It had been several days since Doug Hays Jr. had seen the two men that rented the southern half of his north Fort Worth duplex.
So when he noticed a foul odor in the air, a concerned Hays used his key to enter their residence Sunday night to make sure everything was okay.
“It smelled like a dead animal or something dead,” said Hays, 44. “I walked down through the hallway.... I looked in there and the bed hadn’t been slept in.
“I happened to notice when I looked over at the bathroom, it was taped. Gray tape going up the wall, over the eaves and back down and it had a towel stuffed underneath the door to try to block the smell.”
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Realizing something sinister was at play, Hays said he quickly got out and called 911.
Officers responding to the duplex in the 2200 block of Robinwood Drive would soon discover the naked body of 74-year-old William “Bill” Brooks in the bathtub. The body had been covered with a white powdery substance and hidden underneath a cover of black plastic sheeting, also sealed with duct tape.
On Wednesday afternoon, police arrested Brooks’ roommate, 47-year-old James Eckstein, in Missouri on a capital murder warrant, accusing him of robbing and killing Brooks, then going to great lengths to try to mask the odor.
“The body was in advanced stages of decomposition. Officers observed what appeared to be carpet deodorizer spread on the floor throughout the duplex. All the windows were open and there were dryer sheets hanging in the hallway,” homicide Detective E.C. Pate wrote in an arrest warrant affidavit.
Members of a U.S. Marshal’s task force arrested Eckstein Wednesday afternoon at a motel in Maryland Heights, a suburb northwest of St. Louis. Brooks’ Ford Taurus was found at the motel, said homicide Sgt. Joe Loughman.
Eckstein was being held Friday in the St. Louis County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.
An official ruling has not yet been made on the cause of Brooks’ death due to the advanced stages of decomposition.
A deputy medical examiner, however, told investigators that Brooks had suffered fractures to multiple ribs and his sternum consistent with “blunt force trauma,” the affidavit states.
A last encounter
Hays said had allowed Eckstein and Brooks to move into his duplex in July after learning that the pair had been living in a car at a Fort Worth truck stop for about a month.
Hays said he met Eckstein at a Salvation Army drug and alcohol rehab center on the north side about six months earlier.
He said Eckstein had told him that he picked up Brooks after the elderly man packed up his bags and left an assisted-living facility. Loughman said investigators believe the two men had been residing together since at least 2006.
Brooks’ family has not been located, police said.
Hays said Brooks was mostly blind and used a cane. He said Eckstein ran all the errands, like going to the grocery store, while Brooks “hardly ever left the house.”
He described Eckstein as overly protective of the elder man, who sometimes sat on the porch while Eckstein worked in the yard or went walking.
“If I got close to him (Brooks), he (Eckstein) was right there,” Hays said. “He’d say, ‘Stay away from him.’”
Hays said he had last seen Eckstein on June 2 when the man approached him in the driveway and gave him $20, saying “here is some extra money for the high water bill this month.” He said Eckstein had never before given him money toward the water bill.
When he returned to the duplex around 7 p.m. that night, Brooks’ green Ford Taurus was missing, Hays told police.
Through a law enforcement database, Pate discovered that Brooks’ car had been near an intersection in Atlanta in the early morning hours Monday. Using Google Earth, the detective was able to determine that there was a Quality Inn near where the car had been spotted.
Homicide Detective Jerry Cedillo then spoke with the Quality Inn manager, who confirmed that Eckstein had checked in Sunday morning, paying for two days with cash.
The investigators also learned that someone had accessed Brooks’ bank account on three separate occasions over the weekend.
Twice, the person used a bank card to withdraw $500 from a Fort Worth location. On the third transaction — made Sunday morning in Covington, Louisiana —the same bank card was used to withdraw more than $200, the affidavit states. Police later tracked him to Missouri.
Receipts found by crime scene Officer J. Palomares during a search of the duplex showed that someone had purchased six 26-ounce containers of salt at a Dollar General at 3912 N.E. 28th Street and a roll of black plastic sheeting and “Duck” tape at the Walmart at 3851 Airport Freeway.
The white powdery substance found covering Brooks’ body appeared to be a combination of carpet deodorizer, salt and/or baking soda, the affidavit states.
Video footage from the stores showed Eckstein making both purchases, Pate wrote in the affidavit.
Hays said he was relieved to learn Eckstein had been arrested.
“I didn’t think he was that kind of guy,” he said.