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 in Iowa
Muscatine County in Iowa
Muscatine in Muscatine CountyMuscatine 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 BrockertCourtesy 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 is 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 © 2024  Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


115 Responses to Amber Hayes

  1. Jane Ray says:

    RIP Precious baby. You are too good for this horrible world.

  2. NLM says:

    I’m slightly confused as there is an upcoming burial for her. I don’t see any arrests or anything to that degree. Did MPD release her remains just now, or is there something that has changed in the case? Prayers to the family.

  3. John doe says:

    Jose Canas Is the true killer of Amber Hayes!!!

  4. Spoof says:

    Bad parenting by the mother leaving the kid with a drug dealing junkie she is as much to blame for this crime

  5. John Wunder says:

    I was the Attorney who defended Les Brockert. I have left comments here before. Why were they deleted? John Wunder.

    • Kristin Smith says:

      That isnt something I would be bragging about!!!!

    • Barb Campbell says:

      I have never seen anything from you on here before. You defended him wasn’t that enough? What made you come here to comment anyway?

      • Kristin Smith says:

        I seen them Barb… he was once again defending him on here…. and how he was found not guilty blah blah blah….. and I said it then and I will say it again…. he was found not guilty on kidnapping not on murder….. so murder is still on the table…..

        • Kristin Smith says:

          Everyone knows he’s guilty except for his family that may have something to do with it….

    • Jody Ewing says:

      John, I apologize for my tardy response to your question. I do remember you making one or two comments and I also remember responding. I did a search on my computer and found a single text document referencing what you’d written Aug. 20, 2012, that said (verbatim):

      –>I was Brokert’s attorney. He did not give police five stories, nor were there gloves or shovel in his car. The medical examiner testified the child was murdered 72 hours after Broker was arrested.< -- It also showed my response (which I will post below), but I honestly have no idea why your comment went missing as well as my response. As a rule, comments are never deleted unless there is excessive profanity (yours certainly did "not" fall into that category), and I'm at a loss as to what happened because I would not delete a comment to which I had replied. My response had included some of the text currently included in Amber's case summary. I'd written (also verbatim): -->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 interview notes taken during the investigation, a special agent with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said Brockert gave five different stories regarding Amber’s disappearance.

      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.<-- I do remember one point in time (many years ago, though I don't recall the year) when we'd made the transition from using WordPress's regular comment form to using their "Jetpack" version, and I'd received perhaps a dozen emails from people who'd asked why their comments were deleted (on other cases). I hadn't deleted those, either, and though I was able to find some of them in old email messages notifying me (from WordPress) of new comments received, it wouldn't allow me to "re-approve" the comment so I'd reposted them manually citing the comment's original date and poster's name. I don't recall any other comment glitches since that incident. All my best, Jody at ICC

      • Barb says:

        John also stated after the trial that was held that if it went to a murder trial that he would not be representing him.

    • caleb clark says:

      you’re a piece of shit mr defense attorney

  6. Kristin Smith says:

    Unfortunately MPD is far too busy to reopen the case and investigate. Evidence has been lost so the story goes…. I for one have written letters to numerous agencies trying to get justice for Amber…. always the same answer it is out of hands…. The beat thing thing this family has is each other and knowing the fact there is no statue of limitations on MURDER!!!! He was tried for kidnapping and was found not guilty….. There is still a murder charge on the table and I hope for the sake of Amber’s family he will be blessed with the murder charge and found guilty….. how this POS sleeps at night is beyond me….

    • Heather LaGuera Arenivas says:

      Sounds like you all were there and know exactly what happened that horrible night. What are the facts, as I myself do not know because I wasnt there or around. From what I can tell is that a perfectly innocent child was taken from her home, where she was left by her monther in the care of said Les Brockert? And from there I have no idea until a schoolmate of mine found a part of her. So can someone fill in the missing pieces? From being at home, to being scattered across Port Louisa.

  7. JOSIAH says:


  8. JOSIAH says:


  9. I would think that law enforcement would know if Les was in fact in jail during the time frame of the murder or not…

    • Kristin Smith says:

      Les was laying on the couch with a cocaine fueled headache and did not look when someone entered the house and apparently took the baby (per statements given by Les)…. I’m sorry I dont care who you are, you are going to look when someone enters your house especially if are “high” because paranoia of being caught sets in. There is no doubt in my mind he is the one who murdered this baby. Karma will catch up to him and when it does I hope and pray it hurts like hell.

  10. Could the murder have been committed in the wee hours of the morning of the 8th, right after midnight…would fly larva (DNA testing) indicate the true hour of death. Was there something about the child’s left or right cheek area?

  11. Maybe DNA will bring justice to this case one day.

  12. This is so wrong an someone somewhere knws wat happen . this twn is to small not to knw .

  13. I know the loss of a loved one due to murder, I know the surviors guilt she feels,im sure she has beat herself up over and over for leaving her baby with someone who she may of trusted and thought she knew. His whole story makes no sense he was alert enough to use the drugs and sell em but when he seen omeone come in he didnt look up? our mom is in my prayers im sorry i came off the way i did i didnt mean anything bad at her I just pray she gets the anwers and baby girl gets justice

  14. I know the mom to this little girl and you can still see the sorrow in her eyes. Such a wonderful person and the family didn’t deserve this. I hope some day this will be solved

  15. She has never been forgotten and has been a huge lesson to all us parents how important our child is to us

    God bless u amber we will never forget u

  16. Miss u amber we will never forget u n someday that bastard will be found n guilty R.I.H little angel I will never forget that horrible night

  17. How heartbreaking! How could anyone do such a thing to anyone… More or less an innocent baby?

  18. Davina Tewes says:

    Could someone post a link for this? I’m getting errors when trying to open this link. Thanks!!

  19. The kids who found her body had to have been terribly traumatized as well. :(

  20. Somebody is going straight to hell. I know that much.

  21. So he was high, he was selling drugs, BUT he don’t know who came in the house?? Dosent make sense any of it. How irresponsible of her to leave her baby with an addict. Too many questions and not enough answers that make sense!

    • She had known him her whole life and had never shown any reason before that that she couldn’t trust him. You don’t think that hasn’t crossed her mind over the years. What mother wouldn’t feel the blame over the loss of your own child. My mother has suffered enough over this. Hind sights always 20/20, everyone would be genius if you had the for sight to see in the future and know if something bad has happened.

    • Melanie Wood says:

      I agree. Bad choice and irresponsible to say the least. Leave a baby with a drug user that you choose as a boyfriend. He killed that baby in a cocaine fuled rage. No one Just walked in there.

  22. Diana Wilson says:

    OMG!!!! I never heard about this. Who, just WHO in the world could do this???? I’m sick!!!!

  23. Rest in peace Baby Girl, you are in Gods hands.

  24. Who could do that to a baby!!! How awful

  25. Gina McGrann says:

    It sounds like there was a lot of evidence against the bf. Forensics now would be able to piece this together. They could match soil samples from where her body was found against particles from the tires. Sad.

  26. How could any one be so sick!

  27. Darcy Long says:

    Who the hell could do this?? Drugs make u do messed up stuff!! Prayers that something comes around soon..

  28. Why was there no mention of investigation against the father? I’d bet there’s going to be evidence linking mom to the kids death with her random “first night out since baby born story” on top of she already knew the world of two parent homes and all that comes with it with her oldest daughter, or the dad who maybe didn’t want the burden and may have connections with the two suspects, I doubt that the “roommate” acted alone in all this or why not act sooner when he allegedly watched the kid numerous times before….

  29. Ashlee says:

    Rest easy, Amber..
    The family still reads your story over and over again. We love you. And we will find justice! There’s not a day that goes by without thinking about you. You’re a beautiful baby. You’d be absolutely beautiful now, as always. Rest easy,babygirl.
    Love, cousin Ashlee.
    We will find the truth on what happened, babygirl..
    As mom&grandma would sing,
    “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine. you make me happy, when skies are grey. You may not know, dear. How much I love you. Please, don’t take my sunshine away…”
    Rest in paradise, Amber marie.
    Till we all meet again ?
    Give grandma kisses for me

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

  31. 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.

  32. I pray that you get justice someday <3

  33. 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

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

  35. So sad. Who can do this!

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

  38. 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!

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

  40. Andie Larson says:

    Rip little one, you didn’t deserve this!

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

  42. 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

  43. Alli Smith says:

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

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

  45. Toni Vance says:

    So sad i hope someone kills that bastard.

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

  47. Diana Wilson says:

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

  48. Diana Wilson says:

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

  49. travesty of Justice!!!

  50. Jade Hemsley says:

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

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

  52. Josh Hukill says:

    That’s horrible.

  53. Sylvia McVay says:

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

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

  55. 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.

  56. :( so sad prayers to the family

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

  58. Deanna Reed says:

    So sad the killer walks free.

  59. 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!!

  60. Sherri Seago says:

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

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

  62. 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

  63. 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.

  64. merisa says:

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

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

  66. OMG how could somebody be so evil

  67. 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.

  68. Kris says:


  69. tyler phillips says:

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

  70. Theresa says:

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

  71. 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!!

  72. nancy says:

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

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