‘Bizarre’ case includes dead body

A Johnstown police car sits in front of 329 N. Perry Street in Johnstown on Wednesday. Forensic units took bags of evidence from the residence after a couple was charged in Arkansas with having a body in a suitcase. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)

JOHNSTOWN — A man and woman who traveled to Arkansas over the weekend with the remains of an elderly North Perry Street man in a suitcase are in custody in that state.

Authorities said Michael Stivers and Virginia Colvin, believed to be the elderly man’s caregivers, are being held on charges of improper disposal of a body. Police said it could end up being an insurance fraud case.

The arrest of the 56-year-old Colvin outside Little Rock on a charge of felony abuse of a corpse was verified this morning by Johnstown police Chief Mark Gifford.

Johnstown police on Wednesday released details of a “bizarre” case of a dead elderly North Perry Street man whose body was transported in a 19-hour trip in a suitcase in the back of a pickup truck from Johnstown to Arkansas.

Police Lt. David Gilbo conducted a press conference Wednesday afternoon across the street from a home at 329 N. Perry St. That home had yellow police crime tape around it.

“It’s looking like natural causes,” he said of the death.

City police and state police investigators on Wednesday were combing the home for clues via a search warrant signed by acting City Court Judge Louise K. Sira.

Officers searched around the back of the home near the Fulton County Rail Trail and took photos of evidence that was bagged and pulled out of the home.

The state police Forensic Investigation Unit, donned in white coats, were at the rear of the home and collecting evidence.

There was no police presence or tape this morning, and no one answered knocks at three doors at the residence.

Gilbo said Johnstown police and Arkansas police authorities have been conducting a joint investigation since Sunday. He said remains of an elderly man who lived at the 329 N. Perry St. home were found at 1:15 p.m. Sunday in a farmer’s field in Des Arc, Ark. The remains had been kept in a suitcase in a pickup truck.

State police tipped Johnstown police off to the remains from a man whose name isn’t being released at this time. He is believed to have been 89 to 90 years old.

Gilbo said Johnstown police kept the North Perry Street under surveillance Monday and then secured yesterday’s warrant. An unidentified woman who lives in the two-family home with young children was questioned Wednesday at the police station, but not charged. She had been taken away in handcuffs, but police said that is standard.

The case is not being treated as a homicide at this time, Gilbo said.

“It does seem bizarre,” Gilbo said of the case.

The lieutenant said the incident was investigated by Arkansas state police and the Prairie County Sheriff’s Department in Arkansas.

Asked what the man and woman who took the body were going to do with it, he said they gave no indication,.

“They said they had no idea what they were going to do with the body,” Gilbo said.

Authorities are closely checking financial records believed to be associated with the deceased man.

The Associated Press earlier this week reported that special agents are investigating along with sheriff’s deputies the dead Johnstown man at a farm in Prairie County. State police say the body was found Sunday afternoon.

The body was sent to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory for an autopsy and positive identification.

Officers at the scene of the two-story, white wood-frame house on North Perry Street were tight-lipped all day Wednesday until the press conference.

The house sits on North Perry Street across from Matthew Street and Glenwood Avenue — across from Lee Embossing on North Perry Street, where curious employees watched as police went inside and out of the house all day Wednesday.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Patricia Older

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