January 6, 2007
Homicide investigator Charlie McCormick had his doubts. Two psychics wanted to come to Park County, visit the spots where two young women were killed 25 years ago and possibly shed some paranormal light on the unsolved double homicide — all with television cameras rolling for a new Discovery Channel program called “Sensing Murder.” “I was skeptical,” said Mc-Cormick, a member of the task force investigating the 1982 deaths of Bobbie Jo Oberholtzer and Annette Schnee.
But he and other investigators also were willing. When it comes to cases gone cold years ago, publicity never hurts. National exposure, he figured, might shake loose someone’s memory or conscience. The unusual collaboration produced a half-dozen leads and new suspects in the case whose resolution has long eluded the mountain community spanning Park and Summit counties. The show first aired last fall and has rerun a couple of times. “They came up with a number of things we’d be remiss not to follow up on, regardless of the source,” McCormick said. Oberholtzer, 29, and Schnee, 21, disappeared a quarter of a century ago today — Jan. 6, 1982 — from the Breckenridge area as they hitchhiked separately. Oberholtzer’s body was found the next day on Hoosier Pass. She had been shot twice, apparently as she tried to flee. Schnee’s body was found six months later near Fairplay. She, too, had been shot, and investigators think she may have been raped. Their deaths weren’t linked until then. An orange bootie on Schnee’s foot matched one found at the Oberholtzer crime scene. It was a tough case from the beginning, said McCormick, a retired Denver detective, although investigators had no dearth of leads. Two suspects, men living in the area at the time, have since been convicted of murder in other cases. But the DNA taken from blood on Oberholtzer’s glove did not belong to either of them. In 2006, Discovery Channel producers said they wanted to feature the case on a new program in which two psychics seek to help solve old cases. While psychics often volunteer their services for victims’ families, law enforcement officials don’t generally seek them out. But McCormick and other task force members were willing to give it a shot, and the families approved. “Anything will help,” said Eileen Franklin, Schnee’s mother, who lives in Florida. While some criticize psychics as giving families false hope, she says she disagrees. “They’re not hurting me any. I believe in them to some extent,” she said. Jeff Oberholtzer, Bobbie Jo’s widower, took a pragmatic view of the matter. “Any exposure is important,” he said. “It gets colder and colder as time goes by.” When psychics Laurie Campbell and Pam Coronado arrived in May, they had no information about the case, Coronado said. Coronado met with McCormick while Campbell spoke with former Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Jim Hardtke. “We just asked them to give us their impressions,” McCormick said. Both intuited that a young woman was shot in a remote area, although Coronado felt the weather was warm. “It was 22 below,” McCormick said. “She was way off on that.” Taken to where Schnee was found, both women felt she didn’t die there. Coronado led investigators to an area three miles away where she felt the shooting occurred. Investigators later dug at the site, but found nothing. The psychics don’t claim they’ll be able to produce a name or address, she said, just their impressions. “I read the energy of a crime scene,” Coronado said. Even years later, that energy remains, she said. Coronado said she sensed that Oberholtzer was familiar with her killer. “I went into great detail about how Bobbie Jo was found and some of the things that transpired in her last moments,” she said, without elaborating. McCormick said one of those details astounded him. He said it was a fact only the killer and those at the crime scene would have known and which has not been publicized. While it’s possible that the show’s staff tracked down people who were at the scene, Mc-Cormick said that was unlikely. “We’d probably hear about it,” he said. “It’s a small community.” The psychics also came up separately with the same name for a suspect. The name has come up before, McCormick said, but has not been publicized. All in all, he said, the show led to a fresh list of about six suspects — new people and people who were previously investigated. “There are leads that are viable,” he said. “Any investigator would be remiss not to follow up on them.” McCormick said that over the years, other psychics have volunteered their take on what happened. But this encounter, he said, left him with a positive impression of the pair. “These women were totally different,” he said. “These two women are good.” Changing detectives’ minds is “the most rewarding thing about the show,” Coronado said. “The detectives sign on because they’re thinking about the national exposure,” she said. “It’s fun to get their attention. They turn around and start paying attention.” She said their involvement has produced some new leads in other cases featured on the show. “Sensing Murder” did a segment on the 1997 slaying of University of Colorado student Susannah Chase; Coronado said police invited her to return and consult on that case and possibly the JonBenet Ramsey case. Franklin and Jeff Oberholtzer said they just hope the new leads bring the arrest they’ve awaited for 25 years. “I can always be hopeful,” said Jeff Oberholtzer, who still lives in Alma. “Over time, I’ve become numb to a lot of different things, but I’ll never stop hoping.” For more information about the case, visit www. rockymountaincoldcase.com. Anyone with information about the slayings is asked to call 1-888-893-0111. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0285 or firstname.lastname@example.org