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Body brought to Arkansas in suitcase identified as N.Y. vet of World War II

by Kenneth Heard | March 16, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Police identified the body of a man stuffed in a suitcase, driven from New York by his caregivers and left in a Prairie County field earlier this month as that of a World War II veteran from New York.

Robert Brooks, 89, of Johnstown, N.Y., died of natural causes at his home in March, said Lt. David Gilbo of the Johnstown Police Department.

"He was a war hero who could have been buried at the [Arlington] National Cemetery," Gilbo said. "Instead, he ends up in a suitcase dumped in a field in Arkansas."

Police arrested Virginia "Ginger" Colvin, 56, of Johnstown at a Perry County home March 8 after police found Brooks' body March 5 in the suitcase in a field in the Crossroad community west of Des Arc.

Michael Stivers, who was being held on unrelated charges in the Lonoke County jail, also was arrested.

Both face charges of abusing a corpse.

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Gilbo, who called the case "bizarre," said police are not considering Brooks' death a homicide. Authorities still are investigating to determine whether Colvin and her boyfriend, Stivers, hid Brooks' death to continue receiving his monthly Social Security payments.

Brooks had been dead for about a month before Prairie County deputies found his body in the field, Gilbo said.

Colvin and her niece were listed as Brooks' caregivers in his upstate New York home. Stivers, who recently began dating Colvin, also was considered a caregiver, Gilbo said.

Brooks died sometime in February or January, a preliminary autopsy by the state Crime Laboratory in Little Rock indicated.

"[Colvin] said Mr. Brooks wanted to be buried in Arkansas before he died," Gilbo said.

Some family members told police Brooks never expressed a desire to be buried in the state.

Brooks briefly lived in Arkansas before returning to Johnstown, N.Y. Both Colvin and Stivers have relatives in the state.

Authorities found family members of Brooks in North Carolina and learned Brooks served in the military and was a gunner in a B-17 bomber's ball turret, or a "belly gunner."

"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."

Hickman would not confirm the body is Brooks', saying he wanted to wait for DNA testing to be sure. Authorities obtained DNA from Brooks' son in North Carolina and will compare it with DNA taken from the body.

"It's a sad case," Hickman said.

Police said after Brooks died, Colvin and Stivers stuffed Brooks' body in a large suitcase. Brooks was 4 feet 11 inches tall. Gilbo said the body was not dismembered.

The two drove 1,300 miles to Arkansas with the suitcase in the back of Colvin's pickup.

When they stopped in Des Arc on March 5, a child opened the suitcase in the back of the parked truck and discovered Brooks' body.

Colvin and Stivers panicked and fled, Gilbo said. They dumped Brooks' body in the field about 15 miles west of Des Arc.

Police stopped the truck later and questioned Colvin but did not arrest her. Three days later, they found her at a home in Perry County and arrested her.

Gilbo said New York authorities won't extradite the couple back to the state to face charges of abusing a corpse because Arkansas' laws are stricter. In New York, the offense is considered a Class E felony and punishable by up to three years in prison. The crime is considered a Class C felony in Arkansas and punishable by up to 10 years in prison, Gilbo said.

Johnstown police will continue their investigation into the possibility the couple moved Brooks' body to defraud Social Security, Gilbo said.

"They got caught early," he said. "We are checking their bank statements, but they didn't have much time to collect any money if they were doing that."

This is not the first hidden-body case that he's investigated, Gilbo said.

"When it comes to greed, this is not unusual," he said. "It's getting more common. People want money.

"[Brooks] was a World War II veteran. He deserved a lot better than being put in a suitcase."

State Desk on 03/16/2017

Print Headline: Body in suitcase identified as N.Y. vet of World War II


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