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89-year-old man found in suitcase identified as WWII veteran

Posted at 12:44 PM, Mar 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-17 14:04:45-04

Virginia Lee Colvin, left, and Michael Wayne Stivers were arrested after the body of an 89-year-old veteran was stuffed in a suitcase and dumped in an Arkansas field. (Prairie County Sheriff’s Department)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An 89-year-old man whose body was discovered in a large suitcase on a rural Arkansas farm was a World War II veteran from New York, police say.

Robert Brooks died of natural causes at his home about a month before his body was discovered in a Prairie County field on March 5, Lt. David Gilbo of the Johnstown, New York, Police Department told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

“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 said Brooks, who was 4 feet 11 inches tall, wasn’t dismembered.

Gilbo said investigators are still trying to determine why his body was moved. They are looking at whether his caregivers hid the death to continue receiving Social Security payments.

Two people considered to be caregivers of Brooks have been detained on suspicion of abuse of a corpse. They are Virginia Lee Colvin and Michael Wayne Stivers, according to the Prairie County Sheriff’s Department.

Gilbo said authorities will not be extraditing them to New York because of Arkansas’ strict laws on abuse of a corpse. In New York, the offense is punishable by three years in prison, while in Arkansas it is punishable by 10 years.

Brooks served in the military and was a gunner 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.”