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November 12, 2014
Robert Bryan McMahon, known for nine years only as “John Doe 2005” after being found dead in the Des Moines River, was identified recently and his cremains have been presented to his family.
DES MOINES, Iowa — For nine years Des Moines police have been investigating a cold case involving a homeless man whose body was found in the river. Now that man’s family has some closure.
“We were able to present the cremains of what we’ve been calling John Doe 2005 for the past nine years to the family today….it’s good,” says Polk County Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Schmunk.
Schmunk fights back tears as he talks about finally giving a family closure. Back in October of 2005, the body of a man was found in the Des Moines River near the Center Street Dam. It was close to a homeless camp. The man had about $10 in cash on him, but no identification.
Over the years, investigators with the county medical examiners office struggled to identify him, showing doctors, police and the homeless a picture of the man’s face taken during the autopsy.
“We checked all the homeless encampments, we checked all of the shelters and everything else. Nobody could recognize this guy,” Dr. Schmunk says. “He had multiple admissions here at Broadlawns Medical Center. Nobody recognized the photographs that we showed them.”
Then, in 2010, we ran a story about the case as part of an ongoing series we were doing on cold cases. A woman thought she recognized the picture of the victim we showed as her ex-husband and called Des Moines police, but she tells us police incorrectly told her the body was that of a Hispanic male.
Last week, the woman checked out our story again on the iowacoldcases.org website, and was sure the body belonged to her ex-husband, Robert Bryan McMahon. She contacted the medical examiners office.
“Just ecstatic about how we got this done,” Dr. Schmunck says. “A little bit frustrated by the fact that we really tried…we did everything really right but the pieces just didn’t fit together.”
Family members tell us McMahon, who went by his middle name Bryan, studied to be a chef in France and Atlanta, and owned a restaurant in Boone for several years. They say he was a good man, but his alcoholism robbed him of his business, his family, and eventually his life. They say he can now have peace, according to the county medical examiner, because of the story we aired.
“It was absolutely crucial,” Dr. Schmunck says. “Had you not done your work, and Iowa Cold Cases not put it out there, he would have been never identified.”
Police say McMahon’s death is not considered suspicious.
To learn more about unsolved cases around the state, log on to iowacoldcases.org.
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He was somebody’s son. Perhaps someone’s father or brother.
What police do know is that on October 25, 2005, the body of a white male was found floating in the Des Moines River near the west bank in the vicinity of the 800 block of W. Riverside Drive in Des Moines.
The victim, believed to be somewhere between 40 and 45 years old, had brown hair with a goatee, was shirtless, wore size 36 tan shorts beneath size 38 blue trousers and also wore a yellow and white Relic brand watch.
“The body was actually located floating down the river — about the Center Street Dam area. It was north of the dam by the stairwells on the west side of the Des Moines River,” Des Moines Police Sergeant Jeff Edwards told Channel 13’s Aaron Brilbeck for a story WHO-TV aired December 9, 2010, as part of the station’s ongoing Iowa Cold Case series.
The man had less than $10 in cash and coins in his pockets, but no identification. Nor did he match descriptions of anyone police had listed as missing.
Autopsy reports determined the victim drowned, and police said it didn’t appear he had been beaten.
“There were no obvious signs of trauma to the person. No obvious signs of where he might have been assaulted or anything like that, so it’s still a mystery to us,” Edwards said.
The man’s body did, however, indicate he’d undergone shoulder surgery at some point; a surgical pin was found implanted in the victim’s left shoulder.
Little decomposition had taken place, leading police to believe the body had been in the water for just a few days.
Items found on the riverbank near the decedent included blue/gray/white athletic shoes and a brown Carhartt coat.
“Water temperatures were a little cold,” said Edwards. “I’m not sure what it was like on that day, but I would say it hadn’t been in there very long.”
The body was found in an area near several homeless camps, and though the man who found the victim listed his own address as a local homeless shelter, police are unsure as to whether the victim was homeless or possibly a transient.
Still, Edwards said, it would be nice to give the man’s family some closure and let them know what happened to their loved one.
“If this was an accidental drowning of a person that maybe didn’t have a lot of family around here or didn’t have family local, it would be nice for that family to at least be aware that this is what happened to that person,” Edwards told Brilbeck.
Screw in the left shoulder:
Inscription on the head reading “Concept 6.5 X 55 mm”
On the shaft of the screw just below the head is serial number “1982”
Washer around the screw – Inscription “Linvatec 14 X 1.3 mm MT0454”
The following individuals have been ruled out as being this decedent:
|First Name||Last Name||Year of Birth||State LKA|
Exclusion Table Courtesy NamUs
WHO-TV’s Aaron Brilbeck reports on the unidentified body found in 2005 in the Des Moines River.
Air date: Dec. 9, 2010