019 - The Vanishing of Brianna Maitland
Brianna Alexandria Maitland was born on October 8th, 1986 in Burlington, Vermont to parents Bruce and Kellie. Friends and family described Brianna as a fun and spontaneous woman, full of life and eager to make friends. She was highly intelligent, and very independent and though she respected the rules, she had a desire to set her own tone and do her own thing. Brianna lived on a rural farm with her parents, but she was eager to see new places and experience a bigger city. Brianna’s mother described her as being exceedingly compassionate and kind, if not a bit naïve, in her desire to help others. According to Kellie, Brianna would “would stop for a hitchhiker, even against my advice. One day I came home from work, and she had picked up a hitchhiker, a young teenage boy, and there he was in my living room waiting to get a ride somewhere else.” Brianna is described as being Caucasian, 5’3” tall weighing between 105 and 118 pounds. She had brown hair and hazel eyes. She has a faint scar above her left eyebrow and her left nostril is pierced and she may been wearing a ring or a stud in it. She wears contact lenses and answers to the nicknames Bri or B. She was on medication for migraines at the time she vanished.
In October of 2003, when Briana was seventeen, she made the choice to move out of the family home. She planned to move in with a friend and switch to a different high school, some fifteen miles away, where many of her friends attended. Brianna’s friend, Shauna LaBelle described the urge for the move, saying “Brianna didn’t have a lot of friends, not a lot of people understood her or gave her a chance.” She discussed how harsh High School can be for someone like Brianna who “She was always worried about her looks, or her reputation, or how she was doing in school, but it didn’t ever seem to turn out the way she wanted it to.” According to her parents, there were no issues at home which would have pushed Brianna away, but that she had always been independent and wanting to make her own choices in life. Her father, Bruce, would later state “I didn’t want her to be out living on her own. It was an arrangement that we didn’t like, but we tolerated.” Plans didn’t go as Brianna had expected, and within months she had dropped out of high school and her living arrangements weren’t secure. She was now spending her nights bouncing from couch to couch at her friends’ homes and even living with two separate boyfriend’s and their families at certain times.
By February of 2004, just four months after moving out, Brianna managed to arrange permanent housing where she would live with her friend, Jillian Stout, as roommates in Sheldon, Vermont, located approximately twenty miles west of Montgomery. Sheldon was a small town with a population of approximately 2,000 located in Franklin County. Brianna also enrolled in a high school equivalency program and was in pursuit of her GED. Despite the rough patch she had experienced upon moving out on her own, she seemed to be getting her life in order and found her new living arrangement to be a more calming influence. She began working two jobs, at the Black Lantern Inn by night and another restaurant in the mornings, to pay her bills and half of the rent. Though it was challenging, she was hard working and determined to make it on her own.
Friday, March 19th was a big day for Brianna. Brianna’s mother, Kellie, took her out to breakfast, and Brianna was scheduled to take an exam to get her GED, and in anticipation of a planned celebration, she had made arrangements to go shopping with Kellielater that afternoon. Things between Brianna and her parents had been somewhat stressed by her decision to move out, but this was to be a happy occasion they could enjoy together. Unfortunately, Bruce was out of town, in New York on business. At approximately 12pm, Kellie picked up Brianna and they headed out to the local mall. Kellie would later state “I was with her most of that day, we went out for breakfast, we went shopping, it was an upbeat day.”
Something changed, though, and Brianna’s mood shifted. While shopping in one of the stores, Kellie noted that Brianna seemed distracted. She appeared to have spotted someone or something outside of the store that caught her attention. Brianna told her mother that she would be right back, and walked out of the store. Kellie completed her purchase and exited the store, finding Brianna outside in the parking lot. The two got into the car and Kellie began to drive Brianna back to her apartment. According to Kellie, Brianna seemed tense, shaken and agitated suddenly. She began saying how she needed to get home because she had work and she didn’t want to be late. Despite her vested interest in finding out if something was wrong, Kellie knew Brianna’s feelings about her independence and privacy. She didn’t want to pry and cause Brianna to shut down or become angry. She kept her thoughts to herself, and chose not to ask. She regrets not asking to this very day. At approximately 3pm, Kelly dropped Brianna off at her apartment. This would be the last time she would ever see her daughter.
Brianna had a shift to work that evening at the Black Lantern Inn, located in Montgomery. At approximately 3:30pm, she wrote out a note addressed to her roommate, Jillian in which she explained that she was working that night and would be home right after. Her shift was scheduled to end between 11 and 11:30pm. Brianna arrived at work and, according to her co-workers, there was nothing out of the ordinary about her behavior that night. Bruce and Kellie had gone out to dinner that evening, and on their way home they were passing by the Black Lantern Inn. Kellie suggested to her husband that they stop in and visit Brianna, but Bruce felt that since this was a new job he didn’t want to cramp her style and he feared that it might make Brianna look bad if her bosses thought her parents were going to be stopping by to check in on her. They continued driving on, a decision they would both live to regret. When asked about it later, Bruce stated “She hadn’t worked there that long, and it was like, well, you know, maybe she wouldn’t want her parents coming in and you know, hi, here we are type of thing, so we didn’t stop. And you know, I mean, you know, now I wish very much that we would have stopped.”
At 11:20pm, Brianna clocked out. Several of her co-workers asked her to stick around and have dinner with them, but she told them she was heading home for the night as she was tired and she had a morning shift to work at her other job in St. Albans the next day. Several employees of the Black Lantern observed Brianna walking out to her pale green, four door 1985 oldsmobile. Though Brianna drove the car, it was registered in her mother’s name. This would be the last time Brianna was seen, as she drove off into the darkness. Witnesses who had watched her leave that night noted that she appeared to be alone in the car.
The next day, on Saturday March 20th, several passersby called the police to report an abandoned vehicle. A State Trooper responded to the call and found Brianna’s 1985, pale green Oldsmobile off East Berkshire Road and Route 118, across Dutchburn Farm Road. It was located approximately one mile away from the Black Lantern Inn. The vehicle was found facing the road with its rear backed into an abandoned farm house. According to the Trooper, there was minimal damage to the vehicle at the time he found it and there was a hole in the side of the building at the point of impact. A piece of plywood which had previously covered a window was laying on the trunk. There was loose change, an unlit cigarette and a water bottle laying near the car. The Trooper looked inside the vehicle and saw various personal affects scattered on the seats and two uncashed paychecks from the Black Lantern Inn in the front seat with Brianna’s name on them. The keys were missing from the ignition. The Trooper assumed that it was an incident of drunk driving and so he radioed for a tow truck and left the site, heading down to the Black Lantern Inn to inquire about Brianna. When he arrived, the Black Lantern was closed, and thinking little of the discovery, he got back into his cruiser and continued on his way. Despite the fact that the car was registered to Kellie Maitland, at no point was she contacted regarding the car being found. What is truly fascinating about this instance is that, for many who view the photo, it appears odd and disturbing. This may be due to the fact that we now know what it symbolizes, but later, it becomes clear that others found the scene to be suspicious in the hours before the Trooper arrived.
What transpired between 11:20pm and 12:00am is unknown, but sometime during this forty minute gap of time, Brianna would go missing. She never made it home that night, and unfortunately, her roommate, Jillian Stout, did was not there to notice. She had plans to spend the weekend with her boyfriend, and when she discovered Brianna’s note about coming home after work, she thought little of it. When Jillian returned home on Monday, March 22nd, she found the note still in the same place and the apartment had clearly not been entered since she left on Friday. Still, under the assumption that Brianna had made the decision to spend the weekend with her parents, Jillian did not contact them until the following day, Tuesday March 23rd. Both Brianna’s parents and Jillian became concerned from the call, but assumed she had gone to spend time with friends. When asked about it later, Bruce stated “A few minutes into the conversation, you know, we think something’s pretty seriously wrong, but I’m not into a full-fledged panic yet.” They began calling around looking for her, but no one had seen her since her last shift at work.
By Thursday, March 25th, Kellie and Bruce had been unsuccessful in their attempts to locate Brianna. Now beginning to feel panicked, Kellie placed a 911 call to report Brianna missing. She then called her husband Bruce, and when he learned what was going on, he left his New York trip early and rushed home. When Bruce arrives, they begin driving around town, searching locations they Brianna frequents, but they can’t find any sign of her. Frustrated and scared, Brianna’s parents picked out some photos of her and went to St. Albans, turning the photos over to the Vermont State Police. On a hunch, the officer’s asked what kind of car Brianna drove and then produced a photo of the abandoned Oldsmobile. Upon viewing the photo, Kellie said “My stomach rolled. I started to shake. I saw evil in the picture.” Kellie has said that when she saw the picture she had an instinctual reaction and she knew her daughter did not leave her car there. Bruce and Kellie are angry and frustrated that police did not contact them earlier about the abandoned car and feel that vital days have been wasted due to their lack of investigation.
Almost immediately, the Police and Brianna’s parents become concerned that something has happened to her. Authorities begin to theorize that the vehicle location was staged, and that it wasn’t driven to that spot by Brianna. On the other hand, they also hear rumors that Brianna had spoken of traveling, of leaving Vermont. Despite their concerns, the Police act slowly as they try to decide if this is a case of foul play or if Brianna has chosen to abandon her car. Even Brianna’s own mother has said that Brianna often talked of traveling outside of Vermont and heading to a big city, like New York or Montreal. Most, though, do not believe she could leave and not stay in contact. Brianna’s roommate, Jillian Stout later stated “Brianna would never go anywhere for two years and not call me or someone else close to her. She just isn’t like that. She was a good friend and she cared a lot about her friends. They were everything to her.”
Authorities told the Maitland’s that though they had looked inside the car, since the keys were missing, they had not checked the trunk. While they are working it out, an angry Bruce heads over to the car shop where the vehicle was towed to. He searched through the car and is surprised to discover that Brianna has left behind her contact lenses as well as the migraine medication she had been on, things she did not travel without. Also inside the car are many of Brianna’s clothes, her driver’s license, ATM card and her makeup. Bruce had brought a crowbar with him and managed to pry open the trunk, fearing the worst of what its contents may be.
Bruce discovers more of Brianna’s personal affects in the trunk, remnants from her moving from place to place. Kellie begins producing missing person’s fliers and plastering them over town. Finally, on March 30th, eleven days after her disappearance, Police decide to have a forensics team sweep the vehicle. What they found, or didn’t find, is still for debate today. While they release a statement saying that they found no evidence of a struggle or anything to indicate foul play in the vehicle, they have stated that they obtained physical evidence which they will not release because it is an ongoing investigation. Many have speculated that they discovered DNA in the car, but no one can know for sure. They begin canvassing the area, and conduct a search in the fields around where her car was found. They brought in cadaver dogs, but had no hits in the area. A woman’s fleece jacket was discovered not far from the scene, but it was later determined to not belong to Brianna.
The Maitland family begins receiving various phone calls. People are leaving random tips that Brianna had been murdered and dumped in a river, that she was tied up in the woods. For the most part, the calls are considered nonsense but one call comes in which suggests a darker possibility. Brianna’s aunt answers a call from the family of Maura Murray, a young woman who had disappeared five weeks earlier 90 miles away in New Hampshire. Like Brianna, Maura’s car was found abandoned on the side of the road. Both families, and law enforcement, begin to consider the possibility that the girls may have fallen victim to the same man, and possibly a serial killer. Despite the similarities in the abandoned vehicles, little else about the cases connect and authorities later rule out the possibility that Brianna’s disappearance is tied to Maura’s in any way.
For two weeks after Brianna disappeared, little information is found. Despite a rash of tips called in that lead nowhere, no one is any closer to discovering where Brianna is or what happened to her that night. Around this time, the family is contacted by the KlaasKids Foundation. The foundation was formed in 1993 to help search for Polly Klaas, a twelve year old girl who was abducted from a slumber party at knifepoint and murdered. The organization now assists in searches for missing juveniles, and their efforts to find Brianna are extensive. From April 3rd to April 5th, more than five hundred volunteers search within a five mile radius of where Brianna’s car had been found. Despite their search, nothing is found which can assist in the case but their involvement brings about a different kind of help. The national media attention the organization draws to the case results in three phone calls from witnesses the night Brianna disappeared.
According to one caller, he spotted Brianna’s abandoned car between 11:30 and 12:30 somewhere between ten minutes and an hour and ten minutes after she was last seen leaving the Black Lantern Inn. He says that as he drove by, he spotted the car because it was backed up against the farmhouse and its headlights were on and lighting into the road. He didn’t see any people or activity around the car at that time. A second witness passed by the scene between midnight and 12:30 and saw the car, though this witness claimed the headlights were off and a turn signal was blinking on the vehicle. The final sighting is reported as taking place at approximately 4am. One of Brianna’s ex-boyfriends saw the vehicle, and thought that it might belong to her. He pulled over and checked it out, but didn’t see anyone near or around it and, not being sure if it belonged to Brianna or not, he got back into his car and headed home. Unfortunately, little is gleaned from these accounts other than a crude timeline.
During their investigation, Police realize that this is not the first time they have heard Brianna’s name. According to a police report filed by Brianna, at the insistence of her mother, on February 27th, 2004, Brianna attended a party with her boyfriend and some friends from high school. During the party, Brianna had flirted with the boyfriend of another girl, Kealie Lacrosse, who became jealous and angry. Brianna left the party, and went out to her boyfriend’s truck, entering on the passenger side to wait for him to come out. Allegedly, Kealie came outside and knocked on the window of the truck. When Brianna rolled the window down, Kealie punched her in the face, breaking her nose and giving her a concussion. There are others who have suggested that this is not how it went down and that Kealie, along with at least two other girls, had attacked Brianna as a group. Kealie was charged with assault, and a trial was pending, but shortly after Brianna disappeared, the charges were dropped. The complaintant had vanished, and without her testimony, a trial couldn’t be conducted. It is rumored that shortly after the disappearance, Kealie was asked about the status of the case and said that there was nothing to worry about since Brianna was gone now. Bruce and Kellie Maitland were very frustrated at the dismissal, but there was little that could be done without Brianna’s presence.
Interestingly, several years later, Kealie was arrested on an unrelated charge. According to the report, a small group of people broke into a home in Montgomery. Kealie was reportedly part of that group. At 2am, they entered the home and got into an argument with twenty-nine year old Dustin Burns. During the course of the argument, things turned physical, and Kealie is alleged to have struggled with the homeowner, forty-four year old Samantha Thompson, during which time Kealie bit her on the leg. Kealie was arrested on charges of burglary and simple assault. Her brother, Trevor, was also sought in connection to the crime. Many have considered the possibility that Brianna’s disappearance may have been connected to Kealie, and that it stemmed from an attempt to eliminate the original assault charges against her. Police have indicated that they questioned Kealie in connection with the disappearance and have cleared her of being involved.
There are other callers, though, who are able to provide other pieces of helpful information in the form of photographs. Two passersby came upon the car, at separate times, on the morning after Brianna disappeared, before the state trooper arrived. They thought that the abandoned vehicle was strange, and that it’s positioning was disturbing. Curious about the circumstances around what led the car to be there, both drivers stop their cars and got out, taking pictures. Since the Trooper who had initially found the vehicle saw no signs of foul play, the car had been towed away and therefore it was not treated as a crime scene and photos were not taken. The photos provided by the passersby provide police with images of the scene as it was before the car had been towed away. Based on the photos, police announce that they believe whatever happened to Brianna that night was likely due to foul play. There are too many unanswered questions, but police begin to theorize that either Brianna had planned to meet someone at this location, or she came upon someone there and something bad happened.
The family continued to be the primary connection for those who wished to call in tips. On one occasion, the phone rang and Bruce answered. An anonymous caller told a compelling and frightening story about Brianna being held captive in the basement of a farmhouse on Reseveroir Road in Berkshire, just eleven miles from where Brianna’s car was found and less than a fifteen minute drive to the Black Lantern Inn. According to the caller, Brianna was being held by several drug dealers. Bruce immediately reports the tip to the Police. Police moved in on the property to conduct what has been referred to as a raid, though it seems to be more accurate to say that the police spoke with two of the occupants of the home and requested permission to search it, which they were granted.
Though investigators find no signs of Brianna, they do find marijuana, cocaine and crack along with drug paraphernalia and guns in the home, which is being rented. Two of the men present, Ramon Ryans, also known as “Street,” and Nathaniel Jackson, also known as “Low” and “Nasty,” are known drug dealers from out of town, and on multiple occasions, witnesses report having seen Brianna in their company and at parties. On one occasion in particular, Brianna’s roommate Jillian tells police that Brianna brought Jackson over to the house. In addition to Ryans and Jackson, Timothy Powell and seventeen year old Stephanie Macia. Powell and Macia would also admit to knowing Brianna. A private investigator hired by the Maitland’s has said on multiple occasions that several witnesses told him that Brianna had been seen at many parties, as well as hanging out one on one with both Ryans and Jackson many times. It became clear that Brianna had some kind of a relationship with the two drug dealers, to what extent, no one knows for sure and neither Ryans nor Jackson have much to say about it.
At this time, there was a drug epidemic hitting Vermont. Being somewhat isolated from the bigger cities, but with a high demand for recreational drugs, many dealers would travel into the area from surrounding states like New York and Massachusetts, bringing drugs with them that they could charge higher rates for due to the low supply. Crack was beginning to make its way into Vermont, and men like Ryans and Jackson were looking to make it rich. They would attend parties with local college and high school students, offering them a chance to try something new from the big city and it turned into a lucrative business strategy. Brianna’s roommate would later inform police that Brianna had dabbled in that life, smoking marijuana and even trying crack on several occasions. Police begin to theorize that Brianna’s disappearance may be drug related, either due to a debt she may have owed or something more sinister on the part of a dealer. Contrary to this, many who dealt with Ryans and Jackson in relation to drugs have stated that they did not believe in fronting drugs. They expected the money up front, and didn’t wait to be paid so the possibility that Brianna owed them seems limited. On the other hand, many have theorized that the two men wanted Brianna to get into debt to them so that they could force her to pay off her debt with sexual favors. This is purely speculative, but something to be considered.
Several years earlier there had been a sex trafficking ring operating in Vermont. Between 1999 and 2000, several women were lured in with drugs, taken to New York and forced into prostitution. At the time of Brianna’s disappearance, authorities didn’t think much of this theory, but many believe it was a strong possibility. Jose Rodriguez had been arrested previously for operating a prostitution ring and statutory rape. He lived in both New York and Vermont and has also been suspected in the murder of a sixteen year old woman, Christal Jean Jones, who was found murdered in an abandoned NY apartment building known to be a hotspot for prostitution. The girl, at the time of her death, was a ward of Vermont’s Social and Rehabilitation Services agency. Rodriguez wasn’t a lone operator in this business, and many believe he was only one of a growing number of men who were abducting women from Vermont to sex traffic them in New York. According to New York Law Enforcement officials, they know that there are a number of clandestine locations in the city where women from ages 13 to 25 are brought to be forced into prostitution. In relation to Brianna Maitland, it’s a possibility that many consider, even Brianna’s friend Shauna LaBelle hinted that she had considered this theory. Could Jackson and Ryans played a role in this? That’s a big question.
Ultimately, Jackson admits to knowing Brianna but claims that the last time he saw her was weeks before she vanished. All individuals in the home claim to have no idea where she is or what could have happened to her. The occupants of the house were all arrested on charges stemming from the drugs and guns. Ryans and Macia would ultimately go to court for the charges with Macia pleading guilty in exchange for being placed in a Diversion program. Ryans plead not guilty and was released as he waited for trial. Ryan moved fifty miles away to Burlington where he lived in an apartment with Ligia Rae Collins, a single mother with whom he had an on again off again relationship.
Not long after Brianna’s disappearance, in July of 2004, Ligia Rae Collins vanished also. Early on, Ramon Ryans was considered to be a probable suspect. He would flee to New York City during this time. The investigation leads police to two possible suspects, Ellen Ducharme and her boyfriend Moses Robar. They believe that Ligia was murdered in a drug deal gone bad, and when police find Robar he is driving a pickup truck but commits suicide by shooting himself before they can question him. Once Ducharme was in custody, she admitted to murdering Collins and explains that Robar and a friend, Timothy Crews, had assisted in disposing of the body which had been dumped in a remote location. None of these individuals was able to remember the exact location of the body but it would eventually be discovered by a volunteer search time in the Green Mountain National Forest.
Eventually, Ryan’s was located in New York and taken back to Vermont to stand trial for the drug charges stemming from his arrest at the farmhouse. Strangely, a plea bargain was worked out and in exchange for information about Brianna Maitland, Ryans felony charges were reducted to misdemeanors and he was released for time served. What assistant Ryans granted is unknown as no new leads or information were developed, at least not that the Vermont State Police are telling. According to several media reports, Ryans took a polygraph test. Interestingly, there are two rumors regarding the polygraph: One is that its results were inconclusive, the other is that the test showed deception on Ryans’ part. There appears to be no information as to whether or not Ryans was tested again, but ultimately, many believe he played the Vermont State Police for fools and they bought it. Bruce and Kellie Maitland were furious over the deal feeling that the authorities has turned their backs on Brianna and granted freedom to an individual who may have been involved in exchange for little helpful information.
Another connection to Ryans and Jackson would pop up in the form of an anonymous tip posted to the website the Maitland’s setup to help get the word out on Brianna’s case. According to this tip, a man named Jorge E. Soto, who went by the name Joker, had been bragging around to friends that he had killed Brianna. Soto has a reputation for being a sick and twisted individual who claimed to be untouchable to the police. Police did question Soto, but he claimed his boasting was just to make himself seem meaner and tougher to local drug dealers with whom he was dealing. Without any additional evidence, Police released Soto who would go on to brag about the murder many more times, sometimes suggesting that he had buried Brianna in a cornfield behind a house he frequented in St. Albans.
A sworn affidavit was leaked from an individual in the Vermont State Police Department to a local paper. In this statement, Debbie Gorton, the sister of Ellen DuCharme, claimed that Ramon Ryans had murdered Brianna a week after she vanished and that her body had been mutilated by a table saw and then disposed of on a pig farm. According to Gorton, the murder took place over money when Brianna paid Ryans several thousand dollars for a supply of crack and Ryans decided that he wanted to keep the money rather than use it to supply Brianna. Allegedly, Brianna confronted Ryans, asking for her money back and an argument ensued which appeared to be the impetus for Ryans to abduct and murder her. Gorton would go on to claim that she had been told this by her sister, Ellen Ducharme, and that at one point, Brianna’s body was being kept in Ducharme’s basement. Gorton would also say that Moses Robar and Timothy Collins had been involved in the crime as well. Police would dismiss the claim, arguing that they were well aware of the affidavit and that it had been investigated but no solid evidence had been found to support the statement.
Detective Glenn Hall, the lead investigator on the case, stated in regard to the affidavit “I’m aware of this document. I can tell you that we’ve looked into this information but none of its been substantiated. Right now, we have missing persons investigation, that’s what we have. We have no reason to believe that there’s any truth to this statement at this point. It we were able to corroborate it, obviously we would continue. I would compare it to other information that we’ve gotten.” A similar story would come out later from a woman who claimed to have purchased a vehicle which was later used to transport Brianna’s body to a pig farm, where it was disposed of in a manure pit. According to this woman, she did attempt to bring the vehicle to the Vermont State Police’s attention as she believed there may have been vital forensic evidence to be found, but as of this airing, there is no confirmation as to whether or not that vehicle was ever processed. It has since been disposed of.
Over the next few years, little new information would come to light, if any. Then, in January of 2006, a tourist in Atlantic City phoned in a sighting of Brianna. According to the caller, he had seen Brianna playing blackjack at Caesar’s Casino in the company of a man. Investigators traveled to Atlantic City where they managed to get copies of surveillance footage which showed a woman who bore a striking resemblance to Brianna. Investigators attempted to track the woman down for an identification, but too little was known about her and they were unable to locate the woman from the Blackjack table. They also attempted to locate the man she was seen with, but he too proved to be impossible to locate. The footage was shown to the family, but they could not identify the woman as Brianna, though they also could not rule her out. The footage was graining and difficult to make much of, but a local news station managed to clean up much of the film and it was again shown to the Maitland’s. Despite her sincerest hopes, Kellie had to admit that she did not believe the woman in the video was Brianna. A year later in June of 2007, a local business owner in Atlantic City called in another sighting of Brianna. Investigators went to investigate, but little developed from this lead.
Nine more years would pass before there would be any new information revealed about the case. In March of 2016, twelve years after she vanished, the Vermont State Police made a public statement in which they admitted, for the first time, that they were in possession of DNA which had been found inside of Brianna’s vehicle. Police did not expand on this topic, so it is unknown whether the DNA came from a particular item or whether it was saliva, blood or some other bodily fluid. It’s unknown why Police held onto this information for so long without revealing it, but what does seem apparent, is that whoever’s DNA they are in possession of is not someone whose DNA is in the system meaning that at he or she has not been arrested prior to or since the disappearance of Brianna Maitland. Whether or not that DNA was tested against other suspects in the case, or potential suspects, we have no way of knowing. Unfortunately, without more evidence, it may not be possible to glean a DNA sample from a suspect outside of a voluntary sample. Others have argued that DNA in the vehicle may not point to a suspect, but simply someone else who had been in the car at some point in time. That all depends on the nature of the source.
So what happened to Brianna Maitland? There is certainly no shortage of theories in this case. The first theory, and one which has gotten a lot of traction on forums and between online detectives it that Brianna fell victim to the same person or persons who are responsible for the disappearance of Maura Murray. They point to the similarities in their disappearances with both vanishing from empty roads in the middle of the night, leaving behind their vehicles and vanishing within 90 miles of one another only five weeks apart. To many, this indicates that the women could possibly have been targeted by a serial killer or had been randomly attacked by the same person. The rabbit hole of this connection goes deep, and there are plenty of supporters and detractors.
Another theory is that Brianna was not abducted, and in fact planned to run away. This theory frequently comes up in disappearances cases, and for a long period of time, investigators were supportive of this possibility. Supporters of this theory point to the fact that many of Brianna’s friends, and even her own mother have suggested that Brianna dreamed of getting out of rural Vermont and going to a big city such as New York or Montreal. Many people believe that Brianna was unhappy with where she was living, and the direction her life was going. There is also some suggestion that Brianna may have gotten herself into some trouble, either in relation to drugs or the incident with Keallie LaCrosse and just wanted to escape from it all.
Brianna possibly being in trouble leads to another theory: That Keallie LaCrosse may have played a role in her disappearance. Keallie had charges pending in regard to assaulting Brianna outside of a party, and Brianna’s disappearance ensured that those charges would be dropped. Keallie allegedly held quite a grudge against Brianna for the incident at the party, and there is plenty of rumor and speculation that Keallie did not attack Brianna on her own and was, in fact, assisted by several friends. It has been speculated that had Brianna left things alone, Keallie may have moved on, but when she was urged by her mother to file charges, that set off a powder keg of anger which led to Keallie planning out a way to eliminate Brianna. Keallie’s later behavior and arrests certainly opens the door to the possibility that this was a violent person who didn’t mind stepping outside of the law.
In terms of stepping outside of the law, one of the most popular theories is that Brianna’s disappearance was as the result of her time spent with known drug dealers Ramon Ryans and Nathaniel Jackson. According to this theory, Brianna either got into debt to the dealers, was owed money by the dealers or simply ended up on the badside of the dealers and it was they who orchestrated her disappearance. There was the anonymous tip which suggested that Brianna was in the farmhouse where they were staying, numerous witnesses who place Brianna in their company on several occasions as well as the affidavit where Debbie Gorton alleged a connection between Brianna’s murder and her sister, Ellen DuCharme who was in turn later connected to Ryans through the murder of Ligia Rae Collins. Many believe that Brianna fell victim to Ryans and Jackson, though they don’t rule out the possibility that Brianna may have been murdered by someone she knew, but it did not necessarily have to be Ryans and Jackson. Rumors abound that there are individuals in the community to this day who not only know what happened to Brianna, but were intricately involved in the murder and coverup.
Another possibility is that Brianna was lured in through the use of drugs and forced into sex slavery. There had previously been a prostitution ring in New York which was using girls from Vermont who had been hooked on illegal drugs and then forced to come down to New York and operate as sex workers. Some have theorized that Nathaniel Jackson and Ramon Ryans, outside of being drug dealers from New York, may have had connections to prostitution and either tried to talk Brianna into joining, or supplied her with drugs in order to get her dependent on them, at which point they transitioned her into being a sex worker to pay for her supply. Many believe that the sighting in Atlantic City may in fact have been Brianna, and that the man she was seen with was controlling her and possibly even her abductor.
The final theory is that Brianna was the victim of a stranger abduction and murder. Some have theorized that, given Brianna’s compassionate nature, and her history of helping out hitchhikers, that she may have come across someone on her drive home who feigned needing assistance. Once that person had gotten inside of her vehicle, he or she may have pulled a weapon or threatened Brianna which caused her to lose control of the car, or she lost control in an attempt to get rid of her passenger. It’s impossible to rule out the option that, though there appears to much to suggest that Brianna likely knew her attacker, someone completely unknown to her could have been responsible, possibly even someone she didn’t know, but who knew her or was hired by someone she knew.
Brianna’s disappearance is absolutely baffling. The photos of her car are haunting, and it’s a case which many people have been deeply affected by. In the era of the disappearance of Maura Murray, many people overlooked what happened to Brianna, and her case may not have received the coverage it truly deserved. At the end of the day, a young woman went missing and her friends and family have been left behind, flooded by rumors and speculation, theories that she may have run off, and grim tips that she was murdered and mutilated.
It has been thirteen years since Brianna Maitland left her job at the Black Lantern Inn and drove into the darkness, never to be seen nor heard from again. Her family still clings desperately to the hope that someday she will be located, and they may receive some answers. Her father Bruce stated “You can’t imagine how much we miss and love Brianna. You can’t imagine how dark and empty our days and nights can be with not knowing where she is or what happened to her. No matter how long, or how much it takes, we will find her. We owe her that and so much more.” Brianna’s mother, Kellie longs to find her daughter, and to know the truth about what happened that night. The possibility that Brianna is still alive grows thinner with each passing day, and there has been little movement in the case in the past few years. Accroding to Brianna’s mother, Kellie: “Inside I am always screaming in pain at not knowing where Brianna is.” Short of a break in the case, a new witness or a confession, Brianna Maitland’s disappearance remains a tragic story, as enigmatic as it is heartbreaking
[Thoughts & Theories]
The disappearance of Brianna Maitland is one of those cases that has always haunted me. I first heard about it a year or so after it happened, and I couldn’t tell you why, but when I saw the photos of her abandoned car I immediately got goosebumps. Being that it happened so close to the disappearance of Maura Murray, a lot of people didn’t hear about it, or if they did, they didn’t give it all of their attention as they were caught up in Maura’s story which has become one of the most well publicized disappearance in American history. Many people have tried to connect the two cases considering some similarities in the details of their disappearances, and if anything, that may have helped out the Maitland family by drawing more attention to the disappearance of their seventeen year old daughter.
Brianna, by all accounts, was an extremely capable and independent woman. She didn’t like being held down by rules, she wanted to make her own choices and at seventeen she was working two jobs, working to get her GED and sharing rent in an apartment with a friend. To me, this isn’t the sign of a woman who was a slacker in any way, nor do I feel it suggests that she was the type to simply shirk her responsibilities and take off. There has been a lot of suggest that Brianna was involved in drugs, and though it seems obvious that she dabbled, it’s hard to imagine that she was so heavily involved that it was something she couldn’t get out from. I know plenty of people who manage to function normally in life while smoking marijuana, but I don’t know any crack addicts who can hold down two jobs and be able to afford food, rent and gas for their car. Initially, investigator approached it as a runaway case, but the manner in which the case was handled has been a source of controversy.
There has been a lot of debate about the quality of the investigation in this case. I have to put myself on the side of the detractors here as I feel valuable time was lost in the hours and days immediately following Brianna’s disappearance. I can’t fathom why her car would be found in such a strange situation, one which civilians found so odd that they stopped their cars and took pictures of it, but a State Trooper would so easily dismiss it as a random DUI accident. Even if he had done so, I again can’t begin to wrap my head around why they would have the vehicle towed but no one would ever reach out to contact Brianna’s mother, the woman to whom the car was registered. Imagine how differently this case would have gone if the Trooper had called in the car as suspicious, if Kellie Maitland had been contacted that day and an investigation was started. It’s impossible to know if they would have found something, or made a connection, but the first forty eight hours of a disappearance is extremely important and, in this case, they were lost.
To me, there are three vital pieces of information in this case which, if we could learn more about, perhaps we would have a better idea of what happened. First and foremost is what occurred in the store the day Brianna disappeared that caused her to walk away from her mother and then seem shaken and agitated later in the day. We don’t know if she got into an argument, if she was threatened or if she simply saw someone that she was afraid of. We may never know the exact details of what happened that afternoon, but considered that Brianna would vanish within twelve hours, it seems probable that there could be some kind of a connection here.
The second piece of important information is what specifically was Brianna’s relationship with Ramon Ryans and Nathaniel Jackson and what their whereabouts were between the hours of 11pm and 1am on the night that Brianna vanished. To have a better idea, and a concrete answer, about their location and actions during this time could either suggest something sinister, or clear the slate and open the door to other likely suspects. The final piece of evidence, which remains in the possession of the Vermont State Police, is the DNA which was found in the car. We don’t know much about it, whether or not it came from blood, urine, semen or something else and we don’t know where exactly it was found. The police would say there was nothing to indicate signs of a struggle in the vehicle, so I have to wonder if the DNA they found suggested something else: perhaps sexual activity? Purely speculation on my part but without further information, it’s hard to know for sure.
Before I get into the theories there is one last thing I’d like to discuss and that’s the location of Brianna’s car. If you haven’t seen the photos, they will be made available on the website, but essentially you’ve got Brianna’s car, backed up to this old abandoned farmhouse. The rear bumper of the vehicle appears to be slightly jacked up on the foundation of the home, which has always made me wonder if the vehicle could have driven forward or if it was stuck. We don’t know because it was towed away, and they didn’t have the keys nor treat it initially as a crime scene so this wasn’t investigated. What I find fascinating is that the car is parked on what appears to be dirt and tall, dead grass and weeds. Remember, the Trooper who found it assumed it was a DUI situation. Here’s my problem: There are no skid marks near the car. To me, if this was the case of someone losing control of their car, they’d have likely hit the breaks. In addition to this, there are no dug out tire marks from where the tires were spinning to indicate that when the car hit the building, anyone attempted to stop it or pull it forward off the building.
There is little to no damage done to the vehicle itself, and Police would later say that they believe the scene was staged. I could totally see this being the case, someone just backs the car up gently into the abandoned home and leaves it there. You don’t want to hit it too hard, because someone might hear it, and you don’t to injure yourself either. All of these are reasons why I could easily buy that the scene was staged. On the other hand, there are a few details which make me wonder: the items scattered on the ground, including the broken necklace, definitely make me question whether or not Brianna was in that location that night when she was taken. Also the fact that it was just a mile from her job and the vehicle was seen abandoned within an hour of her leaving work. That’s a very small window of time to execute an abduction this involved. Of course, I’ve also always wondered whether or not its possible that Brianna and her abductor may have been at the scene, maybe in the abandoned house when one of the witnesses passed by. I can’t fully decide whether or not that car was staged there, or if that is how Brianna left it. I can’t determine whether she was meeting someone there, or was in the process of turning around to avoid someone else when she was abducted. What I do know is that the ground around the car is very clean and undisturbed for what may have been a violent crime scene. There is also a possibility which has been put forth that Brianna did not plan to meet anyone, and wasn’t accosted by someone in another vehicle. Some people have theorized that when Brianna left work that night, someone was laying down in the back seat of her car, unbeknownst to her, and waited for the right time to reveal himself. Whether or not this is the case, we just can’t know for sure.
Brianna vanished thirteen years ago, and in the years since, very little has been discovered. She was last seen leaving her job at the Black Lantern Inn at approximately 11:20pm on March 19th, 2004 and within forty to sixty minutes, her abandoned car was spotted with its rear bumped crashed into a long vacant farm house. The mysteriousness of her disappearance, and the haunting images of her car and the baffling way in which it was found has led to a large amount of theories and speculation. The internet is frought with opinion pieces on what people believe may have happened to Brianna. Some of the theories make total sense, others require somewhat of a stretching of the imagination but due to the absence of anything truly solid, all theories have to be considered. The first of these theories is that Brianna’s disappearance is somehow tied to the disappearance of Maura Murray.
Maura Murray vanished on February 9th, 2004, and her abandoned car was discovered on Route 112 in Havervill, New Hampshire, five weeks prior and ninety miles away from the site from which Brianna disappeared. Unlike Brianna’s case, there were several eye witnesses who saw Maura at her vehicle in the moments before she vanished. Outside of the fact that both women disappeared from somewhat desolate roads, left their vehicles behind and were never seen again, there is very little, in my opinion, which connects these cases. The similarities are eerie, yes, but I think it’s a stretch to link the two together. In the case of Brianna, most evidence seems to suggest that whatever happened to her was likely done by either someone she knew, or someone who lived in the area. To solidify a link between the two cases, you’d have to come up with someone who was out looking for trouble and had the incredible luck to come upon two women, on empty roads, by themselves and either found them experiencing car trouble, or caused them to have car trouble.
If this was a matter of a serial, it would seem odd that the killer or abductor would stop after only two and there haven’t been other cases in the area which have come up and been immediately thought to connect to either one. Both women had issues in their lives, and both women were initially thought to have run off on their own. Though I don’t believe that either of these women chose what it was that ultimately happened to them, and their stories are equally tragic and sad, I find it very hard to make a firm connection here. To connect Brianna’s disappearance to Maura’s requires you to eliminate many of the personal issues and troubled figured Brianna had in her life at the time she disappeared, and that just doesn’t make any sense to me. I, personally, do not see anything credible that connects Brianna’s disappearance to Maura’s outside of minor details which require a good imagination to make more out of. If you’re interested in learning more about possible connections, check out the Missing Maura Murray podcast, which covers a lot of her story and has done a few episodes on possible links. In a future episode, I may address Maura’s case individually.
Another theory, one which always comes up in cases like these, is that Brianna chose to run away. I don’t want to speculate too much, but when I listened to her parents discuss her reasons for moving out, and I hear her friends talk about how she felt she didn’t fit in at her former high school, I can’t help but feel like there is more to the story. I couldn’t begin to imagine what, but the idea that Brianna turned seventeen and just decided she was moving out doesn’t really connect for me. It sounds like it is something she had been planning for a while, and for the most part it is chalked up to her strong independent streak, a piece of me wonders if she was running away from something or someone. This would all make sense in terms of her running away that night if not for several pieces of information which are incontrovertible: Brianna left behind her only mode of transportation, all of her belongings, her uncashed paychecks, medication, atm card and contact lenses. If you couple that with the fact that Brianna’s friends and family believe that, had she run away, she would have given them some kind notification or form of contact and I don’t think this is a situation of a runaway.
There are a number of other factors which make me lean away from this theory. Brianna was working two jobs and left work early so that she could get to bed and be up in time for her next job. She left her roommate a note explaining what time she would be home. None of these seem like the actions of someone who is planning to run away unless we are dealing with an extremely elaborate runaway plan, which I don’t believe we are. Brianna was highly intelligent, and certainly capable of planning out her own disappearance, but I consider it extremely unlikely that no one would hear a word from her over the next thirteen years, especially once the story became national news. I firmly believe that Brianna would have reached out to someone by now, if she were capable of doing so. I know that in these cases this theory always has to be considered, but from the initial details of this case, I simply disagreed. When the State Trooper said he saw no signs of a struggle at the scene, I felt like he must not have looked very hard. There were items strewn about the ground, a broken necklace, a water bottle and some loose change. To me, that in and of itself signifies that something happened there. Plus the positioning of the car just doesn’t seem right. I do not believe for even one second that Brianna Maitland left of her own accord. Many people have pointed to the Casino video and suggested that is proof that Brianna ran away, but upon my viewings of it, I couldn’t make the connection to the woman seen at the blackjack table and Brianna. I didn’t know Brianna, so maybe I wouldn’t recognize her as easily, but when her own mother who is desperate to find her acknowledges that the woman seen in the footage isn’t her daughter, I’m going to go with her opinion on it.
This leads us to the Keallie LaCross theory. We know that Keallie had a problem with Brianna stemming from an incident at a party during which Brianna allegedly flirted with Keallie’s boyfriend and in response, Keallie struck Brianna in the face, breaking her nose and causing a concussion. There has been a lot of speculation about this and whether or not Keallie is the only one to have hit Brianna, but in the police reported she only named Keallie. So, the theory put forth is that after the charges were filed, Keallie became concerned and eventually perpetrated the abduction and likely murder of Brianna Maitland in order to eliminate the possibility of having to face down the assault charge. To me, this seems like a rather large leap in logic but there are issues to be considered on both sides. The charges against Keallie were dropped on April 9th, just three weeks after Brianna vanished so if this was her plan, she executed it well. The problem is, you’re dealing with a young girl who I doubt has the skills and spine to pull off a crime like this and never open her mouth. In addition to that, we have all been at a party where people are drinking, doing drugs and somebody gets angry and a fight breaks out. If Brianna was indeed hitting on Keallie’s boyfriend, and she either saw it, or was told about it, it isn’t impossible to imagine she may have lashed out but to kill someone in response to this is pretty extreme.
Later in life, Keallie would get in trouble with the law again for breaking into a home and assaulting the homeowner. Obviously she has violent tendencies and a troubled history, but again, she struck Brianna in the face and later on bit the homeowner. As far as we are aware, she never brandished any weapons nor attempted to murder anyone. She didn’t like Brianna, and after she vanished, she is alleged to have said she didn’t have to worry about the charges anymore because Brianna was gone, but I don’t think that presents us with any concrete evidence of her involvement in whatever happened to Brianna. In addition to this, the police investigated Brianna in connection with this crime and dismissed her as a suspect. On what basis this was done, we don’t know for sure, but considering the high profile nature of the case and their admissions that they messed up the early part of the investigation, I sincerely doubt they would let a potential suspect slip through their fingers without thoroughly looking into her. They also had the charge that was filed against her, so she had to be somewhat high up on their early list of possibilities. Though I believe Keallie has issues, and is hardly the kind of person you’d want to hang around with at this time in her life, I doubt she had anything to do with the disappearance.
Another thought process on this is that Brianna was abducted and or murdered by a complete stranger. To me, there are two possibilities here: That Brianna saw someone on the side of the road and, knowing her compassionate nature, attempted to help that person and things went wrong, or she was forced off the road by someone and was attacked as a result of this. You always have to consider that the crime could have been perpetrated by someone with no known connection to the victim, but in Brianna’s case, it’s a very odd set of circumstances. While many people view the positioning of the car as being staged, I think it’s possible that, in a panic, Brianna tried to get away and backed into the abandoned house at which point the perpetrator reached inside the car, pulled her keys from the ignition and then took her. For what reason, we can’t know. It could have been someone out looking for a young woman to abduct, it could have been someone in the area who had psychological problems and was looking to attack someone. There are a myriad of ways the stranger theory could go, but what I think is strange is the location her car was found in. It doesn’t make sense for this to be a prime location for someone to hang out waiting for a lone driver to come along, especially at that time of night. However, if we are dealing with someone local to the area, that person would know how traveled the road was at that time of night, and may have been aware that after a certain time, fewer and fewer cars came by and it wouldn’t be hard to grab someone at random.
There is another angle to this: that the person was a stranger to Brianna but knew her in some way. I have considered the possibility that someone could have been hired to, or sent to, abduct Brianna. A lot of the theories assume that Brianna was simply driving down the road when something happened. What if she wasn’t, what if Brianna had a pre-arranged meeting at this location and while she was there, things went sideways and in her desperation to escape, she smashed her car into the house? There’s no way of knowing for sure. We also have to consider that the police have DNA evidence in their possession and as far as we know they’ve yet to get a hit on it, that suggests the perpetrator either has never before or after been in the system. In addition to this, I’d have to believe they conducted DNA tests on all suspects they looked at and if they didn’t get a match there, that pretty much rules out most of the people suspected of being involved. The problem is, we don’t know enough about the DNA and so its entirely possible that it isn’t connected to Brianna’s disappearance at all. Until further information is released, it’s hard to say for sure. To me, we have to consider the possibility that this was a completely random attack and abduction.
The final theory has a few different segments to it, but one common underlying piece of information: Brianna was using drugs and was known to be associated with two prominent drug dealers of the time: Ramon Ryans and Nathaniel Jackson. Several witnesses reported seeing Brianna hanging out with Ryans and Jackson together, as well as individually, on multiple occasions. She was spotted at parties with them as well as hanging with them at home. Her roommate reported that several weeks before her disappearance, Brianna brought Jackson back to the apartment and she was introduced to him. These two were from New York and had come up to Vermont to take advantage of price gauging drugs due to their limited availability in the rural area. Brianna was only seventeen, and hanging with older guys in a dangerous business. They had a natural charisma to a lot of the kids her age because they were from New York, didn’t really fit in with the down home tone of rural Vermont and had a large quantity of drugs available. For someone like Brianna who dreamed of getting away, and who had admitted to some friends that she had been smoking marijuana and experimenting with crack, it isn’t hard to imagine what the appeal would be.
Unfortunately, when you’re hanging out with guys like this, you’re also putting yourself in danger. Brianna was a beautiful seventeen year old, and it isn’t hard to create a number of scenarios in which two drug dealers may try to take advantage of her. There have been two ways a lot of people have seen this as going: Either Brianna owed them money, and so they abducted her and possibly murdered her, or they owed her money and rather than paying it back, they chose to eliminate her. Both are equally possible.
Going with the latter first, there is a very prominent story floating around the internet that Brianna gave Ramon Ryans somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars for a large supply of crack and marijuana. This was alleged in the affidavit from Debbie Gorton, the sister of Ellen Ducharme. Rather than supplying her with the drugs, it has been alleged that Ryans decided to keep the money for himself. When Brianna wouldn’t stop asking him about it, and began threatening to turn him in, Ryans arranged to meet Brianna at the abandoned farmhouse under the guise of giving her the drugs. When she arrived, she quickly learned that it was a setup and tried to escape, but Ryans abducted her, cut her body into pieces and disposed of her on a pig farm. All of this is complete speculation, but considering that Ryans would later be associated with a drug deal gone wrong that resulted in the death of his on again off again girlfriend, it isn’t a stretch to imagine he could have been involved in something like this. What part Nathaniel Jackson played, if any, is unknown.
Others have taken another angle to this, and suggested that either Ryans, Jackson or both used drugs to coerce Brianna into sexual slavery, either to them, or with the intent of bringing her down to New York and forcing her to work as a prostitute. Drugs are one of the most common ways women are coerced into sexual slavery, and it isn’t hard to imagine that two older drug dealers might be able to get a seventeen year old girl hooked on something, crack for instance, and then use that as leverage to get from her what they wanted. Here is where it becomes strange for me, though. Both Ryans and Jackson knew where Brianna lived. They could have easily waited for her there and either grabbed her outside of her apartment, or used some other method with which to gain entry and taken her at that point. If Brianna had the slightest indication they were up to something, I don’t think she would have agreed to have met them where he car was found, but we don’t know that she is even the one who left the car there. Police believe the scene was staged, and for reason I pointed out earlier, I somewhat agree. I do personally believe that whatever happened to Brianna, there is a good chance that there is connection between that and her relationships with Ryans and Jackson.
I think police didn’t handle it very well, and the plea bargain they gave Ryans which let him out with time served in exchange for information which, as far as the public is aware, lead to nothing, is a travesty. What information he may possess, or knowledge he could have about what happened to Brianna is anyone’s guess at this point. Whether or not Nathaniel Jackson was every fully interrogated for his possible involvement is also unknown. To me, if there were people who knew Brianna and were involved in her disappearance, these are two of the most likely suspects.
The disappearance of seventeen year old Brianna Maitland is incredibly disturbing, frustrating and haunting. A sweet, intelligent young woman was driving home from work and never made it there. The next day, her car is found abandoned in a suspicious manner and thirteen years later we have no more answers. Her friends and family go through each day wondering if they will finally learn what happened to her, while those who were responsible for her vanishing continue to live their lives without consequences. The Disappearance of Brianna Maitland remains unsolved, and this year, the $20,000 reward offered for information leading to her return expires and will be donated to a charity in her name. It’s a heartbreaking story, and a cautionary tale for all young women and parents of young women. It reminds us once more that the world is a dangerous place, whether it be the streets of New York or the backroads of rural Vermont, there are sick and twisted people out there who only wish take, and harm and kill. They may even be the people that you consider your friends and the ones you trust the most.