WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — The 81-year-old man found dead in a Walker motel — a death now considered a homicide — was the former owner of a downtown Grand Rapids restaurant who often helped the needy, his family and friends said.
Family and friends of Cornelius Wybenga, better known as Casey, told 24 Hour News 8 Thursday that they believe somebody he was helping in the Heartside area may be responsible for his death.
Walker police on Thursday said they were searching for a person of interest, a parole absconder identified as Matthew Robewrt Brunn, whose last known address was at a mission in the Heartside neighborhood. The U.S. Marshals Service told 24 Hour News 8 Thursday night that the agency is assisting in the search for Brunn.
Brunn, 29, is believed to be driving Wybenga’s vehicle: a light metallic green 2005 Ford station wagon/SUV crossover with Michigan license plate CEV8669. Online records show the vehicle linked to that license plate is a Ford Freestyle Limited.
Wybenga’s body was discovered about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the America’s Best Value Inn & Suites, 777 Three Mile Road NW in Walker. Police have not said how he died.
Wybenga was the former owner of Casey’s Restaurant, which operated in the Herkimer Hotel on S. Division Avenue in Grand Rapids until about a decade ago. Even back in the late 1990s, when he talked to 24 Hour News 8, Wybenga knew the people that he often helped could be scary.
“Well, they cannot function in the real world, out in your neighborhood, or they would scare the hell out of people,” he said at the time.
“He was the type of person who felt that no one should be hungry, that no one should be cold, that if anybody be in need, they should be taken care of, by any means necessary, and that’s what he did for me,” family friend David Newton told 24 Hour News 8 on Thursday.
Newton said Wybenga befriended him about a decade ago and became a mentor.
“He’d give me a ride to work every morning, you know, 8 o’clock, 6 o’clock in the morning, he’d get up that early, just to bring me to work,” he said. “That was the type of guy he was, that’s what he meant to me, the fact that I could come to him with anything that was going on in my life and could talk to him.”
Wybenga’s family told 24 Hour news 8 they believe he was forced to the Walker hotel where his body was found.
“How could anybody do something like that, to somebody of Casey’s nature?” Newton said. “I feel like whoever did this, if somebody did this, they need to be brought to justice immediately.”
Michigan State Police records show Brunn has a criminal history dating back to 2004. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to felony car theft. He pleaded guilty in 2007 to felony armed robbery and felony unarmed robbery, for which he was sentenced to between 5 and 20 years in prison.
It’s not clear when he was released from prison. He was listed as a parole absconder on Tuesday, the day of Wybenga’s death.
Anyone with information about Brunn’s whereabouts or Wybenga’s car is asked to call police at 616.453.5441 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.