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Rockford man identified after body stolen from funeral home, abandoned in Chicago

Rockford funeral home from which van, body were stolen has history of violations
Rockford funeral home from which van, body were stolen has history of violations 02:43

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Authorities have identified the man whose body was inside a van stolen from a Rockford funeral home on Saturday and later abandoned in Chicago.

The Winnebago County Coroner's Office said 47-year-old Curtis Brown died of natural causes on Thursday at a local hospital. His body was released to Collins & Stone Funeral Home the next day, and on Saturday, a van with Brown's body in its cargo area was stolen from outside the funeral home.

Curtis Brown Family Photo

It was not clear whether the thief knew there was a body inside upon stealing the van.

The van was found Sunday in the 1400 block of East 87th Street, near Dorchester Avenue, in Chicago's Calumet Heights neighborhood – 97 miles away from the Rockford funeral home from which it was stolen. But Brown's body was not inside, and was not found until a day later – more than two miles away.

Police search for man who stole funeral home van with body inside 01:36

An anonymous 911 call brought Chicago Police to an alley near 83rd Street and Manistee Avenue on Monday afternoon, after someone thought they spotted a body in the road. When officers arrived, they confirmed what the caller saw.

CBS 2 has learned that, when the body was found, it was not covered in a bag – it was just dumped. It has all left a family heartbroken and investigators stumped.

The Winnebago County Coroner's Office has since turned over Brown's body to a funeral home, and his family has been notified of the incident.

As CBS 2's Andrew Ramos reported Tuesday, Brown's family can finally now begin the difficult process of properly laying him to rest - following a tumultuous ordeal many say should've never happened to begin with. Brown had 12 children and four grandchildren.

Brown's relatives are working with an out-of-state funeral home to have him returned to his family in Mississippi, according to the coroner's office.

Brown's mother has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral expenses.

Meantime, Rockford police released surveillance images of a possible suspect in the theft of the van and Brown's body. The man was wearing a black hoodie, black pants, and gloves.

He is wanted not only for stealing as vehicle, but also abuse of the corpse for moving the body without authorization.

As police continue their search for the suspect – seen here in surveillance images released by Rockford police –

As the search for the suspect continues, the community wants answers in Rockford.

"How does a whole entire body not only get taken - but end up in a whole 'nother city two hours away from our hometown?" said Dawn Livingston, a Rockford resident who knows the Brown family.

Livingston said while she was disturbed by the situation, she wasn't quite surprised. She said she knows firsthand about the dysfunction tied to the Collins and Stone funeral home. 

A year and a half ago, Livingston used their services to lay her brother to rest. She said the family paid for a headstone they never got.

"It tells me that you should be a little bit concerned as far as how you spend your money and who you spend it with," Livingston said.

There was no response from the funeral home on the missing headstone.

The funeral home director – identified by state records as Brandy Collins – is currently on probation. She was fined $10,000 for what the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation deemed "unprofessional conduct, failure to account for personal property, and aiding and assisting an unlicensed practice."

The violations were the latest of at least 13 filed by the state against Collins according to records provided by IDFPR.

The big issue, according to Livingston, is that Collins & Stone is just one of two funeral homes in the Rockford area that caters to African American families.

"They are able to do African American makeup. You know, they are familiar with African American spirituals that are played for funerals," Livingston said, "and it leaves us limited."

We reached out to the Rockford funeral home about the theft of the van and Brown's body, but they did not get back to us. We do not know whether the van was running or not when it was stolen.

Anyone who recognizes the suspect, or has any information on the theft of the van, is asked to call Rockford police at 815-966-2900. Anonymous tips also can be texted to 847411 by including RPDTIP at the start of your message.

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