Phil Terrell

DES MOINES—On Christmas Eve 1993, Phil Terrell went for a walk near his home on Des Moines’ south side.

The 42-year-old father of three never returned, and his family reported him as missing.

On Wednesday, March 2, 1994, a horseback rider found Terrell’s snow-covered, decomposed body in a creek bed just inside Warren County south of Des Moines.

Autopsy results showed Terrell died from blunt force trauma to the head.

His body had been dragged to the location where it eventually was found. Some of his clothing had been neatly folded and placed beneath his head.

Investigators thought his body had been in that same location since the day he disappeared, but due to the time it was exposed to the elements, said they had no physical evidence.

Family members said Terrell, who always had been a hard-working family man, had been associating with a rough crowd in 1993.

He started insisting someone wanted to harm him, and his family began to fear for his mental health.

Terrell’s girlfriend told varying stories to the family and to investigators.

FBI agents sorted through her contradictory statements and explanations, and asked her to submit to a lie detector test. She failed. Still, they had no hard evidence to tie her to the crime.

To this day, his family still wonders if the truth will ever be revealed.


Who: Philip G. Terrell

What happened: The 42-year-old Des Moines man went missing after going out for a walk on Dec. 24, 1993. His decomposed body was found in a creek bed on March 2, 1994.

How you can help: Contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at 515-725-6010 or e-mail


“Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa’s unsolved murders” is a yearlong collaborative effort by Iowa news organizations to revisit some of the most brutal and mystifying homicides in the state’s history. The N’West Iowa REVIEW is presenting some of the unsolved homicides in the hope that it will lead to new tips and potentially help solve cases.