‘John Doe’ Unidentified White Male — SOLVED

Robert-Bryan-McMahon-family-WHOTVCourtesy photo WHO-TV Channel 13, Des Moines
The man known for nine years only as “John Doe 2005” has been identified as Robert “Bryan” McMahon.



Channel 13 Investigation Helps Close Cold Case

From WHO-TV Channel 13, Des Moines, By Aaron Brilbeck

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.

This unidentified white male

This unidentified white male was found floating in the Des Moines River on Oct. 25, 2005. In November 2014 he was identified as Robert “Bryan” McMahon. (Courtesy photo NamUs)

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.”

Robert-Bryan-McMahon-with-children-WHOTVCourtesy photo WHO-TV Channel 13, Des Moines
Bryan McMahon with his two children.

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.


Previous Summary

Unidentified White Male
Approx. 30 to 50 years old
5’8″ to 5’10”
195 to 210 lbs.
Hair Color:
Brown, with goatee
Eye Color:
DMPD Case Number:
ME/C Case Number:
Location Found:
800 block W. Riverside Drive
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
Fingerprint and Dental Information:
charted and available
Sample submitted – Tests complete
Approx. Date of Death:
October 18, 2005
Body Found:
October 25, 2005
Body Identified:
November 12, 2014

He was somebody’s son. Perhaps someone’s father or brother.

Nobody knows.

Officials retrieve body from river.

Officials retrieve the victim’s body from the Des Moines River. (Courtesy photo WHO-TV)

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.

Sgt. Jeff Edwards

Des Moines Police Sgt. Jeff Edwards (Courtesy WHO-TV)

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.

Courtesy WHO-TV and Des Moines Police Dept.

Courtesy WHO-TV and Des Moines Police Dept.

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.

Homeless camp in Des Moines Courtesy photo WHO-TV
The victim’s body was found floating in the Des Moines River near this homeless camp in the vicinity of the 800 block of W. Riverside Drive in Des Moines.

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.

Medical Implants Information

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
Stephan Adams 1978 Oklahoma
James Amabile 1965 Pennsylvania
Joseph Beatty 1949 Florida
Alan Bernard 1960 California
Dennis Brady 1957 Georgia
Crist Dauberman Sr. 1948 Virginia
Scott Defelice 1964 Maryland
Clarence Dellis 1940 Louisiana
Neil Deshazer 1970 Arizona
Scott Dusa 1965 Michigan
William Evans 1961 Texas
Edward Foster 1959 Arizona
Shawn Goodrum 1966 Arizona
Jesse Hicks Jr. 1957 Virginia
Thomas King 1964 Maryland
Peter Lorang 1972 New York
Terance Lynch 1962 Arizona
Larry Madden 1972 Arkansas
Robert Manley Jr. 1959 Arizona
Stephen Meeks 1956 North Carolina
Amos Mortier 1977 Wisconsin
Kinsey Otto 1976 Nevada
Richard Petrone 1969 Pennsylvania
Joshua Reddington 1974 Idaho
Timothy Rice 1960 Washington
Christopher Stewart 1966 Iowa
Timmy Thompson 1965 California
DAVID THOMSON 1947 Minnesota
Robert Underwood, Jr. 1956 Maryland
Roland Welsh Jr. 1945 Texas
James Yarbrough 1969 Missouri

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


2 Responses to Unidentified White Male, Des Moines, Oct. 25, 2005

  1. Sarah says:

    Newspapers.com has a story about him from 2000, in the Des Moines Register.

  2. Theresa says:

    Circle check for the shoulder surgery. Start with closest moving out.

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