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

Eight stars

While many might be aware of the Coors name, particularly for its beer, I would suspect that few are aware of the tragedy that befell the family in the winter of 1960. Philip Jett shines some light on the crime and the story behind it all, offering interesting descriptions from all sides and presenting it in an easy to digest format. Adolph ‘Ad’ Coors III, the CEO and figurehead of his family’s brewing dynasty, lived with his young family just outside of the Denver. While the family enjoyed living well, they remained humble and tied to the community. When Coors left for work on February 9, 1960, it would be the last time he saw his family. Coming upon a car blocking the one-lane road over Turkey Creek Bridge, Coors sought to be a kind man and help the driver. This was a mistake and after a struggle, Adolph Coors III would be killed and his assailant would flee the scene. Jett does a wonderful job building some backstory about the Coors family, which included many sightings of vehicles peering onto their land. Might someone have been plotting or scheming, yet proven elusive enough never to be caught? On a professional front, the company was in the middle of complex negotiations with the union to keep them off the picket line. Could the confrontation with the union have sown ill will, enough to leave someone to strike Ad and send a message? Turning to the other side of the story, Jett offers some great build up around the life and times of Joseph Corbett Jr., soon identified as the killer. Corbett was an escaped convict who had been on the lam and was trying to find a way to make some quick cash. He devised the plan to kidnap Coors and hold him for ransom, which appears to have been years in the making, as Jett explores the plans uncovered in documents and purchases over the years leading up to 1960. Corbett was adept as blending in and not coming across as anyone who’d be noticed. His landlady loved him and hardly knew he was there, something that Corbett banked on when he chose to flee soon after the murder. As the narrative progresses, the Coors family tries to guess what might have happened to Ad, while Corbett makes his way across the country. Good police work and some definite clue assembly in a pre-computer age helped to create a list of suspects before Corbett was deemed the definite culprit. Forensics and an eventual locating of the body turned things from a missing persons case to the murder of a man who touched the hearts of many who knew of him. The Coors notoriety soon led to the FBI getting involved and creating a nationwide manhunt for Corbett. By this time, the cunning man had fled north to Canada, where he continued to blend in, making stops in Toronto, Winnipeg, and eventually Vancouver. On the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, Corbett was soon noticed and arrested before he voluntarily permitted himself to be extradited back to the US to face charges. Colorado still had (and used) the death penalty, leaving that option on the table. Many within the family thought this a great way to end the misery, though the fallout had more impact than simply an empty chair at the dinner table. Jett describes the trial of Joseph Corbett Jr. and how he as treated throughout the judicial maneuverings, even as he pled innocent to all charges. Even at this stage, there were some twists in the tale, things that the reader might find surprising as they follow Jett’s recounting of the trial and subsequent actions. This piece of true crime offers readers something worth their while, which includes a crime likely long forgotten by those who were not around when it took place. Recommended to those who love true crime, as well as the reader who finds learning more about the lives of the rich an famous something of interest.

This book crossed my radar a number of years ago, though I am not entirely sure why I allowed it to collect digital dust for so long. Philip Jett does well laying the groundwork for a great piece of true crime, filling in the cracks on both sides of the case before moving forward with the planning and execution of the attempted kidnapping of Adolph Coors III. Jett pulls on perspectives of many to create a stronger narrative, including offering up a blow-by-blow of how February 9th played out while the family became more upset. The discussion of forensics and how witness statements were useful in creating a list of suspects proved intriguing as well, particularly as it was only 1960 with database sharing still fairly new. Jett does well to offer a detailed depiction of Joseph Corbett Jr. and how he was able to slide under the radar for so long, caught only because he was tired of running. He covered his tracks more by blending in than conniving acts, though as Jett argues, he was sloppy when it counted most. Completing the circle, there is a decent discussion of the legal actions around the arrest and prosecution of Corbett for the crimes, in an era where a murder of this level garnered so much media attention. Jett uses a strong writing style to present the story to the curious reader, with decent length chapters to push the narrative forward. There is much to learn from this story and Jett keeps the reader wanting to know just a little more. As I am not one who has read a great deal of true crime, I cannot compare it to much else in the genre, but it was entertaining and kept me returning for another few pages, which is the sign of a decent book. I can only hope to stumble upon more books in the genre that seek to educate the reader about all sides of the crime, particularly when they do not seek to accentuate the glitz over substance. Philip Jett surely took the time to research this piece and resurrect a crime lost in the annals of history, though well worth telling anew!

Kudos, Mr. Jett, for a winner with this book. You have me wanting to see if you’ve written anything else, as I am quite intrigued with this effort.

This book fulfils Topic 6: Equinox for the Equinox #11 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: