this day. My father died when I was very young in a tragic situation. For me, people will say something to me, they'll say, "Oh, I'm sorry" and I'm like, "Well, for me it's almost as old as the pyramids, it's just happened so long ago." But for the Coors family, it's funny having talked to friends of the family and having communicated with one of the Coors. It's still very difficult for them after all these years. And it was certainly difficult at the time, and Mrs. Coors, Ad Coors the III's wife, she never recovered as you'll see in the book. She became an alcoholic and she ended up dying younger than she should have. She loved her husband, and they had a good family. When he was kidnapped they had four children at home, ages 10 to 18, and so they had a very good life going, out there in Colorado and it was snatched away one day by this guy that nobody had ever heard of before.

Fred Burton [00:20:58] Wow, I know, I can only imagine the devastation inside the family. And just from a corporate security perspective looking at this kind of case from the long term. If there's any take-away from these kinds of horrific events Philip, folks like you and me and others in the business of keeping people alive and trying to protect high-net worth families or those that are in the spotlight everyday, you've done a great service in putting this book together in my assessment, because there's so many different things buried in the story that can be used from a proactive perspective to try to keep people alive. I applaud you for your efforts there and I know that's probably not your motivation for why you did the book, but as I read it I took away several things that I took notes about and shared with our analysts here at Stratfor.

Philip Jett [00:21:54] Well that's great and you're correct, that was not my intention in writing the book. Although as I wrote the book, there would be facts that would come out and I would be like, "You know that's interesting, I've never really thought about that before as a danger," or as a sign that something might be amiss. TShat was certainly a benefit from the book. But my main intent of course was to tell the story. But also, I tried very hard to tell it in a way that would bring light to what the family dealt with. And particularly Mrs. Coors, the wife of the victim. I wanted people to understand how difficult it was for someone like her. You asked earlier what was the surprising thing... You're very familiar with this, I was not; I hadn't really given it any thought, but it was just the idea of all of the extortionists that come out of the woodwork, and piggyback onto a kidnapping situation. I've since learned that that's very common. But in her case, she would have to answer the phone every time someone called. Every fake kidnapper wanting to extort money, she would have to talk to them. And I thought, how torturous that would be, when you're waiting to hear from the real kidnapper about your husband's condition and when you can get him home, that you have to deal with these other people. To me that was just very sad and a cruel thing.

Fred Burton [00:23:23] Yeah, I can't imagine the torture that she had to put up with in dealing with that. And then, to me the historic development of the FBI handling this kind of notorious kidnapping is clearly one for the ages, and I think what you've done too is shine a good spotlight on. Of course everybody's heard about the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping, but this case was certainly, from that kind of national stature, right up there. And then, the fledgling FBI, and Hoover recognizing that this is something that he needed to jump on and get the G-Men involved, to me was interesting just from that Federal Law Enforcement combating kidnapping in this era.

Philip Jett [00:24:10] Right, that was another thing I found interesting, was that since the Lindbergh baby kidnapping this was the biggest kidnapping case the FBI had been involved in. More manpower, more resources than had ever taken place. And what blew my mind was that to have been such a big case. In fact, J. Edgar Hoover said that the kidnapper was the most wanted man since John Dillinger. That this story just disappeared, to have been such a huge manhunt. Because what I found is, when you look in history from kidnappings in the U.S., you've got Lindbergh kidnapping, everybody knows Patty Hearst, now we've got the movie about J. Paul Getty's grandson, and Frank Sinatra Jr.'s in there somewhere. Some people know those, but they've never heard of this one. And this one really was book-ended by Lindbergh and Patty Hearst. The fact that it was just lost to history... One thing I'm proud of is that I was able to unearth it and bring it to light.

Fred Burton [00:25:18] Well Philip, you should be. I think that you did a great job with the story and I appreciate the fact that you've taken the time to chat with me today about it. And again, for our listeners that are interested in the story, it's called The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III, and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty. And it's published by St. Martin's Press. I would encourage you all to read it and I'm sure like all authors Philip would love to have some feedback on the story. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today.

Philip Jett [00:25:55] Well thank you Fred, it's been a real pleasure. I appreciate your time, and particularly the kind words coming from someone with your past experience. It's been a pleasure talking to you today.

Fred Burton [00:26:10] Thank you so much.

Ben Sheen [00:26:16] And that wraps up another episode of the Stratfor podcast. If you'd like to read Jett's book on the kidnapping and murder of Adolph Coors III, we'll include a link in the show notes. And you could learn more about Jetts at philipjett.com. We'll also share links to some related analysis on Stratfor Worldview, as well as a recorded webcast briefing with Stratfor Threat Lens and Scott Stewart and Fred Burton, discussing the threat of high-value target kidnappings to executives and their families today. If you're a Worldview member, you can continue this conversation in our member's only forum. And a full transcript of this conversation is available on our podcast page. If you're not already a member, be sure to visit us at worldview.stratfor.com/subscribe to learn more about individual team and enterprise level access. And if you have a moment, consider leaving us a review of the podcast on iTunes, or wherever you subscribe. Or if you'd like to reach us directly with a question or an idea about a future episode

Fred Burton [00:27:10] of the podcast, you can email us at podcast@stratfor.com, or give us a call at 1-512-744-4300, extension 3917 to leave a message. We always appreciate your feedback. Thanks once again for joining us. And for more geopolitical intelligence, analysis and forecasting to reveal the underlying significance and future implications of emerging world events, follow us on Twitter @Stratfor.