JOHNSTOWN — On their way out of town last year, Virginia Lee Colvin and Michael Stivers stopped at a local gas station and purchased coffee and lottery tickets.
They did so with money withdrawn from the account of 89-year-old World War II veteran Robert Brooks, whose body at that very moment, police believe, Colvin and Stivers had stuffed in the back of their truck parked at the gas pumps outside.
Police learned those details, according to Johnstown Police Chief David Gilbo, as they helped authorities in Arkansas investigate after Brooks’ body was found stuffed in a suitcase and dumped in a field outside Little Rock. Authorities believe the couple, who had lived with Brooks in Johnstown, were concealing Brooks’ body as part of a benefits fraud scheme. Brooks died of natural causes weeks before he was found.
Virginia Lee Colvin. (Provided)
Last week, the second of the two cases filed against Colvin and Stivers ended with a guilty plea and sentence to state prison, according to authorities there.
Colvin, 56, of Gloversville, pleaded guilty there to one count each of abuse of a corpse and failure to appear in court, according Prairie County deputy prosecutor Tim Isaac.
In return, she was sentenced to a total of six years in Arkansas prison, Isaac said. The sentence was aggravated by the seriousness of the crime and her failure to appear, Isaac said. A different prosecutor said later, however, that a possible mistake in sentencing could change her total term, but that might not be sorted out until next month.
Stivers, of Johnstown and formerly of Arkansas, pleaded guilty earlier to related charges and received up to four years, prosecutors there said.
The pair could still face charges in Fulton County or federally, according to Gilbo. That would be up to Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown or federal prosecutors, he said.
Police are seen last March at 89-year-old World War II veteran Robert Brooks’ residence. (Daily Gazette file photo)
Among the charges they could face would be taking the money from Brooks’ account, including at that gas station on their way out of Johnstown, Gilbo said.
Authorities in Arkansas asked Johnstown police to follow up on aspects of the case, which led police to the gas station stop, Gilbo said.
“I think it shows a lot about their character,” Gilbo said Tuesday. “They didn’t seem too concerned as they had a body in the back of the pickup truck as they were leaving.”
Brooks’ body was found last March 5 by authorities in Arkansas, his body believed to have been driven 19 hours from Johnstown to Des Arc, Ark., where it was discarded.
Two others were charged locally. Leeann Sager, 34, of Johnstown, and Aaron Rulison, 25, of Gloversville, faced concealment of a human corpse charges. Their cases have since resolved, as well, officials said, but details were not available.
Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown could not be reached for comment.
Johnstown police have said previously that Colvin and Sager lived with Brooks on North Perry Street in Johnstown and may have functioned as caregivers for him. Colvin had relatives in Arkansas.
Brooks’ son, Jay Brooks, of Greenboro, N.C, has said he believes, based on his conversations with police, Colvin masqueraded as a caregiver for his father while simultaneously stealing his pension checks and Social Security payments.
He also alleged Colvin made herself the beneficiary of Robert Brooks’ life insurance policy, based on information he was told by police.
Brooks flew missions as a ball turret gunner on a B-17 bomber with the Army Air Force, the precursor to the U.S. Air Force, during the war, his son has said. A ball turret gunner was seated on the underbelly of an aircraft and the job was widely regarded as one of the most dangerous in the war.
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