Pottawattamie County in Iowa
Pottawattamie County in Iowa
Carter Lake in Pottawattamie CountyCarter Lake in Pottawattamie County

Humberto Cortez


Humberto Cortez
31 YOA
Paxton & Vierling Steel Co. rail car
Carter Lake, IA
Pottawattamie County
DCI Case # 96-06859
Body Found: June 21, 1996


On June 21, 1996, a partially decomposed male body was discovered in a rail car by a Paxton & Vierling Steel Co. employee. The body was identified in December 2009 as that of Humberto Cortez.

Further information on this case will be added soon. 

When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Cortez’s 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.

Information Needed

If you have any information about Humberto Cortez’s unsolved murder please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, email dciinfo@dps.state.ia.us, or contact the Carter Lake Police Department at (712) 347-5920.



11 Responses to Humberto Cortez

  1. Dick Jugel says:

    Here is an undated article, probably from the Omaha World Herald, that I found being used as a bookmark while browsing through a 1902 printing of an 1898 copyrighted book entitled “The Traction Engine” by James. H. Maggard, revised and enlarged by an expert engineer:

    Council Bluffs Bureau

    Authorities have learned the identity of a man whose body was found in a railroad car in Carter Lake in June.

    The dead man was Humberto Cortez, 31, a Mexican transient, according to Bob Henderson, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent in charge.

    Henderson said Tuesday that the identification was made by the California Justice Department, one of the many agencies that was sent fingerprints taken from the body.

    “He had a rather extensive criminal record and had been returned to Mexico by our authorities more than once — the last time being last March,” Henderson said.

    He said the man’s record included minor crimes such as trespassing and petty theft. There were no arrests on drug or alcohol charges, Henderson said.

    The body was found June 21 in an open steel-carrying rail car in the Pasxton & Vierling Steel Co. yard.

  2. Jack Jackson says:


    Here is some additional information about this case. According to newspaper articles published in 1996, Humberto Cortez was a Mexican citizen who was 31 at the time of his death in the United States. Over his life, Cortez entered the United States numerous times and had a criminal record (though the specifics were not given in the articles). The Associated Press ran an article on September 11, 1996, which quoted Iowa DCI Special Agent Bob Henderson’s announcement that the body was identified after a positive match to the victim’s fingerprints were obtained through the automated fingerprint identification system operated by the California Department of Justice.

    The manner of death and the discovery of the body is as follows in roughly reverse chronology. At approximately 10:15 AM on Friday, June 21, 1996, a load of steel inside an open-roof train car was inspected as it was pulled into a facility operated by the Paxton & Vierling Steel Company. Inside the car, an employee of the steel company discovered Cortez’ body in a state of heavy decay. Prior to his death, Cortez had been beaten and then stabbed in the heart. According to Agent Henderson, the victim had been deceased for two to three days at the time the body was discovered. At the time the body was discovered, investigators described the victim as a “white or Hispanic” male between the ages of 25 and 30.

    Investigators were able to generate a timeline of the train car’s whereabouts, which provided a likely place of death. The train car had originated from Texas, where it was loaded and sent north. Approximately a week and a half prior to the discovery of the body, the car arrived at the railyard in Council Bluffs, Iowa, before crossing into Omaha, Nebraska. It remained stationary at Omaha until the morning of June 20, 1996, when it was moved to the facility at Carter Lake. It arrived at about 9:00 AM but did not receive further processing at that time. The body was discovered when the car was moved into the steel company’s facility about 24 hours later. This suggests that Cortez died while the train car was in Omaha, suggesting the same was his place of death. In addition, this suggests that his date of death was approximately between June 18 and June 20 of 1996. Police did not say whether he was killed in the train car or the body placed there at some point afterward.

    Paxton & Vierling Steel Company, now called PVS, still operates in Carter Lake and is owned by parent company Owen Industries. I believe that “Humberto Cortez” may not have been the victim’s full, legal name, making it difficult to find information about the man in Mexican sources. While his date of birth was not provided, the AP article from September 11, 1996 provides an age which corresponds to a birth year of either 1965 or 1966. Because Cortez’ fingerprints were on-file in California, he may have had a criminal record in that state. Agent Henderson did not specify the state in which Humberto had a record, or the nature of that record. Based on the fact that he was known by law enforcement to have been in and out of the United States, it is possible that his record included immigration-related offences.

    I have not been able to locate any details on Cortez’ personal life, his occupation, or other places of residence.

    I hope this information helps answers some of the questions that have been asked, as well as fills in some “blanks” and clarifies some of the facts.

    Jack Jackson

  3. Nick Schaefer says:

    Carter lake is one of many places on both sides of the river where each stage has land in the others boundary. Carter lake is the only full city though. I was there the day Mr Cortez was found. In his state of decomposition there would have been no usable dna. Imo he died when the cars were connected causing the load to shift and Mr Cortez was killed by the ibeams

  4. I have no idea, Chris. He might have been homeless, but apparently no one had reported him missing.

  5. That’s what I was wondering Chris Pierce Moody.

  6. Why did it take so long to identify the body?

    • Mike Byrne says:

      It probably has something to do with the geography of Cater Lake and which state has jurisdiction.Due to the Missouri river changing course over the years,Carter Lake is now surrounded by Nebraska,not Iowa.I remember reading about this anomaly back in the 1960’s.It seems that both Nebraska an Iowa wanted to or didn’t want to claim ( I don’t remember which) Carter Lake as part of their state.The case finally went to the United States Supreme Court and the court decided that Carter Lake belonged to Iowa even though geographicly it was in Nebraska.If i remember correctly,neither state was happy about the Supreme Court decision but were resigned to live with it since there was no court left to appeal the decision.At any rate,I’m of the opinion that both states were disinclined to pursue the case despite the Supreme Courts deciision of 30+ years before.But,I could be wrong.Or not.

      • Jody Ewing says:

        Mike, thank you for this interesting piece of history! I did a little bit of research on it, and it appears Nebraska wanted to claim it after the 1877 flood, but Iowa wanted to keep it and “cried foul,” which led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Here’s an article about it published in the Omaha World-Herald last August.

        • Mike Byrne says:

          Well,it’s been 50 years since I read a different but similar article about Carter Lake,so please excuse me for not getting the facts correct.Don’t ask me what I had for breakfast this morning because my short term memory isn’t as good as my long term memory~;)

          • Jody Ewing says:

            Mike, no apologies necessary! I was quite intrigued by your June 19 comment, especially since I had no idea that Iowa and Nebraska had gone to the U.S. Supreme Court to determine what state actually owned Carter Lake.

            I drive down to the Eppley airport at least a couple of times each year, and while waiting for a plane to arrive, frequently park across the street at the Levi Carter Park, where one can walk out on the wooden docks and enjoy viewing all the lily pads floating in the lake (not to mention the beautiful views up and down the lake).

            You hadn’t gotten any of the facts wrong — you simply pointed out there had once been a fight between the two states over the lake’s ownership. It gave me the opportunity to learn more about an area not far from where I live. Thank you for that! :-)

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