Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck stands near the area where the body’s remains were found.
DES MOINES — It’s been nearly 27 years since police found the badly decomposed body of a man in a watery area on the southeast side of town. Still, Des Moines police are no closer to figuring out who the man is or what happened to him.
On February 28, 1984, the remains were found in a wooded area just north of Maury Street near Scott, partially submerged in the water. The body’s condition led police to believe it may have been there since spring of 1983.
“(The) body was found and appeared to be kind of on its side in sort of a fetal position type, wearing nothing but blue jeans, a belt and tennis shoes,” said Des Moines Police Sergeant Jeff Edwards.
Courtesy photo WHO-TV, Des Moines
The unidentified man’s remains were found in this wooded area partially submerged in water. Police believe the body may have been there since spring 1983.
The body did show signs of trauma and some broken ribs, but police are not sure of a cause of death or whether it was accidental, natural or murder.
“The suspicion is that the body had been [there] for some time,” Edwards said. “Probably, at least at some point, the body was partially submerged which did deteriorate the body considerably so that what was discovered in February — the remains were mostly just bones and just a small patch of skin.”
That small patch of skin may hold the clues to solving this case. The man, who police say was white with brown hair and stood about 5-foot-8, had several tattoos.
Courtesy photo WHO-TV, Des Moines
Sgt. Jeff Edwards, Des Moines Police Department
On the victim’s right arm, there was a tattoo of a red flying bird carrying a streamer that said “MOTHER.” The word “DAD” is above the bird. Also on the right arm was a tattoo of a Nazi storm-trooper wearing a German helmet. The face under helmet is skull-like.
A third tattoo on the right bicep shows a laughing skull with a top hat and cigarette with the words Born To Die” encircling the design.
On the right side of the chest there was a profile of a woman with a gear with a wrench through it for an earring.
Near the center of the chest, a spotted snake appears to be coiled around a tree.
WHO-TV Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck reports on the unidentified body of a white male found in Des Moines
on February 28, 1984. Air date: November 4, 2010
“It’s been very difficult in going back now with this particular person because we don’t have a missing person that we can match up to the body that was recovered or to the remains recovered,” Edwards said. “We don’t have any identification. Nothing. Very little in the way of identifying marks other than the tattoos.”
The spot where the body was found is well known to police. It’s so remote, meth producers often cook drugs there and car thieves will ditch stolen vehicles.
Investigators say it’s important to identify the remains to give a family, somewhere, some closure and possibly get a killer off the streets.
“Whoever they are and whoever this person is, they deserve to know what happened to their loved one,” said Edwards. “And obviously, if it does turn out that it’s a homicide, we have someone out there that’s committed a homicide. We need to bring that person to justice.”
Anyone with information about the body is asked to call Des Moines Police at 515-283-4811.
Tattoos Found on the Remains
Right Arm Side Profile
Right Front Profile
Right Rear Profile
Tattoo 1 : Flying bird carrying streamer in its beak. Written inside streamer is “MOTHER”. The word “DAD” is above bird. The bird is in red-orange ink. Back of streamer is in green ink. Located right upper-arm near shoulder-tip. Dimensions: Approximately 3 inches from “DAD” to bottom of streamer. Approximately 2 1/2 inches from beak to tail.
Tattoo 2 : Nazi storm-trooper. Wearing German Helmet, iron cross, SS on collar tabs. Face under helmet is skull-like. Has appearance of wearing leather coat. Dark-colored ink. Located on side and extending to rear of right upper-arm. Dimensions: approximately 6 inches tall by 3 inches wide. Runs parallel to tattoos three and four.
Tattoo 3 : Laughing skull with top-hat and cigarette. The words “BORN TO DIE” encircling design. Red ink inside eyes. Green ink inside nose. Located on right arm/inside bicep. Approximately 1/2 inch above tattoo no. four. Total size approximately 1 3/4 inches wide at brim of hat by 2 inches long.
Tattoo 4 : Female face with dark hair under a sombrero. Fancy design on brim of sombrero. It’s believed that the sombrero was put on after the female’s features were tattooed. An additional tattoo of “JOHN” is visible under the design inside the sombrero brim. From top of hat to chin of female face is approximately 2 1/2 inches. The brim of the sombrero is approximately 2 1/4 inches wide. Located inner-arm approximately 3 1/2 inches. Located inner-arm approximately 3 1/2 inches from elbow joint. (right side) Approximately 1/2 inch below the skull in top-hat design.
Tattoo 5 : Female facial-profile/left side. Located on right side of chest above nipple. Tattooed so that female’s hair appears light-colored. NOTE: A distinctive feature is that female has a “gear” with a wrench through it for an earring. Dimensions: Tattoo would take up most of subject’s right breast-area.
Tattoo 6 : Appears to be a spotted snake coiled around a tree. Dark ink. Located in middle of chest; along the sternum, from the xiphoid process to the angle. Majority of this tattoo is indistinguishable due to skin deterioration.
Tattoo 7 : Dark-colored ink. No combination for colors. Believed that skin-section from abdominal area/right side between navel and chest. Approximate dimensions: (male cartoon figure minus head due to skin deterioration.) Toe to toe – 3 inches; sole to upper-chest – 3 3/4 inches.
Tattoo 8 : Dark-colored ink. No discernible color combinations. Butterfly pattern. Located on rear of right-side shoulder; towards collarbone area. Dimension: approximately 1 1/2 inches long. NOTE: No pattern distinguishable on rearward wing (possible due to skin deterioration).
” Cold Case: Officials Hope to Identify Man by Tattoos ,” WHOtv Channel 13 Des Moines, Nov. 4, 2010