Amber Marie Hayes

Amber Marie Hayes (courtesy Mary Hayes Irick and the Muscatine Journal)

Amber Marie Hayes


Amber Marie Hayes
7-1/2 months old
Case # 88-02703
603 Clay St.
Muscatine, Iowa
Muscatine County
June 9, 1988

Case summary by Jody Ewing

Amber Marie Hayes, 7-1/2 months old, was reported missing by her mother, Mary Hayes, at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 9, 1988. Four days later, parts of the infant’s body, her pink diaper bag and a blanket were discovered in a remote area near Lake Odessa by two boys riding all-terrain vehicles.

The child had been decapitated and dismembered.

The lake area, just south of Muscatine, is located about one-half mile west of the Mississippi River in Louisa County.

Muscatine County
Muscatine County in Iowa 
Muscatine, IA
Muscatine in Muscatine County

Mary Hayes, 24, had gone out that night with a friend for the first time since Amber’s birth, and reported the baby missing after returning home and discovering her daughter gone.

Hayes had left the baby at home with her boyfriend, Leslie Ray “Les” Brockert, 28 — who was not Amber’s father but lived with Hayes at her residence — while she and her friend went to Terri’s Hideaway and Chet’s, two former Muscatine taverns. Brockert had watched the child before, and Hayes had known him most of her life.

When Mary returned home a little after 1 a.m., Brockert grabbed his car keys from her and slammed out of the house. When she went to check on Amber and discovered her missing from her crib, she instinctively knew something was wrong and contacted police.

Though he knew authorities were looking for him, Brockert avoided them for several hours. Once they found him, he told police he’d been up for four days from using cocaine. He said a “cocaine-induced headache” had kept him from looking up when someone came in and took the child but that he didn’t know who the person was because he’d kept his head covered with a pillow. Brockert was subsequently jailed as a material witness in the case.

According to a Muscatine Journal article dated February 12, 2010:

A special agent with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation said Brockert gave five different stories concerning Amber’s disappearance, according to notes taken for interviews conducted during the investigation.

From Hope to Grief

Hayes and the baby’s father, Terry Hayes, along with other relatives, made weekend appeals on local television stations for Amber’s safe return. Searchers dug through the city’s 1,200 garbage bins and in the county landfill, and also searched nearby wooded areas and ditches in hopes of finding the child. The baby’s grandmother, Barbara Flake, said [dealing with the situation] was pretty hard for the family.

Amber Marie Hayes birth announcement

Amber Hayes’ birth announcement (courtesy Alli Smith, Amber’s Godmother)

On June 12, 1988, nearly four days after she disappeared, Amber’s remains were discovered near Lake Odessa and investigators changed the infant’s classification from a kidnapping to a homicide.

Hayes said that when police arrested Brockert there were gloves and a shovel in his car and sand on the vehicle’s passenger side. (Muscatine Journal, Feb. 12, 2010)

Stephen Petersen — Muscatine County Attorney at the time — said he’d considered murder charges but ultimately charged Brockert with first-degree kidnapping. Due to intense media coverage, the kidnapping trial — the first ever televised in Iowa — was transferred to Maquoketa with District Judge Jack L. Burns presiding.

A Pink Diaper Bag Sitting in Weeds

Muscatine attorney John Wunder — who defended Brockert during the trial — argued that Brockert “was in jail” when Amber was killed, and though a doctor who testified for the defense said the remains found in the dry creek bed would have been placed there about 12 to 72 hours before they were discovered, he admitted he wasn’t an expert in studying fly larvae, a forensic entomology method used to determine the length of time since death.

According to court testimony, Tony Ramsdell of Muscatine was with Brockert at the home shortly before Amber disappeared, and Wunder said he subpoenaed Ramsdell for questioning. Ramsdell, however, never showed up and the defense attorney said police didn’t enforce the subpoena.

Les Brockert Courtesy photo Dubuque Telegraph Herald
Les Brockert

On Wednesday, October 19, 1988, a man who lived next door to Brockert told jurors he’d noticed some unusual events around the time of Amber’s disappearance and death.

Jose Canas testified he saw a pink diaper bag sitting in weeds near the alley behind his home the night of June 8, the same night the baby disappeared. Canas also testified that he saw Brockert driving in south Muscatine the following morning with the diaper bag in his car.

Canas said he would allow Brockert to borrow some of his tools without asking, and that after the abduction, he believed a shovel was missing.

Brockert provided several hours of testimony on Friday, October 21, portraying himself as loving surrogate father to the murdered baby girl. He also admitted there were numerous customers coming and going from the Muscatine home to buy drugs. Brockert said he and Hayes ran a $2,000-per-week narcotics business.

“It was like a 7-Eleven, a lot of people coming and going at all hours,” Brockert told the jury.

Several Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation agents testified they were not aware of such extensive drug trafficking at the couple’s home.

“Not Guilty” of Kidnapping

After the 5-1/2-day trial, the seven-man, five-woman Jackson County District Court jury deliberated for three hours on Monday, October 24, 1988, before acquitting Brockert of the kidnapping charge. Mary Hayes appeared stunned before sobbing uncontrollably.

Case Open-ClosedCourtesy Muscatine Journal
Read Melissa Regennitter’s Feb. 12, 2010 story and interview with Amber’s mother, Mary Irick.

Brockert’s mother, Madonna McKillip, shed only tears of joy, and said “I feel great,” as she left the courtroom.

Muscatine County Attorney Petersen told the press the prosecution would be setting up a meeting to rework leads and review the case; he said Brockert remained the primary suspect in Amber’s murder. Murder charges could not yet be filed until more lab work was completed and additional interviews conducted, he said.

In a Telegraph Herald article dated October 25, 1988, defense attorney Wunder said there were two basic reasons the jury found Brockert innocent [of the kidnapping charges]:

  • Stephens’ testimony. Stephens is the forensic specialist who testified about the time span between Amber’s death and the discovery of her remains.
  • The discredited testimony of Jose Canas. He waited 10 weeks before telling police he had spotted Brockert with the baby’s diaper bag June 9.

In February 2010, Mary Hayes told the Muscatine Journal she felt someone may have helped Brockert get rid of Amber’s body and that she believes both Brockert and Ramsdell know the truth about what really happened that night.

Hayes’ surviving daughter, Barb — just 8 years old at the time — was spending the night with her father and found out about her sister’s disappearance by watching the news. She told the Journal that after Amber’s remains were discovered, classmates at school chased her around with baby doll heads saying they were her sister.

Barb [Campbell] went on to become a registered nurse and now has a child of her own.

In the years following Amber’s murder, Les Brockert — now a convicted felon — tried to blow up his girlfriend’s car in a 1994 arson case and has been arrested numerous times in both Louisa and Muscatine counties. He has claimed to be insane and believed to currently reside in the Columbus Junction area.

Mary and Barb continue to hold out hope that DNA or forensic testing will one day bring the case to a close and justice for Amber.

“If they looked at the case now, when they arrested him there was gloves and a shovel in his car and sand on the passenger side of the vehicle. Maybe they could do a soil sample match from the lake,” Mary said in the Journal’s Feb. 12, 2010 article. “I will never stop hoping for justice for Amber.”

About Amber Marie Hayes
Amber Hayes headstoneCourtesy photo Beverly Witmer,
Amber Marie Hayes was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Muscatine. 

Amber Marie Hayes was born October 21, 1987, in Muscatine, Iowa, to Terry Ray Hayes and Mary (Casteel) Hayes. Her date of death is listed as June 12, 1988.

She was laid to rest at Babyland in Muscatine’s Memorial Park Cemetery on June 23, 1988.

Information Needed

When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Amber Hayes’ murder was one of approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.

Although federal grant funding for the DCI Cold Case Unit was exhausted in December 2011, the DCI continues to assign agents to investigate cold cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional forensic testing of original evidence.

The DCI remains committed to the resolution of Iowa’s cold cases and will continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice for the victims and their families.

If you have any information regarding Amber Marie Hayes’ unsolved murder, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email

  • Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, former Cold Case Unit
  • Iowa Q-C area’s cold cases,” The Quad-City Times, June 25, 2011
  • Forensic Entomology, Dr. J.H. Byrd
  • Unsolved homicides,” The Muscatine Journal, February 15, 2010
  • Mary (Hayes) Irick, correspondence to Iowa Cold Cases, February 14, 2010
  • Case open/closed,” by Melissa Regennitter, The Muscatine Journal, February 12, 2010
  • Amber Marie Hayes (1987 – 1988) – Find a Grave Memorial
  • Alli Smith (Amber Hayes’ Godmother), correspondence to Iowa Cold Cases
  • “Brockert kidnap trial called ‘dry run’ for murder charge,” by Kent Tempus, The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, October 25, 1988
  • “Defense rests in Brockert case,” The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, October 23, 1988
  • “Birth stalls kidnapping testimony,” The Dubuque Telegraph Herald and The Associated Press, October 20, 1988
  • “Hayes says she left daughter with boyfriend,” The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, October 19, 1988
  • “Child kidnapping trial moved,” The Daily Iowan, September 8, 1988
  • “Maquoketa site of Brockert trial,” The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, September 7, 1988
  • “Mary Hayes: Trying to cope with a tough life,” by Carol Salucka, The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, June 20, 1988
  • “‘Some woman took the baby,'” The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, June 17, 1988
  • “Babysitter arrested for kidnapping,” The Daily Iowan, Wednesday, June 15, 1988
  • “Dead baby’s mom talks on radio show,” The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, June 14, 1988
  • “Missing baby girl murdered,” The Daily Iowan, Tuesday, June 14, 1988
  • “Body found; may be missing Muscatine tot,” The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, June 13, 1988
  • “Man charged with kidnapping,” The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, June 13, 1988
  • Find infant’s body, await identification,” The Bryan Times, via Dubuque Telegraph Herald, June 13, 1988
  • “Iowa News,” The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, June 12, 1988


Copyright © 2015 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


54 Responses to Amber Hayes

  1. nancy says:

    I just read this for the first time. I am so sorry for what happened.

  2. Mike Byrne says:

    Theres a special place in hell waiting for this baby killer.He might get away with murder on this earth but he won’t escape punishment in the hereafter.Rot in hell,you dirty bastard!!

  3. Theresa says:

    I think another review of the forensics with an expert could put a lot to rest.

  4. tyler phillips says:

    Amber we love and miss u ur cousin ty. Rest in peace

  5. Kris says:


  6. Heartbreaking. Prayers they can find justice for this little one after all these years. Maybe someone will remember something, no matter how small, give your info to the authorities.

  7. OMG how could somebody be so evil

  8. :( so sad and sickening!! Who would do this to a poor innocent baby!!

  9. merisa says:

    It was probably the mom that killed the poor girl but they were in on it together..

  10. Prayers to the family. People are so sick and pure evil. Obviously that guy did it..why did he have a shovel and all? Also being on cocaine wth! They should test the soil found in the car.

  11. So disheartening to think someone could do this to an innocent baby. Is cruel enough to do this someone who is able to defend themselves but to do this to a baby whose only defense is crying is beyond cold! What’s worse is that this was probably some by someone close to the baby. Heartbreaking

  12. Prayers to the family and friends . My heart and thoughts are with all of you.

  13. Sherri Seago says:

    They should get the ladies from Cold Justice to solve this case!!

  14. Iowa has way too many cold cases. This poor lil child had to have suffered so! How heartbreaking even 26 years later! Gods comfort to the family!!

  15. Deanna Reed says:

    So sad the killer walks free.

  16. So sad. I pray that this baby gets the justice she deserves.

  17. :( so sad prayers to the family

  18. So sad prayer to the family I don’t know why people can be so cruel and would even think of doing such things! Why does evil have to exist.

  19. So sad… Prayers for little Amber… Rest in Peace with the Angels darling….. always…. Shared.

  20. Sylvia McVay says:

    Prayers sent to the family may they get justice so they can find peace so sad

  21. Josh Hukill says:

    That’s horrible.

  22. Poor baby…
    Somebody needs to pay for this!

  23. Jade Hemsley says:

    R.I.P. little one. I hope you get the justice you deserve baby girl xoxo

  24. travesty of Justice!!!

  25. Diana Wilson says:

    Oh, dear God. Who can do this to anyone let alone a tiny baby??? I can’t even comprehend this.

  26. Diana Wilson says:

    His story sounds fishy!!!!! I think the boyfriend did it.

  27. How could anyone do this to another person, let alone a BABY? :(

  28. Toni Vance says:

    So sad i hope someone kills that bastard.

  29. What kind of a person does that to a baby?!?! How sad

  30. Alli Smith says:

    Rest in peace sweet angel, I’m still praying the guilty will pay, all of them.

  31. Chey Megan says:

    That’s terrible he got away with it and worse that the cold case funds ran out to further investigate.. What a joke

  32. I find it hard to believe 12 people 5 are women could not reach a guilty verdict…..

  33. This is one of the most disturbing cases I’ve seen on this site. How absolutely horrible.

  34. Read this on cold cases the other day. This poor little baby was obviously murdered by that man! All evidence pointed at him! Now , I believe, (I read more then just this one, but think he is dead now)… May never know what happens to this sweet baby! I also read she has a sister whom is now and mommy and a nurse now.
    So very sad!

  35. I am her sister and I am a mommy of 2 little boys and I am a nurse

  36. Marcella says:

    I’ve known Mary, Amber’s mom, for over 30 years and Merisa you’re wrong. There’s not a day that she hasn’t grieved the loss of Amber. I will pray for you and your ignorance. The first and only thing anyone needs to know is everyone KNOWS who killed our sweet baby girl and I pray that God will bring justice to them. Truly the fact that evidence is “lost” and that justice hasn’t been delivered to the extent it should be is the real travesty. Shame on all of you have participated in the negligence and continuing pain of Mary and Barbara!

    Mary and Barb I love you and pray that you will get the justice and delivery of justice you deserve and so that your beloved Amber can finally rest in peace <3

  37. So sad. Who can do this!

  38. This one always breaks my heart. Hoping for justice.

  39. This is horrible for any human being to endure yet they leave these sick,twisted bastards back out on the streets again!!!!
    My heart goes out to the child and the heartbroken family.
    This is coming from a Mother who buried 2 Kids out of the 3 God Blessed me with. My heart is torn over this

  40. I pray that you get justice someday <3

  41. Sarah Knerr says:

    Someone should set a "go fund me" page for this case to help pay for DNA testing and other forensics. I know I would donate. So sad for kids to chase the sister with doll heads. I sincerely hope those children grew up to be more compassionate adults.

  42. I remember this…if I’m correct, a friend of mine was there when they found Amber… :(

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