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
- Trace Evidence Podcast Episode 065
- Vanished in the Dark: Where is Brandon Swanson Article on Medium by Jenn Baxter https://medium.com/the-shadow/vanished-in-the-dark-where-is-brandon-swanson-d5d99bfde9a7
- Brandon Swanson: Missing without a trace by Rebecca Klein