Unidentified White Male, Des Moines

Description: Unidentified white male, 28-48 years of age, 5’7″ to 5’9″, approximately 150 lbs., brown hair, medium build, right handed, two surgical pins (washers) implanted in right knee. The lateral meniscus is not identified.

Date Found: February 28, 1984

Details: Skeletal remains found in brushy area along a dirt trail in Des Moines, Iowa.

Clothing: Faded blue denims with 31″ waist, a 30-1/2-inch inseam (not counting the up-turned 1 inch cuff), dark brown, wide leather belt with a metal buckle, brown socks, low cut TRAX brand sneakers, brown suede and blue nylon.

Possessions: Plastic comb, plastic Copenhagen brand snuff box, and a metal pocket knife.

Cause of Death: Blunt trauma

Probable Year of Death: 1983 to 1984

ME/C Case Number: 84-0162 DOE

Agency: Polk County Medical Examiner’s Office – 515-286-2102

Cold Case: Officials Hope to Identify Man by Tattoos

Story by Aaron Brilbeck, WHO-TV Channel 13, Des Moines
November 4, 2010

Courtesy photo WHO-TV, Des Moines
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 or the Polk County Medical Examiner’s Office at 515-286-2102.

Fingerprint information is available and entered.

Dental information / charting is available and entered.

Tattoos Found on the Remains

Right Arm Side Profile

Right Front Profile

Right Rear Profile










Tattoo 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).



18 Responses to Unidentified White Male, Des Moines, 2-28-84

  1. andrea says:

    Has the white supremacist angle been looked at? Given the nazi stormtrooper tattoo it seems like he must have been a white supremacist.

  2. Genea Sporer says:

    I wonder if he was left handed and did the tats himself, seems like a lot of them all on one side.

  3. They don’t look like prison tats. Prisons do, however keep really good data on prisoners tats. It may be a good place to look for tattoo data.

  4. Those are not prison tats…not all of them… Not even most of them.

  5. Mandie El says:

    There prison tats no color n they look homemade.

  6. Eddi Stearns says:

    I can’t believe that someone doesn’t recognize this guy especially with all the tattoos? I mean in 1983 there couldn’t have been a lot of people who were “covered” in them. :/

  7. Joshua Brown says:

    Ether biker tats, military or prison. Very sad there are so many.

  8. Debbie Henry says:

    shared, hope you find out who he is..

  9. Don Thomas says:

    Between the tats, pin, and dental records or DNA you would think this one would have been solved long time ago.

    • Jody Ewing says:

      Mike, Vesta and Don, I also would have thought someone would have stepped forward to identify this man a long time ago, especially given the tattoos and surgical pin. The only info we have, however, is what has been released by the Iowa Department of Public Safety. This person’s page is on their site here. I’ve often wondered if the victim wasn’t from out of state, where family members may only be searching the home state’s databases.

      It’s a rare instance when someone doesn’t have at least one surviving family member somewhere — a mother, father, brother, sister, spouse or ex-spouse or child — and most families seldom give up searching for lost loved ones. This case leaves all kinds of unanswered questions.

  10. Vesta says:

    The pin in his leg might give a clue also. I don’t know why, but the first thing I thought when I first read this was that he could be a Vietnam veteran.

  11. Mike says:

    I wonder if the cops took DNA samples.I’m guessing with all of them tatooo’s he had done time somewhere and theres a good chance that his DNA is on file.

  12. Theresa says:

    I suspect this individual was an inmate at some point. “Borne To Die” would then be indicative of a drug addiction. Possibly incarcerated in a Mexican prison due to the woman in a sombrero, very popular down their. Birds generally meaning a wish to be free. Hispanic gangs of the southwest have grim reaper tat along with sinister faced clown tat. Possibly San Quentin, Folsom or Soledad. Check Pocoima.

  13. kelly says:

    Since no one can identify him from all of those tattoos, it would lead me to believe that he was not from anywhere around here.

    • Deek Richards says:

      I concur, Kelly. I’ve been following this case for years and am shocked he has still not been identified. Someone has to remember doing those tats or remember the man having them! As I stated above, I think this is going to have go national so that everyone in the US see’s it. Then perhaps, we’ll get an ID or at least a tip on this poor man’s ID.

      I also agree with Theresa’s comment below. He certainly may have spent time incarcerated and if so, it may have been somewhere in the SW US or California as she suggested. I would check out Phoenix and the AZ area as well as CA, NM, TX and Mexico.

      This makes me so sad. He is someones loved one and someones son. I hope we can get him ID’d soon. It’s been much too long as it is and we have to also remember, tats like these were not at all common when this man was found in the mid 1980’s. Now everyone has them but back then, hardly anyone did.

  14. Tim Wood says:

    It’s unreal how no one has come forward with anything on this man. with all those tattoos especially. You mean to tell me no one remembers or knows someone who had those tattoos. I have two and everyone I know knows I have them. so sad…..

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