Arkansas police have been working to solve the case of a corpse stuffed inside a suitcase and abandoned in a field. Late last week the corpse was identified as Robert Brooks, an 89-year old WWII veteran from Youngstown, New York. The body wasn’t dismembered as the man was only four feet and eleven inches. Police don’t consider it a homicide at this point.
David Gilbo, of the Youngstown Police Department, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “He was a war hero who could have been buried at the [Arlington] National Cemetery. Instead, he ends up in a suitcase dumped in a field in Arkansas.”
Gilbo said the man died of natural causes in his home likely about a month before his body was found March 5, Fox News reports. He had been living in upstate New York with his caregiver, 56-year old Virginia Colvin. She had cared for him since 2012. Colvin’s boyfriend, Michael Stivers, was also present in the home.
“Why did they decide to take the body from here, instead of calling for an ambulance, is yet to be determined,” Johnstown Police Lt. Dave Gilbo told WRGB, a CBS affiliate in Albany.
Right now, the authorities think the couple did not report his death in order to keep collecting his Social Security benefits. They have checked the couple’s bank statements. If that was the case, no monies have thus far been collected.
“They got caught early,” Gilbo told the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette. “We are checking their bank statements, but they didn’t have much time to collect any money if they were doing that.”
Colvin told authorities that Brooks had always expressed his desire to be buried in Arkansas and that’s why they were moving him there. Family members deny the claim, saying that Brooks had briefly lived in Arkansas at one point, but was from New York. He not told his family that he wanted to be buried anywhere else. Both Colvin and Stivers have family members in the state. They drove from New York to Arkansas, some 1,300 miles, with the month-old corpse in a large blue suitcase riding in the back of blue pickup truck. On March 5, they stopped in Des Arc, Arkansas. That was when police received the emergency call, the Washington Post reports. The call described a couple selling furniture and junk from the back of a parked truck when the morbid discovery was made.
“One of the patrons of this sale went to the back of the truck and unzipped a larger blue suitcase and saw a body,” Prairie County Sheriff Rick Hickman told ABC affiliate Sky 7.
The pair fled the scene, getting about 15 miles out of town. They stopped to dump the suitcase in a farmer’s field in Prairie County and then split. Police caught up with them but released Colvin because they could not find the incriminating suitcase. Stiver, however, was arrested on an outstanding warrant for not paying child support.
The deputies located the house where Colvin was going in Perry County and placed it under surveillance until they could get a search warrant. On March 8, the police finally connected Colvin to the incident and arrested her. Both Colvin and Stivers face felony charges of abusing a corpse. Police have finally made contact with Brooks’ son in North Carolina and obtained DNA samples from him to confirm the identity of the body.
New York authorities are not attempting to get the couple extradited. Abuse of a corpse is a felony offense, but in New York it only punishable by three years in prison. In Arkansas it carries a punishment of up to ten years. Brooks was a gunner in World War II, serving in a B-17 bomber’s ball turret.
“It’s the most dangerous assignment in war,” Prairie County Sheriff Rick Hickman said. “The belly gunner is in a small bubble on the bottom of the plane. The enemy wants to shoot at him first. Life expectancy on that job is very short.”
The authorities handling the case say that, while it is not considered a homicide at this point, it could take months to officially determine that. It will take some time to find out why the body was moved as well. “Brooks was a World War II veteran,” Gilbo said. “He deserved a lot better than being put in a suitcase.”
Police are still working on getting to the bottom of the motives in the case of this veteran. Now, with his son located, arrangements can be made to have his body moved back to New York and given a proper burial. But the two in the middle of it, however, have a long road ahead of them.