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


Murdered in DC: The Case of the Freeway Phantom

In April of 1971, 13 year old Carol Spinx was home alone with 3 of her 7 siblings- twin sister Carolyn, and older sister Evander. Their mother Alenteen was a single mom who was out visiting a friend, but the kids knew mom’s strict rules for when she wasn’t home- don’t open the door, don’t leave the house, stay put, behave, I’ll be back soon. 

The girls had a 24 year old sister Valerie who didn’t live with them anymore, but was visiting a friend at a nearby apartment. Valerie came over and began pestering her sisters to run to the store for her, go pick up a few things. Eventually Carol said “she’s driving me nuts, I’ll go”, and she headed a couple of blocks away to the nearby 7-11. 

Carol actually ran into her mother on the way to the store as she was walking home, so her mom naturally reprimanded her a little bit for breaking the rules. Ultimately though, she decided to let her finish the errand and they’d talk more about it when she gots home. 

When a half hour went by and there’s still no sign of Carol, big sister Evander went to the 7-11 to collect her sister and see what she was being so slow about. When Evander got to the store and looked around- no Carol. She looked out on the street- no Carol. She asked the clerk if he had seen her sister- sure he had. She got her stuff and left, a while ago. 

Evander ran home, and the family called the police immediately to report Carol missing. The police called Carol a runaway. 

On May 1st, Evander sat in a back room of her apartment and listened as her mom answered a knock on the door. Her mother’s anguished screams told her immediately that her sister was dead. The body of 13 year old Carol Spinx was found in a wooded back parking lot at St. Elizabeth’s hospital on route 295, 

The coroner reported that young Carol was covered in abrasions and bruises, and had contusions around her throat. The wounds were on her hands, face, and neck, and she’d been sexually assaulted- sodomized. Perhaps most upsetting for the family, was the realization that she had fresh food in the contents of her stomach. Someone had been keeping her alive. Feeding her and torturing her. 

Two investigators on her case, both now retired sprung into action as quickly as they could. Detective Jim Trainum found in interviews of the neighborhood that Carol was seen carrying a grocery bag back toward the house, meaning they could pin down almost the exact spot she had been abducted. 

The case came to a screeching halt when Vietnam War protestors began accumulating in the nation’s capital.  According to Detective Romaine Jenkins, the police were expected to be at full capacity at the makeshift camps set up to detain protestors. Emergency duty was expected for every single officer. She even reports attempting to investigate the child abduction and murder and beoing told absolutely not- get to the riots. For the next several weeks, it seemed all but forgotten about. 

Until July of 1971 when 16 year old Darlenia Johnson left her home walking down Wahler Road one morning. When she never arrived at work as planned, her company called home and spoke to her mom Hellen. Hellen reported her daughter missing, but what happened next was beyond traumatic for the frantic mother. 

Hellen began receiving a series of disturbing phone calls. The person on the other end of the line wouldn’t speak, simply breathe to let Hellen know they were there. She was terrified by these calls, but was hoping and praying perhaps it was her daughter and one day she’d be brave enough to speak, so she’d continue to listen to every breath. When the voice finally did speak, it wasn’t Darlenia but a man’s voice. He said “I killed your daughter” and hung up. 

The police didn’t have the capacity to trace the calls in 1971, and like the case of Carol Spinx no headway seemed to be made. Then on July 19th 1971, a body was found near St. Elizabeth’s hospital off of i295, just 15 feet from where Carol Spinx had been found two months prior. She’d been left there for 14 or 15 days, and was so badly decomposed that no cause or manner of death could be concluded. Hellen was able to identify her daughter Darlenia by her clothing.  

8 days later, on the opposite side of town, 10 year old Brenda Crockett was with her family preparing for a fun movie night. The grocery store was a mere block away, and Brenda’s mom sent her to the store to pick up some snacks and food for the evening while she stayed home with baby sister Bertha. 

When Brenda had been gone for an hour, her mother got a little nervous and ran down to the store to find her. While she was gone, the family home received an eerie phone call in which little Bertha answered the phone. It’s Brenda!! She tells her little sister that a man in a white van took her and was sending her home in a cab. Little Bertha thought that was weird but didn’t really understand and said ok sis, and hung up the phone. She told her father, who began to panic when the phone rang again. Brenda was on the line again and her father said “where are you? Stay put, I’ll come get you right away!” Brenda told him she was in Virginia, she asked if her mother had seen her. She hung up, and moments later the mom arrived saying Brenda wasn’t at the store. The family called the police. 

In another tragic likeness to the story of Carol Spinx, Bertha recalls waking up the next morning to the blood curdling sound of her mothers screams of pain as detectives tell her that a body has been recovered. 10 year old Brenda Crockett was found on July 28th 1971 off route 50 in Prince George’s County Maryland. She was found laying back off the side of the road. Strangled and sexually assaulted.

Investigations into the phone calls led detectives to believe that they had been scripted. That Brenda was being told what to say in an effort to throw the investigation off. Probably not a white van, probably never in Virginia. An investigative discovery that leads them to know even less about the killer’s true identity. The case lies cold, and the family continues to anguish. 

October 1st, 1971 in Northeast Washington DC 12 year old Nenomoshia Yates went to the store, purchased what she needed, and disappeared sometime on her one block walk home.  Another young black girl abducted in broad daylight within the vicinity of her home. This time she was found a mere two hours later. An unceremonious body dump off route 4 in Prince George’s county. Nenomoshia too had been strangled and sexually assaulted. 

4 girls abducted and discarded on the side of the road. The community was in fear, and needed answers. Though police were reluctant to believe these cases were connected, the local media had already picked up on the threads in common all of the victims had. Whether the police were reluctant or not, DC was convinced there was a serial killer among them. The press deemed him The Freeway Phantom. 

The public speculation about the case got the attention of the FBI, who sent over Special Agent Barry Covert to head up a reexamination into all of the evidence together. They discover that three of the four victims, all but Darlenia who’s body had suffered too much decomposition, had forensic evidence in the underwear. A hair to be exact, likely belonging to an African American. This hair evidence is the piece investigators need to likely tie the cases together. DC’s first serial killer. 

Within a month, the Freeway Phantom had struck again, clearly not dismayed by the FBI’s arrival on the scene. In fact, he decided to taunt them. On November 16th, 1971 the body of 18 year old Brenda Woodard was discovered on an access ramp to the Baltimore Washington Parkway. Like other others she had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Unlike the others, Brenda Woodard was the only victim who’d been stabbed, and she had many defensive wounds indicating she fought back against her abductor. 

Brenda was found wearing a red crushed velvet coat. In the pocket was a handwritten note: 

The FBI quickly begins a language and handwriting analysis of the note. They get stuck on the word “tantemount”- an unusual choice of words, not commonly used at the time. This made SA Covert wonder if the note was directed at someone in particular- as if to say “YOU made me do this.” Even more interesting, the handwriting analysis revealed that the note was written by Brenda herself. You’d expect evidence that she’d been coerced to write the note in her style of writing- hands shake when under duress. The fact that Brenda’s handwriting appeared normal, comfortable, indicated that perhaps Brenda knew her killer and had no reason to feel unafraid up until the attack where she defended herself. 

Months go by without another abduction of this kind. The community hopes and wonders if it’s over. Maybe the killer has moved on, or been arrested, or even died. The families beg for closure as the status of the cases stay the same. No news. 

Then on September 5th 1972, 17 year old Dianne Williams says goodbye to her boyfriend at the bus stop, and heads home after a nice date night out. Her body was found the next morning on the side of i295 southbound. She’s been sexually assaulted and strangled. And investigators finally found evidence of such- semen in her underwear. They also identify a green synthetic fiber on Dianne, which leads them to recheck the other victims for the same fiber yet again. All of the victims except for Johnson (again, decomposition) have the synthetic green fiber present. 

Fortunately, the killings seemed to stop after the murder of Dianne Williams. Unfortunately, there was not much coming in as far as evidence goes. There’s a lot more of this story to tell, but you know that this is a podcast about unsolved cases, so before we get into some of the investigative leads that detectives have had over the years, I want to take a moment to remind you of the importance of sharing these stories. I’m about to give you some of the theories, but this person who committed these murders has never been held accountable for them. At the end, I’ll go full Criminal Minds on you and “deliver the profile” so I hope that you’ll please share. 

Desperate for leads, detectives take another look at some of the known predators with criminal history in the area. One particular ex-con that stands out to them is a man named Robert Askins. He had a history of rape, abduction, and even murder. In one of these cases, he’d had the victim write a note. In another one of these cases, he’d had the victime call home and give false facts about where she was. Some of his associates even reported that he uses the word “tantamount” frequently and casually in conversation. Detectives get a search warrant for his home looking for any carpet to match the green synthetic fibers. They do find some strange items- women’s earrings, buttons, a knife- but no green carpet. They had no choice but to let him go. 

Early in 1974, a jailhouse snitch called up a detective and said that a man named Morris Warren at Lorton Prison had information about the Freeway Phantom. At first, Warren denied any knowledge but eventually he started giving information. Warren was in prison for something else, and was awaiting trial on a series of kidnappings and rapes by a group of suspects in a Green Vega. Warren says other members of the Green Vega gang had been responsible for the girls murders, and he could give them details of the dump sites and the murders. Nothing in prison comes free however, and Warren wanted an exchange- release from prison, and a part of the $10k reward money. 

Detectives couldn’t agree to those terms with nothing, so they took him on two ride alongs to test his credibility. While there were some elements he got right, such as the body disposal locations of Brenda Woodward and Darlenia Johnson, there were also a lot of inconsistencies. During the second ride along, a news report came on the radio with an update in the Freeway Phantom investigation- Police were following new leads by working with a cooperating inmate from Lorton prison. Knowing that this would get back to people in prison, Warren completely shut down and stopped cooperating. Further investigation revealed that the green vega had not been manufactured until the spring of 1972, meaning it couldn’t have been involved in most of the murders. Warren later admitted in a letter that was confiscated that he’d made the whole thing up to get out of his prison sentence. 

Detectives puttered along over the years but the case stayed cold. A painful memory staining the DC metropolitan area. The families felt as though they’d been given up on- forgotten about. In 1987, Detective Romaine Jenkins was promoted to Sergeant, a position with a supervisory capacity. She reached back to the case from her earlier years that had haunted her, and pulled together a team of detectives to reinvigorate the cold case. 

Sergeant Jenkins went to the evidence book to find the proper boxes and case files to get started only to find the most gut wrenching words a victim’s family could ever imagine. “Evidence Destroyed”. There was nothing left. Evidence is not stored forever, but before the evidence is destroyed the officer is supposed to be certain the case has been closed. Because the case had been so long forgotten, many people assumed it had been closed- and someone, somewhere, didn’t fact check that. During the investigations into the deaths of these six girls, detectives came to their families homes and collected photos, clothes, personal effects, mementos. Those were gone. Furthermore the DNA, biological, and all other evidence which could forensically link a criminal to a victim was lost forever.

We can all agree that is a horrific tragedy in and of itself that never ever should have happened. As a result, I read that the City Council strengthened their evidence retention laws and all evidence must be kept for a minimum of 65 years. But as far as the Freeway Phantom goes- it’s too late. Luckily the FBI keeps their records a little more diligently then DC metro did at the time, so Jenkins was able to at least piece back together the case file even if there was no physical evidence. She also made a really smart move in calling up all of her old detective pals who kept old school handwritten notebooks for all of their cases. But the damage has tragically been done, and I know the families are really feeling the weight of that mistake. 

Lets end the evening tonight by telling you what the FBI and Sargeant Jenkins have put together as a criminal profile. These will be physical and behavioral characteristics that are most likely for this killer in the early 1970s. The killer could still be alive today, in his 80s. Many cases have been solved before by someone realizing that a weird old family rumor was not just a rumor. If you know anyone who may have fit this description, especially if your family is from the DC area, we would encourage you to make a call. 

The Freeway Phantom Serial Killer who has murdered at least 6 young black girls in 1971 and 72 can most likely be identified as: 

  • African American Male 
  • Ages 27 to 32 in 1971. 
  • A loner 
  • A Psychopath 
  • Hated women 
  • Held down a dayjob
  • Knew some of the victims and was easily able to gain their trust 
  • Comfort zones around the body dump sites indicate St. Elizabeths hospital was a geographical anchor point for him. At the time it was labeled as a mental asylum. Police believe the killer was either a patient, a doctor, or a staff member of the hospital. 

I want to leave you with a quote from Sargeant Jenkins tonight “Every mystery case is like solving a puzzle. If you have have all the pieces, you cant finish the puzzle” 

If you think you might have any of the missing puzzle pieces to this story- maybe the weird family rumors about that one estranged uncle or something- please call the Synchronized Operations Command Center at 202 727 9099 or email unsolved.murder@dc.gov. If you don’t have the answers to this case, you can still contribute to helping the cause by sharing!! Spread awareness- the more people that know the stories, the more likely it is to be closed. But we need help! Join us next week as we shine light on another unsolved case. These are the stories of the voiceless. These are the lost souls of america.

Unsolved in California: The Case of the Keddie Cabin Murders

The little town of Keddie California lies nestled in the mountains to the north-eastern part of the state in Plumas County. Locals describe it as a beautiful woodsy town, one with a strong sense of community. Particularly in the little village of Keddie where everyone lived in a little neighborhood of cabins, everyone knew everyone else and all the kids felt safe to run back and forth from neighbor to neighbor. 

In November of 1980 36 year old single mom Glenna “Sue” Sharp had just made the long move cross country from Connecticut with her 5 children: Johnny who at the time was 15 years old, Shiela age 14, Tina age 12,, Ricky age 10, and Greg age 5. Sue herself was described as quiet, someone who kept to herself, worked hard, and didn’t need or want anything fancy. The children were also well liked, though occasionally Johnny would find himself in a little bit of typical teenage trouble. 

Sue’s brother lived nearby, and though the move seemed major, they were all looking forward to the fresh start they’d find in Keddie. You see, Sue’s rocky relationship with her husband Jim had finally reached a boiling point where the two agreed there was no way to make the marriage work. He had a history of abusive behavior towards Sue, who was now on her own for the first time. She was thrilled with the new life she had blossoming out there in Keddie. 

On the evening of April 11th, 1981 the family were settling into their own evening activities. Sheila was sleeping out at the cabin next door, spending time with her friend Alicia Seabolt. Initially Tina had been with her as well, but Sue had requested that Tina come home in order to get some chores done and sleep in her own bed that night. 

In the Sharps’ cabin, the two younger boys also decided to have a sleepover that night, inviting their friend and neighbor 12 year old Justin Easton to spend the night with Greg and Ricky. Johnny Sharp was out that evening with another friend and neighbor, 17 year old Dana Wingate. The two had been out having fun earlier, but were now home and ready to crash. 

The next morning was Sunday, and when Sheila woke up at the Seabolt’s house and they invited her to attend church with them, so she headed next door around 7:45 in the morning to change into some nice clothes. But instead of her mothers smiling face, or sleeping brothers, Sheila was greeted by a scene so gruesome and horrific that I think it’s hard for anyone to imagine. 

Opening the door, the metallic smell of blood must have been staggering. It was splattered on the walls and pooled on the floor, smeared and sticky. In the room Shiela could make out bodies tied together with medical tape and electrical cord, so beaten and bloodied that it was unclear immediately who the victims were or what was going on.

Sheila feared for her own safety at that moment and dropped her bag in the doorway, dashing back to the Seabolts, who promptly called police. The Seabolts oldest son Jamie ran next door and carefully, sneakily searched the outside of the house, making certain there were no assailants still on the premises. When he arrived at the back bedroom window and looked in he found the three younger boys in their beds, all fast asleep. Somehow they’d been spared in all of the carnage, but to keep them from the trauma of the bloody crime scene, Jamie helped Ricky, Greg, and Justin climb out the back window to safety.

The Sheriff’s department arrived along with Sue’s brother, who had the horrific task of identifying the victims. It took him multiple attempts to discern who was who for certain, because they’d be so severely brutalized. In Cabin 28 laid the bodies of Sue Sharp, Johnny Sharp, and Dana Wingate. It was clear immediately that there had been an intense struggle. Furniture was tossed all over, there were slashing knife marks on the walls, and the back door was left open. There was no sign of forced entry, and the phone and lights had been turned off. 

Upon autopsy it was confirmed that the three had been stabbed multiple times. They’d also been beaten and bludgeoned with two different hammers- one they’d found at the scene along with a knife, and another that had not been located. Johnny and Sue had their throats cut, and Dana had been manually strangled. All three were bound with electrical cords and medical tape in complicated, overly excessive manners. Sue’s panties were stuffed in her mouth as a gag. Johnny seemed to have suffered the most in the attack, likely defending his mother.

Between the blood evidence on scene, and the brutality with which the victims were treated, it was clear that the perpetrator or perpetrators had taken their time. This was not a quick robbery gone wrong. This was a targeted, personal attack, and investigators began to surmise that there must have been more than one assailant in order to tie up and torture two teenage boys in this way. 

Miraculously, the three boys sleeping in the back bedroom survived the ordeal completely uninjured, and as police continued to process the scene they realized there may be another survivor out there- Where on earth was Tina Sharp?

Though everyone admits that it took them a while to realize Tina was missing, once they did the investigation quickly shifted gears, as everyone in Plumas County desperately hoped to find Tina safe and sound. Officials and locals searched roads, side roads, wooded areas, and anywhere they could think to look across the county. An all Points Bulletin was put out, and the FBI arrived to pitch in. To have taken Tina leads detectives to wonder if her abduction was the motive. 

Throughout the search for Tina, some feel that investigators may have lost sight of the murders at hand. The concern was so strong about finding Tina that perhaps other motives were ignored initially, perhaps the scene wasn’t processed quickly enough, perhaps there were some things missed as a result. Though everyone continued to search for her, it was important to get back to using the clues they had available. So that’s when investigators decided to talk to the three sleeping boys. 

Ricky and Greg Sharp both insist that they slept through the night and have no memory of anything unusual. But Justin tells detectives about a strange dream he had that night. Justin was placed under hypnosis and revealed that he dreamt he was on the Love Boat when two scary men came on board, killed Johnny Dana and Sue, and threw their bodies overboard, escaping in a raft. 

As crazy and unusual it was to use a dream and hypnosis, especially in 1981, Justin had many details of the attack correct in his dream. Justin’s Love boat dream had Sue slit through the chest, had a hammer as a weapon, and had Johnny and Dana fighting to protect Sue. This led them to believe they were onto something, so they created a composite sketch of the two assailants from Justin’s dream.

Police released the sketches and began to interview everyone involved in the Sharps life- and we’ll get into some of the theories soon- but nothing led to an arrest.

Over the next few years, the investigation trudged slowly and eventually went cold. Until 3 years to the day after the horrific murders a man collecting cans stumbled upon a human skull in Butte County CA. Local investigators wrote it off as an upturned burial skull of a native american, but two months later, they got an anonymous call claiming that the skull belonged to Tina Sharp. 

The remains were processed, and it was unfortunately determined to be the 4th victim of the Keddie Cabin murders. Though the area was searched thoroughly and more of Tina’s remains were recovered, no new investigative clues laid in her burial place. Her remains were in such a deteriorated condition that it yielded no answers as to what happened to her, but it did bring more questions- Who was the caller? Could they have been involved? Was it intentional that they called on the anniversary of the murders?? 

One would assume this would have been investigated, but like many other curious occurrences in this case, the recording of the anonymous tip was…. Misplaced. 

Immediately police begin their investigation with Jim Sharp, Sue’s ex. Not only had Jim been violent with Sue in the past, but according to Shiela he had sexually absued both her and Tina up until the time their mom left him. Tina had always been his “favorite”- Could he have taken Tina in a sick perverted scheme to abuse her? Could it be revenge against his wife? FBI did a background check and even surveilled him for some time, but he never led them to Tina. He’s questioned then, but his alibi was air tight. Jim Sharp did not commit the murders. 

Other relationships in Sue’s life were looked into, and one by one they were eliminated as suspects. Rumors began to swirl around town- could she have been involved in drug trafficking? Could she have been involved in prositution? Sheriff Hagwood says there was no evidence for it, and he doesn’t believe any of the rumors have relevance in the deaths. 

Another suspect emerged early on when Tina’s classroom teacher was interviewed as a source of information, detectives realized he had quite the fascination with the little girl. The man Joel Lipstein had allegedly had a “disproportionate interest” in Tina, compared to the other kids. This included a framed photo of her in his home and he had been seen at the bar in Keddie the evening of the murders. However, like Jim before him his alibi eliminated him as a suspect. Side note in case this infuriates you like it did me: Later, Lipstein left the area and was eventually arrested on charges of child molestation for another young girl.  

But do you remember that composite sketch from Justin’s dream? Well- investigators discovered that one of them looked remarkably like a neighbor from the cabin community- Marty Smartt. Justin’s own Step father. Marty had a bit of a reputation for not being the kindest man around, and according to Sheila he had a particular hatred for teenage Johnny. 

Marty was a Vietnam Vet with PTSD who was known for his explosive temper and violent tendencies. He was reportedly abusive to his wife Marilyn and her son Justin, even attempting to run them over with a car at one point. At this time he went to the VA hospital for some mental health help and made a friend named John Boubede, known as Bo. 

During the time of the murders, Bo was staying with Marty in Keddie sleeping on his couch. Bo had a lengthy rap sheet as a thief and even a hitman. Marilyn says that the night of the murders Bo had asked out Sue and he had rejected her. According to Marilyn, Bo was so upset by this that he said he “felt like killing someone.”  Was Sue killed for rejecting Bo? 

Now here is where the investigation gets…. Questionable. 

The sheriff at the time, Doug Thomas, elected to have Bo and Marty interviewed by the Department of Justice Organized Crime Unit. His own investigators felt confused by this naturally, and it would certainly indicate that they believed Marty and/or Bo to have a mafia connection of some sort. 

During this interview, Bo tells them he used to be a former police officer who had been shot in the line of duty rendering him impotent. He states this repeatedly, citing it almost as if it were his alibi. He simply couldn’t have taken an interest in Sue. Bo was also never a police officer. 

What’s even stranger here, is that the DOJ investigators next interviewed the men together. In this interview, Marty makes hints that he was at the scene of the crime, and he even ASKS investigators if it was true that a hammer had been used. Marty then describes a hammer in vivid detail that he says had gone missing from his home. DOJ investigators let the men go, they left town, and were absolutely never interviewed or questioned again. 

How could that possibly happen? Well…. Many speculate about police corruption. Sheriff ___ just so happens to be Marty’s BEST FRIEND. Gamberg and Hagwood were both young investigators at the time and felt the immediate shift once Marty became involved as a suspect. Even little Justin with the Love Boat dream stopped cooperating amid rumors that he and his mom Marilyn were threatened into silence.  

More rumors spread about the motives to cover up Bo’s involvement. Is it possible that Bo was an informant for organized crime? Did he need to be protected in order to help them solve “bigger” mob related crimes? Why on earth did the DOJ’s organized crime unit from Chicago get involved in a small mountain town murder? It simply wasn’t adding up and Gamberg questioned it at the time. He was told by the Sheriff to knock it off or he’d be fired. 

Today, the Sheriff role has gone to Hagwood who has teamed up with his old colleague. Gamberg to reopen the case. After all these years, they simply can’t forget the impact of this case on their little town or on themselves. 

Gamberg feels point blank- for the details of this case to be left out the way they were had to have been intentional. This isn’t negligence, this is cover up. 

John Bobede died in 1988 and Marty Smartt died in 2000 of cancer. Though maybe the men can’t serve time in this life for crimes they may have committed, Hagwood and Gamberg are hoping to still be sure that justice is served in this case. They may have taken some of their secrets to the grave with them, but the investigation is still on. 

In 2010 when Hagwood found himself in the position of Sheriff, he pulled the old dusty boxes out of storage and had his team comb through everything again. And hold your hats everyone, because you’re about to be mind blown by what they found. 

  1. Gamberg discovered that after the murders, Marty Smartt continued to seek services at the VA, so he went in and interviewed some of his providers. His therapist said that he confessed to the murders, point blank. Marty said he killed the woman and her daughter, but he had nothing to do with those boys. Obviously there’s a fine line here with the idea of patient confidentiality and that information being privileged, but this further highlights the theory that this case was not investigated thoroughly as no one had ever interviewed at the VA previously. The DOJ apparently WAS alerted about this confession in 1981, and dismissed it as hearsay 
  2. They found the damn tape. Buried deep in an evidence box was the missing recording of the anonymous call stating that the remains were Tina’s. The tape was sent to the FBI voice comparison unit and to the best of my knowledge, those tests are still pending or at least have not been released publicly. I have heard some internet rumors that indicate investigators may know more about this tip than they’re sharing which is a good thing.
  3. Another item Gamberg found that had been completely overlooked and never even entered into evidence was a letter addressed to Marilyn, begging her to repair their marriage. Forensic DNA confirming the letter was from Marty was found on the stamp and the envelope. Amelia, do you want to read a little snippet of that letter for us? 
    1. I’ve given it to you. I’ve paid the price of your love and now that I’ve bought it with four people’s lives, you tell me we are through. Great! What else do you want from me?  
    2. What’s especially interesting here for me, is that in a 2008 interview with Marilyn Smartt, she says she believes her husband and friend did it, but she says she was dismissed by Sheriff Thomas back then, who claims it couldn’t be true because Marty passed a polygraph. I was not able to find documentation of that. 

In 2016 the case gets another piece of potential evidence when a junk collector finds an old hammer in the Keddie area. Now at the time, he didn’t think anything of it and tossed it back, but one day shortly after that he was cruising the internet and stumbled upon a website about the unsolved murders. The website had a description of Marty’s missing hammer, and the man thought “holy crap, that’s the hammer i found.” The hammer is being forensically examined as well but it’s not likely we’ll find DNA after all these years, but it matches the description of Marty’s hammer almost exactly. 

In 2018 Gamberg announced that they had 6 total potential suspects, and that DNA taken from a piece of tape at the crime scene was now linked back to a living suspect. 

Gamberg and Hagwood say the case is personal now, and it’ll never be forgotten. There are many theories as to why the 4 victims were killed- Could Marilyn have been involved in an affair plot, could Sheila have been involved and that’s why she stayed out, all just speculation.

 However some who are involved closely with the case believe the police cover-up theory is the most resounding. Could the former Sheriff have been involved in a drug trafficking ring that made him want this problem to go away quietly? We may never know for sure, but the new team is working hard to resolve the case. Hagwood says the most important thing we need now is for the people who know to talk. He says there are people alive today who know exactly what happened, they know, and it’s time to be solved. 

Call to action: 

If you have any information about the murders of Sue Sharp, Johnny Sharp, Tina Sharp, and Dana Wingate, please call 530-283-6360. You can remain anonymous, and there is a $5,000 award for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers.


People Investigates- Cabin 28: Horror in the Woods (Investigation Discovery) and https://people.com/crime/keddie-cabin-28-murders-5-things-know/


The Keddie Cabin Murders

Missing in Massachusetts: The Case of Neo Maximus AKA Charlie Allen Jr.

Charlie Malcom Allen Jr. was born April 26 1985 in Haverhill Massachusetts to parents Ann and Charles Sr. He was the oldest of 3 kids and was particularly close with his sister Brittany. The family spent most of their time shared between their Haverhill home, and their summer home in Gloucester. He graduated from Haverhill high in 2003 and went on to attend University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth where he was majoring in Psychology and considering medical school after graduation. 

Growing up, Charlie was always smart enough to do well in school without even trying. He was also athletic and outgoing, making him successful in almost anything he tried. His parents say that he put his whole heart into everything he did- if he was going to do something, he was going to be the best at it. 

Two of Charlie’s many talents were Tennis, and video gaming. Now I’m not a video gamer, so I don’t know what any of this means, but apparently he was involved in the world of competitive gaming, specifically Half- Life and Counter- Strike. In fact, he was so invested in this, that he was literally the number one player in the world for Half Life, and was quite well known among gamers under the handle Neo. 

However, Charlie was not without his struggles. For all of his talent and charisma and good looks, Charlie also had some darker times and erratic mood swings which ultimately led to his diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. Amelia, could you tell our friends a little more about Bipolar Disorder? 

His family reports that his manic and depressive episodes were well managed on medication and therapy, but Charlie did not like the way his medication made him feel. He told his sister that it numbed him, that he didn’t feel passionate about anything. 

During the summer of 2007, Charlie had stopped taking his medication and was doing his best to manage his moods with lifestyle changes, and physical activity. At the time, he was living with a friend from highschool- Anthony Costanzo- before his senior year of college at UMass in the fall. At the time, Charlie’s friends and family report that his obsession with tennis was escalating. Though he was quite good, a really talented player with a lot of potential, it sounds as though it was pretty consuming. Charlie was playing and improving, but when he wasn’t practicing he was watching professional tennis players on TV. 

That September, Charlie confessed to his friend that he had legally changed his name to Neo Maximus. He said he’d been noticing that most of the professional tennis players had more unique and memorable names, and that if he was going to stand out when HE went pro, he needed a unique name as well. By the end of the month, Charlie had followed through with LEGALLY changing his name, choosing NEO after his favorite movie character from The Matrix and his online gaming persona, Babson which was his mother’s maiden name, and Maximus after the character in the Gladiator. This certainly was something that was a little unnerving for his family and friends, but his relationship with his family was close and communicative and from their perspective he was realizing it may not have been his brightest idea ever. He still went by Charlie, which is why that’s the name we’re using for him in this episode. 

On October 11th of 2007, Charlie and his dad were set to have lunch together near his off campus apartment in New Bedford but Charles Sr had to reschedule and they weren’t able to get together after all. His father said that the conversation was a little bit odd, though nothing that rang alarm bells for him at the time, though later calls would become increasingly alarming.

At 2:00 pm, Charlie met his friend Mason Viau for tennis practice and Mason reported that everything seemed normal with Charlie. They had a great practice, and Charlie invited Mason to join him that night for a party with some of the girls on the tennis team. They had dinner together and agreed to meet back up at 8:30pm

At around 8pm. Charlie’s sister Brittany says she noticed that Charlie’s facebook page had been deleted, and finding it strange she called him to ask about it. But when her brother answers, her life forever changes. 

At first Charlie tells her he’s thinking about going to a party, nothing, no big deal. But when Brittany asks about facebook she says Charlie began to panic. He sounded absolutely terrified, truly and deeply afraid. He sounded out of breath, as if he was running, and he said that HE is not the one who deleted his account, that someone must have done that to him, and that some really important people were after him because of some emails he had sent. He told her she was in danger, that she needed to leave school and go to their father so he could protect her. When she tried to question him about what he meant, he said “I can’t talk right now, but all the answers are in the periodic table of elements” 

At this time, Charlie leaves voice messages for both parents. He tells his father he’ll be going to Florida and Mexico. He tells his mother he’ll be going to Texas, and that he felt isolated, and needed to be loved more. Both agreed that he sounded as if he was running, and frightened. 

All of Charlie’s relatives frantically tried to reach him back but it went straight to voicemail. Mason attempted to reach Charlie who was a no-show for their party with the tennis girls, and he too went straight to voicemail. Charlie’s phone had been turned off. His parents notified the university, attempted to find their son, and waited for him to come home.

On October 13th 2007 at approximately 3 am, police responded to a woman in a Dartmouth home who said a man matching Charlie’s description broke into her second story bedroom. The woman says he told her he was looking for his friend Mason, and when she told him he didn’t live there, he apologized politely, jumped out the window, and ran into the woods. 

On October 14th, police were called to a residence of someone who found a backpack containing school supplies in a yard off Slocum road, right next to campus. The notebooks were labeled Charlie Allen. As they contacted UMass, they realized this backpack belonged to a missing person. 

Initial searches for Charlie included bloodhound units, aerial and ground searches of any local natural areas where Charlie may be injured or even deceased, as well as homeless camps, hotels, and other transient destinations. Shortly after the investigation began, his 1999 Ford Expedition was found abandoned on the UMass Dartmouth campus. It appeared he had slept in his car. During this investigation, officers comparing cases realize that the break in from earlier in the week had almost certainly been Charlie’s last known sighting. 

On October 17th, Charlie’s sneakers were found in a wooded area off Chase Road. Charlie’s keys, wallet, and cell phone have never been recovered, and there has been no activity on the cards or phone since. 

On October 27, police suspended the official local search for Charlie due to a lack of evidence. 

Officially, foul play is not suspected, according to Captain Scott Brooks of the Dartmouth police who at the time was quoted as saying “People in a manic state pretty much run on adrenaline… we are still attributing his disappearance to that” Detectives on the investigation say that they’ve found no evidence on his computer or anywhere else that indicate trouble.

According to Charlie’s former roommate Anthony, there’s a lot of credibility to the theory that Charlie ran away on his own, though I don’t think anyone is disputing that he was in a manic state. Charlie was incredibly smart, incredibly talented, and incredibly adaptable. Anthony has witnessed his friend use memorized credit card numbers at stores, and says that he’s got a well connected virtual network. Anthony admits candidly that if Charlie wanted to, he could have been out of New England and anywhere else very quickly. Over the years, several potential sightings of Charlie have popped up all over the country. While some seemed more credible than others, none have been confirmed. 

The family of Charlie Allen Jr seem to believe though that there may have been some foul play happening in order to cause Charlie to disappear. The ominous phone calls are just something they cannot shake. They don’t believe he’d ever willingly leave his family, but they do believe he felt his life was in danger. According to the Help Find Neo Maximus AKA Charlie Allen Jr Facebook page, their take is that Charlie is either hiding out, or dead. But hiding from who? 

The family was  concerned about the fact that they found nothing on his computer- in fact, they found no emails at all in the week leading up to his disappearance. Had it been wiped clean? And by who? 

 Could Charlie have been being threatened? Did he fear enough for his own life that he went into hiding and has stayed there for years? Or was Charlie suffering a mental health episode that led him to running away in a confused state. If so- where is he now? Could someone have taken advantage of his vulnerable state and caused him harm? Many believe he may have died of exposure but where could he be? The woods have been thoroughly searched over the years. Others fear he’s one of the many unnamed homeless who suffer from mental health related issues, or perhaps even memory loss. Either way, the family and many others agree that the case suffers from a level of dismissiveness because of the stigma surrounding mental health. 

In January of 2021, a partial human skull was found on a beach in Dartmouth. Charlies parents have both submitted their DNA for a potential match, but as far as I can tell there is no official result. In the meantime, Charlie’s family keeps his cell phone active just in case. 

Call to Action:

It’s entirely possible that Charlie is alive and well somewhere, and maybe he doesn’t know who he is. 

Charlie was 22 at the time of his disappearance and would be 36 years old today. He was approximately 5’11 – 6’0, 175 – 190 pounds. At the time of his disappearance, Charlie was wearing Black sweatpants with a red stripe down the leg, a long-sleeved white t-shirt with the words “2007 US Open” on the front, and sneakers.

If Charlie is out there, sharing his photo far and wide could be the key to resolving this case. You can find shareable photos on our social media and our website, lostsoulsofamerica.com

If you have any information about the disappearance or whereabouts of Charlie Malcom Allen Jr AKA Neo Maximus Babson please call the Dartmouth police at 508-997-9900. We’ll be back next week, to shine light on another unresolved case. These are the stories of the voiceless. These are the Lost Souls of America.

Source Material:


Disappeared on Investigation Discovery: Game Over 



Murdered in Texas: The Case of Amber Hagerman

Amber  Hagerman was born November 25th 1986 to Donna Whitson and Richard Hagerman. The family resided in Arlington Texas and later gave Amber a brother named Ricky. The relationship between Donna and Ricky, who were never married, eventually went downhill and Donna was working hard as a single mother to get herself back on her feet. 

On January 13th 1996, Donna, Ricky, and Amber were visiting Donna’s parents Glenda and Jimmy Whitson. The plan was to do a little laundry and have a nice home cooked meal. Before dinner, 9 year old Amber and 5 year old Ricky wanted to have a little spin around the neighborhood on their bikes. This was something they’d done many times, and they knew the rules of the boundaries they weren’t allowed to cross. 

That particular day Amber decided to be a little adventurous and head past where she had her mother’s permission to go into the parking lot of a Winn Dixie grocery store so they could ride their bikes down the ramps of the loading dock. Ricky didn’t want to get into any trouble, so he turned and headed straight home to tattle on his big sister. 

Ricky pulled up to his grandparent’s home, alone on his bike and of course Donna said “where on earth is your sister?” But Grampa Jimmy said “Dinner is almost ready, let me go get her, be right back.” He hopped in his truck and drove swiftly over to the Winn Dixie. What he found when he got there was chill-inducing. 

Jimmy pulled into the parking lot to find a police officer who was talking with a man.. He said “excuse me officer, my granddaughter is riding her bike here, have you seen her?” Just beyond the officer lay Amber’s bike. And the man the officer was questioning was there giving a statement about the predator he had seen take her. 

The witness was a man named Jimmie Kivel who reported being in his yard and looking up to see a man in a truck reach out and snatch the little girl off the back of her bike. He said that Amber kicked, screamed, and fought to try to get away. In just 8 minutes from the time her brother left to the time her grandfather arrived, Amber was gone. 

The description is as follows: 

  • Suspect: White or Hispanic male in his 20s to 30s (as of 1996), who is under 6 feet tall, with a medium build, and has brown or black hair.
  • Vehicle: Black 1980s or 1990s full size, fleetside pickup truck, short wheelbase, single cab, the rear window was clear, no sliding window, no chrome (solid black in color), no striping, the truck was in good condition with no visible damage.

Though the investigation swung into action, there simply wasn’t a way to alert the public quickly and clearly to be on the lookout for this child or her abductor. Unfortunately, the story really didn’t begin to circulate for 7 hours after Amber was abducted. 

On January 17th, 1996, a man walking his dog discovered the body of a little girl in a creek bed just four miles from the Whitson home. It was Amber. She’d been kept alive for two days. She was beaten, she was sexually assaulted, and her throat was cut before her killer unceremoniously dumped her naked body. The creek had washed away almost any hope for evidence. 

To this day, the only prevailing theory is stranger abduction, which is historically the hardest kind of murder to solve. This year was the 25th anniversary of Amber’s tragic abduction and murder and with renewed hope, Arlington police say DNA advances may be able to help with a conviction. In fact, the very same rookie patrol officer who responded to Amber’s kidnapping is now the Sergeant in charge of this investigation, stating that for him it’s personal. 

Though her mother’s determination has saved so many lives, she deserves the closure that comes with a conviction. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for Donna to lay awake at night and be faced with “why my baby?” 

I heard a clip from a report on Donna where one month after her daughter’s murder, she went into Amber’s classroom for a talk on safety with her peers. Her strength blew my mind because I ugly sobbed through the entire recording. Listening to her break down what had happened in child-like terms, so that Amber’s REAL friends could understand better… then listening to the kids recount what they loved about Amber, trying to comfort her. There couldn’t have been a dry eye in the house. 

If anyone has any information, please call Arlington, Texas police at 817-575-8823. For those who wish to remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers of Tarrant County at 817-469-TIPS (8477

This was a violent, vicious crime against a child and it is probable that he has committed more crimes in a similar vein. The entire world should not rest until this case is closed. Not just for Amber, but for Donna.

Missing in Texas: The Case of Patty Vaughn

Patty Inez Brightwell was born August 17th, 1964. She had what seems to be a pretty unremarkable, ordinary childhood. She enjoyed singing and had a fun social life. A few years after graduating highschool Patty settled down with her boyfriend Jerry Ray Vaughan, known to most simply as JR, and the pair married in 1985. JR had slicked back hair and a thick dark mustache. He was a good provider, working as a construction contractor and foreman. 

The couple welcomed their daughter first, followed by two sons. By all accounts, Patty was a loving and wonderful mother. In an interview, her sister Jeannie states: 

“She was the kind of mother who did everything for her children. She made them clothes, she made curtains for the house, she did everything. Even for me. She was like a second mom to me.”

Outwardly, the Vaughns seemed to have it all together. They had a nice home and Patty was able to be present for her children as a stay at home mom.. They were actively involved in their church, and Patty was a star member of the choir. Life seemed good! But by October of 1996, the relationship had fallen a bit out of favor, and the couple decided on a trial separation. 

Patty told friends and family that she had grown increasingly frustrated by JR’s controlling behavior. According to these reports, he didn’t allow her work, he demeaned her regularly, and there was even suspicion of violence when some people noticed bruises that Patty couldn’t explain. After 11 years of marriage, the couple agreed to a 6 month trial separation and JR moved out of the family home to lease an apartment in nearby San Antonio.  

With her new found freedom, Patty was thriving! She picked up a part time job that she loved, and she even very slowly began dating an old flame! Before Patty met JR, she briefly dated a man named Gary. Things were getting pretty hot and heavy with the two, but Gary’s ex came back to let him know she was pregnant, and so wanting to do the right thing Gary broke it off with Patty to raise his family. Now, all these years later they both found themselves single and were enjoying getting to know each other again! 

But not everyone would consider them both single…. Patty came under some scrutiny when a church member saw Gary and her having lunch at a Dairy Queen and found it to be improper, since she was technically a married woman. This created a bit of a rift in the church, some people even taking it upon themselves to call Patty out about it in public while others defended her. 

The rumors about the relationship circled back to JR, and as you may guess he was not happy. But the couple was good so far about being amicable for the kids, and the holidays began without a hitch. JR, the kids, and Patty all went to their annual church service together as a family where Patty sang her heart out, and they enjoyed a moving evening together. After church, JR  parted ways with plans to spend Christmas day together at the family home. Patty and the kids met up with Gary, and the fiver of them went to Patty’s relative’s house for a lovely Christmas Eve. Patty’s family seemed to LOVE Gary, and they were all full of hope and excitement for her future. 

The plan the next day was to have a family holiday at the home with JR, then afterward Patty’s aunt would watch the three kids so that Patty and Gary could see a movie. They said goodbye, see you tomorrow, having no idea that this was the last holiday they’d ever spend together. 

The next day JR came to the house as planned, but by his own admission it did not go well. The couple argued extensively over Gary and the message that Patty’s newfound relationship was sending to the children and the community. JR thought her behavior was improper and irresponsible, and he told Patty that if she didn’t stop he would divorce her, take the house, and take the children. JR says the arguing got so bad, that Patty spent most of the day crying, locked in her room. At some point, JR has his sister come get the kids so that he and Patty can continue to talk things through.

According to JR, the couple continued to argue so much that Patty needed a break and stormed out of the family home around 6:30 pm on Christmas Day 1996. She gets in her messy mom mini-van and leaves the driveway. No one has seen Patty since. 

The next day, December 26th 1996 Patty’s boss happened to be driving around town and noticed her 1991 Dodge caravan parked on the side of the road with a flat tire. This was extra notable for him, since he swears it had not been there when he drove by only an hour and a half prior. Since Patty was scheduled to work, he called the office to check on her and see if everything was ok, but Patty of course had never made it to work that day. Her boss immediately called her emergency contact- her legal husband JR. He said- hey let me help out with this car situation, can you bring me her keys? JR’s response gave me chills. 

He tells Patty’s boss- sorry buddy. I can meet you halfway but that’s the best I can do. I’m on my way to file for divorce. According to JR this was his last ditch effort to scare Patty into abandoning her relationship with Gary. 

Meanwhile, when no one in the family had heard from Patty her cousin filed a missing persons report. For the family, the most concerning factor was her children. One relative had spoken to Patty on the phone Christmas morning, and though she claimed to have a cold, she clearly had been crying. Another attempted to visit, only to be turned away by JR, saying that Patty was not up for visitors due to their arguing. But the fact that Patty would send her children out of her room, or even out of her HOUSE on Christmas day to be with JR’s sister was incomprehensible to Patty’s family. She’d have done anything for her children, and they do not believe that Patty would’ve put any discussion of relationships ahead of making their holiday special. 

Searching began immediately, with many local people in attendance to volunteer their efforts. This included Gary, who was reported to have been very distraught. Not in attendance was JR, who stayed at the family home with the children. This did draw some speculation, and JR would go on to make many more decisions that would lead people to question his level of concern. 

Investigators began with the car. There’s a lot to unpack about what they found. For starters, the car was in nearly pristine condition on the interior. Anyone who has kids can tell you that’s simply not how it goes, and Patty’s family says her car just was not that clean regularly. When the detective bent down to get a closer look at a reddish brown spot toward the back, he noticed his knees were damp with a murky brownish water. They also recovered a plastic covering on one of the seats, with a reddish brown condensation on the inside. All of this made investigators contemplate whether someone had tried to clean blood from the car, and samples were sent for analysis. 

No prints were found in the car, but there was a pair of work coveralls like a plumber or mechanic may wear which had the initials JM. But perhaps the scariest discovery was not in the car, it was in the tire itself. The tire had intentionally had its air released. 

Patty’s family was left absolutely reeling with the sudden knowledge that Patty had most likely met with foul play. 

Boyfriend Gary was certainly an early suspect. But being Christmas day, multiple members of his extended family were able to confirm that he was there. Similarly, Gary eagerly ran directly to the police station and offered a polygraph. And as I mentioned before, he eagerly participated in the searches. 

Husband JR however had a lot of circumstantial evidence that was beginning to add up. As mentioned he didn’t participate in any of the searches. One relative even reported that she gave him flyers to distribute with the kids, and when she returned days later to retrieve Patty’s personal effects for a reference for the search dogs, the flyers were still in a pile completely untouched. 

Turns out, JR had requested his landlord to cancel his lease early, even though he’d signed it not long before. He stated that he’d been moving out in December. But JR had an answer for everything, and this was apparently because he felt his new neighborhood was unsafe. JR instead moved back into the family home the day after Patty went missing. 

Rather than cooperate with the investigation, JR lawyered up and refused to submit DNA or comply with a polygraph exam. When investigators came to the home with a warrant, they attempted luminol and other analysis of the home, trying to identify if it was a possible crime scene. But the event turned into a bit of a circus when JR’s sister’s persistent hounding of the crime scene technicians caused a lot of trouble.

Nevertheless, the test areas lit up, revealing a positive test. However, bleach also causes a positive reaction in a luminol test, so they had to do further tests. Those further tests did reveal at least some of the blood to belong to Patty, including spots in the tub and on a mop in the garage AND in the van. Someone had clearly cleaned blood up, and why that has never been enough to arrest JR has been hotly debated. The fact is, without a body, it just wasn’t enough in the tough state of Texas. 

Family and investigators did have a moment of hope in the search for Patty’s remains when they got a lead about the Natalia High School in the nearby town of Divine. You see, JR had been in charge of the foundation pouring as the school was built. Techs came in and used ground penetrating radar to search for abnormalities in the concrete and they found them. Holes were bored and cadaver dogs were brought in, but they didn’t indicate, and the results were officially deemed “inconclusive.” 

So where do we go from here? To hear Patty’s family tell it, the investigation wasn’t handled properly and needs a second look. Jurisdictional differences, miscommunications, and potential crime scenes that were maybe contaminated all have left the family feeling frustrated and hopeless. But most of them staunchly believe that Patty’s estranged husband is responsible for her disappearance. In fact, in 1997 Patty’s mother broke into JR’s home at 3am and attacked him with a baseball bat. She was charged with burglary and assault, and was released on $50,000 bond. I think on behalf of mothers everywhere I say- I get it. 

JR had Patty legally declared dead in 2005 and attempted to collect her life insurance money. Patty’s mother responded with a wrongful death lawsuit, and it was settled that the money would be put in trust for the children. JR moved away, legally changed his name, and Patty’s kids have not had a relationship with her family since her disappearance. For the family, that has been the hardest part.

In 2008, cold case detectives in Bear County where Patty’s car had been found took a closer look. Though JR still remains their primary suspect, they came to the conclusion that it was unlikely JR acted alone, and that he may have used up to 3 accomplices to help him dispose of Patty’s body. Further compounding this theory was a new bit of evidence that came to light when the samples were reanalyzed in 2012. While some of the blood in the van was positively identified as Patty’s, there was also DNA from another unknown female source. Police say they have suspicions on who his accomplices may be but they will not release them publicly. 

Patty was last seen on December 25th 1996 in La Vernia Texas. At the time of her disappearance she was 32 years old and would be 57 today. Patty was approx 5’6-5’7” and 120 lbs. She was caucasian with curly light brown to sandy blonde hair. Foul play is suspected in her disappearance, and unidentified accomplices likely know what happened to her. It’s time for someone to talk. If you have any information in the disappearance of Patty Brightwell Vaughan, please call the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office at 210-270-6070



Disappeared by Investigation Discovery

Unidentified in Virginia: The Case of the Christmas Tree Lady

UPDATE: This case has now been fully funded and is in the process of DNA testing. Thank you to those who contributed!


On December 18th, 1996 freshly starting their workday at 9am, a groundskeeper at the Pleasant Valley Memorial Park Cemetery in Annandale Virginia stumbled upon a peculiar scene. Near the infant burial portion of the cemetery known as “Babyland” stood an 8 inch tall Christmas tree, decked out with gold ball ornaments and red ribbon. What he saw beyond the tree really drew his concern. Sprawled on a tarp, he found a lifeless body with a plastic bag over its head.  

Detectives Richard Perez and Mike Headley arrived around 9:40am and found the deceased to be still warm, indicating that whatever had happened had been recent. It wasn’t long before they discovered the notes in her pockets.  She carried no identification, but only two sealed envelopes addressed each to the cemetery and the coroner. Each envelope contained $50 and a typed letter.

“”Deceased by own hand. . . . Prefer no autopsy. Please order cremation, with funds provided. Thank you, Jane Doe.”

Physically, she was petite at only 5 feet tall. She looked to be in her 50’s or 60’s with short, curled, copper/red hair. Her nails were freshly manicured in a festive shade of red, and her clothes were all high end designer brands from department stores like Nordstrom and Saks. Due to this, some people have speculated that she may have come from a more middle or upper middle class background.

  • “Eddie Bauer”, size-M, Teal jacket.
  • “Classiques Entier” size- L, navy cardigan sweater.
  • “Classiques Entier” size-XL, red sweater.
  • “Classiques Entier” size-Petite L, sleeveles red silk shirt.
  • “Classiques Entier” size-L, navy knit wool pants.
  • Knee high stockings.
  • White sport bra (no tag).
  • White “Fruit of the Loom”, size-5, underpants.
  • A pair of black loafer shoes, size- 7M.
  • two clip-on earrings, 
  • a small gold women’s Guess watch with a mesh band, 
  • a 14-karat gold ring with four jade stones
  • Metal bead chain with medic alert pendant engraved with “NO CODE, DNR, No penicillin”

In addition to the clothes on her body and her decorated Christmas Tree, the Annandale Jane Doe also carried some personal effects in a small, green knapsack. In it, she had bifocals with translucent frames, a red scarf, an empty bottle of brandy and two empty bottles of juice, I believe they were peach and mango, as well as a plastic drinking cup.

Also in the backpack were two cassette tapes- Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck” and a recording of Monty Python’s the Holy Grail. On her body at discovery, they also found a walkman with a tape recording of famous comedians Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner doing their “2000 Year old Man” routine. It appears she was listening to this at the time of her passing. 

Perhaps most unusual was the children’s sized Minnie Mouse fanny pack. It was too small to hold even a pencil, and it was well loved, held together with tape and safety pins. Lastly, she carried a typewritten poem that many speculate she may have written herself.

Now I lay me down to sleep. 
Soon to drift to the eternal deep. 
And though I die and shall not wake
Sleep sweeter will be than this life I forsake.

Despite Jane Doe’s wishes, under the circumstances she was given an autopsy. Between those findings and the deliberate scene, it was surmised that she had taken her own life by drinking brandy, taking valium pills, and taping a plastic bag over her head. The official cause of death was listed as asphyxiation, manner of death was suicide. 

Another finding of the autopsy was an 8 inch vertical scar on her abdomen. This is quite possibly a C-section scar, though that cannot be confirmed as those scars could be from a number of surgeries. But between the scar, the children’s fanny pack, and the fact that she chose her final place to be in “babyland,” many have speculated that she may have been a parent or even had trauma surrounding motherhood in some way. What detectives have found most frustrating about this case is that unlike so many other Doe cases, they weren’t working with skeletal remains here! They didn’t have to do guess work at what she could have looked like. She may have passed away moments before groundskeepers arrived! They even circulated her post mortem photos and still no one recognized her. Someone should have recognized her. She had to have had relatives or coworkers or someone.

Over 600 missing women have been ruled out as possible matches to our Annandale Jane Doe known as the Christmas Tree Lady through dental and fingerprint comparison. The Doe Network lists her DNA as “Samples submitted. Tests not complete” and I googled for more information to no avail. I’m hopeful this means someone has picked up her case and we may find some familial matches. 

If you have any information that can help identify the Annandale Jane Doe- our Christmas Tree Lady, please call:

The Fairfax County Police Department or the Northern District Medical Examiners office at

800-673-2777 Ref Case # 96353000549

If you feel the pull to help close unsolved Doe cases, consider submitting your DNA to organizations such as DNA Solves, or combing through missing person’s cases for comparison. Remember to double check the “rule out” list, and submit it the official way through.

For more information on how you can help prevent suicide, visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/






Missing in California: The Case of Khadijah Britton

Khadijah Rose Britton was born April 22nd, 1994. Daughter of Connie and Jerry Britton, Khadijah is a proud Wailiki member of the Round Valley Tribes in Covelo California, out of Mendocino County. Khadijah had a large, loving family. She was especially close with her Aunt Laura, who has become a champion for the missing woman since her disappearance. 

Khadijah grew up excelling at school and sports in her tiny community. She was especially talented in basketball, an all-star on her team- the Lady Mustangs. Her cousins and siblings, who called her Dij, remember her fondly at family parties as always being the one to get a game going. In the many interviews I listened to, you can hear the love and the longing in their voices, especially as they recount how they miss her smile that could light up a room. 

Although Khadijah had an encouraging family and a bright future, after graduation she was reluctant to leave home to pursue her college basketball dreams. Mendocino county is an area known for its drug and alcohol abuse, and the Round Valley area in particular struggles with Meth and Heroin addiction related issues. More than 41 percent of Covello’s residents are below the poverty line, but at the time of Khadijah’s disappearance in 2013 the Round Valley Tribe’s unemployment rate was at a staggering 86 percent. Khadijah, like many others, began to party after high school. 

Through these party circles, Khadijah began a tumultuous and volatile relationship with a man 14 years her senior. Negie Fallis IV also grew up in the Round Valley tribes, though his upbringing was undoubtedly different. Negie’s mother was 14 when he was born to a father who was in and out of the picture. According to the Press Democrat, there were at least 7 other siblings, and his dad had multiple domestic violence court records. Negie dropped out of high school and saw his first felony charge in 2000 for manufacturing meth. His rap sheet grows from there to include drug charges, weapons charges, and horrific charges of endangering his own children- babies surrounded by weapons, drugs, and left to sit in their own filth. 

Khadijah’s family believes the children were a major part in what caused her to stay with Negie, despite his violent tendencies. It’s reported that Khadijah did their laundry, cooked for and fed them, even brought them to and from school. But her family reports that the more time they spent together, the worse Khadijah seemed to feel. They watched her confidence dwindle as he became more and more controlling and possessive. Her mother tearfully recalls being concerned that his abuse may have been turning physical, but repeatedly Khadijah insisted everything was fine. 

On January 30th, 2013 Khadijah’s father and stepmother were horrified to find their daughter banging on their front door, hysterical and bloody. She had the family take to the floor, screaming “He’s trying to kill me… get the babies on the floor, he’s going to shoot up the house” 

Khadijah reported that he’d beat her- first with his fists, and then with a hammer. She says he had tried to drag her to his car at gunpoint but she’d gotten away. She filed a restraining order and was given a new phone, new clothes, and money for food and toiletries. Her hearing was set for a February 5th but at the last moment, Khadijah withdrew, saying she had reconsidered. Khadijah’s family believes she was coerced with threats of violence toward her siblings. 

By February 10th, when Khadijah’s family hadn’t heard from her in a few days they began to worry. At first they thought maybe she’d gotten back with Negie and was hiding out from their judgement and concern, but something in their gut told them this was bad news. It wasn’t until February 12 when a witness came forward that police really understood the danger Khadijah was in. 

On February 7th Khadijah was staying with a friend in Covello. The eye witness reported that she saw Fallis and his new girlfriend Antonia Bautista-Dawson pull up to the home in his black mercedes. Fallis went to the door, armed with a Derringer pistol calling for Khadijah. She refused to leave with him, and a physical altercation ensued. According to the witness, Fallis hit Kadijah and forced her into the car against her will. Dawson sped away and has not been seen since. 

I’m going to share with you a quote directly from the Charley Project about what happened with Fallis after this: 

“Ten days after she was reported missing, Fallis was charged with assault, kidnapping, first-degree burglary, threats to commit a crime resulting in death or great bodily injury, attempted murder, and being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition in Britton’s disappearance.

He pleaded not guilty and refused to cooperate with the investigation into Britton’s disappearance. In June, the authorities were forced to drop most of the charges against him for lack of evidence. His bail was reduced and he was released not long afterwards, although he still faced the charges of possession of a gun and ammunition. In August, Bautista-Dalson was arrested for felony suspicion of harboring or concealing a wanted felon, Fallis.

In October 2018, Fallis pleaded no contest to being a felon in possession of a firearm, and Bautista-Dalson pleaded no contest to being an accessory to a felony. Fallis was sentenced to four years in prison, and Bautista-Dalson to eighteen months in jail and eighteen months of supervision”

Khadijah’s body has still not been recovered despite what the sheriff says is extensive search efforts. The family follows every lead, taking them into dangerous and heartbreaking situations. 

National Institute of Justice in 2016 says that Native American and Alaska Native women are 1.6 times more likely to experience physical violence by an intimate partner than their white counterparts. 

Khadijah Britton’s family unfortunately does not hold out much hope that she’ll be found alive, but they need help putting her to rest. She’s out there somewhere, and someone knows that happened to her. It’s unlikely that Negie didn’t talk, or leave a trail. Someone knows and its time to speak up. 

If you have any information about the abduction of Khadijah Britton, please all the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at 707-463-4411 

Help spread awareness about Khadijah’s story by sharing the podcast, blog post, or social media posts







The Press Democrat


Unidentified in Texas: The Case of the Galveston Doe

On May 10th, 2020, the body of a young man was found on a beach in Galveston TX near Kahala Drive. Unfortunately, the circumstances of his death are unclear and police have been unable to identify him through fingerprints.

The team at Othram has begun the initial DNA process, and narrowed down his genetic ancestry to most likely be from East Africa, specifically Somali Bantu or Kenyan Bantu. But Othram needs our help!!

Galveston Doe is currently under fundraising to provide more genetic testing and genealogy work to be able to identify his next of kin and return this young man to his name. Though his case began crowd funding right around the same time as Mostly Harmless, his full funding has yet to be completed.

If you’re able, please consider sparing tomorrow’s drive through coffee, or even more to contribute to this case. Crowd funding like this is exactly how the story of Mostly Harmless was closed and became the story of Vance Rodriguez. YOU can help solve a mystery and bring this man home!

If a financial donation is not in the cards for you, there are more ways to help. If you’ve had DNA analysis done for personal use, you can submit your DNA to othram to help find any future matches. You can also share this page, or the Othram page, eagerly and often! You never know who may see it and recognize him, or who may feel inspired to donate.

Details of our Galveston Doe are as follows:

“The decedent has been described as a male between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, with a height of five feet seven inches and a weight of about 150 pounds. He was wearing black shorts, grey Calvin Klein boxers, and his hands were fitted through white Under Armour sandals.”

If you have any information about the Galveston Doe, please call Galveston Medical Examiner’s office at 409-935-9274.

To donate, please visit Othram at https://dnasolves.com/articles/galveston_beach_remains/

Seeds of Hope: The Closed Case of Mostly Harmless

On a hot and humid day in July of 2018, hikers discovered the thin, frail  deceased body of a man in a tent in the Everglades in Florida. Though no identification could be found, the man had food, water, and over three thousand dollars in cash. First responders also noted notebooks full of complex gaming code and other mysterious items indicating this intelligent man had many tools at his disposal, so the circumstances which led to his death of natural causes was unclear and confusing.

The Collier County sheriff’s office went right to work distributing the sketch of the unidentified man. To their excitement, tons of people came forward recognizing right away! They’d spent a lot of time together hiking the Appalachian trail from states as far north as New York, chatting, sharing meals, getting to know each other! The problem was- not one of them knew the man’s name. They’d simply called him Mostly Harmless. 

That is, until the Doe warriors of the internet got a hold of the story and countless people and groups across the globe joined forces to solve this case and return his identity. 

Listen to the full episode to hear an interview with special guest Natasha teasley to hear the incredible inside story of how the internet worked together to close a case, and how YOU can be part of closing the next case! This is the story of (drumroll please!) Vance Rodriguez. 

Be sure to read our next post about the Galveston Doe, another heartbreaking case out of Florida that needs YOUR help!!!

To learn more about Natasha, please visit Two Sisters Adventure!

To listen to the full episode, find Lost Souls of America on Apple, on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts!