Missing in Vermont: The Case of Brianna Maitland

Brianna Alexandra Maitland was born October 8th, 1986 in Burlington Vermont to loving parents Kellie and Bruce. She was raised with an older brother in the small town of East Franklin near the Canadian border where her parents owned and operated a farm. She grew up doing farm chores and longed for a life beyond that.

On her 17th birthday, her parents hesitantly agreed to let her move about 15 miles away and transfer to the Enosburg Falls high school. Brianna hated the country life, she had no desire to be a farmer like her family, and she wanted to go where her friends were, her boyfriend at the time, and a town where there were more opportunities for her future. 

It would seem though that things weren’t as easy on her own as she had expected. For nearly 6 months, Brianna seemed to bounce from friends house to friends house, until ultimately in February of 2004 she dropped out of her new high school and moved in with her childhood friend Jillian Stout. Brianna’s parents insist this period of restlessness was just their daughter trying to assert her independence and learn who she is and what she wanted. They are adamant that there were no problems at home, or dramatic issues going on in her life causing instability. 

Brianna wasn’t entirely restless though, and her friends and family describe her as having big goals. When she dropped out of highschool she very quickly enrolled in a program to get her GED so she could head to college as soon as possible. At the rate she was pushing herself, she was on track to be there before her friends even graduated. 

The day of March 19th 2004 started out as a really wonderful day. Brianna completed her GED exam in the morning, and her mom Kellie took her out to lunch and to do some shopping to celebrate. Over lunch they discussed Brianna’s college plans and the two chatted excitedly about her future. After lunch they shopped together, and at one point Brianna told her mom “I’ll be right back” and stepped outside. Kellie completed her purchase and met Brianna at the car a few moments later. She said her mood had palpably shifted- she seemed agitated. Kellie tried to ask a little, but Brianna was short with her, saying she needed to get home to get ready for her shift that evening. In retrospect, her father doesn’t feel that was abnormal for her given that she had a lot to do that afternoon, since she wouldn’t want to be late to a job that was relatively new.

Kellie dropped Brianna off at Jillian Stout’s house sometime between 3:30 and 4:30 that afternoon. It was the last time her mother ever saw her. Brianna got ready for work and left a note for her roommate saying she’d be home after her shift, and she headed to work as a dishwasher at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery Vermont in her green 1985 oldsmobile. When her shift ended, her coworkers invited her to hang out but she was starting a new second job in the morning, so she was going home to get some rest. She left the Black Lantern alone at 11:20pm when she clocked out and her manager saw her leave. 

The next morning, March 20th 2004, a Vermont State Trooper was dispatched to an old abandoned house off route 118 outside of Montgomery only about a mile from the Black Lantern Inn. The state police had gotten reports of a car crashed into the side of the house in a very peculiar way- reversed, trunk end first, with one of its hind wheels up on the foundation in such a way that it was unable to drive back out. The car had a piece of plywood from a window covering on the house laid over the trunk. Outside of the car the trooper found loose change, a water bottle, and an unsmoked cigarette. Inside of the car the trooper found two uncashed paychecks. He assumed the car had been abandoned by a drunk driver who’d crashed, and had it towed to a local garage. 

When Brianna’s roommate Jillian returned home from a weekend away and found the note still in the same place she’d seen it on Friday, she was a little confused and concerned. She calmed herself down and convinced herself as best she could that everything was fine- Brianna had just gone elsewhere for the weekend. But overnight that nagging feeling of worry weighed on her, so sleepless and scared, she called Kellie on Monday to tell her she could not reach Brianna.  

Frantic with worry about this abnormal behavior, Kellie called absolutely everyone she could think of who might know where Brianna could be. When no one had seen or heard from her since Friday, she called the police and filed a missing person’s report. It took two more days for the officers to connect the abandoned car to the missing girl. 

After news of Brianna’s disappearance broke publicly, several people came forward to say that they saw the car at the old Dutchburn house as well. The first was reported as approximately 12:15 am by a man who saw the car with headlights on, and didn’t see anyone in or around the car. The next report was  12:30am who thought they saw the  turn signal flashing but didn’t see anyone in or around the car. Brianna’s own ex boyfriend, James Robatialle, was the next who reported the scene at 2:30am. He says he stopped, shut off the lights and shut the doors. This wasn’t unusual for him to pass by, as it was on his road home. Unfortunately, her has since passed in a motor vehicle accident himself and is unable to provide any new information. Investigators have not listed any reason to believe he was involved.

The next morning, March 20th, tourists on a ski vacation happened by and found the scene so odd that they pulled out their disposable cameras and took photos. Since Brianna’s car had already been impounded, this was an incredibly valuable piece of evidence! The photo corroborates the responding officers report of the condition of the car, and the items surrounding the car. The tourists also reported seeing a broken bracelet or necklace on the ground next to the car.

At first police were skeptical of any foul play- They really thought she must have just run away given her living situation. But still, the area was combed on foot by police and dogs to no avail. If she had run away, there was no indication she’d done so on foot. 

On March 30th, the car was collected from impound and was processed as a crime scene. Investigators took their reports and then returned it to the family. Brianna’s dad Bruce noted other items of significance that Brianna had left behind:  contacts and a contact lens case, plus her glasses, her prescription migraine meds, and her atm card were all left behind. Based on whatever the investigators recovered from the car, and Bruce’s insistence that these were not items she could go without, the Vermont State Police acknowledged publicly that this was a probable case of foul play.

The investigation has pressed on slowly but steadily over the last 18 years. Whenever anyone disappears there are multiple options. In Brianna’s case, pretty much everyone agrees right off the bat that there’s no reason for anyone to think she took her own life. Though police initially suspected she may have run away, the things she left behind, and the lack of preparation for such a big adventure made them think otherwise. Furthermore, she’d had to have had some major help with that, and absolutely no one they’ve interviewed seems to have any knowledge of that plan.

If foul play, who? And why?

Investigators have thoroughly followed through on any leads from the people she had relationships with in life. When researching this case, there are several names that pop up in connection to Brianna, but no person has ever been substantiated as a suspect. Investigators warn the public to be careful with any rumors they spread, because over the years those speculative theories have had a way of transforming into the media to be presented as fact.

Maura Murray

Brianna’s disappearance has been investigated in connection with other murders as well. Just 5 weeks before Brianna went missing, UMass student Maura Murray went missing under similar circumstances, with police finding her car abandoned just 90 miles away from where Brianna’s car was found. In later years, Brianna was investigated after the suicide of serial killer Israel Keys who had victims in Vermont. All connections to both cases have been ruled out by the FBI.

In 2006 casino footage from Atlantic City revealed video of a guest who looked remarkably similar to Brianna. Investigators have never identified the woman, but Brianna’s mom doesn’t believe it was her. Human trafficking though is a very real possibility, and many have looked to that over the years as a potential motive. Brianna was very beautiful, and her family believes this is a very real possibility for what happened to their daughter. Detective Baker says its a problematic area to investigate because there’s so much shame and guilt surrounding sex work and addiction that many victims don’t come forward. She does say that Vermont to New York was a route for drug trafficking and its a theory that’s always been at the forefront of their minds. 

In 2007 a flier provided by the FBI to reinvigorate the investigation said that the car crash scene may have been staged to appear as an accident, officially validating something many people already believed. The eerie manner in which the car was backed into the abandoned building left many people who saw it completely shaken. A lot of the armchair detectives of the world agree- is it possible that she was trying to get away from someone, in her panic used reverse instead of drive, crashed the car and then had to run on foot? We asked Chief Louis Barry, a private investigator involved in her case, and it’s his personal opinion that the scene was not staged, so this may just be one of those speculative rumors that have spread unfoundedly.

In 2016 the old abandoned Dutchburn House burned down due to arson, a crime that has been prosecuted and has no connection with Brianna’s case.

Also in 2016 investigators revealed that one week after her disappearance, they had collected an item from the ground near where Brianna’s car had been found. This item could not be connected with certainty to Brianna, but this new announcement revealed that DNA had been collected from this item and it had led to no matches.

March 18th 2022, almost 18 years to the day of her disappearance, Othram announced that they had partnered with the Vermont State Police a while back, funded by Paul Holes of the Murder Squad. 

Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a DNA profile and conducted genealogical research to develop investigative leads so the Vermont State Police could continue their work. After months of follow-up investigation, police were able to locate, interview, and obtain DNA samples from candidate donors. These DNA samples were sent to the Vermont Forensic Laboratory for comparison testing. The lab confirmed that DNA from one of the individuals matched the DNA on the item found on the ground near Brianna’s vehicle.

-dnasolves.com

It’s really important to note that this does not mean a suspect has been identified. Remember, the DNA was collected on an item at the scene where Brianna’s car was found, but there was no way to know when that item was placed there or what the connection was. We need to be clear that this person is NOT one of the 11 or 12 people from Brianna’s life who were looked at in connection with this case. Thus far, there’s no reason to connect this person to Brianna’s disappearance, but we eagerly await any new announcements.

Call to Action: 

Join us this week by listening to the Lost Souls of America Podcast to hear an interview with Chief Louis Barry who helps us clear any rumors or misunderstandings in the case.

Chief Louis Barry is a retired law enforcement officer with over 35 years of experience, 24 as Chief of Police. He’s been teaching college as an adjunct professor since 1990 at several colleges and universities, and he’s also a certified police instructor in a variety of fields for Massachusetts police academies.

He’s been working as a private investigator since his retirement, and he works primarily on cold cases for an organization called Private Investigations for the Missing, which is a non profit organization founded by Bruce Maitland, Brianna’s father.

You can help support Brianna and other missing people by following https://investigationsforthemissing.org/

Age Progressed Photo

Brianna Maitland was last seen March 19th 2004 at the Black Lantern Tavern and Inn in Montgomery Vermont. Her Pale green four-door 1985 Oldsmobile sedan was located on March 20, 2004 off East Berkshire Road and Route 118, across Dutchburn Farm Road, about a mile outside of Montgomery. At the time of her disappearance Brianna was described as a caucasian female with brown hair and hazel eyes 5’3 – 5’5, 105 – 118 pounds. Brianna has a faint scar extending from her left eyebrow to her forehead. Her left nostril is pierced; she wore a small ring or stud in it at the time of her disappearance. She wears contact lenses and takes prescription medication for migraines, but all were left behind when she vanished. Brianna’s nicknames are Bri and B. She was 17 at the time of her disappearance. She is turning 36 this year. If you have any information about the disappearance of Brianna Maitland please call Vermont State Police 802-524-5993

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Murdered in North Carolina: The Case of Mary Collins

Mary Santina Collins was born in July of 1999. Mary was a small, beautiful, gentle, loving young woman who was born with 22q Syndrome.  

“The 22q11.2 deletion syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by a missing section (microdeletion) of chromosome 22, which is present from the time a child is conceived. The 22q11.2 deletion is almost as common as Down syndrome. It is present in 1 out of every 1,000 live pregnancies, in 1 in 68 children with congenital heart disease, and in 5 to 8 percent of children born with cleft palate. The deletion has the potential to affect almost every system in the body and can cause a wide range of health problems — although no two people are ever exactly alike or affected in the same way. “

From the International 22q Foundation:

Mary had a submucosal cleft palette which she had to have surgery to improve at three years old. Though the doctor was skeptical she’d ever be able to talk, she began using signs and her lively personality to communicate her needs. By 6 years old she was able to speak, but her speech was always impaired, making it challenging to advocate for herself. One of the heartbreaking things that the family points out now is that Mary was not able to scream for help the way you or I might assume someone could- a fact that has really pushed them to scream for justice on her behalf. 

Mary lived with her grandmother, and the pair had a very close loving relationship. I asked her to tell me a little bit about Mary. There was a lot that was still so painful and raw to her so it was hard. I could really feel the longing when I spoke with her. 

“Mary loved music and had an excellent ear for it. She liked photography and was very talented at it. She liked makeup and hair colors. She loved her family and friends deeply. She adored Sushi. She loved to shop. She loved The World Market and Japanese Candy. She liked Coconut cake. She liked spicy foods and snacks. She loved to try new foods. She was giving and loved to give to people and to give them gifts…My memories are deep and those of a parent who was deeply loved by a child. I can not simply remember Mary, she is a part of my own soul”

– Mary’s grandmother to LSA

Mary was stunningly beautiful, I personally think she looked a lot like Jessica Simpson with a bit more of an edge- incredibly gorgeous and photogenic.. Her family says she was shy, and because of the 22q her cognitive abilities were somewhere around 15 years old- in some areas maybe higher, in some areas maybe lower. Mary needed some help with a lot of the tasks we associate with independence. Getting around, shopping, making change, she didn’t drive, etc..  Though her loving, sweet nature was something her family remembers with fondness, it also meant she always wanted to see the best in people. Because she was so trusting, she became an easy target for manipulative predators. 

On March 28th, 2020, authorities say that Mary was sent an Uber by some people claiming to be her friends. Lavi Pham knew Mary from highschool and he lived with his girlfriend Kelly Lavery at an apartment in the arts and entertainment district known as NoDa in Charlotte North Carolina. Social media shows Mary, Lavi, and Kelly joyfully bringing take out up to the apartment- sushi- Mary’s favorite. According to some reports, this was not a spur of the moment thing- Kelly had been grooming Mary for months leading up to this night, making Mary believe that she had grown a trusting friendship, something she desperately wanted and was eager to pursue. Mary thought Kelly and Lavi cared about her, something the social media videos demonstrate as Kelly lovingly touches Mary’s face in the elevator. 

Also on Saturday March 28th, 2020, after Mary had left the home to meet her friends, the Governor of North Carolina officially shut everything down due to the new at the time problem of Covid 19. At the time, Mary wasn’t responding to any calls or text and it appeared as if her phone had been shut off. But then Lavi posted those social media photos and videos, which left Mary’s family with a false sense of security for about a day. 

When Mary still didn’t come home though, her grandmother knew something was very wrong and went directly to the apartment herself. She knocked on the door and Kelly answered. She was told that yeah, sure, Mary had been here but Mary had left at around 11am. As her grandmother stood there yelling for Mary, calling her name, the couple let her take a quick glance around the front room of the apartment, and then had her leave. She searched outside of the apartment grounds for hours, and eventually called 911. One of the most powerful things she told me was “I did not call 911 to report her missing, I called to get help. To make them give Mary to me.“

The 911 operater told Mary’s grandmother to go home and wait there, because that’s where Mary had last been seen, that an officer would come by the house to take a report and another would go to the apartment to check for Mary. She says she was completely distraught and didn’t want to do that at all, still knowing that Mary was somewhere in that apartment. But she says she trusted the police, and went home reluctantly and waited for them to collect Mary and bring her home. The officer who responded to the NoDa complex did a “well check” knocking on the apartment door and no one answered, so the officer left. 

Police did file a missing person’s report on behalf of Mary, and her case was assigned a detective to investigate. The next day, Detective Gaskin called Mary’s grandmother on the phone while she was standing outside the apartments again, searching for Mary. He told Mary’s grandmother that he would not be able to make it out there that day. Mary’s family says that he was notified and aware of Mary’s diagnosis, and when her family members didn’t want to leave the apartment grounds, Detective Gaskin simply told them they could call 911 again. She stood there, knowing Mary was trapped inside and she was locked outside, feeling helpless and hopeless. 

Not knowing what else to do she took matters into her own hands and called the apartment manager who told her he’d look at the security camera footage for the time Kelly told them Mary had left the apartment. While he was searching for that footage, the police officers responded to the new 911 call but Lavi Pham would not let them in. Lavi did let Mary’s mother in briefly, and it’s reported that she saw someone laying on the bed, tucked it- he told her it was his girlfriend Kelly who was asleep. The apartment manager was also told at this time to STOP looking at the security footage by the 911 responding officer, for unknown reason, and Det. Gaskin later said that he was waiting for a warrant. 

By April 1st, Mary’s family was completely frantic with worry. No one felt the police were taking them seriously, or understanding that Mary was not just some average 20 year old who’d run off in search of some independence. They begged him to understand that Mary COULD NOT have simply left on her own. She wouldn’t have, but more than that she couldn’t have. She needed help navigating those matters and it simply wasn’t possible. 

Meanwhile the community banded together to conduct a search for Mary. Flyers were made and distributed, organizations were contacted, bloodhound searchers were hired, and physical grounds searches for nearby areas were conducted. They spoke to sex trafficking experts, and were willing to explore any possibility to find her. The kids of the family all took to social media to spread the news far and wide. The police didn’t contribute to these search efforts at all- they were on their own. Police even told a local news station that they didn’t believe Mary was in danger. 

But Mary’s grandmother knew where Mary was. She wasn’t missing. She was inside the apartment. And no one would listen to her cries for help. Detective Gaskin actually told her that Lavi and Kelly felt threatened by her, and she was asked to stop knocking on their door.

Eventually on April 2nd, five days after Mary was last seen, Detective Gaskin conducted a search of the apartment himself. He sat on the couch and interviewed them. He walked around. He looked in closets and corners, he even lifted up the mattress. He then reported to Mary’s family that the search brought up nothing. According to her grandmother, he said “Do you understand Mary is not inside that apartment?” She told him no, she didn’t understand that, and that if Mary’s not there you need to make them tell us where she is and what they did with her. 

At that time, Mary’s uncle contacted the CEO of the apartment complex and within ten minutes they were able to get their answers from the security footage. No warrant needed. Unfortunately some of the footage had been deleted because of the new calendar month, but in any case it showed what was known by her family all along- They watched every moment of days of footage, just to verify- No footage of Mary ever leaving the complex. 

On April 4th, around 10pm, Mary’s grandmother received a phone call telling her that authorities were at the complex and there was an ambulance. She ran out the door headed for the local ER looking forward to seeing Mary alive and safe. When Mary wasn’t at that ER, she headed on her way to the next ER when another phone call told her she’d misunderstood. She needed to come and be with family. They had found Mary. She had been murdered.

When they recovered her body from the apartment, Mary had been tortured and assaulted. They stabbed her frail frame at least 133 times and left her to bleed to death. They then wrapped her in saran wrap and duct tape, and hid her in the mattress. The very mattress that police had lifted as part of their search before. She was just 20 years old. And she had been there all along. 

What got police to finally take the search seriously was not Mary’s family’s cries for help. A witness had actually come forward and said that a young man named James Salerno had told him he was at a party with Mary, and Lavi and Kelly had beat her in the bathtub, tied her up, murdered her, and hid her body in a mattress with intent to burn it later. That witness allegedly had to call the police twice to get them to listen to the claim with sincerity. 

According to authorities, Lavi Pham, Kelly Lavery, and James Salerno committed the brutal murder of Mary, and then the three called in a fourth friend, America Diehl, to help with clean up. All four were arrested and are currently awaiting trial.  Pham, Lavery, and Salerno have all been charged with kidnapping and murder. Lavery and Salerno are set to be arraigned on April 21st, 2022. Pham’s arraignment is June 21st. America Diehl has only been charged with concealing a death and accessory after the fact. She is currently out on bond, living with family, and facing very few restrictions. America Diehl’s bond has been yet another trauma in an agonizing two year ordeal for Mary’s family. How can someone take part in a horrific prolonged murder, and be out free? 

In Mary’s honor, her family and friends have created Mary’s Voice 

“We are a grass roots movement first for justice for Mary but we have goals in addition to change the police policies and procedures to better protect people with disabilities and young adults like Mary. We wish to advocate for an independent alert tailored to the disabled. We also plan to share our experiences with the justice and legal system as well as law enforcement to better inform families of people with disabilities…Right now we fight for justice for Mary first and foremost, we have begun to reach out to the state regarding the alert system.”

Mary’s Voice

MARY’S VOICE GOALS

Increased Police Response

1.  Increase police response time for a missing or endangered person with a disability.  If a person with a disability is missing or endangered, police must respond more rapidly to this urgent emergency.  We would like to help draft legislation that would mandate more immediate response protocols to locate missing or endangered persons with disabilities. As well as seeking policy and procedure changes at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department.

Critical Code Alert

 2.   Create, develop and implement an additional national alert system for missing or endangered persons  with disabilities, much like Amber Alert for missing/abducted children https://amberalert.ojp.gov/ and Silver Alert for seniors, especially those with Alzheimers, dementia or other mental disabilities https://silveralertbill.com/ 

The Death Penalty and plea deals for murder.

3. Increase awareness of how the death penalty is flawed.  Increase awareness of how plea deals are used. Increase awareness of inequity in the justice system and how it applies to Mary’s case. And differently abled persons.

Increase awareness of what is happening in our justice system. Including BONDS FOR MURDER and VICTIMS RIGHTS …

“What “Just Is” is not always justice” – Amanda Gorman, Youth Poet Laureate

We asked Mary’s Voice what we as the public could do to help support them :

We hold an online vigil for Mary marking each day they had her this illustrates to people how long that was and Mary more than deserves this. We ask for candles or whatever the individual would like to display online during March 28th thru April 5th.  Please use hashtag #MarysVoice, #MaryCollins  We ask people to change their profile pictures to Mary’s Voice for this week. Many have masks and display a photo of themselves wearing them. Some use a photo of the mask or a photo of Mary. The tagging is important to help people find the vigil and share Mary’s story. We hope people get to know Mary as we do. We have multiple sites, @Mary’s Voice Facebook Group, Mary’s Voice Youtube, Justice for Mary and marysvoice org Instagram, Mary’s Voices Twitter. Marysvoice.com is the website.

Mary’s Voice

Lost Souls of America will be participating in the online vigil for Mary and we hope that you will join us.

Your call to action for tonight is to join the movement with us! Links for all of Mary’s information will be in our show notes and on our website lostsoulsofamerica.com but one more time that’s Mary’s Voice- Justice for Mary on twitter, instagram, and facebook. Mary’svoice.com 

Sources: 

Murdered in Utah: The case of Kylen Shulte and Crystal Turner

Editor’s note: This episode contains clips from an interview with the victims’ family which was recorded on March 2nd 2022 and aired at 4pm on March 16th 2022. This is an open and ongoing investigation and new information is coming to light regularly. Follow the family’s sources for the most up to date information, and we will update you in new episodes as information is available, airing every Weds. Please listen to the full episode at the link below or wherever you get your podcasts:

https://www.spreaker.com/show/lost-souls-of-america

Crystal Michelle Turner was born in 1982 in Hot Springs Arkansas to parents Obie and Beverly. 38 year old Crystal met 24 year old Kylen and her dad Sean Paul while out in a hike. The two bonded instantly over a love of nature and adventure. The two got married in a super fun and unique ceremony on April 20th 2021. The photos are beautiful and so full of love and celebration. Kylen was tall and stunning in her traditional gown, while little Crystal looked fantastic and fun in her suit and braided hair. One of the notable things about them is that they lived a pretty bohemian, hippie lifestyle. In fact, at the time they were full time campers in Moab Utah. 

The night that they were last seen was August 13th 2021 when the couple met some friends at a local tavern. The friends say they were very much in love that night, and all had a great time. After the bar, the pair went to visit a friend with a newborn. That night while visiting her friend, Kylen’s was complaining about a creepy neighbor from a neighboring campsite who was in their space. 

The girls said their goodbyes and returned to their campground after leaving the mom and baby. When no one had heard from them in 4 days, Kylen’s father Sean Paul contacted their Moab friend Cindy Sue, as well as the police. Diane told me that they wouldn’t do a missing persons report at that time but they did an unable to locate report instead. Crystal’s coworkers told officers where they’d camp, but the police initially went to the wrong site. 

On August 18th, Sean Paul called Cindy Sue again,  headed to the correct area where she thought their campsite was located. When Cindy Sue arrived, still on the phone with Sean Paul, she discovered the nearly nude body of Kylen Shulte in a ditch. Fearing for her own safety and reeling from shock, she ran from the scene, never having seen the body of Crystal Turner which laid just beyond her wife. They had both died of multiple gunshot wounds from a 9mm to their back, sides, and chests. 

There’s a lot the police are not telling us yet, which Diane says she’s grateful for so that there’s a chance at prosecution when they catch this person. It does leave us with many unanswered questions though. Were they killed there or were they moved? Both women were nude from the waist down, with their shirts pulled up, though reports seem to say at this time there was no sexual assault. I can’t help but find myself wondering what possible motive someone would have for committing such a horrific act. Was it random violence? 

Early on in the investigation, Crystal and Kylen’s murders were linked to Brian Laundrie and the Gabby Petito investigation. Kylen and Crystal were murdered in Moab just one day after the infamous van altercation between Brian and Gabby in Moab. Before we knew for sure that Brian Laundrie had killed his girlfriend, some speculated about a serial killer. And today many people are still not convinced that Brian himself isn’t that killer. But the police have officially cleared him as a person of interest in this case. Despite the family’s positive outlook, nothing will take away the pain of losing these two beloved women, who had so much more life ahead of them.

In January and February of 2022, some rumors began swirling that the investigators had a person of interest. I just want to make sure everyone understands anyone the police have considered a person of interest has since been cleared. Brian Laundrie was even a person of interest at one point. There are no official suspects, police do not know who did this, and police NEED YOUR HELP. 

I asked Diane what the most helpful thing we can do for Crystal and Kylen is, and she said that the investigators most need photo and video footage from the area. There’s an urgent call for submissions for anyone who traveled to the South Mesa area of Utah in mid August 2021. 

If you were visiting, camping, or even passing through the area of La Sal Loop Road and FR4651 in the part of Moab known as The South Mesa Area please contact the Grand County Sheriff’s department at 435-259-8115

If you have not traveled to Utah I still have a a Call to Action for you! Join the facebook group and contribute to the investigative fundraiser:

Fundraiser Catch a killer- money for the investigation 

Facebook Group- Ky Cry Warriors 

Sources: 

Mysterious Death in Washington: The Case of Marcia Moore

Marcia Moore was born in May of 1928 the only girl among 4 brothers. Her father, Robert Lowell Moore went to Harvard, and after finishing school, he and his roommate Earnest Henderson started a small business as flippers. They’d buy depreciated businesses and reinvigorate them, selling them for a profit. In 1934, they took a chance on  a small hotel in Boston for nothing more than the back taxes owed to the city. Because it already had a large, bold sign out front, they kept the name. You may have heard of it- The Sheraton? They saw so much success, that they kept the hotel too, and expanded it into what we know as the modern day chain of hotels and more. 

Though her parents worked incredibly hard, they also recognized the importance of relaxation, so they owned what they called a meditation retreat in California, where they would head for some peace and quiet as needed. Despite this forward thinking, above all else her parents valued education, and pushed the kids to study and work hard. 

And they were all quite successful in their own way! Marcia’s brother Robin went on to write the Green Berets and the French Connection, widely popular books which were adapted into conservative Oscar winning movies. 

But Marcia never quite took to the conservative side of her family. She always really loved the time they spent learning about meditation and other cultures as children, and she pursued that even further when she married her first husband Simons Roof. The pair had three children: Luisa, Christopher, and Jonathan. As a family, they explored India learning about hinduism and furthering their spiritual practices. 

Though Marcia and Simons’ marriage ended after 14 years, Marcia continued her love for what were considered fringe studies at the time. I think it’s important to remember how brave and bold it was for Marcia to take on topics which many people at that time, including members of her own family, considered debunked or even dangerous! She wrote a notable dissertation on astrology, then after a brief second marriage, she wrote a series of books on spiritual topics with her third husband Mark Douglass. Her total works were later compiled into a collection, which you can find near Boston at the Concord library. The titles she published are: 

  • Reincarnation, the Key to Immortality, with Mark Douglas, Able Trust edition, ISBN 978-0-912240-02-2, 1968.
  • Diet, Sex and Yoga, with Mark Douglas, Able Trust edition, ISBN 978-0-912240-00-8, 1970.
  • Astrology in Action, with Mark Douglas, Able Trust edition, ISBN 978-0-912240-03-9, 1970.
  • Journeys into the Bright World, Para Research Inc, ISBN 978-0-914918-12-7, 1978.
  • Astrology: The Divine Science, Able Trust edition, ISBN 978-0-912240-04-6, 1978.
  • Yoga, Science of the Self, with Mark Douglas, Arcane Publications York Harbor, ASIN: B0006X5POC, 1979.

When the relationship with Mark Douglass dissolved, Marcia met a charming anesthesiologist named Howard Altounian. He became her fourth and final husband and the two moved to a suburb of Seattle Washington. Howard also had a love for the New Age movement, which began increasing in popularity. Howard and Marcia  began to experiment with Spiritual uses for psychotropic drugs, including treating things like PTSD. Marcia had never been much of a drug user, but a new drug Ketamine had been gaining popularity in the counter-culture world. The theory was that, taken in appropriate microdoses, users could achieve higher states of consciousness allowing them to connect with other realms. Marcia was especially drawn to tapping into her past lives, as reincarnation had been a staple in her studies, having written a book on the subject ten years earlier. 

Howard and Marcia pursued the work through legal, scientific means, but the research was their own and it meant that Marcia was taking Ketamine DAILY for nearly 18 months. Her husband had already stopped, and the two had published a book together on their findings- Journeys into the Bright World. But Marcia was convinced that there were more discoveries to uncover, and that she was close to a breakthrough of the metaphysical variety. 

In the book “Dematerialized: The Mysterious Disappearance of Marcia Moore” by Joseph and Marina DiSomma, it appears as though one of the New Age beliefs that could be achieved through high enough consciousness was Dematerialization- where the soul moves onto another plane of existence and the physical body simply ceases to exist- vanishes into thin air. 

And vanishing into thin air appeared to be exactly what Marcia did. On the morning of January 15th, 1979, Howard Altounian called authorities to report his wife missing. The night before, he had left home to see a movie and when he got back, Marcia just wasn’t there. My research showed some conflicting information about what she took with her, or why he waited until morning to call, but what I do know is that everyone agrees that Howard was absolutely devastated. 

Of course the search for Marcia began immediately. For two years, many different theories were investigated while all parties who loved her simply hoped to find her alive and well. No trace of Marcia was seen for nearly two years, when someone found her partial skull in the woods, 3 miles from her home. The skull was only the top portion, and was identified easily through dental records due to the gold crowns Marcia had. The skull showed a hole in the top portion that is still debated to this day, with someone believing its a gunshot wound and others believing its simply deterioration from exposure. Her death was, and has remained classified as undetermined. 

Of course we have to consider the possibility of suicide. The hole in the skull could have been from a self inflicted gunshot wound. I wasn’t able to find any detail as to whether or not that possibility has been forensically analyzed, but the condition of the skull is reported to have made it impossible to tell. – Maybe a bullet, maybe nature. It’s true that there were no shell casings or bullets found near her body. I have heard conflicting reports as to the validity of her suicidal tendencies as well. Though some report that Howard says she had spoken of taking her life since beginning her ketamine routine, he also has been reported as saying that she’d NEVER do such a thing because of her beliefs in reincarnation. Marcia would never want to risk having to start her journey over or worse, get stuck in this lifetime doomed to repeat it. 

Marcia’s family seems to have a very different takes on what ended the heiress’s life, even different takes among the relatives. Her brother Robin has been very vocal in his assertion that Marcia was murdered due to her involvement with the occult. He claims that she told him she’d been threatened by a cult and a coven of witches, and he also says that when he was in Rhodesia two years earlier he received a mysterious letter offering condolences on the death of his sister. At the time, he’d called Marcia and she was fine, but now he believes wholeheartedly that the complaints and occurrences are connected to her death.  He believes that the reason we have only found her skill is because it was served cleanly in a satanic cult human sacrifice ritual. 

Conversely, other relatives seem to believe that the loving grieving husband knows more than he’s admitting. Dr. Altounian spoke of the mental health issues that the ketamine usage was causing for his wife, but her friends and family found that description to be different from what they say- they all felt she was happy, optimistic, and making plans for the future, including starting a magazine about reincarnation. Marcia’s niece Elizabeth remembers the adults of the family openly speaking about their suspicion of him as they settled her estate. It’s often reported that the family was embarrassed by Marcia’s lifestyle- both her relationship track record and her New Age beliefs. Elizabeth has said that while they all suspected it, there just wasn’t enough passion and rage to get the gentleman to break character and fight for those beliefs with no clear proof.

That being said, Howard and Marcia had been living exclusively off of Marcia’s trust fund. When his wife went missing, the community turned on him for his strange beliefs and strange circumstances. He ran out of money and had to move just to find work again as a doctor. It’s hard to see what benefit he would have gained from this. 

The most logical, and maybe popular theory is that Marcia died of exposure after a ketamine overdose. According to Altounian, Marcia had been depressed and despondent. He worried that her ketamine usage was having a long term effect on her, and he had begged her to stop but she was committed to her beliefs that she was close. Is it possible that she snuck a dose and took to the woods for a meditative experience? Or perhaps that she took too much and wandered off in a confused state? Ketamine is a heavy sedative- its a horse tranquilizer and has been used as a date rape drug- if she simply passed out in the woods, she would be likely to die on a cold winter night in the pacific northwest. That being said, why was she not found for two years? I’ve heard some whispers that that area had been searched right after her disappearance, so it seems odd that her remains went unnoticed. And that theory only counts for exposure being responsible for the disappearance of the rest of the body and the hole in the skull. 

Or maybe, just maybe, Marcia Moore reached such high consciousness that her soul ascended and her body simply dematerialized.

From there, the story of Marcia Moore grew as cold as her case. Though those who loved her life tried their best to keep her memory alive, her story faded from the headlines. Until a discovery in September of 2021 connected Marcia Moore to an eerily similar decade old John Doe case all the way across the country in Maine. 

On November 4th, 2010, a pair of men were out deer hunting in the woods of Stacyville Maine. Stacyville was a small town at the base of Mount Katahdin, right on the border of Penobscot and Aroostook Counties in the northern part of the state. The men came across a badly decomposed body, and state police were immediately called in for removal and autopsy. 

The man was estimated to be in his 50’s, around 5’9 and 150lbs. He wore nice clothes and seemed well cared for. His outfit included a plaid button down long sleeve shirt, khaki’s, sneakers, and a canvas jacket- all name brand. In his briefcase he had a sweater and bottles of juice and water. The item that really stuck out to everyone though was the hand knit beanie cap he was wearing, with the name CHRIS on the front. 

For more than 10 years, the Stacyville Doe was compared to missing persons, and his description was shared far and wide with absolutely no results. Who was this mystery man on the mountain? 

Then in 2021, a woman named Sydney Copp was listening the podcast by Josh Hallmark called True Crime Bullsh**. On this particular episode, Josh shared the story of the decade old mystery of the man known only as the Stacyville Doe. Sydney’s ears perked straight up, because Josh was describing a man she’d been looking for all this time. 

Sydney and many other students in the town of Concord Massachusetts had a teacher they’d absolutely adored back in 2010. The students noticed an abrupt absence, and had put together a facebook group looking for their lost teacher called “Where is Mr. Roof?” Over the years they’d tried to file a missing person’s report, but no one could prove any harm had come to him and it was assumed he’d gone off on his own. When Sydney heard the description of the Stacyville Doe, the clothes especially sounded like her long lost teacher. She immediately brought the information, especially the description of the hat, to her facebook group. With their support and encouragement, Sydney  contacted the Maine state police. By September of that  year, the remains were finally positively identified through DNA as that of the beloved teacher, Christopher Roof from Concord Mass. 

Big news in a small town, the resolution to this mystery was assigned to reporter Alex McDougall for the Bangor Daily News. Alex began to research who Christopher Roof was and how he came to be alone and unidentified in the mountains more than 300 miles away. The first thing that he found was that Christopher was both literary and brilliant. Perhaps he’d gone to the woods to follow in the footsteps of those like Thoreau. 

The next discovery McDougall made was that Christopher’s family history contained a family mystery. As he looked through property records he realized that Chris’s mom had met a similar fate when he was in his 20s- disappeared mysteriously, found in the woods, cause of death forever unknown. Chris Roof, the identified Stacyville Doe, was the son of Marcia Moore from her first marriage to Simon Roof. 

If you have any information about the undetermined death of Marcia Moore in 1979 please call the Washington state police. If you have information about the undetermined death of Christopher Roof in 2010 please call the Maine State police.

Sources:

Murdered in South Carolina: Life and Death Among the Murdaughs Part 2

The rest of our story tonight  still takes place in the area of South Carolina known as Low Country. To catch your memory up, we got to know the prominent Murdaugh family who had essentially run the area as 14th circuit solicitors and other high social impact attorney positions for nearly 100 years. Most of the community agreed that the family was the kind of prominent you see in the movies. Their influence in the judicial system went far and wide because of the family’s long standing roles, but more than that, Alex Murdaugh and his family even barbecued with the local judges and law enforcement on the weekends. Outside of court, the rest of the family had a massive social sphere of influence as well. Alex’s wife Maggie and sons Buster and Paul often were the center of attention among their friends, using their money and toys to show their circles a good time. 

On February 23rd, 2019 the consequences of terrible decision making would finally begin to catch up with the youngest member of the Murdaugh family, 19 year old Paul. After Paul used his brother’s ID to purchase alcohol, he crashed his family’s boat injuring 3 of his friends, and pitching Mallory Beach off the boat into the dark of night. For 8 days the community searched for Mallory while the Beach family held their breath. On March 3rd, 2019 her body was found 5 miles up the river from the crash site. Mallory’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, but this was not the only lawsuit that came out of that crash. Connor Cook, another passenger whose jaw was painfully broken, has also filed suit against Alex Murdaugh for allegedly attempting to get him to lie and say that he was the one driving the boat that crashed and killed Mallory. 

On April 18th 2019, Paul Murdaugh was officially charged with three felony counts of boating under the influence leading to the death of Mallory Beach and serious injury of the other passengers. Paul pleaded not guilty to all of these charges and was out on bond awaiting trial. The Beach family, Paul’s former friends, and many members of the community felt increasingly frustrated by how Paul continued to enjoy a life of freedom while he was waiting for trial. He was given almost no restrictions so that he could carry on with his college education The case dragged and dragged, and I can’t help but wonder if the family’s pull had anything to do with that.  

But the Beach family would never know justice for Mallory, at least not here on Earth, and Paul would never get his day in court. 

On June 7th, 2021, more than 2 years after the fateful boat crash, at 10:07pm,  911 received a phone call from Alex Murdaugh. Take a listen. 

The home where first responders were summoned was the Murdaugh’s hunting lodge in Islandton SC. The property was called Moselle, so big it had its own road. The estate as well as a large multi-building dog kennel sat on almost 2,000 acres of secluded land. Local law enforcement responded promptly, but neighbors say it was hours of siren after siren arriving on scene. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, known mostly as SLED, arrived just before midnight. 

22 year old Paul Murdaugh had been shot and killed with a shotgun, once to the chest, and once in the head with a bullet that also went through his arm. I couldn’t find anything to verify this but it made me wonder if that was possibly in a defensive stance. 52 year old Maggie was reportedly shot multiple times with a semi-automatic rifle. Both were suspected to have been killed between 9 and 9:30pm 

The investigation swung into action, and Alex Murdaugh himself was quickly looked at as a person of interest. Police reported shortly thereafter that, while its normal to look at the husband first, Alex had an “ironclad alibi”. His father, Randolph Randy Murdaugh III was very ill and dying at the time, and Alex was visiting him which could be verified by many staff. Randy went on to pass away 8 days later. Sources close to the family announced publicly that Alex was not a suspect and that he was cooperating fully with the investigation. 

Police reports of the details of the investigation have been few and far between, and there’s still many things we don’t know. Later in June, the police released some reports but they were so heavily redacted that it didn’t tell the public much else. I’ve linked these documents in the sources on our website. One particular question that I can’t get my mind off of is about those guns. We do know that Moselle was a hunting lodge and was loaded with guns, all of which were seized as part of the investigation. Where did the guns come from? Did they belong to the Murdaughs? Were they taken by the killer or were they found on scene? How did you figure out what types of guns they were? Because I do know there were shells but no one has said to my research if there were guns. And maybe the biggest question for me is logistically speaking, does this mean there were two shooters?

Naturally Mallory Beach’s family had to be investigated for any involvement they may have had in this case, but were cleared completely. For them, this was a devastating blow. More loss of life did not equal justice in their minds. Over the course of the summer, while the investigation attempted to go on quietly, many small back and forth court proceedings happened regarding release of evidence to the public, and regarding Paul’s criminal charges since he was now deceased. In August, just two months after his death, Paul’s charges for Mallory’s death were dropped completely by the state. 

During the course of the investigation, which keep in mind is only months old still at this point, the world has discovered some suspicious older deaths which have been tied to the Murdaugh family. Let’s start with the death of Stephen Smith.

In 2015 Stephen Smith was 19 years old when he was found deceased in the middle of the road under unclear and heavily disputed circumstances. Stephen’s loved ones say he had a light, carefree personality. He and his mom were super close, and she called him her ray of sunshine. He wanted to be a doctor and was studying as a nursing student in college.

On July 8th, 2015 at 3:48 am a man driving down rural Sandy Run Road near Hampton South Carolina called 911 to report that he’d discovered a body in the street. He feared foul play of some kind, so he had gone around the body and driven another mile before stopping to make the emergency call.

 He said to the dispatcher “There’s a man lying in the road, I’m afraid somebody’s going to hit him, it’s dark.” The sheriff’s department was dispatched to the scene and found Stephen deceased, his body laying right on the yellow line in the middle of the road. His car was found 3 miles away with the gas cap unscrewed and not in working condition. 

The immediate first impression was that Stephen had run out of gas, begun walking to find some, and been the victim of a hit and run. However, the officers found no evidence of a hit and run to support this theory. When there’s a vehicular accident it almost always leaves some trace evidence- There were no tire treads or sudden break marks, no glass from broken lights or windows, no bumpers, fenders, not even any paint chips. 

He also only had one injury to his head, and very minor scraping on his arm which simply didn’t seem to line up with being hit by a car or truck, and in the scene investigation camera footage, you can hear the troopers say “this does not appear to be a vehicular accident in my opinion.” The coroner initially decided that Stephen’s death was a homicide because he thought the injury to his head was actually a gunshot wound. Despite the coroner’s opinion, Stephen’s case was moved up the chain to the forensic pathologist from the SLED department, she was the person who legally had to sign off on it, and she completely disagreed with the coroner. The pathologist said that no bullet fragments were found and she believed the wound to be blunt force trauma, likely from being struck by the mirror of a motor vehicle. His cause of death was officially ruled accidental. 

Many investigators were actually surprised and confused by this finding, and you can see police reports where officers contacted her directly to try to understand more about her decision. It was not a popular one, and these reports indicate that there were strong opinions about this. But because it was ruled a hit and run, the HIGHWAY PATROL DEPARTMENT was put in charge of an investigation that almost everyone in the Sheriff’s department believed to be HOMICIDE. The family and community continued to fight for justice for Stephen, and they continue to fight to this day. 

On June 23rd 2021, within weeks of the Murdaugh Murders, SLED released a statement that they were reopening the investigation into Stephen Smith’s death as a direct result of information uncovered during the Murdaugh double homicide investigation. SLED has not told us what that newly uncovered information is, but what we do know is that Buster and Stephen had a previous connection, and Buster’s name had come up back in 2015 as part of the investigation.

Buster Murdaugh and Stephen Smith were classmates graduating together at Wade Hampton Highschool. Official police reports in the investigation show that Buster’s name was mentioned during an interview with a family member of Stephen’s. She said that she was in the store after Stephen’s death and multiple people approached her saying “Oh you know Buster Murdaugh is behind this, he did it with some of his friends” 

The officer traced the rumor mill back to another mutual friend of theirs, saying that before Stephen even died there were whispers and rumors that he and Buster were together. Stephen was openly gay, but to the best of my knowledge Buster has never specified. I hate even having this conversation, but its something that people are pointing to as a potential motive for any of Buster’s alleged involvement. 

Other people who were interviewed have stated that they heard a group of guys, including Buster Murdaugh, were driving around, saw Stephen in the road and decided to taunt him, but someone accidentally hit him in the head with something. The source goes on to say that it was out of character for his lifelong friend Buster, but that he heard Buster was on drugs that night. He also said that knowing Buster, Buster would have demanded to be the one driving – if you remember this is exactly how Paul would act years later with the boat that killed his friend. The investigators ask this source who else was with Buster, and he said that this kind of behavior was right up Paul’s alley, so he should be looked at as well. 

Other friends went on to tell police they’d heard the rumor too, but one said that they’d beat him up and thrown him out the back of a truck, and police just haven’t publicly released any information that can tie anyone to anything thus far. I’ve also heard just as many interviews where people say they’re confused by it and don’t think they were even friends, let alone had a reason for this kind of animosity. There are other theories in Stephen’s tragic death which are worth investigating, in fact his mom doesn’t even believe he would willingly be out walking to get gas and that part of it might be staged, so please let me know if that’s something you want me to look into more thoroughly in a future episode. 

Back to the double homicide at the Moselle hunting lodge and what that investigation uncovered- Stephen Smith was not the only mysterious death that came up here. 

On February 2nd 2018 Maggie Murdagh had placed a call to 911 from their home on Moselle because their long-time housekeeper Gloria Satterfield had fallen down the stairs. The second speaker is believed to be Paul. Take a listen: 

Gloria was taken to the hospital where she was in critical condition for weeks until she died on February 26th 2018.

Gloria had worked for the Murdaugh’s for many years, and by all accounts she was very close with Paul and Buster especially. Gloria also had two sons, and Alex Murdaugh told them that he’d make sure they’d be taken care of. He said that since this happened on his property, he was responsible, and he’d sue himself and then give them the insurance payout. There’s a long convoluted explanation about how that makes sense, but the fact of the matter is Alex did NOT pay Satterfield’s sons, a fact that was only uncovered recently. Turns out Alex had hooked Satterfield’s family up with a lawyer to represent them- who was his best friend and former college roommate. 

The family also goes on to sue Alex as well, and that’s all under investigation still currently, listen to the end of the episode for the latest. 

Based on the double homicide of the Murdaughs in the same home, September 2021 police again report cause to reopen the investigation into Gloria Satterfield’s death. SLED has revealed next to nothing, but here is what we do know: The manner of death on Gloria Satterfield’s death certificate was listed as “natural” which, any way you slice it, is inconsistent with slipping and cracking your head.  

Failing to deliver the payout to Satterfield’s son’s was just the beginning of Alex’s financial troubles. In early September of 2021. The PMPED law firm where Alex was a partner confronted him after finding a suspicious check on his desk indicating he may have been laundering money from the firm for personal use, so he was asked to resign and told a full investigation would begin.

The next day, 911 received another call from Alex Murdaugh. I’m not going to play it for you, but he says that he was pulled over on the side of the road to change a flat tire when he was shot in the head. I don’t want to waste a lot of time on the details here because Alex has since confessed that this was a suicide attempt, though he denied it for a couple of weeks after. He went on and on with this crazy story and wasted tons of hours of tax payer time on the investigation. He now says that he hired his cousin Curtis Edward Smith (who goes by Eddie) to assist in his suicide so that his surviving son Buster would get his inheritance. Long story short, Cousin Eddie denies shooting Alex and says that he believes Alex did intend to die but was framing him. Cousin Eddie has been arrested and is facing his own slew of charges, but he still denies his advanced knowledge of the shooting.

Alex, who went to the hospital to recover from the fairly minor gunshot wound, released a statement saying that he’s been battling an opioid addiction for 20 years, and that cousin Eddie was his primary dealer. While he recovers, SLED ramps up their investigations into the insurance fraud claims from Satterfield’s death, and when Alex was released from the hospital he turned himself in to authorities in Hampton County. 

Later in that same month, SLED announced that they’ve uncovered more potential crimes in the course of their homicide and fraud investigations. Alex was released on bond, and went to rehab in Florida, but was taken back into custody on new charges of acquiring property on false pretenses in relation to Gloria Satterfield in October. Since then, Alex Murdaugh has been charged with 74 criminal charges so far, and without being charged for any deaths, he already faces up to 731 years in prison.

But what about Maggie and Paul? Who killed Alex’s wife and son?

People magazine released an article detailing conversations and evidence that may point at Alex’s motive, but Alex’s camp has released counter statements denying that. The article alleges that people close to the Murdaugh’s say their marriage was not very happy, and behind the fancy cocktail dresses was a lot of misery. Another article from People says that Maggie had seen divorce attorneys. Could this point toward a motive for Alex? But what about Paul, whose trial was fast approaching? What other motives were there? If not Alex, who? Why? 

We will all have to stay tuned and see. 

If you know anything about the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, or the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Stephen Smith and Gloria Satterfield, please call the anonymous tip line at (803) 896-2605

Sources: 

Murdered in South Carolina: Life and Death Among the Murdaughs Part 1

Our story tonight takes place in the area of South Carolina known as Low Country. According to a Hilton Head tourism site,” Its unique climate, landscape, and slow, Southern pace of life is appealing to many, making it a favorite place to live and also wildly popular with tourists from all over the world. WIth visions of shrimp boats, palmetto trees, big front porches with rocking chairs and pitchers of sweet tea; what’s not to love about the SC Lowcountry?!”

Historically speaking, this area of the south made most of its money from plantations, so we know that a lot of the “rich history” people speak of is steeped in traditions meant to exclude those not of the same social class. Whether they were people of color, people with different sexual preferences, or even just people without the kind of old money that ran the upper class circles, it’s really clear that not everyone who grew up in lowcountry had the same experiences. 

One prominent family in Beaufort County takes center stage in our story tonight- The Murdaughs. Randolph Murdaugh Sr. was born in Hampton County SC in 1887 and by 1910, the ambitious man had started his own law firm in his hometown: PMPED, which stood for Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, and Detrick. As the Murdaugh family grew, so did the law firm eventually expanding to 3 different counties. He employed his son Randolph Buster Murdaugh Jr until his retirement in 1987, who went on to employ his son Randolph Randy Murdaugh III, who went on to employ his sons Randolph Murdaugh the IVth and Alexander Murdaugh. The firm had a huge reach, and was most known for multi million dollar settlements with its specialty being injury and wrongful death lawsuits. 

Certainly that’s enough notoriety and money to make you a family with a lot of influence in your community, but the Murdaughs had an even bigger sphere of influence because for nearly a century, one of the many Randolph Murdaughs has sat as the 14th Circuit Solicitor. In South Carolina, a Solicitor as a position that’s comparable to our district attorney, and the 14th circuit covers the counties of Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper- a total of 3,730 square miles of SC’s low country which prosecutes an average of 5,000 cases per year. 

Maybe this goes without saying, but as a result of the generations of hard work, the Murdaugh family were not people who seemed to have to worry about finances. Most of the members of the family owned multiple properties, lots of cars, and enjoyed lives full of travel, adventure, and toys. 

Randy Murdaugh the III’s son Alex met his wife Margaret Bransletter in the late 1980’s at the University of South Carolina. She’d grown up in Kentucky, and Alex was her first serious boyfriend. When they took their relationship to the next level, Maggie had to move to rural Hampton with Alex so that he could serve his civil attorney duties for the family firm. Maggie’s parents lived not too far away, and they all remained very close as they added sons Buster and Paul to the family. 

Maggie was described as a loving friend, but above all else a doting mother. Her kids never wanted for anything, and she was always the first to volunteer for school functions. Though Buster was described as pretty easy-going growing up, Paul’s reputation was not as stellar. As a boy, Paul Murdaugh was described as a handful at best. In retrospect, family members say that Paul ran that house but they also say that Alex and Maggie ran the town- Consequences were not much a thing around the Murdaughs. 

On February 23rd, 2019 the consequences of terrible decision making would finally begin to catch up with Paul with a heartbreaking tragedy.  It was a typical Saturday night for rich kids in lowcountry, and 19 year old Paul and his girlfriend Morgan Doughty had plans to attend an oyster roast on Paulkie Island. The young couple invited their good friends Anthony Cook and his girlfriend Mallory Beech, as well as Anthony’s cousin Connor Cook and his girlfriend Mallory Altman. The 6 met up at a property they called “Murdaugh Island”, the riverfront property belonging to Paul’s parents, with plans to take the family boat to the event.  

The teens were all underage and packed a cooler of alcohol with them on the boat as they headed out on their adventure. Surveillance footage from a local convenience store earlier that day confirms that Paul Murdaugh used his brother Buster’s ID in order to purchase the booze for himself and his friends. They could be seen celebrating getting away with it in the parking lot, boat in tow behind their vehicle. 

They left for the party around 7pm that night where they enjoyed the house party for several hours, drinking and having a good time. Around midnight the 6 leave the party and head back out on the boat. The girls report being tired and wanting to go home, but at that time Paul and Connor wanted to stop for a few shots along the way. The group docked at a riverfront bar around  12:45 am, and Paul and Connor went in with their fake ids. Surveillance footage confirms the two boys taking shots at the bar while their friends shuffled impatiently outside, waiting for their boat ride back to dry land. Anthony had stayed outside with the girls, and so the surveillance footage also shows him sharing a tender snuggly moment with his girlfriend Mallory on the dock- a special memory which would unfortunately become their last. 

Around 1am, the footage showed Paul and Connor returning to the dock after their drinks. Paul looked visibly intoxicated and was stumbling around, looked to maybe be yelling some things. One thing I noted on this footage was that Paul was seen putting his arms out to the side on the recording. This is actually really significant because Paul’s social circle would later report that this was his tell tale sign that he was drunk. He’s put his hands out to his sides, and switched into an alter-ego that the group called “Timmy” 

“Timmy” had a different name because Paul’s friends say that when he got to that level of intoxication, he morphed into a completely different person. He has allegedly slapped girlfriends, disrobed and run around naked, started plenty of arguments, and more… but for Paul, or Timmy, or whoever he was that night, the worst of these mistakes was still to come. 

At around 1:15am, the group finally headed out away from the dock. According to Paul’s girlfriend, Paul began driving the boat in circles and acting dangerous and erratic. They begged Paul to let Anthony drive, and he refused, saying over and over that it was his boat. They begged Paul to pull over and let them out at the next dock, and he refused. The group says that Paul kept leaving the wheel to argue with his girlfriend, and they all felt terrified of what he would do next. The GPS in the boat confirms that the boat began picking up speed until 2:20am when it crashed into the Archers Creek Bridge. 

The chilling 911 call that came next revealed that Mallory had been thrown from the boat, and the other five could not find her. They can be heard screaming her name in the background while Connor tries to report his location to the emergency operator. 

When the Beaufort County Sheriff’s office arrived on scene, Anthony was distressed and pacing, going back and forth between trying to find his girlfriend, and trying to get to Paul. Connor, Miley, Morgan, and Paul were rushed to the hospital to have their injuries treated, but Anthony refused to leave the scene without his girlfriend for some time. Dashcam footage from the responding officer shows Anthony referencing Paul’s culpability in the crime saying “Do you know who his family is? Good luck” 

At the hospital, Connor was treated for a broken jaw, which explains his speech if you hear the 911 tape yourself. Morgan’s hand was also badly injured. But Paul was completely uncooperative, and he had to be secured to the bed- not as a criminal, or under criminal investigation, mind you- just to get him to cooperate with the medical work. It’s also really important to note that THIS is when Paul’s tested for his intoxication, despite all of his friends announcing that he was drunk, and despite all of his behavior at the scene of the crash indicating that he was drunk. When hospital staff finally took Paul’s blood alcohol content SEVERAL HOURS after the crash, it was at .24- three times the legal limit. 

Paul’s father Alex (who remember is a prominent civil attorney) and grandfather Randy (who remember is the retired solicitor) rush to the hospital to be by Paul’s side. Hospital staff have since reported overhearing phone conversations where Alex said “She’s gone, don’t worry” and the other kids on the boat have reported that he came to their rooms to try to get all of their stories on the same page. Connor has said in retrospect that he felt Alex was trying to make him take the blame for the crash, and has since filed a lawsuit against Alex to that end.  

For 8 days the community searched for Mallory while the Beech family held their breath. On March 3rd, 2019 her body was found 5 miles up the river from the crash site. Mallory’s family, though stricken with grief, realized immediately that they could not let Paul’s dangerous behavior go unpunished. They bravely filed a wrongful death suit against the son of the family who ruled the law in the lowcountry. 

Perhaps fueled by public scrutiny from the Beech lawsuit, on April 18th 2019, Paul Murdaugh was officially charged with three felony counts of boating under the influence leading to the death of Mallory Beech and serious injury of the other passengers. It would have been Mallory’s 20th birthday that day. 

Paul pleaded not guilty to all of these charges and was out on bond awaiting trial. The Beech family, Paul’s former friends, and many members of the community felt increasingly frustrated at the loose lifestyle Paul continued to enjoy while he was waiting for trial. He was given almost no restrictions so that he could carry on with his college education, and life carried on pretty seamlessly for him during the long investigatory period.  

Until June 7th, 2021 at 10:07pm when 911 received yet another phone call about Paul Murdaugh. 

Paul and his mother Maggie had been shot multiple times. They were both dead.  

Call to Action: 

We will be back next week to finish up with what we know about Life and Death among the Murdaughs, and believe me, things get a lot weirder. We’ll get into some of the theories behind this still yet unsolved double homicide, plus reveal the secret life, and more deaths uncovered during the investigation. More suspicion, murder, a suicide attempt, and many many charges will follow for the Murdaughs.

In the meantime your Call for Action tonight is a little bit different. Mallory Beach LOVED animals and a nonprofit charity has been started in her memory called Mal’s Palz. We’ll link it here if you’d like to make a donation in her honor:

https://malspalz.com/

If you know anything about the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, please call the anonymous tip line at (803) 896-2605

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Slipped Through the Cracks: The Cases of Harmony Montgomery and the Opelika Jane Doe

Harmony Montgomery was born June 7th 2014 to mother Crystal Sorrey and Father Adam Montgomery. The pair met when Crystal was just 20, and to hear her tell it, the relationship was volatile from the start. The two had bonded over a mutual love of partying and using drugs, and Crystal says Adam was angry and abusive towards her. But when Crystal became pregnant, she says she immediately felt that nurturing feeling and wanted to make changes in her life. She named her Harmony because it reminded her of music. Adam missed the birth because he was in jail, and the couple broke up shortly afterwards. This was not Adams first run in with the law. Though I’m not sure exactly what charge he was away for at the time of his daughter’s birth in 2014, he had a lengthy criminal record including armed robbery, and for shooting someone in the face during a drug deal. 

Though Crystal did well in her sobriety as a new mom for some time, ultimately a reprelapse led to her losing custody of Harmony in 2018. Crystal pushed and pushed for the courts to award temporary custody to a foster parent in Massachusetts, but the judge awarded custody to Adam who was living in Manchester New Hampshire. The judge’s decision has haunted Crystal ever since, and she’s continued making steps to investigate it to this day, though she seems to hit roadblock after roadblock. 

The arrangement only went smoothly for a few months, when Adam cut off all contact with Crystal. The last time she spoke to her daughter was on Easter of 2019 via facetime, and from then out Adam withheld Harmony from her mother. Crystal certainly didn’t just accept this though, and she says she called every agency she could think of to aid her including the New Hampshire Child Welfare agency, where she was allegedly told that she sounded like a scorned ex. Many people feel that Crystal wasn’t taken seriously because of her history with addiction and her custody loss as a result.

Crystal even attempted to take matters into her own hands, searching neighborhoods he might live and driving past schools where Harmony might be enrolled, just to try to get in touch with her daughter. When people would ask if Harmony was missing, she’d respond “Not exactly, but her father has her hidden from me to hurt me” 

But by November of 2020, Crystal could no longer come up with any ideas for what to do on her own, after every agency she could think of had rejected her cries for help. She called the Manchester police who finally listened to her, and began an official investigation into the disappearance of Harmony Montgomery on December 31st, 2021. When Manchester police finally tracked Adam down, he was homeless, living in his car with a new girlfriend. When they asked him about the whereabouts of his daughter Harmony, Adam told investigators that he’d given her back to her mother in November of 2019. 

Though they were unable to make any charges in the disappearance of Harmony, what their investigation did unearth was a history of abuse Adam had toward his own daughter. In 2019 Adam allegedly punched little Harmony in the face, and at this time they were able to get him off the streets and in custody by arresting him for that charge. They also arrested his estranged wife Kayla, with whom he has two other children. Allegedly Kayla has been fraudulently claiming Harmony on her food stamp benefits, despite the fact that she was not living in the home. Both of them have pled not guilty, but perhaps this is a good opportunity for investigators to really put the pressure on and see who’s story changes. 

Though authorities are being tight lipped about most of the details of the investigation, what I have had heard is that the condition of the home in Manchester was pretty deplorable up until the time of Harmony’s disappearance. It had been foreclosed on, the utilities had been shut off and the family used a generator all summer, and the family was officially evicted on November 27th, 2019. At the time, witnesses report seeing Harmony with them, and the last known sightings of Harmony were before December 10th, when the family was seen pan handling without Harmony. Because of this, investigators have narrowed down the date of her disappearance to sometime between November 28th 2019 and December 10th 2019. 

But what happened to Harmony? I hear that the property has been really thoroughly searched, including with cadaver dogs, so it is unlikely Harmony is there in any capacity. I think the most optimistic theory is that he got tired of caring for her and sent her to live with someone else, but if that someone were loving and caring it’s most likely they’d have come forward by now. 

Many people theorize that Adam caused intentional death or injury to Harmony, while others feel it was accidental due to neglect at his hands. Witnesses that have come forward have stated his history of focusing his neglect and abuse on her specifically, rather than his two children 

Many people though are holding out hope that Harmony was perhaps sold. Though that’s a horrific idea, and not something we’d “hope” for, it means there’s a chance she’s alive, and so her safe return is what Crystal and the world are praying for. 

A reward for information on Harmony’s whereabouts has reached $104,000. There is a dedicated tip line for the case at 603-203-6060. 

Opelika is a small town in Eastern Alabama near Auburn State University. On January 28th 2012, a man was in the yard of his mobile home off Hurst street when he found the remains of a young child. She was fully skeletonized, but was found near a long sleeve pink shirt with ruffles on it. 

Examination of the remains showed that she was between 4 and 7 years old. Her body showed signs of years of neglect and abuse so severe, that despite the lack of evidence on her remains, her death has been ruled a probable homicide. Investigators believe that her abuser was her murderer and that this person was also her parent or a regular caregiver. That abuse even left a scar over her right eye which was so severe, the medical examiner is certain she’d been blinded in that eye. That injury had happened within a year of her death, maybe as recently as weeks. 

This detail sticks out as one that is incredibly important, because it would have left a visible deformity that anyone who encountered the little girl surely would have noticed. And in fact, this did lead to a clue. In 2016 a Vacation Bible School program at a church just three miles away from where her body was found came forward with old photos of a little girl who looked almost identical to the forensic recreation sketch of the remains. Right down to the blind right eye. 

The VBS program was a drop in and drop out one, and so investigators have no identity for the girl seen in the photos. Those photos will be up on our website too for your consideration. I think there’s a strong belief there with investigators that they are in fact the same girl. 

who was opelika doe blog

Luckily though, our friends at Othram have taken on this case! For those of you who might be newer here, Othram is a DNA lab who uses advanced forensic genealogy to help close cases. You can hear a bit more about their work by listening to Episode 3, the story of mostly harmless. When I say our friends at Othram, they’re not sponsors or anything- I just love them and I feel forever grateful to them for their work on the Mostly Harmless case. 

Anyway, Othram has picked up the case of our Opelika Jane Doe and genetic testing is underway, so it’s possible within months we could see resolution to this case. It’s not guaranteed though, and it can take a lot of work besides just the result to finally get an answer. Let me let Othram explain it to you better than I can- Amelia will you read what they had to say for us? 

Recently, Opelika Police Department has teamed up with Othram to explore using advanced DNA testing to build a comprehensive genealogical profile for the unknown child. Othram is working to develop a DNA extract from the child’s remains that is suitable for further testing. Once complete, Othram will use Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a genealogical profile. Opelika Police Department has engaged Barbara Rae-Venter to use this genealogical profile to identify relatives and develop investigative leads that might point to Opelika Jane Doe’s identity. Anyone that has information that could aid in this investigation is encouraged to contact the Opelika Police Department at 334-705-5200. Please refer to case number 12000847.

There is a reward. 

What I can tell you has been completed is the isotope testing which tells us that Opelika Jane Doe is most likely from Alabama where her body was found and investigators say some withheld info led them to believe she also has ties to Orlando Florida. My call to action for you tonight is to SHARE SHARE SHARE her story, especially if you have any connection to those areas. THAT is how we found the loved ones of Mostly Harmless and restored him to his name, Vance Rodriguez. This WORKS. It works, please please. If you can spend 20 or however minutes listening to a podcast please take 2 seconds to share her poster with your networks. 

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Valentine’s Day Special: LOVE GONE WRONG

For Valentine’s Day, we here at Lost Souls of America wanted to try something a little bit different- a special episode where we share three stories with you about love gone wrong! One small thread that all of these cases have in common is that the family and loved ones of the victims all seem to look back and point out the red flags in these relationships. Behaviors that were controlling, possessive, secretive, manipulative, and just plain twisted. In some cases they expressed concern, but no one was ever fully able to pull these couples apart before it had deadly consequences.  

These cases are all solved, but if you tune into Episode 13 of the Lost Souls of America podcast, Amelia will be telling you more about a current open investigation- Lauren Smith Fields. Please do listen to her story, and share often.

Our first story begins with a woman named Toni Bertolet. In 1999, Toni was a single 37 year old woman who’d tried and failed in love a few times before. She had a fantastic career as an eye surgeon, but she felt strongly that her missing puzzle piece was the opportunity to find a loving partner and finally become a mother. Though she feared the man of her dreams and that ideal family would never come along, her luck seemed to change when she met a charming and handsome bachelor on the internet. 

Harold Henthorn was a high level executive fundraiser, working mostly from home but managing a large staff for his company that made millions per year.  He’d been married before and his first wife had died tragically in a car accident, so Harold did not like to talk much about this trauma. Since Toni herself had a short lived and tumultuous previous marriage, she didn’t push. The couple quickly fell in love. Harold doted on Toni, and her family was thrilled to see the joy on Toni’s face as the two grew closer. Most importantly for Toni, Harold was keen to start a family right away, a dream he’d never gotten to fulfill from his first marriage. So it came as no surprise when they married a short nine months later. 

For several years the couple struggled with infertility issues, so when Toni gave birth to daughter Haley in 2005 everyone in the family knew what a beautiful blessing and miracle the little girl was. But Toni’s family began to notice some cracks in the exterior of the perfect family. 

In retrospect, Toni’s family shares candidly how they watched her confidence deteriorate over the years. It began with some behaviors that we can see now as controlling, but at the time were the kinds of things you just weren’t sure what to do or say about. They felt he always needed to be the center of attention, and he insisted on managing all of the details of the household just his way. Worse though, Harold would always be on the phone with Toni whenever her family called to chat with her, he never wanted to return to her hometown to visit, and the family just felt she was a bit isolated. With Haley in the picture now, things seemed to get worse as Toni became almost like a third wheel. Harold handled all of the play dates and plans, and Toni was often left out of the fun the two would have together. 

Toni’s family tried to approach her with their concerns, but she was hard to get to since Harold was always present or on the phone. When they did manage to get private conversation time with her, she insisted her family stay out of it, not wanting to have to get a lecture from her husband. Toni was a self described “good christian woman” and would not even entertain the thought of divorce. She had some complaints, but overall decided his quirks were ones she could live with, and the pair carried on. 

For the couple’s 12th wedding anniversary, Harold arranged for a special hiking trip to surprise his wife. He arranged all of the details at Toni’s work, secretly coordinating her time off. The couple arrived at the Rocky Mountain National Park on September 29th 2012, and headed out for their hike. That evening Harold made a chilling 911 call to announce that his wife had been in a tragic accident, slipping and falling off a cliff to the rocks 130 feet below. According to Harold, Toni was pausing for a photo on the edge of the cliff. He looked away to check a text message and when he looked back up she was gone, slipped off the ledge suffering fatal injuries. 

Even before agencies began to look into this nightmare, Toni’s mother says she knew there was more to the story. She was sure he’d pushed her daughter to her death. And it wasn’t long before the investigation caught up with her intuition. 

The scene of the accident yielded many clues on its own, and those are discussed heavily in the docuseries on Hulu called Wild Crime. A major point to note is that Harold’s story seemed to fluctuate, and as everyone knows a changing story is a major red flag. Fact doesn’t usually change. Another point that really stuck out to me was that Toni’s lipstick was undisturbed, though Harold claimed to have done CPR. Similarly, the investigators from the National Park System point out parts of the crime scene that just don’t make sense, logistically, based on Harold’s version of the events. Her body shouldn’t have landed where it was, it didn’t seem to make sense that she was posing on the ledge in the first place because of how hard it was to get to, and her belongings were scattered in a way that made them wonder if the scene was staged. Perhaps the most chilling of the evidence collected was Harold’s trail map, with an X marked clearly on the exact spot where Toni had fallen to her death.

Another point of suspicion that came up in their investigation was Harold’s business. While Harold worked from home, he took frequent business trips and was known to be quite busy, yet investigators couldn’t actually find any records of clients… There was no business registered in his name, he had no business partners, and no one interviewed by authorities have ever been able to verify working with him. None of Harold’s work colleagues, investors, or clients attended Toni’s funeral services, and no one who knew him could really tell police what his business was called or the details of his projects. Harold was full of crap. In fact, it appeared that he was living largely off of his first wife’s life insurance policy, which had been half a million dollars. 

While investigators already were feeling suspicious, an anonymous phone call regarding that very insurance policy was what really led everyone down the trail of doubt toward Harold.  

Harold’s first wife Lynn had died nearly 20 years before. The couple was on a road trip when the car had gotten a flat tire. As Harold reported the event, his wife was holding the nuts and bolts when he went to the back of the car to exchange tires. The car shifted and when he came back, his wife Lynn was hopelessly pinned underneath the vehicle’s wheel well, crushed to death by the weight of the SUV. 

At the time, Harold was considered a victim in all of this, the poor young widower who suffered a tragic loss. As you may have suspected, Toni did in fact have a hefty life insurance policy, and Harold would have made a substantial amount of money from his wife’s accidental slip and fall. One memory that rings with fear and heartache for Toni’s family is the time that Harold, Toni, and Haley were staying at their vacation cabin. According to Toni’s mom, Harold had insisted that they clean out the debris from outside late one night, after dark. Something fell from the porch right where Toni had been cleaning below. If she hadn’t moved just a second before, she’d have been killed right then and there. Her family can’t help but wonder now, was that an attempt on her life?  Harold also took out a fraudulent life insurance policy on his sister in law, leaving them all  to wonder if there was another victim in the works. 

Harold was tried and convicted of the murder of Toni Henthorn. An investigation into the death of Lynn Henthorn has been reopened. He’s currently serving his sentence of life without parole at Terre Haute Federal Prison in Indiana. Toni’s family cheered “Bye Harold” as he was removed from the courtroom in handcuffs. Toni’s daughter Haley is being raised by her brother and sister in law, and she has taken Toni’s maiden name. 

Our second story tonight begins with a handsome young man named Travis Alexander. In 2006 Travis was 28 years old and worked for a multi level marketing finance company. He was one of the more successful young people in the company’s ranks, rising to a level where he was considered a motivational speaker. He was presenting at a convention in Vegas when he met the stunning young blonde, Jodi Arias.

 

For Travis and Jodi, it was love at first sight. He thought she was an incredible catch and the pair fell hard and fast, spending all of their time together. It was obvious from the get go that Jodie was absolutely infatuated with Travis, and it quickly rang some alarm bells for his friends. Jodie’s behavior was reportedly jealous, controlling, and extremely possessive. 

But Jodi’s jealousy wasn’t the only factor giving Travis some concern. The pair had an extremely sexual relationship, and it seemed that their physical connection was really the basis for their bond. The two frequently took explicit photos of each other, and loved to use the camera in the bedroom. When they couldn’t be together, they were often having graphic text and phone exchanges instead. 

For Travis, this was not a quality he could see in a wife. And yes, I do think that’s a misogynistic double standard, but Travis described himself as a devout Mormon. He was a practicing member of the church of Latter Day Saints, something that Jodi actually loved about him. She even began converting for him, but the couple simply could not stop breaking the no touchy touchy rules! Even though it takes two to tango, Travis broke up with Jodi so he could find someone more aligned with his religious practices to marry. 

The couple broke up but according to Jodi stayed the best of friends. What we now know, is this means they were still sleeping together. But Travis was doing his best to move on, even inviting another woman on his company retreat to Cancun.  

In June of 2008, Travis’ friends and family grew concerned when they hadn’t heard from him in five days. His roommate broke into his bedroom and found a bloody horror show. Travis had been dead for days, drained completely of blood after having been stabbed 29 times, his throat slit, and having been shot in the head. 

There was plenty of evidence to comb through, including a knife in the dishwasher, and a camera in the washing machine. But while the investigation was just beginning, Travis’ former girlfriend Jodi called and offered her assistance to investigators. She said she was devastated by the news and wanted to do whatever she could to help. 

Now, if you’ve never seen anything surrounding this investigation before, I encourage you to search for the Jodi Arias interrogation videos. They’re probably the main reason this case is so popular, because her behavior gets WEIRD. Jodi begins by denying everything When the police confront her with the evidence from the camera they’d recovered, she completely breaks down in sobbing hysterics, changing her story drastically. The photos show the couple in sexually explicit poses on the day that Travis was last seen, followed shortly by a photo of what appeared to be an unconscious Travis covered in blood. 

Jodi, through copious tears and sniffles, says she was there, but that there was a home invasion. She was able to escape with her life, and had been too afraid to come forward. When police don’t buy it one bit, the investigators leave her alone to consider things when they offer her the opportunity to confess. During this time, despite the fact that she’d just been crying, Jodi can be seen singing Christmas carols out loud to herself, playing a game with a water bottle, and rifling through the trash. Then she gets out of her chair, puts her hands and head on the floor, and does a headstand. They tell Jodi she’s about to be arrested for murder, she asks if she can have a moment to freshen up her makeup before the booking photos. 

The final nail in the coffin for Jodi came from her DNA found in a bloody palm print on the bathroom wall of Travis’s gruesome murder scene. Throughout the trial, Jodi was described as attention seeking, testifying on her own behalf for 17 straight days. Her version of events claimed Travis died as a result of her self defense when he attacked her, but the prosecution was successfully able to argue premeditation based on Jodi’s travels and texts in the days before his death, as well as the sheer excessive brutality in her attack. On May 7th 2013 Jodi Arias was convicted of the first degree murder of Travis Alexander. She’s currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the Perryville prison of Arizona.  She still takes every opportunity possible to smile and look pretty for the cameras. 

Karla Homolka was just 17 when she met her dreamboat of a man, Paul Bernardo in October of 1987. Karla worked at a pet store, and even though she was young she was allowed to attend a conference with her coworkers where she snuck off to the bar. Karla liked what she saw in Paul who was very handsome and well put together for his 23 years. Karla liked what she saw in Paul so much, that she went home with him that night, and the two began a steady, hot and heavy relationship. 

Though in retrospect, friends and loved ones can see controlling patterns in Paul’s behavior toward Karla, most everyone in Karla’s family adored Paul right off the bat, and he was welcomed in as one of their own immediately. They even let Paul sleep in Karla’s room when he’d come to stay, since they kept a long distance relationship early on. 

At a family Christmas party in December 1989, Paul proposed to Karla, and everyone excitedly began to plan the dream wedding! But before the pair marry, tragedy strikes the following year at the same annual Christmas party when Karla’s little sister Tammy dies in a sad accident. Though she was only 14, her family had allowed her to have a couple glasses of the rum spiked eggnog, and at some point in the night had choked on her own vomit. Paul had done his best to save her, but was unable, and the family was all grateful he was available to help Karla get through this difficult time. 

That summer, June of 1991, Paul and Karla wed in a large, beautiful, stylish church ceremony. The dress was big, the hair was high, and the couple looked perfect, just like Ken and Barbie. Karla’s dream wedding was almost dampened by a wild breaking news story! That morning, the body of 14 year old Leslie Mahaffy had been found nearby. The area had been terrorized by a rapist for a while now, and a lot of people feared that maybe this was him escalating. Though the buzz of the current events circled throughout the pews, no one let it ruin the beautiful celebrations of love, and the festivities wore on! 

The couple continued on with life, now seemingly happily married, but Paul’s controlling ways didn’t seem to subside at all. The investigation into the death of Leslie also carried on, and police grew concerned of escalation when the body of 16 year old Kristen French was found in a similar manner. While the investigation wore on, so did Paul and Karla’s marriage. Then in January 1993, just a year and a half after their dream wedding, the facade of the perfect couple came crashing down when Karla filed domestic violence charges against her husband for beating her with a flashlight, leaving her with two badly blackened eyes. The next month, Paul Bernardo was arrested. You see, the police had already grown suspicious of him. Paul had even been interviewed back in November of 1990 as a potential person of interest in the serial rapist investigation, and he had volunteered DNA samples, but they were never tested, and the police moved off of him quickly!  Could it really be that Karla’s abusive husband was the same man that had been tormenting the community all this time?  Karla eagerly cooperated with investigators, and was ready to tell the whole truth. Her husband had abused and tortured her for years, but according to Karla, she was not Paul’s only victim. Yes, he was The Scarborough Rapist. Yes, he was The Schoolgirl Killer. 

In exchange for a plea deal, Karla tells the investigators the gory details of Paul’s crimes. She also owns up to her minimal involvement in the deaths of Leslie Mahafy and Kristen French, stating that she was threatened by Paul, and feared for her own life if she didn’t comply. Karla plead guilty to two counts of manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison without trial. The details of the agreement were kept under a publication ban by the judge, meaning press couldn’t talk about the plea in order to ensure Paul got a fair and unbiased trial. 

And then they found the tapes. 

16 months prior, Paul’s attorney Ken Murray had conducted a post-investigation search of the Bernardo’s home. The police had failed to find the smoking gun, 6 home recording video tapes, tucked away in light fixture in an upstairs bathroom. Murray illegally kept these tapes to himself, shielding his client from the fallout. In September of 1994, Murray steps down as Paul’s attorney, passing all of his information onto his successor John Rosen. John Rosen took one look at the tapes, and immediately turned the graphic evidence over to authorities. 

Portions of the 6  tapes were played at Paul Bernardo’s trial and had such a horrific lasting impact on jurors and reporters that many of them actually say they have severe PTSD and mental health issues. The Ontario courts had the tapes DESTROYED in 2001 so that they could do no further harm. 

In the death of Leslie Mahaffy, the tapes show that she’d been kidnapped at knife point Paul and brought back to Paul and Karla’s home. She was sexually assualted over and over again… not just by Paul but by Karla as well, who for the first time ever was now being seen for what she truly was. A willing participant in these heinous crimes. She was strangled with an electrical cord, dismembered with a circular saw, covered in concrete, and disposed of in the lake where she was discovered the day of their wedding. 

The couple worked together to lure Kristen French into their vehicle, and she was easily conned by Karla’s beautiful smile. The pair held Kristen captive for three days, taking turns sexually assaulting her. At one point, the tapes show Karla in a school girl uniform, forcing Kristen into a matching outfit to help fulfill their sick virginal fantasies. Karla cut off her hair and Paul burned her with cigars while the pair took turns beating and abusing her.. She was strangled with an electrical cord and her body was left in a ditch. But Kristen carried a secret weapon- Paul’s DNA, which would be the linchpin that linked him forensically to at least 13 rapes in the Scarborough area. 

The tapes also verify the existence of more victims, including the rape of one only known as Jane Doe. In June of 1991, Karla alone lured her 15 year old coworker to their home for some hanging out girl time. She gave her alcohol laced with Halcion, a veterinary drug for sedation of pets. Karla primed and prepared her before Paul arrived home, and when he did they took turns filming eachother sexually assault the girl. The next morning, she assumed she was hungover and this was “normal” after drinking. In August, Karla invited her back for a sleepover and she was again drugged and assaulted. During the rape, Karla called 911 because Jane Doe stopped breathing,  but she came to quickly and Karla canceled the request. It wasn’t until later that Jane Doe realized how close she was to losing her life. 

Perhaps the most shocking evidence contained in the tapes was the rape and death of Karla’s own sister, 14 year old Tammy who’s death had been ruled an accident several years prior. Based on video evidence from these tapes, what we now know is that Tammy had been intentionally drugged with valium in her eggnog. Her sister held a rag over her face laced with veterinary medicine Halcion that caused her to lose consciousness and burned her skin. The tapes reveal that this wasn’t the first time either, that months prior they’d spiked Tammy’s spaghetti with valium but she’d woken up mid-rape. This time though, Tammy would never wake up, and many believe to this day that her big sister Karla knew exactly what she was doing with the dosage. 

One sickening detail found in all of the tapes was Paul’s preference for a young virgin, and Karla’s eagerness to please her man by helping him acquire girls to force himself on. In one of the tapes dubbed “the fireside chat”, the couple records themselves in a graphic sexual interaction in the basement of the Homolka family home where Tammy had died very recently.  I’m going to leave out the details of what their bodies are doing, but as I share this will you please know it’s all being said as foreplay and pillow talk. Karla begins by sharing how much she loved watching Paul eff her baby sister, how much she loved it when he took her virginity. . Paul then asks her how she felt that night (and remember that this is the night Tammy died) and Karla responds that she felt proud. He wants to know if she’s glad she participated, and she goes on about how much she loved it but it doesn’t really make her gay because Tammy is her little sister, so that’s different. The couple carries on making plans for more people they can rape together, and Karla says that she wants them all to be 13, even using the words “little girls.” Karla then proceeds to use Tammy’s underwear to pleasure Paul, while she rubs a rose all over his body, saying that tomorrow they would take the rose to Tammy’s grave as a gift for her.

 As the chat goes on, the couple confess to multiple rapes and tortures, reminiscing over how much they enjoyed it. Karla vows to do it 50 more times if that’s what he wants, and the couple take their tryst upstairs to Tammy’s bedroom where they roleplay the rape and murder again. When Paul finishes he says “I love you Tammy” and the tape ends with Karla’s sinister wave at the camera. 

The infamous couple have earned many monikers over the years: The Ken and Barbie Killers, The Schoolgirl Killers, and individually The Scarborough Rapist and the Witch of Ontario. Together they’re responsible for at least 3 known murders, over 20 rapes, and at least 2 stalkings between 1990 and 1992. Paul Bernardo was sentenced to life without parole and is currently incarcerated at Canada’s Millhaven Institution. He has since confessed to more crimes, and no one is quite sure of the true horrors that he committed with his twisted wife. Karla Homolka was sentenced to 12 years and has since been released, thanks to her stunning plea deal. She is remarried with three children, and though she’s changed her name, her past continues to haunt her, making it difficult to live a normal life without intense scrutiny from her community who fear she will reoffend. Karla maintains that she’s a victim who has paid her debt. 

Ok sweet friends, moral of the story tonight is if someone seems too good to be true, they probably are! Trust your instincts, and follow the FACTS, not the fantasy. Happy Valentine’s Day Lovahs. We’ll be back next week with our regular format! These are the stories of the voiceless. These are the lost souls of america.

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Murdered in Kansas: The Case of Alonzo Brooks

Alonzo Brooks was born May 19th 1980  in Topeka Kansas. He was the youngest of 5 children, and though it frustrated him to be the baby of the family when he was young, it made him especially close with his mother Maria Ramirez. Alonzo’s 3 sisters and brother describe him as a “kind, sweet, a little shy but playful kid” who was loving and fun. They say he always got along with everyone. 

As his siblings got older and moved out, Alonzo and his mom moved to the town of Gardner outside of Topeka. He kept in touch with lots of his friends from the old neighborhood, but also branched out and made many new friends in Gardner. Still the change did take some getting used to. Gardner was suburban and quiet, without the city life and diverse population he was accustomed to in his early years. 

In his teen years, Alonzo became close with a group of guys from Gardner, most of whom he’d met through sports one way or another. Alonzo was an excellent football player, and his friends say that he was an absolute beast on the field but when he’d come off, you could just sit and talk for hours. 

The night of April 3rd 2004, one of Alonzo’s friends had heard about a house party in La Cygne Kansas to say goodbye to a guy who was heading off to the service. None of them were really close with anyone at the party, just a couple acquaintances I think, but it was something to do. 

Alonzo’s friend Justin Sprague came to his house that night to pick him up with plans to meet their other friends Daniel Fune and Tyler Broughard there in another car. Justin popped in and said hi to his mom, and he remembers specifically that Alonzo was lacing up his boots extra carefully with his sock rolled for some more support, because the week before he’d twisted his ankle playing basketball and it was still bothering him. In addition to his boots, Alonzo wore his signature skull beanie, something he was hardly ever without. 

Justin and Alonzo headed out to make the LONG drive because La Cyne was actually quite a hike from Garnder, over an hour. Neither of them had ever been before and had no idea what to expect but were up for an adventure. As they got closer to the party, the roads became more and more rural. They were surrounded by cornfields, and woods when they approached the farmhouse’s long gated driveway. Their friends were already there and the party was already in full swing so they grabbed their beer and got to it.

They describe the crowd as being a lot more country than they were used to, pointing out especially how many cowboy hats there were. There were about 50-60 people there and Alonzo only knew 5 or 6 of them from Gardner. It was immediately evident that Alonzo was the only black person in attendance but he was such a friendly guy and they’d come such a long way that he didn’t flinch and joined right in. Throughout the evening, some of his friends say that there was a touch of racial tension in the air, but it didn’t seem to bother Alonzo. 

Alonzo was having a great time that night, playing card games and flip cup, eating and socializing. One by one, Justin’s closest friends began calling it a night and making their way back home, leaving just Justin and Alonzo at the party. Justin needed more cigarettes and Alonzo decided to stay at the party, asking Justin to grab him a pack too. Justin says when he left, he was having a great time so he took off and said be right back. 

But Justin got lost. In his own words, he says “I took a wrong turn out of the driveway, got stuck on a gravel road, and ended up 30 minutes north of where I was supposed to be” 

Justin realized he was leaving Alonzo a little stranded, so he called his friend Adam who was still there and asked him to drive Alonzo home. Justin says he could hear Alonzo ragging on him in the background for getting lost, that Adam said no problem, and that was that. 

The next morning at home, Maria answered a phone call from someone looking for Alonzo. She went to his room to get him and found his bed still made up, meaning he hadn’t slept in it at all. She started walking around the house, yelling and looking for him with no answer. She checked in the basement- no Alonzo. She knew immediately that this was very bad, because her son would ALWAYS come home. She immediately began calling his friends to find him. 

His friends all woke up to their phones going off while everyone was reaching out to each other to find Alonzo. I thought he was with you, when did you see him last, who was he with, who drove him home. According to the friends, Adam went to collect him to leave, couldn’t find him, heard he left already, and headed home. 

Maria knew this was bad news because it was so out of character for her son. She went down to the police station to file a missing person’s report quickly, but you can guess what she was told. You have to wait 48 hours. 

Alonzo’s best friend Rodney from Topeka came to town to help track him down. Justin agreed to take Rodney out to the house in La Cygne since he didn’t know the way. A group of Alonzo’s friends pulled up to the road in front of the farmhouse and decided to inspect the woodline nearby. They made their way across the street when Rodney looked down to find a beanie hat. With a skull on it. Alonzo’s favorite hat! They continued to look and found first one boot, then another. Rodney says they weren’t tucked under anything, nobody had tried to hide them, it looked to him as if someone had just tossed them out a window on their way out of the driveway. 

He also says that as they were searching in the brush on the side of the road, someone came down from the farmhouse on a four wheeler and told them to leave. They all could feel the weight and the urgency of the situation with Alonzo’s belongings in their hands as they were kicked off the property. 

 Even giving the interview, Rodney had the chills being in that area. He’s not alone either. When Alonzo’s big brother Billy came to the area to help search with his wife Cindy, they felt much the same way. That everyone was looking at them everywhere they went. Could it be that black people were unexpected in the white community? Or could it be more sinister- that black people were unwelcome?  

By the time Billy and Cindy made it to the farmhouse to investigate, the property was completely vacant and looked clean and bare, as though no party had even occurred. They learned that the property was a rental, and the tenants had been evicted. It was unclear to me in my research whether or not the tenants were the ones who threw the party or if the party was thrown by people who were just using the space

Billy and Cindy went to the La Cygne Sheriff. They found him to be dismissive, as he repeated what the police had told Maria. He’ll turn up, he’s just out walking around. Cindy said “How many people do you know walk around for two days with no shoes in the rain? Something is wrong” 

Paul Filla was sent in to take the initial search and report. In present day, Filla is the Sheriff, but at the time he was a uniformed deputy sent out to the scene to take a look. His report was as follows: 

“Alonzo wasn’t in the house, we walked the creek bed that night, there was no indication that he was there. I reported negative contact with Alonzo or anyone at all there, and the case was turned over to the KBI (Kansas Bureau of Investigations)” 

Over the next eleven days, the family held their breath while extensive searches were done of the property and surrounding areas led by the KBI and their evidence recovery team. They searched the creek bed looking for evidence, they brought in air scent tracking dogs, and even deployed helicopters for aerial searches for Alonzo. Lee’s Summit Underwater Rescue and Dive Team was brought in. They reported that the water was at most 3 feet deep, so that teams of three were going all the way across and clearing out brush. All of the searches turned up not one speck of evidence that could be linked back to Alonzo, or any indication of what could have happened to him.

While searches were being conducted, the KBI also conducted hundreds of interviews with party goers and Alonzo’s friends. His closest group of friends that he went to the party with all say they were interrogated for hours a day, for days on end, and were all more than willing to cooperate in any way possible. They do however still say that this feeling of dismissiveness seemed to carry through, and they found it frustrating. Their friend was not walking off a bender for 11 days with no shoes. Where was he? Find him. 

The Sheriff reports that countless polygraph exams were done in the investigation, but Alonzo’s friend Daniel openly claims that many people lawyered up and refused the test, something the Sheriff left from his interviews. 

For three weeks, the family called the KBI every single day. They’d ask for updates, and beg to go search the area themselves. They were always told to stay away from the search area, and at one point Cindy claims she was told to stop calling and let them do their job.  After nearly a month, the family was finally given permission to go search the property themselves. 

They gathered a search party of friends and family and formulated a plan. Spreading out across the area, Alonzo’s uncle Edward Ramirez headed toward a white shed nearby to have a look. As they approached the shed, something behind it in the creek caught their eye. He headed down the embankment to get a better look and came upon the lifeless body of his 23 year old nephew.  They radioed the group of searched “We’ve got him, we’ve got Zo” 

Billy got a call from his uncle with his location, and he ran down toward his brother’s body. Edward stopped him and held him back, reminding him not to touch the body, while he fought to make his way to his baby brother’s remains. 

When Alonzo’s body was discovered the area descended into madness as the agencies arrived on scene. Alonzo’s family held hands as they gave a press conference, while his body was transported for exam. 

Dr. Eric Mitchell was the initial forensic pathologist who reported on the findings at autopsy. His description was that the body was “decomposing, it was fully clothed with several personal items including a ring. He says there were no penetrating injuries as cause of death, no evidence of acute bone fracture, no evidence of a sharp force injury, no gun shot.” 

He goes on to say “Could he have drowned? Yes, but there are no specific anatomical signs to show drowning. Could he have been strangled? Yes, but the soft tissue was gone. If he’s been beaten, there’s nothing left identifiable. I do not know the circumstances of his death. I do not know the cause of his death, whether it was an accident or whether it was purposeful involvement” 

Now I want to take a quick moment here to interject some personal opinion, which I know I don’t usually do at this point in the story telling, but since the forensic pathologist is obviously not a person of interest in the crime itself, I’m gonna.. I did not like Dr. Eric Mitchell AT ALL in his interview. I found him to be cold and have a complete and total absence of empathy. I think he seemed defensive of his exam, which makes sense given the criticism he soon would face after this report. But I just needed to get that off my chest because he gave me the FULL ick factor. 

After the initial report came out which stated that Alonzo’s cause and manner of death was ruled undetermined rumors took off both locally and online. His family and friends found it frustrating to keep track of what could be true, and what was ridiculous. Investigators have been tight lipped about what the party guests report that night, but they did make it clear that all of the rumors matched their interviews on one factor- a thread of racial tension. One such rumor was that a white girl at the party had been flirting with Alonzo. Either way, the predominant rumor seemed to be that Alonzo was jumped by a group of guys. At some point, among the small town gossip, the FBI became involved to investigate the possibility of a hate crime. 

But one major question that no one could seem to answer was WHY hadn’t Alonzo been found in the 27 days since he’d been missing! His body was a mere 650 feet from the house that had the party. Where had he been this whole time?? Everyone who searched,  even the Lee Summit search team, all agreed his body had absolutely not been there before and if it had been they would have found it. Billy said “You do all these searches for weeks and don’t find him, we do a search and find him in 30 minutes?” Make it make sense. Sheriff Stites believes it may have been placed there sometime after the last search. 

Further confusing this theory are the rumors that Alonzo had been stored in either a meat locker or a chest freezer during this time period. Billy says that his brother was not at all bloated like he’d been in the water, and his color even looked almost normal, as if he was still alive. The personal items that were found on him were also in pretty pristine condition given the circumstances- papers, receipts, cards in his pockets and wallets all in legible intact condition. 

Dr. Eric Mitchell feels differently though, saying he could have just been caught up on a branch in the creek elsewhere and floated down. He said: “There’s no way to know if someone has been frozen and defrosted. The body was consistent with being in the creek for 30 days but I can’t tell the circumstances of how he ended up there… Most people who dispose of bodies do it for convenience. Dumping his body there was not convenient. 

After a period of investigation The KBI sent a letter to the family that said, in part, that “no evidence or information came from the investigating indicating that his death was a crime, for this reason the investigation into his death was closed” But many people simply didn’t agree. Over the years, Alonzo’s friends and family have continued their fight for justice and answers in the confusing death. 

In March of 2019, Unsolved Mysteries contacted the US District Attorney at the time for the State of Kansas, Stephen McAllister in order to gather information for their upcoming episode on the young man’s mysterious death. McAllister says this triggered him do take another look at the closed file, and it raised enough concerns for him to bring it to the FBI for reopening. 

The FBI officially re-opened the investigation of the death of Alonzo Brooks in 2019, and in July of 2020, Unsolved Mysteries aired the episode  titled “No Ride Home”  His body was exhumed later that month. 

We’re going to start first and foremost with the ick factor, the bad vibes, the lack of compassion that raised my spidey senses- one Doctor Eric Mitchell and his analysis of the investigation. 

In general, it’s understandable that a body which had been outdoors, possibly submerged in water might have a rate of decomposition which would make it harder to determine the cause and manner of death.  But Dr. Eric Mitchell’s past was causing some to question his qualifications and testimony. For starters, according to the NYTimes, Mitchell was pushed to resign from his post as the medical examiner of Onondaga County NY because he “overstepped his authority and mismanaged his office”. One of the accusations in that case is that he removed organs from corpses without the consent of the families. Another is that he improperly stored skeletons and body parts.  Furthermore, Mitchell’s testimony on a murder trial in NY was called into question when he changed the time of death at trial, when the prosecutions entire case had been based on his original testimony. This resulted in a hung jury and ultimately his resignation in New York. Another man was convicted of murder based on Mitchell’s testimony, and was later exonerated after serving 12 years when Mitchell changed his testimony to say that the death was actually suicide, not murder. That man was released from prison and died a few months later. There is also at least one more case in the county of this particular investigation, where the defendant was sentenced and is now appealing, based on the defense that Mitchell’s theory of what happened in that wrongful death of a child case had no reasonable medical or scientific basis, that his testimony was little more than storytelling. 

After the exhumation of Alonzo’s remains, a new autopsy was performed by an FBI forensic pathologist. The FBI’s released an official statement of their findings, Amelia will you read part of that for us? 

 “We knew that Alonzo Brooks died under very suspicious circumstances. This new examination by a team of the world’s best forensic pathologists and experts establishes it was no accident. Alonzo Brooks was killed. We are doing everything we can, and will spare no resources, to bring those responsible to justice…The new autopsy focuses on injuries to parts of Brook’s body that the examiner concluded are inconsistent with normal patterns of decomposition. Details of the examination are being withheld for investigative purposes” 

So we don’t know the cause of death, which is what physically killed him, though we can assume there was some sort of trauma to the body based on that statement, injuries and wounds of some kind. The FBI is keeping that information to themselves for the investigation, but they have told us that his manner of death was homicide, rather than undetermined, meaning that someone else is responsible for taking his life. 

Investigators are hoping that some new incentives will help jog some memories as well. While they haven’t revealed much about the contents of their interviews with party goers, they’ve made it clear that there seems to be a code of silence among many of the kids who were there that night. At this point, they’re all close to 40 years old or more, and maybe their consciences are weighing on them, making it hard to sleep at night. Perhaps they saw the situation differently in their young, naive minds, and are now starting to wonder if some things might need to be shared. Perhaps someone who was there that night saw something and didn’t want to come forward, assuming it wouldn’t be much, it probably didn’t mean anything, I doubt I can help. But if age and maturity aren’t enough to get people to talk, perhaps the $100,000 reward will inspire some people to do the right thing and talk. 

I don’t have much more information about the party goers, who the suspects are, who has been cleared, who has passed the polygraphs, any of that. I think thats all being kept close to the vest for investigative purposes. HOWEVER, this case is PROOF that the more attention a story gets the more pressure the investigation goes under, so LETS GO, lets do this. Spread his story far and wide and lets get some of those kids, aka 40 year old grown adults now to TALK. Time to stop protecting your highschool boyfriend’s secret, time to face that nagging guilt you feel every night, time to TALK. 

Call to Action: 

The FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the death of Alonzo Brooks. Anyone with any information about what happened to Alonzo on the night of April 3rd 2004 is encouraged to call the FBI at 816-512-8200. You can also submit an anonymous tip online at tips.fbi.gov 

Sources

Missing in Minnesota: The Case of Brandon Swanson

Brandon Victor Swanson was born January 30th 1989 in Marshall Minnesota to mom Anette, and dad Brian. The family was very close, including his younger sister, and by all accounts Brandon was a loving brother and son. Marshall was a relatively quiet area, a population of around 13-14,000 but it was an area focused primarily on agriculture. It had a violent crime rate of less than half the average. 

Brandon excelled in school. He always seemed to have his nose in a book, making reading his favorite pastime. He had a love for learning, especially science, so when he graduated from Marshall high school in 2007 he chose to stay home with his parents for a year, and get a certificate in renewable energy and wind turbines from Minnesota West Community and Technical College. 

Brandon had big plans for the upcoming school year and was looking forward to attending Iowa Western College over 250 miles away. This would have meant going out on his own for the first time, but he was really excited about the opportunities to further his life and education. 

This particular night however was May 13th 2008 and it was the LAST day of classes at Minnesota West, meaning that Brandon was officially DONE with his certificate program. That night was all about celebrating the end of the year, and Brandon had what was supposed to be a fun night with lots of friends ahead of him. 

Though Brandon may have enjoyed himself early on that evening, what happened later that night is a baffling mystery, one where the deeper you dig the less things seem to make sense. So we’re going to start by retracing Brandon’s steps.

Brandon’s evening started in the nearby town of Lynd, about 7 miles southwest of his home in Marshall.  He attended what I’ve described elsewhere as a “party,” but if you dig a little deeper you find that it was actually what I’d call more of a “get-together.” I hear a maximum of maybe 6 people including Brandon, so nothing crazy. People at the party report that Brandon had one alcoholic drink that they noticed, and that he seemed fine, not inebriated in any way. 

At some point that evening, Brandon left the quiet get-together in Lynd, and headed 35 miles northwest  toward Canby where his college was located.  Brandon’s friend and classmate was moving away, and Brandon wanted to make sure he got a chance to say goodbye, so they met up for another party. At this occasion, Brandon’s friends report that the alcohol was flowing a little bit more, and that they remember Brandon having one or maybe two drinks. Again his friends report that he was not intoxicated, and when he left around midnight no one thought twice about his ability to make it home safely. 

Aside from the fact that Brandon was relatively sober, this was also a very familiar drive for him. It took him 30-40 minutes tops, and was a trek he made every single day for classes. Sometimes multiple times a day even. It was a completely straight shot down the highway that connected Canby and Marshall, State Highway 68. No big deal, nothing out of the ordinary. 

That is until Brandon’s had some trouble on this ride, and he somehow managed to get his car stuck in a ditch off the shoulder of the road. Apparently he’d just drifted a little, but the curb was low, and try as he might on his own he just could not get his Chevy Lumina out of the ditch he’d landed in. So he did what I think most 19 year olds on their way home would do- he called his friends!! But when they didn’t answer, he had no choice but to call his Dad at about 1:54 am to come assist him. He wasn’t hurt, and there wasn’t any damage to the car- everything was going to be fine, he just needed a little help to get it back on the road. Brandon’s parents piled into their car, not too worried, and headed out to rescue their son. 

Brandon told them he was somewhere on the road between Lynd and Marshall. No problem, his dad said, I know exactly where what you’re describing is. That’s only about 10 minutes away, we’ll be right there. 

Brian and Anette arrive where Brandon has told them he should be, and they can’t seem to find his car. Hmm, that’s strange so they begin driving up and down the road. Still on the phone with their son they say “ok, we’re going to flash out lights, can you see us??” Brandon doesn’t see any lights. “Ok Brandon let’s honk our horn”  He says he can’t hear them. Brandon’s parents encourage him to flash his lights. They see darkness. Brandon’s parents encourage him to honk his horn. Though they hear it through the phone, they hear nothing locally. 

Brandon’s parents ask him what he sees around them and they listen as he describes basically the same thing THEY see. A long stretch of road, and big open fields. There was no way to miss each other so what was going on. 

Now if you’re anything like me, your mind immediately went to something like alternate reality, parallel dimension, or some other weird supernatural time loop occurrence.   What both Brandon and his parents thought though was that the other car was in the wrong spot. Brandon was frustrated that his parents obviously were in the wrong spot, Brandon’s parents were frustrated that he obviously must have given him the wrong location, and tensions are high out here in the middle of the night. 

Brandon grew impatient while waiting for his parents to find the right spot. He was sure he’d given the directions correctly, and he decided he didn’t want to wait anymore. Up ahead on the road in the distance, Brandon could see the glow of the lights from the city of Lynd, and he decided he’d just walk that way. Brian drove Anita home, and promised to meet Brandon in the parking lot of a bar at the edge of town. 

Brian stayed on the phone with his son while he made his journey, and he was a little frustrated that Brandon kept walking through fields and other areas rather than sticking to the main road. They chatted as he walked and Brandon referenced fences in his way, and the sound of running water as he continued walking toward the lights of Lynd. 

At around 2:30am, Brandon suddenly yelped “oh shit!” and the phone disconnected. Brian called Brandon back 6 times in a row, and each time the phone went straight to voicemail. Not knowing what else to do, Brian continued driving up and down the roads calling and looking for Brandon. He and his wife began calling Brandon’s friends, who also rushed to the area to search for him in the dark night. Up and down side roads and gravel paths, and even the bar in Lynd. By morning, when the sun had risen, Brandon’s family knew it was time to file a missing person’s report. 

Though Brandon was barely 19 years old, the police response did not match the alarm his family and friends felt. A college boy not coming home after a night out is not unusual, they told them. According to Anette, one officer said directly  “As an adult Brandon has a right to be missing if he wants to be”   It took hours of Anette’s begging, explaining about the disconnected call, before the police finally agreed to open the report. 

While the search in and around Lynd continued, police were able to obtain Brandon’s cell phone records. In a surprising twist, what they learned was that Brandon had been nowhere near Lynd at all. His calls to his parents the night before pinged off a cell phone tower near the small town of Taunton, 25 miles away from Lynd to the northwest of Marshall. 

Moving the search to the Taunton area, authorities quickly located Brandon’s abandoned car. In a ditch on the side of the road, just as he said. Helicopter and ground searches commenced, covering all the fields and areas Brandon may have attempted to make his short cut going toward what he incorrectly assumed was Lynd. 

Now, geographically speaking it makes perfect sense that Brandon and his car would be in Taunton. Taunton was actually directly on the way from Canby to Marshall, a town he drove through daily on his way to and from class. What does not make sense to me is how Brandon could have suspected he was near Lynd, if he were driving Canby to Marshall, as Lynd is 7 miles BEYOND his home in Marshall, a further drive. 

What makes even less sense is the timing of it all. Brandon is reported to have left the party in Canby between 12 and 12:30am. Taunton is approximately a 15 minute straight drive from the party in Canby. Brandon did not call to report being stuck in a ditch until nearly 2am. Where is that unaccounted for hour and a half to two hours? And why did he believe himself to be near Lynd? 

Bloodhound search and rescue dogs were brought in to track Brandon’s scent from his car. The dogs followed his trail across an abandoned farm, and then along the Yellow Medicine River. At the river’s edge, the dogs lost Brandon’s scent, indicating he may have gone in the water. The dogs were unable to pick his trail back up on the other side. 

It’s important to note that this particular river is not one that’s notably deadly. At most it gets to 15 feet, and if Brandon DID fall in the river, he easily could have made it out to the other side, just unable to leave a strong enough trail for the dogs being that he’s wet and washed. Nevertheless, drowning was the immediate fear, and so two miles of the river and the riverbank were thoroughly searched for 30 days. Scientifically speaking, if his body were in the river, local authorities feel it should have turned up. 

Brandon’s family and volunteers have continued ground searches for him over the years, but absolutely no trace of Brandon Swanson has ever been recovered including his cell phone, and his glasses- items that I personally think would be likely to turn up if he’d been injured in the wilderness somehow. 

Another point of question that I can’t help but wonder about is that phone call. Brandon’s phone went immediately dead as if he hit the hang up button. It wasn’t “oh shit, trip bang crash, gurgle disconnect” There were no other noises like you might associate with someone falling into a river, tripping in a bear trap, whatever it could’ve been. There’s also a lot of debate in the research I found online about what that particular type of hang up and how the calls that came after it were received could mean about the phone. If they went through, does that mean the phone was manually turned off rather than physically destroyed by an accident? It’s heavily debated in the armchair detective web groups, but the police have not given an official stance as far as I found.

If Brandon was injured or killed in an accident that evening, where could his remains be? Is it possible that Brandon met with foul play? Would Brandon really have run away as the police suggested? Let’s look at the main theories: 

Brandon staged his own disappearance to run away and start a new life- 

Like most parents whose children are missing, Brandon’s family feels this is categorically impossible. I also think it’s extremely unlikely considering he was excited about his fall plans. But the thing that really eliminates this for me is the phone call with his dad. To know you were running away to start a secret new life and to keep your dad on the phone for an hour while you fake your incident seems…. Cruel? I don’t know. And where did he go?? Someone had to have picked him up or hidden him. Seems implausible. 

Brandon met with foul play- 

One popular theory is that he was the victim of a hit and run and someone hid his body. Authorities say this theory is unlikely because they found absolutely no evidence of such an accident anywhere on the road, and Brandon even told his dad he was talking gravel road shortcuts and walking through farms. The dog’s also tracked him off the road to the water. 

Similarly, the area as I mentioned before has an extremely low crime rate, and Taunton where he really went missing had a population of only 135 people at the time. Doesn’t mean it’s not possible but mathematically speaking that’s a big reduction in likelihood. 

Brandon got mixed up in direction and met a tragic accidental end, with his body lost in nature-

With the wild animals and rural farmlands of Minnesota, it is a real possibility that Brandon had some kind of accident, and his body was quickly removed by either wild animals or farm equipment. 

I want to add a few more speculative points that I think aid this theory, though please remember that theory is not evidence! 

Firstly, Brandon was legally blind in one eye. Although he obviously had a license and this didn’t impair his life, at night in the darkness this really could have affected his depth perception. Perhaps this is why he misunderstood where he was, why he ended up in the wrong area, how he drifted gently off the road. We also need to remember that underage drinkers lie about what substances and how much they’ve consumed, and they’re also not the most trustworthy judges to tell how impaired someone is. I have also heard rumors, though nothing to verify, that there may have been a bowl in his car- a cannabis pipe. One speculation is that maybe Brandon took side roads home in an effort to avoid any police traps where he may have been pulled over, which would have led him into less familiar territory than his normal road to school. With all of this, Brandon could have been more confused than we were aware of.  

Though Brandon’s case tragically remains unsolved, wherever Brandon is he can be proud of his legacy of enacting a new Law in his honor. Brandon’s Law was passed in Minnesota later that year  in 2008 and it requires police to begin an immediate search for missing adults under 21, as well as older adults who are missing under suspicious circumstances. 

Call to action

Brandon Victor Swanson was last seen on May 15th 2008 in Canby Minnesota. At the time of his disappearance Brandon was 19 years old, 5’6” and 120 lbs. 

Distinguishing characteristics for Brandon include Caucasian male. Naturally curly Brown hair, blue eyes. Swanson wears black wire-framed eyeglasses. He has pierced ears and a small scar above his left eye. He is legally blind in his left eye. 

At the time of his disappearance he was known to be wearing A white t-shirt under a blue striped Polo sweatshirt, baggy blue jeans, a black hooded zip-up jacket with an emblem on the back, a white flat-billed Minnesota Twins baseball cap twisted to the side, white sneakers, a heavy sterling silver necklace and one stud earring in each ear.

Brandon’s disappearance has classified him as an endangered missing person. Dental records and DNA are available for comparison, though fingerprints are not. 

If you have any information, please contact: 

Agency Name: Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office

Agency Phone Number: 507-694-1664

Agency Name: MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

Agency Phone Number: 651-793-7000

Sources: