Speaker for the dead

Kidnapping, murder and Coors in ‘Death of an Heir’

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Author Philip Jett
Michael J. Casey

Yes, Colorado may be the state of craft beer but when one thinks of Colorado breweries, one towers over the rest like a snowcapped peak on a Silver Bullet can: Coors.

Founded in Golden, Colorado, by Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler in 1873, the Coors Brewing Company quickly became successful and profitable. And with success and profit came a powerful and prosperous family, the kind that became a target for desperate men looking for large sums of money.

In February 1960, one such man, Joseph Corbett Jr., an escaped Californian convict, saw that sum in the form of the 44-year-old chairman of the board and CEO of Coors Brewing and CoorsTek: Adolph Coors III, or Ad, as his friends called him. Corbett scouted his locations, learned about Ad’s habits and plotted to kidnap the wealthy heir.

The kidnapping, FBI investigation — including an intervention from bureau director J. Edgar Hoover — and the highly publicized trial are energetically documented in Philip Jett’s latest narrative non-fiction book, Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty.

The unfamiliar story of Ad Coors’s kidnapping crossed Jett’s path while he was enjoying the Coors brewery tour and noticed one of the Coors portraits was missing from the family picture hall.

“I’m thinking: ‘OK, this is a black sheep, he did something wrong,’” Jett tells Boulder Weekly.

But a quick Google search revealed that the grandson of Adolph Coors was not the family’s black sheep, and so Jett quickly began digging. The more Jett found, the more fascinating the story became, especially considering how little known the story was.

“It totally fell through the cracks,” Jett says. “Nobody really thought anything about it anymore.”

While the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s child is taught in most high schools, the story of Ad Coors and Joseph Corbett carries similar beats yet is largely unknown, even to those who call the state home and drink Coors’ ubiquitous brews.

“You see these stories that are just written about, written about, written about, just into the dirt,” Jett says somewhat surprised. “And then you see this one, you know, a well-established powerful family here in Colorado, and they just missed it. I don’t know how.”

Jett started his Death of an Heir research in 2010, 50 years after the kidnapping, and he has became a fortunate witness to the passing of time. Whether it was interviewing an assistant district attorney on his deathbed or visiting the house of Ad and wife Mary Coors days before the current owners renovated it, Jett paints the flavor of 1960 Colorado as well as he documents the investigation and trial.

“There’s only a couple of these people I interviewed that are still alive,” Jett says. “I did get in under the wire, and I feel very fortunate.”

And now with Death of an Heir available, their story will no longer slip through the cracks of history. Enjoy it with a Banquet Beer or two.