Reporting Jim Armstrong
BOSTON (CBS) – Virginia Cleary has been on a mission worthy of a motion picture. In fact, to hear her tell her story, you can almost picture Hollywood producers getting to work.
It was Thanksgiving week in 1968 when her father called the Philadelphia Naval Hospital to check on her brother Bobby. Just back from nine months in Vietnam, the 20-year-old Lawrence native was undergoing psychiatric evaluation and monitoring. Twice awarded the Purple Heart in his short time serving his country, being back home was difficult for Bobby Corriveau.
But what the hospital told the family was, to say the least, shocking.
Bobby was missing.
“We were a very close knit family and this just broke everybody’s heart,” Cleary explains. “It’s very sad, I lost my big brother. I looked up to him, he was my mentor and he was gone.”
More than gone, Bobby was missing without a trace.
The Marines would eventually classify him as AWOL, then as a deserter. Those were labels his baby sister knew were wrong.
He was given the Marines Corps Service Commendation Medal, she thought. He’s not hiding out.
As the years went by, Virginia never gave up her quest to figure out what happened to her big brother. She called elected officials, prodded local police, and even hired private detectives.
“It’s non-stop, 24/7 you know, that’s what it’s been for me, and it never went away,” she explains. “I just always pushed on and tried to get information.”
Unknown to her – or to anyone in her family – the day Bobby went missing from the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, a young man’s body was found by the side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike about 30 miles away. The victim had been stabbed through the heart. He had no identification on him.
Police in 1968 suspected that the victim was military because of his haircut and tattoos.
But it wasn’t until 2009, when Pennsylvania State Police reopened the case, that they used those tattoos to link the body to Virginia. Eventually, she was asked to provide a DNA sample.
It matched, and in December of 2011, she “got a phone call from NCIS informing me that they were pretty sure that it was my brother.”
The official confirmation didn’t come until May, 2012. What followed was a frustrating, difficult, and expensive ordeal of getting Bobby’s remains exhumed from his “John Doe” grave in Pennsylvania to be re-buried in the family’s Lawrence plot. He received full military honors, and active-duty Marines served as his pall bearers.
But Bobby and Virginia’s father passed away never knowing what had happened to his oldest son.
“I promised him that I would never give up, that I would continue in my search,” she says. “And now he’s found, and home.”
But her job is far from done.
“In one breath it’s bittersweet,” Cleary offers. “You’re very sad this happened, he was stabbed. You know this now, and my God! But on the other hand, being able to bring him home and bury him with the family is wonderful. He is home and he’s no longer a deserter.”
But the biggest mystery remains: Who killed Bobby – and why?
The Pennsylvania State Police are now actively looking for help in a case that’s nearly half a century old. They are hoping someone from the Pennsylvania Naval Hospital might remember details related to Bobby’s death. He was also briefly at the Chelsea Naval Hospital in Massachusetts.
Says Virginia: “I would love to see the case solved. I would like to know who did this to my brother.”
If you recall any details from that time period that could help to solve this case. You can call the Pennsylvania State Police at 610-268-5158.