After Going Out To A Local Bar, A Young Iowa Mom Was Found Murdered In A Burned Truck

An Algona, Iowa, police officer thought he was responding to a farming mishap when he realized that he was at the scene of a heinous murder.

25-year-old Nicole Berte, 25, pictured here pregnant with her son, was murdered on November 17, 2000.

Nicole Berte, 25, went out to a local dive bar and never returned home. Days later, her body was found murdered in a burned vehicle on the side of the road.

Photo by: Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. [Screenshot from ID's "Murder in the Heartland"]

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. [Screenshot from ID's "Murder in the Heartland"]

Eight-year-old Bryan Berte spent the night of Friday, Nov. 17, 2000, with his grandmother, Lois at her home in Algona, Iowa. His mother, Nicole Berte, had plans to go out with friends and his stepdad, Chad, was headed to Minneapolis for the weekend. It was a win-win situation for all — the parents got some kid-free time, and Bryan got one-on-one time with his doting grandma.

The next morning, Nicole was late to pick Bryan up from her mom’s house. Lois began calling Nicole’s best friends, but they hadn’t seen her since the previous night. Nicole had apparently tried to convince her friends to go out with her, but they opted to stay in and watch movies instead. Lois drove through the small farming town looking for Nicole’s vehicle but didn’t see it. When she went to Nicole and Chad’s condo on the afternoon of November 18 and still didn’t find her daughter, Lois called 911 to report her missing.

The next morning, a deputy from the Kossuth County Sheriff’s Department was preparing for his morning shift when he was dispatched to a burned vehicle on Beer Can Alley, a rural road outside of town traversing the Iowa farmland. It was common for there to be combine fires and other farm equipment malfunctions, so the officer, Roger Fisher, assumed the call was farm-related.

The burned vehicle was a pickup truck on the side of the road. The truck’s bed was largely unscathed, but the cab was a charred, melted wreckage. When the officer approached the driver’s side of the vehicle he noticed a badly burned body on the back floorboard. The plates on the truck were registered to Chad Berte, and police confirmed the body was Nicole’s.

The Usual Suspect

25-year-old Nicole was forced to grow up fast when she got pregnant at 14 and dropped out of high school to care for her son. Later, she got her GED and went on to work several different jobs including bartending and factory work. Nicole’s friends found themselves pushed out of her life once she met Chad.

Chad was accustomed to a higher standard of living than Nicole and her friends were accustomed to. There was definite tension between how Nicole had been raised and what Chad wanted in life, according to her friends.

Police began trying to reach Chad by phone after they discovered the truck. When they finally got a hold of him eight hours later, he immediately made the three-hour drive home from Minneapolis and went right to the sheriff’s department to be interviewed. While he didn’t have an answer for why it took so long for him to answer their calls to his cell phone, investigators were able to determine that he had been in Minneapolis and couldn’t have had anything to do with the fire and Nicole’s death.

As investigators worked to piece together the last day of Nicole’s life, they learned she went alone to a local bar where she used to work and struck up a conversation with the other patrons.

Finding Clues

At the crime scene, investigators discovered a fresh cigarette butt nearby, and then they found three more as if somebody had smoked several cigarettes and discarded the butts as they walked toward town.

A gas station clerk on the edge of town noticed one of her regular patrons acting strangely the weekend that Nicole’s truck was found. When Randy Bode stopped in, he was wearing a black stocking cap pulled low over his head and had deep scratches down his face. The clerk asked what happened, and Bode answered quickly that he’d been wrestling with his nephews as he tried to pull the cap even lower over his face and cheek. He walked away from the store on foot, and the clerk called police.

Find out how police linked Bode to the crime on Murder in the Heartland “Murder on Beer Can Alley” premiering on ID on May 16 at 9/8c. Other episodes are available now on discovery+.

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