VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Enjoying the freedom of recent retirement, 67-year-old Fred Brooks, a retired Navy flight commander living in Virginia Beach, was looking forward to tutoring his grandson before his sudden death in February.
Brooks’ death sparked a criminal investigation into his girlfriend at the time of his death, Debbie Siers-Hill. Now, NewsChannel 3 has exclusively learned the investigation into Siers-Hill led detectives in Virginia Beach 400 miles away to Summerville, S.C., to the death of another man 23 years before.
Summerville, South Carolina
As a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy, Thomas Ivan Hill, like Brooks, lived to serve his country. But Hill died suddenly in 1993.
The Berkeley County South Carolina Coroner's office ruled Hill’s death suicide by antifreeze.
“It’s a very painful death. The kidneys actually shut down once the antifreeze crystallizes, and you die a painful death,” said Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury, whose office investigated Hill’s death in 1993.
In an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 3, Salisbury says Berkeley County authorities are now taking a second look a Hill’s death because of the woman he was married to at the time, Debbie Siers-Hill.
Siers-Hill was the same woman who was living with Fred Brooks when he died. Now, she is at the center of a multi-state, criminal investigation.
“I’ve been contacted by several law enforcement agencies,” Salisbury told NewsChannel 3’s Merris Badcock. “One in Virginia Beach, also our local authorities here in Berkeley County, and also some federal law enforcement agencies.”
Salisbury handed over a copy of the report to NewsChannel 3, a report he inherited when he became coroner.
The report states Hill was found unconscious in a hotel room at the Holiday Inn in Summerville. Siers-Hill told the hotel manager that she had not been able to get ahold of her husband, and hotel staff forced the door open.
The report says Hill was staying at the hotel because he was preparing for a Navy transfer to Portsmouth, Va. The report does not say why Hill stayed away from the home in Summerville he shared with his wife, Siers-Hill.
“I don’t know why he was at one place and she was at another,” Salisbury said, while flipping through the report during his interview with NewsChannel 3. “You could make some assumptions that they were having some problems or something, but I don’t know.”
The report mentions extensive conversations with Siers-Hill, but the coroner’s notes on these conversations were never added.
Additionally, the report also says Hill suffered from depression and previous suicide attempts, but the coroner never attributes where she got that information.
Whether it came from actual medical records or from Siers-Hill, Salisbury would not say.
“Look here, the coroner did an excellent job,” Salisbury said. “You can see the packet, a very thick packet, did an excellent job investigating. But things change, and some information has come forward that they didn’t know at the time.”
After Hill’s death, his will shows Siers-Hill inherited property and thousands of dollars.
Wood County, West Virginia
Five hundred miles away from Summerville, NewsChannel 3 uncovered another lawsuit in Wood County, W.Va that links Siers-Hill to another man: her brother, Darwin Siers.
According to court records, Siers died in September 2013 after battling oral cancer.
In a civil lawsuit filed in 2014, Siers-Hill argued her brother's most recent will, which left everything to one of his children, was made when he wasn't of sound mind. In her arguments, Siers-Hill mentions a previous will between her and her brother, but a copy of that will was not filed in the initial suit.
In a countersuit, family members claim Siers-Hill forged a will several months after her brother’s death in order to gain control of his estate.
The case was settled out of court.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Fast forward to February 2016, when police begin investigating Siers-Hill after a civil lawsuit filed by Brooks’ three children claim she poisoned Brooks to death to gain control of his estate.
Court records show Brooks made Siers-Hill a co-trustee of his estate plan just nine days before he died.
NewsChannel 3 asked Scott Alerpin, an estate planning attorney in Virginia Beach, to take a look at the lawsuit. Alperin is not affiliated with Siers-Hill or Brooks’ family.
“There’s the maker of the trust, [Fred Brooks], there is the trustee of the trust, [Siers-Hill], and then there are the beneficiaries of the trust, [Brooks’ three children],” said Alperin. “In this particular case, it gave one-third of Brooks’ trust to each of his three children.”
However, Alperin told NewsChannel 3 while a trustee is supposed to execute a dying person’s last wishes, they could choose not to.
Additionally, the lawsuit claims Siers-Hill forged Brooks’ signature on a document which left her 72 percent of his personal property.
“A handwriting expert, interestingly enough can get into even more detail than that. What they do is they look at, almost microscopically, the individual parts of the letter,” said Alperin, who has worked with a handwriting expert on some of his law firm’s cases.
“When you sign your name, at various points in the signature, you’ll have different amounts of pressure on your pen. Through the use of magnification, you can tell where a person’s darker parts are, and lighter parts are, and it’s typically consistent from signature to signature, if it’s original.”
After Brooks' family filed the lawsuit against her, Siers-Hill removed herself as a co-trustee in Brooks will. The family dropped the lawsuit on Wednesday. However, police are still pursing their criminal investigation.
The lawsuit lead Virginia Beach police and the FBI to raid the Virginia Beach home Brooks’ shared with Siers-Hill in search of a suspicious powder.
A week later, Virginia Beach police surprised Siers-Hill at the home and searched her car. NewsChannel 3 was there, and confronted Siers-Hill about the allegations.
Through her attorney, Siers-Hill denies all of the allegations made by the family in the Virginia Beach lawsuit. She has not been arrested or charged in any of the criminal investigations.