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0234 - The Disappearance of Brian Shaffer

[Case Evidence]

                Brian Randall Shaffer was born on February 25th, 1979 in Pickerington, Ohio.  Pickerington is a small suburb of Columbus, the capital city, with a total size of 9.74 square miles and a population of just over 18,000.  He was the oldest son of Randy and Renee Shaffer, having a younger brother named Derek.  Brian was a popular kid, intensely smart and found it easy to make friends.  His drive and determination was recognized early on with his sharp focus on academics and an ambition to achieve more.  Brian is described as being 6’2” tall and weighing approximately 165 pounds.  He has light brown hair and hazel eyes.  Distinguishing marks are noted as a tattoo of a Pearl Jam symbol on his upper right arm and a small black dot which is present in iris of his left eye.  When last seen, Brian was wearing an olive green short sleeve polo shirt over a white long sleeved shirt, blue jeans, white Adidas shoes and a rubber, yellow cancer awareness bracelet.

                Brian would go on to graduate from Pickerington High School in 1997, where he had previously been captain of the Tennis Team, heading on to The Ohio State University for his undergraduate work.  He worked part time for JCPenney, from 1997 to January of 2002 after which he took a break to focus on his studies.  In 2003, he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in microbiology, began working for Ohio State University hospital as a Radiology Tech Assistant and after a short break from school, became a medical student at Ohio State University College of Medicine in 2004.  Sadly, during his second year of med school, Brian’s mother Renee passed away after a battle with myelodysplasia, a rare form of cancer.  Brian was heartbroken by the loss, and found himself in the difficult situation of pursuing a career in the medical field while watching his mother succumb to a terrible disease.  Following her passing, Brian posted on his myspace page, saying “My mom was the greatest, most wonderful person in the world.”  Close friends said that Brian put on a strong face for his family, but internally was having a hard time accepting the loss and that it was extremely painful for him.

                Despite his drive and focus, there was a side to Brian that only close friends were aware of.  Being a med student is an extremely challenging proposition full of long nights, little sleep and endless study, but for Brian, his true dreams existed somewhere in the relaxed lifestyle of tropical island living.  He reportedly told friends that he would love to be living on a tropical island somewhere, playing in a band and running his own bar.  He made reference to Jimmy Buffet and Margaritaville, and would sometimes say that medical school was simply for the time being, but his ultimate goals in life couldn’t be achieved inside the walls of a university.  Despite this image of himself in a Hawaiian shirt, strumming along on his guitar near a sandy beach, Brian had things which kept  him close to home.

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                On his myspace page, Brian described himself:  “I am a second year medical student at Ohio State University, only two years to go.  I have an awesome and amazing girlfriend, she’s superhot and lots of fun.  I really love music and this whole doctor thing is really just a job (only temporary) until I get my band together and put out a record.  I want to own an island someday, or at least a beach so I can listen to Buffet all day and drink margaritas with my senorita.”

                Brian had begun dating a fellow med student, Alexis Waggoner.  According to Alexis “I thought he was cute and one of my friends told him at a concert and then he called and asked me if I wanted to go have dinner and study and that’s how it started.”  According to Waggoner, the relationship was going along smoothly.  They had met one another’s parents, spent a great deal of time together and were highly supportive during the trials and tribulations of trying to balance medical school and a personal life.  According to Waggoner, after Renee passed away, Brian admitted to her that he was really struggling with the loss.  He was in a dark place, and suggested to her that she may be happier with someone else.  However, Waggoner has said that this was a result of his depression about his mother’s passing, and that he was able to pull himself out of it, and things between the two got back to the bright and happy place they had been previously.  Actually, things began to become more serious between them.  Brian purchased tickets for he and Waggoner to take a trip to Miami.  They were meant to fly out on Monday, April 3rd, 2006.  Friends close to Brian have said that he had planned to propose to Waggoner while on vacation with her, but sadly, the flight would come and go but neither Waggoner nor Brian would be on it. 

                Friday, March 31st, was the last day of classes for Brian before Spring break started.  Brian was looking to celebrate, Spring Break was finally here and he had his trip to Miami with Waggoner all set to go after the weekend, but that weekend in particular was going to be about having fun with friends and family, celebrating his achievements and just all around good times.  He met his father, Randy, for dinner early in the evening.  The two traveled to Reynoldsburg, to an Outback Steakhouse and Randy described his son as seeming very positive.  According to Randy, he was still struggling with the loss of his wife and Brian was there for him.  Randy would later say “He seemed to be in pretty good spirits as far as that and he gave me more comfort that night than I might have given him.  I got the same thing that my wife and I had gotten for a long time there and it kind of saddened my heart.  I started to shed a few tears and he said ‘It’s all right dad, I’ll be with you as much as I can.’” 

                Brian was very supportive of his father, it had only been three weeks since his mother had passed away and the tragic loss, though devastating, had brought Brian, his father and his brother Derek closer together.  Randy was proud of his son, but was also concerned about him.  Brian had just come out of a long run of cramming for exams, and he looked tired.  Randy would say “He would study maybe 2 o’clock till 8 or 9 in the morning.  He was a night owl.  He wasn’t getting much sleep.”  Brian told Randy that he had plans to go out that night, and though Randy understood his sons desire to celebrate and enjoy his time off, he couldn’t help but feel Brian may have benefited more from staying in and resting.  Despite his hesitation about it, Randy figured that Brian was a mature, dependable man and that he shouldn’t worry about it so much, and so he elected to not push the issue, a decision he would later regret.

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                Brian had made plans earlier to go out with his good friend and former dormmate, William Florence, better known as Clint.  His girlfriend at the time, Alexis, was out of town for the weekend, visiting her parents in Toledo, though she was very excited about the vacation they had planned together.  Flying solo that weekend, Brian saw it as the perfect opportunity for a guys night so he and Florence planned to go to the Ugly Tuna Saloona located at 1546 North High Street in Columbus, not far from where Brian was enrolled in medical school.  The Ugly Tuna was an upstairs bar located in the South Campus Gateway and was a popular spot for students.  North High Street was the center of nightlife for local university students, but on this particular weekend, with Spring Break begun, the streets were flooded and the local bars and restaurants that dotted the avenue were chock full of partiers.  It was a cool night, though the bitterness of winter seemed to be subsiding and coats were cast aside for long sleeves, though it wasn’t quite warm enough for shorts.  Brian and Florence arrived at the bar at approximately 9pm.

                Brian invited his brother, Derek, and his girlfriend Maurin along for the night out.  Derek was interested, but he and Maurin had plans to attend a show at a comedy show at the Funny Bone Comedy Club.  Derek thought perhaps he and Maurin could attend afterward, but when the show ended, they were both feeling tired.  Asked about this later, Derek stated “We were trying to meet up.  I’d been to a comedy club in Columbus, but it was late.  Maurin, my girlfriend, and I headed back to where I lived and met with friends at a local bar instead.”  Derek can’t help but feel like if he would have made different choices that night his brother might be safe and sound.  In an interview, he said “I’ve thought about that night over and over and over for ten years.  What if I had been there that night?  Would things have been different?  Would my brother still be here?  I’ve carried that guilt around for a while.”

                At approximately 10pm, Brian placed a call to Alexis.  According to reports of the time, Brian expressed how much he missed her and loved her.  He told her that he was excited and looking forward to spending the next week with her in Miami.  The two said goodnight, with Brian explaining that he was going to be doing some bar hopping with Clint and Alexis reminded him to give her a call the next day.  This would be the last time Alexis would ever speak to Brian.  Brian and Clint left the Ugly Tuna, headed down the street and making a few stops at other bars along the way.  It was a pub crawl, in a sense, with the two heading in and getting a shot or two before moving on to the next location headed in the direction of the Arena district.  In one particular bar, called The Short North, the two men ran into Florence’s friend, Meredith Reed. 

                Perhaps due to the time, or the crowd, Brian and Florence asked Reed if she would give them a ride back up to the Ugly Tuna.  It was nearing midnight, and Reed told them that would be fine, and in fact, she’d come in with them and have a drink.  Surveillance camera footage later obtained by investigators clearly shows Brian, Florence and Reed taking the escalator to the upstairs bar of the Ugly Tuna at 1:15am on Saturday, April 1st, 2006.  From this point forward, surveillance footage becomes an important witness to the events of the evening.    Surveillance footage captured images of Brian at 1:55am, standing at the top of the escalators talking to two women who Clint would later identify as classmates from Ohio State.  At this point, Brian turns around and walks back into the bar and the trio discussed heading home, feeling pretty done with that nights events.  Reed and Florence would later tell police that, sometime after Brian reentered, they became separated from him.  According to Reed “Clint and Brian were talking about something, and Brian mentioned he was going to go up, like toward the stage area.”  That was the last time either Reed or Clint report seeing Brian.

                As the bar began closing up, Reed and Clint say that they looked all over for Brian but were unable to find him.  There was a large mass of people now traveling towards the doors as last call had passed.  Clint and Reed, at this point, assumed that Brian may have met up with other friends, or taken a cab home, and so they left, not thinking much about it.  It wasn’t uncommon for friends to get separated when out drinking in such a crowd, and Brian was a responsible guy who had never had any issues before, so they didn’t think too much about it.  The Ugly Tuna officially closed at 2am.  Strangely, there is no surveillance footage of Brian leaving the bar that night, which to this day absolutely baffles investigators.

                No one was aware of Brian’s disappearance at first.  Brian’s father, Randy, placed several phone calls to his cell phone that weekend, but received no answers.  Alexis also called for Brian, but she too was unable to get him on the phone.  She was coming back into town, and still very much looking forward to their vacation so she headed over to his apartment, but could find no sign of him.  She spent the weekend in his apartment, waiting for him to return home and her fear and nervousness grew exponentially every time she dialed his number and failed to get an answer.  Finally, Alexis called Randy and told him of the situation.  Alexis would later state “I was kind of starting to worry Saturday night.  And by Sunday morning when I hadn’t heard anything, I was really thinking there was something wrong.”  Concerned, though not yet frightened, Randy placed a call to Brian’s brother Derek and told him that Brian was missing.

                Derek’s first thought was that Brian had spent the weekend partying and was staying over a friends place.  He even harbored the possibility that the whole thing was just a prank Brian was playing on them, it was after all the weekend of April’s fools day.  When asked about that call, Derek stated “Dad said Brian was missing.  He asked if I could go to his apartment and see if he was there, so I drove to his place.  The lights were on, so I thought, ‘Oh good, he’s back home’ but Alexis was there, not Brian.  That’s when we knew something was up.  No one had talked to him since Friday night.”  According to Alexis and Derek, Brian’s car was still parked in its space near his apartment and nothing had been disturbed on the inside.  There was no sign to suggest that Brian had ever come home.

                When Monday came and went, with Brian never contacting anyone and now missing the flight to Miami, Randy Shaffer contacted the Columbus Police to report his son missing.  Police began their investigation by talking to friends and family, and going to the Ugly Tuna.  A combined reward was quickly put together with $2,000 supplied by crimestoppers and another $5,000 from The Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health.  While Police were conducting the initial stages of their investigation, Brian’s friends and family began covering campus and surrounding streets with fliers advertising his disappearance.  When asked about whether or not foul play may be involved in the disappearance, Police were hesitant to speculate too early.  Talking about Brian and Alexis, Sgt Mike Woods stated “Everything was set for these two to take this trip to Florida.  That’s what makes this unusual.”

                Police took copies of surveillance footage from the Ugly Tuna, as well as conducted door to door canvassing of the surrounding area.  Randy Shaffer brought in search dogs to assist in the effort and while they initially hit on what may have been Brian’s scent, they were unable to follow it anywhere and did not hit on it again.  Little came from the Police’s questioning, and Sgt John Hurst, who would lead the investigation, stated early on “So far, the leads we’ve had really haven’t taken us too far.  We have a few leads that we’re still working on that we haven’t fully developed.  Once those develop, hopefully they’ll give us some directions.”  In a plea to the public, Randy Shaffer said “He means so much to me.  I lost my wife.  I don’t want to lose my son, too.  Please help me find him.”  Police searches intensified, they searched every dumpster and waste receptical in the large area around the Ugly Tuna and even were granted permission by the city to go down into the sewers, and still came up empty handed.

 

                Early on in the investigation, police seemed to be curious about the accounts given to them by Meredith Reed and Clint Florence, the last two people to have seen Brian that night.  They weren’t sure who could possibly know more than they were saying, or who may have been involved and so they issued a round of polygraph tests.  Brian’s father Randy volunteered, was tested and passed.  Meredith Reed also submitted to a test, and passed.  On the other hand, Brian’s best friend Clint, who initially was very open to assisting investigators, refused to submit to a polygraph test and quickly hired a lawyer, through whom all future communication with police would be conducted.  This behavior set off some red flags for friends and family, particularly Brian’s brother Derek who later said “I didn’t know Clint very well, but I always thought something was off with him.  The way he talked about my brother after he went missing – kind of in a negative way.  I wouldn’t expect that from someone whose friend vanished.  If Clint knew something, I hope he would have shared it.  I deserve to know.”

                Clint’s lawyer, Neil Rosenburg, when asked about why his Client appeared to be concealing information from the police responded strongly.  In an e-mail, Rosenburg said “The only burning issue with the authorities remains Clint’s refusal to be polygraphed.  That decision was based on my recommendation and advise to Clint, not because he is, has been misleading or has something to hide, but that he simply has nothing new to tell and was totally up front and honest with them from the beginning.  As far as Clint is concerned, this matter is closed.”  Many have taken issue with Clint’s position, feeling that if he truly had nothing to hide, he would be much more open and helpful.  He refused polygraph tests on two separate occasions.  I’ve been fairly open with my feelings on polygraph tests in the past, from their validity to their necessity, but public opinion does tend to shift when someone refuses one, even if legally that is the more logical choice.

                Alexis was devastated by Brian’s disappearance, and spent a great deal of time both in his apartment and putting up fliers everywhere she could.  She called his cell phone frequently, leaving him messages, or just to feel like he was still within reach.  As the investigation developed further, leads were becoming few and far between.  Police examined the camera footage from the Ugly Tuna, though they couldn’t quite figure out how they could watch Brian enter the bar at 1:55am and never exit again.  They considered the possibility that he may have slipped by the camera, though this seemed unlikely.  Grasping at straws, they theorized he could have changed his clothing, or put on a hat to conceal his face and have left, but that would suggest he was planning to disappear and investigators did not think that was likely the case, though it had to be considered. 

                Police were able to account for and identify every individual seen leaving the Ugly Tuna that night, except for Brian.  The two women he was seen speaking with that night were later identified as Brightan Zatko and Amber Ruic.  When asked about Brian, Ruic didn’t have any ideas and told reporters that she had never been asked to take a polygraph.  Police were absolutely baffled by Brian’s disappearing act.  There was a service freight elevator, which could be taken as an exit, that wasn’t under surveillance.  Investigators initially thought he could have left via that method, but as their search expanded, they began reviewing surveillance footage from all surrounding businesses.  Columbus has the most surveillance cameras of any city in the state of Ohio.  More than Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo combined, and yet they could find no signs of Brian.  One of those cameras had a clear shot of that exit, and Brian never appeared anywhere on it. 

Brian & Alexis

Brian & Alexis

                Strangely, a month after Brian disappeared, Alexis received a phone call from police.  In May, someone had broken into Brian’s apartment and they needed her to come down and identify any items which may have been missing.  As a result of their investigation into the break in, police were able to determine that there was no connection between the crime and Brian’s disappearance and was likely committed by someone who had noticed the apartment seemed vacant.  Brian’s father, Randy, set up the website FindBrianShaffer.com in hopes of getting more tips or information about his disappearance.  Later in the month, a Pearl Jam concert happened in Cincinnati and Brian had purchased tickets.  Alexis couldn’t bring herself to go, so she auctioned the tickets off on ebay and added the money to the reward.  Eddie Vedder, the frontman for Peal Jam, read off Brian’s description during the show and dedicated a song to him.  I’m going to play a short clip of Vedder talking about Shaffer during the concert.

                [Insert Audio]

                A few psychics came forward, claiming to have information regarding Brian’s disappearance.  Bill Mitchell alleged to have had a vision of Brian, and stated “When I saw his picture Monday night, I immediately tuned into him and felt that he’d been drinking too much over the weekend.  He’s gone through a recent tragedy.  His mother’s passed away.  I think he was just a little too drunk to really make it home safely.  I feel positive that he’s alive, but I feel there has been injury.  I keep feeling impact in my abdomen.”  Despite the efforts of so-called psychics, no new information was gleaned and the case quickly became a startling mess of theories with no supporting evidence.  Not a single shred of evidence could be found to suggest what could have happened to Brian that night.  His keys, wallet and cell phone were never recovered.

                Detective Andre Edwards dedicated hundreds of hours to watching and rewatching footage from the Ugly Tuna that night.  On several occasions he thought he had spotted Brian exiting that night, but each time he showed the footage to friends and family, enlarged and sharpened, they were able to confirm that it was not in fact Brian.  When asked about Brian’s movements that night, Edwards stated “I can say with 100% certainty that Brian Shaffer did not go back down that escalator.”  Cadaver dogs were brought into the bar to investigate the possibility that Brian had been murdered, or possibly died, and was somewhere inside of the bar.  There were no hits.  Police began monitoring Brian’s cell phone, as well as his bank accounts, but there has not been any activity on either to suggest that Brian was still alive.

                Police had two essential theories from the get go, that either Brian had chosen to leave town.  They considered information from his friends and family about the difficulty he’d been going through since losing his mother, his dream of living on an island somewhere.  Despite this possibility, they couldn’t help but suspect foul play was involved, though they wouldn’t discuss what specifically made them lean this way, other than the fact that Brian had made future plans and was unlikely to abandon his family during such a difficult time. 

                Days began changing into weeks, and weeks into months without any sight nor hope of locating Brian.  Alexis continued her daily routine of placing calls to his cell phone and immediately getting his voicemail.  Then, in September, one of her calls was met with the sound of ringing.  The phone rang a total of three times before sending her to voicemail.  She called back, wanting to hear the sound again.  She later wrote on her myspace page “I kept calling it to hear it purely because it was one of the best sounds I have ever heard, even if no one picked up.” 

                Brian’s cell phone was on the Cingular network, and they had two possible reasons as to why his phone may have rang.  They suspected it could have been a glitch which allowed Alexis to hear the phone ringing, though in reality it likely was not.  They also put forth the possibility that at that time his phone may have been powered on.  Unfortunately, Brian’s phone wasn’t equipped with GPS making it impossible to get an exact location.  The police were able to ping the tower and found that the call originated from Hillard, a town located fourteen miles northwest of Columbus.  Further investigation developed no new leads or information and Brian’s phone was never recovered. 

                A psychic contacted Randy and told him that he believed Brian’s body could be recovered from a river, somewhere beneath a bridge.  As a result of this, family and friends began conducted searches of rivers in the area.  Police joined in, searching several rivers, but were unable to find anything pointing them in the proper direction.  A theory began to develop that Brian’s disappearance may in some way be connected to the Smiley Face murder theory.  In short, the smiley face theory suggests that several bodies discovered in waterways around the Midwestern United States were not the result of accidental drowning, but were actually victims of murder.  Graffiti was typically located within close proximity to the bodies, depicting a smiley face.  For the most part, this theory is dismissed as pure speculation and smiley faces are an extremely common form of graffiti.

                A year after Brian’s disappearance, friends and family began planning a prayer vigil in memorial of him and in hopes of bringing the community together and possibly generating some leads.  In mid-march, prior to the vigil, police recovered skeletal remains sixty miles away from where Brian vanished.  A man who was out in the woods collecting aluminum cans happened upon the remains and notified police.  They were determined to be a year old.  The family held their breath for two days as the remains were examined, but ultimately they turned out to be those of a female.  The prayer vigil went forward, taking place outside of the Ugly Tuna.  Friends and family gathered, saying prayers for Brian, hanging new fliers and hoping beyond hope.

                Another year would pass, and in September of 2008, tragedy would once again strike the Shaffer family.  A heavy storm swept through Central Ohio, and Randy Shaffer was out the yard clearing debris.  At approximately 6pm, a strong gust of wind knocked down a tree and it struck Randy, killing him.  His body was discovered the next day by a neighbor.  In the course of just three years, Derek Shaffer had lost his mother to cancer, his brother had vanished and then his fathered was killed in a freak accident.  Randy’s obituary appeared online, and someone commented on it claiming to be Brian.  The poster wrote “Dad, I love you.  Love Brian.  (US Virgin Islands.)”  Police immediately tracked down the IP address of the poster and it was discovered to be a hoax.

                Shortly after Randy’s passing, Clint Florence’s lawyer, Neil Rosenburg, exchanged several emails regarding Brian’s disappearance and Clint’s disinterest in taking a polygraph.  Rosenburg claimed to have spoken to several detectives working the case and they had allegedly suggested to him that Brian may still be alive.  Rosenburg took this to mean that Brian had chosen to run off on his own.  In the emails, Rosenburg stated “If Brian is alive, which is what I am lead to believe after speaking with the detective involved, then it is Brian, and not Clint who is causing his family pain and hardship.  Brian should come forward and end this.”  Derek Shaffer chose to respond, saying of Clint “As soon as detectives started getting involved that’s pretty much when he had no contact with anybody.  I’ve always thought he definitely knows something – just won’t come forward with it.  If Brian did take off somewhere, if that is the case, we just always had a strong feeling Clint would possibly know that.”

                No new leads or information have come to the surface in the eleven years since Brian disappeared and those who loved him, and miss him, have been forced to move forward with their lives.  Derek Shaffer moved away, with his wife.  He still works in central Ohio, and remains hopeful that someday he will have answers.  Alexis Waggoner spent the better part of the first year waiting for Brian, hoping that he would return someday.  Eventually she boxed up his belongings and kept them in her closet, and finally had to let go and move forward with her life.  She has since become an OBGYN, is married and has two children.  She still speaks out about Brian whenever possible, and has been a part of multiple media interviews. 

                Sgt. Hurst, the lead investigator on the case, took it extremely personal, as did those who worked beneath him.  Hurst, now the head of the Columbus Police Department’s Physical Abuse Unit later said “The detectives involved in this case became personally and emotionally involved.  It’s still a case we very much think about and talk about today.”  When asked if, more than ten years later, he believes it’s possible that Brian is alive, he responded “There is a possibility he is alive, but if you look at the probabilities that he isn’t alive, those are just as great.”  When pressed about whether or not he believed Brian was murdered, Hurst said “There is nothing we have been able to recover that shows he succumbed to foul play, so again, the probability of that isn’t as great as he just walked away.”  Sadly, he concluded his statement by saying “The answers that everyone wants, everyone needs… I don’t know if we will ever have them.” 

                Several theories have sprung up in the eleven years since Brian Shaffer walked into the Ugly Tuna Saloona and vanished into thin air.  With such a strange disappearance, it would be even stranger if there weren’t more than a few theories.  The Police have chosen not to reveal which theories they most strongly consider, but others have spoken out, including Brian’s friends and family.  The first theory, which always exists in cases where adults vanish, is that Brian Shaffer chose to walk away.  Many point to his struggles with depression after the passing of his mother, his dreams of being on a tropical island someday and his candid remarks to Alexis about moving on and finding someone who could make her happy.  Some even believe that Clint Florence may know Brian’s whereabouts.

                Another theory is that Brian didn’t just walk away, but that he committed suicide.  If indeed his depression had worsened, and he saw his life going in a direction that he didn’t wish to pursue any longer, many believe its entirely possible that he chose to take his own life.  The fact that his body was never recovered make others question the theory, but it cannot be completely ruled out. 

                Some believe the very thin theory that Brian fell victim to the alleged Smiley Face Killer.  Aside from the fact that the theory has been rejected by law enforcement, and even the FBI, there are those who examine the cases with which it is associated and see the possibilities. 

                A common theory is that Brian Shaffer fell victim to foul play of another form, though the specifics are unknown, many speculate that his body is somewhere inside the Ugly Tuna.  Despite exhaustive search efforts by police and the use of cadevar dogs, this is still a pretty popular theory amongst online detectives.  Of course, how Brian met his end is another matter.  Some speculate that Brian was accosted by a total stranger, but others believe it was someone he knew and trusted.

                Speculation has run rampant that Clint Florence was involved in the disappearance of Brian Shaffer.  There have been rumors for years that Clint was involved in some kind of illegal activities, and that he and Brian were beginning to experience moments of tension surrounding these acts.  Some have gone so far as to allege that, following the loss of his mother, Brian became involved with Clint in some kind of illegal business and when things went sideways, Clint chose to kill Brian and conceal his body.  Clint’s alleged involvement is only spurned on more by his lack of cooperation and refusal to take a polygraph.

                It has been over eleven years since Brian Shaffer vanished, and not a single piece of evidence has ever been recovered.  Those who loved Brian have been forced to move forward, accepting that they may never have any answers.  A handsome, intelligent, twenty-seven year old Med Student went out for a night of celebration, had plans for a dream vacation with the woman he was possibly going to propose to and never came home.  His father tragically died, never having known Brian’s fate, and Derek remains the only member of his family to still live with the uncertainty.  He wears a green bracelet with Brian’s name on it to this day, hoping against all odds that he will one day find his brother, or at least, discover what happened to him.  A $25,500 reward is still being offered with information leading to Brian’s whereabouts.  Until someone comes forward, Police come upon a break in the case or Brian himself is found, the vanishing of Brian Shaffer remains one of the most mind boggling and baffling disappearances in American history.

[Thoughts & Theories]

 

                The Disappearance of Brian Shaffer is one of the most well known vanishings in American history.  Typically, I try to stick to cases that haven’t received as much coverage, but this has been one of my most highly requested cases to cover and I thought it was appropriate to address it.  It’s an incredibly baffling story, I know I’ve personally spent a lot of time researching it even before I knew I was going to cover it.  The idea that a man can just vanish into thin air, from inside of a bar surrounded by security cameras, and nothing is ever found is as startling as it is tragic.  What I’ve experienced with a lot of coverage of this case is an intense focus on the what, but not nearly as much on the who, and I wanted to put Brian himself more in the spotlight.  Obviously, what happened to him is incredibly important, but who he was, or is, is the real story.

                The Shaffer family was struck by a terrible string of tragedy.  First, Renee Shaffer, Brian’s mother, passed away after a short battle with cancer.  Anyone who has ever been touched by this terrible disease, has had to say goodbye to a loved one as they slowly fade, knows how incredibly heartbreaking it truly is.  Brian was in med school when his mother passed away, and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain he must have felt knowing that his mother was sick and he could do nothing to help her.  Plus, with his knowledge of the disease, he likely knew what was happening to her on an anatomical level moreso than anyone else in her life.  Despite that, he was there for her as much as he could be.  She became his hero because of how hard she fought, and how brave she was. 

                As if often the case, tragedy can sometimes draw families closer together and that is exactly what happened here.  Derek, Brian’s brother, has been very open about the fact that following the passing of his mother, Brian was in communication more often and the two felt closer than they ever had.  Renee passed away just twent-five days before Brian vanished, striking yet another blow to the family who were already in mourning.  Two years after Brian went missing, his father Randy was tragically killed when a tree fell on him during a bad storm, leaving Derek as the sole remaining member of his family, and the one who would be left with the haunting question of what happened to his brother, a question which has yet to be answered.

                So what happened to Brian Shaffer?  As many detectives have discovered, that’s a much easier question to ask than it is to answer.  There are several different theories that cover a wide array of possibilities, most of which are still be debated on forums and websites all around the world.  The first theory I’d like to focus on is one which is almost always present in cases where grown adults disappear, and that is the theory that Brian Shaffer chose to leave and that his disappearance was of his own doing.

                Much of this theory revolves around the loss of Brian’s mother.  Friends said that he was handling it, but that it was really hitting him harder than he was showing.  Alexis has said before that, during the period after, he made mention of breaking up.  He was in a dark place and felt like she would be much happier if she could find another guy who was more available to be the loving boyfriend.  Between his mourning and his studies, there wasn’t a lot of time for him to play the role of a boyfriend.  We also know, based on his myspace page and statements that he made to friends, that Brian wasn’t all about the doctor life.  He saw it as a job, but not as a life.  His dream was to be on a tropical island, maybe own a bar, play in a band and just live a chill and relaxed lifestyle.  Immediately following his disappearance, Police considered that he may have gone somewhere like the Virgin Islands, someplace tropical in nature that he didn’t need a passport to reach.  Then there was the hoax comment on his father’s obituary which later made police feel this was a viable theory until they uncovered the truth.  Even Brian’s own family members, including Derek, have said they didn’t think it was completely impossible that he may have chosen to run off.

                It isn’t hard to imagine that someone in his position might feel the need to escape for a little while, but there are several factors which I believe make this theory less likely.  Firstly, Brian had plans for a trip to Miami with Alexis, with whom he had reconciled and apologized for his earlier words about breaking up.  He was clearly in love with her, and a weeks vacation in Miami sounds like just the kind of adventure he needed.  In addition to this, he had just had dinner with his father, who he could see was struggling with the passing of his wife, and had assured him that he would be there for him as much as he possibly could be.  I didn’t know Brian, but from everything I’ve read he certainly doesn’t sound like the kind of man who would promise to be there if he knew he was going to be leaving.  On top of all of that, factor in that there has never been any activity on Brian’s social security number or bank account.  Sure, it’s possible he ran off somewhere, had some loose cash available and is making it, but it seems unlikely.  The clincher for me is that, if Brian had run off, I find it hard to believe he would have maintained radio silence when his father passed away.

                Another thing which I think plays a role in this is that Brian’s face has been plastered all over websites and news reports.  There are copious amounts of news articles, special reports and podcasts which have touched on his case.  I think it’s incredibly unlikely that he would be able to just disappear into the masses without someone having seen him by now.  This isn’t the 1950’s, and vanishing by choice is nearly impossible these days unless you’re willing to travel to another country where technology like the internet isn’t as widespread, and even then you’re going to have a hard time being an American trying not to stand out.  I can honestly understand thinking Brian had chosen to leave, early on.  After the first year or two passed, and with each subsequent year, I believe this possibility becomes less and less likely.  I know there has been a lot of speculation about it, and some which has come from Clint Florence’s lawyer, which I will address later, but I don’t believe there is much evidence to suggest this is what happened.  Frankly, there isn’t much evidence, period.

                To believe that Brian chose to vanish, I think you have to look at it from a perspective that he planned it out.  I sincerely doubt it was a spur of the moment decision he made, because if it was, then he managed to pull it off flawlessly.  But, to play devil’s advocate, let’s assume he chose to leave.  That means he did so without making any preparations, that we know of.  He wasn’t bringing anything with him except for the clothes on his back.  He would have had to have known a way around the Ugly Tuna’s security cameras, as well as the other hundreds of cameras in the area.  He left his car behind, and public transportation wouldn’t be an option unless he could somehow conceal his identity.  He would also have had to have known he was leaving behind an already devastated family and a loving girlfriend.  I know that sometimes people make these decisions, and we’ve certainly seen instances where people have elected to disappear and successfully done so, but I simply don’t see that in this case.  Although it is possible, I do not believe that whatever happened to Brian was by his own choice.

                The second theory in this case is that Brian didn’t run away, but instead committed suicide.  Most of the logic behind this theory stems from the same place as the theory that he ran away:  depression, feeling overwhelmed, the intense loss of his mother and his inability to accept that he was going to be a doctor while his island dream sat on the back burner.  Depression can overcome your senses, and people who are severely depressed often view suicide as the only way out.  It doesn’t matter how successful you are, or the way you are perceived from those in your life.  We just recently saw two tragic suicides by famous musicians, which speaks volumes about how outward appearances can be deceiving.  Brian appeared to be a happy go lucky, focused and dedicated med student with a bright future which may have even included a pending engagement.  Unfortunately, in many instances, that stuff doesn’t matter as much as the pain a person is feeling and their sense of hopelessness.  Factor in alcohol and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

                So is it possible?  Absolutely, but there are several things which lead me to believe this wasn’t the case.  First and foremost is planning.  Typically, someone who is in the mindset to commit suicide doesn’t make future plans.  This isn’t always the case, but if someone is suffering from depression and doesn’t want to commit to future events, it’s considered a warning sign.  Brian did commit to future events, and he expressed excitement about them.  Beyond that, Brian vanished from the Ugly Tuna that night.  That seems like an extreme length to go to in order to commit suicide.  Typically, suicidal people are not overly concerned about their body being discovered, at least not to the point that they will make sure it can’t be.  Brian’s remains have never been recovered, which seems fairly unlikely in the case of a suicide.  He could have jumped from a bridge, ended up in a river, and simply hasn’t been found yet, but considering the lengths police and family went to to search for his body, that seems unlikely.

                Police have suggested that suicide has to be considered a possibility in this case, and when there is so little to go on, you have to consider every angle.  Brian certainly could have committed suicide, but to me, that doesn’t seem like the most likely scenario here.  How does one make the decision to commit suicide, and also manage to completely vanish from a very public bar?  That’s the part which makes me question everything.  If he had gone home that night, and there was some record of it, and then had vanished, I’d think it was a little more probable but the question of how he managed to disappear is what drives at the heart of this case.  Is it possible that the police simply missed Brian, or that he did manage to sneak out via some way in which no surveillance camera in the entire city ever spotted him?  Yes, but it’s highly unlikely.  It’s impossible to try and imagine the mindset of someone who has become suicidal, all of our instincts fight to make us survive, and many who have attempted suicide have admitted that they regretted it as soon as it began.  It’s impossible to know for sure, but I do not believe that Brian chose to commit suicide that night.  There is a slim possibility that Brian may have died accidentally, as has been suggested, that he may have indulged in some illegal drugs and died as a result of those activities, and that whoever he was with disposed of his body.  Though possible, this too I find unlikely.

                The final two theories address the possibility that Brian may have fallen victim to foul play.  So there are two essential possibilities here, that Brian was killed by someone he knew, or by a total stranger.  Each of these has a subset:  Brian was killed in, and left in the Ugly Tuna, or Brian was killed elsewhere.  Approaching the first theory, that it was either someone Brian didn’t know, or that it was someone he didn’t know well enough to not call this person a stranger, there are several different roads that can be traveled.  Though many believe that Brian never left the bar that night, this seems almost impossible.  The Police swept the bar with cadaver dogs on multiple occasions, they also processed for DNA and were unable to come up with anything signifying that a crime had been committed.  Though it goes beyond my understanding, I don’t believe that Brian was killed and left somewhere in the bar.  Aside from the fact that there are only so many places one could hide a body in there, eventually, the smell is going to get people’s attention.  Now, you could believe that maybe he was murdered inside, and then dismembered and removed from the location, but that seems like the kind of thing you’d see in a movie and not so much a likelihood in this reality.

                So, for me, the stranger theory has to involve Brian being outside of the bar.  Assuming Brian managed to leave the Tuna that night without being captured on surveillance cameras, it seems most logical that he’d have been looking to get home.  Separated from his friends, and his ride, likely fairly intoxicated, he could have tried to hail a cab or, possibly even walk his way back.  A disoriented man in a part of town that wasn’t the clean and nice area it is today, Brian would have been vulnerable.  We don’t know how much money he carried that night, but the idea that someone murdered him as the result of a robbery gone wrong isn’t something which can be dismissed out of hand.  At least, not entirely.  The problem I have with this theory is, when someone is mugged on the street and mortally wounded, the suspect doesn’t typically take the body with him.  Yes, it’s possible this took place near a river and Brian could have been weighed down, but again, I believe his remains would have been recovered by now and considering the large quantity of cameras in the area, they would have seen something.

                If robbery wasn’t the motive, it could have been of a more personal nature.  We know Brian talked to two women outside of the bar shortly before he disappeared.  It’s entirely possible that one of them had a boyfriend, or simply someone with them who didn’t appreciate the attention Brian gave them and he chose to make a move.  Factor in alcohol and possible drugs here since you’ve got a lot of drunk and stoned college kids running around.  Tempers can flare up pretty easily under those circumstances.  Again, I hit the same wall, though.  How has his body never been recovered?  Unfortunately, this is the detail which makes me question everything.  I can’t pretend to know all of the ways in which someone can dispose of a body so that it’s never found, but there was a construction site located near the Ugly Tuna.  In fact, the freight elevator that was not being filmed led almost directly to it, though police would later say that a different businesses camera shot that angle.  I don’t think it’s impossible to assume Brian could have been buried at the site, maybe in a space where there was a hole or some kind of area that it wouldn’t be noticed before construction finished.  It reminds me vaguely of the possibilities in the Kyle Fleischmann case.

                Could Brian have been attacked and murdered, or possibly even abducted by a stranger?  I believe so, but that’s about where it has to end.  There is nothing else which suggests that there is any evidence of this, nor any hints about it.  No one has ever talked, and typically in a situation like this, someone is going to open their mouth eventually.  We have never heard from anyone, even the most remote hint that Brian was murdered that night.  There was the smiley face theory, but to me that’s one of those complex theories concocted without much evidence to support it.  Also, it’d be impossible to link Brian to that theory since his body was never recovered.  I do believe that Brian could have been murdered that night, by someone he didn’t know, and I consider that more likely than him choosing to run away or committing suicide, but as with every other theory so far, there’s nothing to prove it.  There is a startling lack of evidence here, and that makes it all possible.  Now, if it wasn’t a stranger, could it have been someone he knew and trusted?

                Many people, including Brian’s friends and family, believe that his best friend, Clint Florence knows more about what happened that night than he is saying.  Brian spent the bulk of his evening with Clint, with the two moving up and down the street that night, hitting several bars before they ran into Meredith Reed, who gave them a lift back to the Ugly Tuna.  Surveillance cameras confirm their presence there, and later on show both Clint and Reed exiting, without Brian.  It isn’t impossible to lose a friend when you’re out partying, I’ve certainly been separated from friends when we’ve been out to a busy place.  On the other hand, I also try to find my friends and don’t like the idea of leaving if I don’t know where they went.  It’s a lot easier today, everyone’s got a cell phone, but 2006 wasn’t that long ago and Brian definitely had a cell phone on him that night.  Leaving your friend behind doesn’t make you a murderer, but it’s something I’d try not to do.

                In the two days before Police were contacted, everyone involved has said that Clint was extremely helpful and cooperative.  He was trying to locate Brian, like everyone else, and had committed his time and energy to the process.  Allegedly, it was when the police became involved that Clint chose to cut communication and hire a lawyer.  Many view this as a suspicious act, and even for me I’d admit it’s hard not to see it that way, but we don’t know what police said to him.  If they hinted early on that they suspected him of something, then he was intelligent to hire a lawyer, even if he played no role in the disappearance.  I know that if I were questioned tomorrow, for a crime I did not commit, I’d answer to a point, but if I began to feel like they weren’t listening or they were trying to corner me, I’d absolutely hire an attorney.  Any attorney will tell you it’s a smart move and hell, most attorneys will tell you not to answer even the most simple and innane questions without having representation.  Is that enough to condemn Clint?  I don’t think so.

                It’s very easy to say that Brian was Clint’s best friend, and he should have been more willing to help, and I totally agree with that, but I also believe there may be more to his reason for lawyering up than we have said.  To a point.  When it was later revealed that not only did he sever his communication with the police, but also with Brian’s friends and family, that threw up red flags for me but I can’t know for sure whether he did that by choice or if he was directed to do so by his lawyer.  Multiple people in this case submitted, voluntarily, to a polygraph.  Brian’s father and Meredith Reed did, we know for certain, and both passed.  At a minimum that tells me that if Clint played a role in what happened that night, Reed was unaware and certainly didn’t participate.  Considering Clint left with Reed that night, that makes things even more complicated.

                I don’t really blame Clint for not doing a polygraph, as I’ve said in several episodes in the past, there isn’t much of a benefit.  They’re inaccurate and undependable.  They’re so inaccurate and inexact that they aren’t even admissible in court, so what does that tell you?  If you refuse to take one, you look guilty.  If you take one, it could say you’re guilty whether you are or not.  If you pass one, it can’t be used in your defense should you be arrested and go to trial.  I can’t say whether or not I would have taken a polygraph in Clint’s position, but I’d think I’d want to do everything to help find my friend.  The question about Clint, really, is did he play a role in making Brian disappear or did he assist Brian in pulling off a vanishing act?

                There has been rumor and speculation that Clint was in the drug business and that Brian, at a minimum knew about it and at a maximum was involved in it.  I don’t see a lot of evidence to support this theory, but a lot of people believe this created some kind of tension between the two and Clint wanted to eliminate Brian.  It’s certainly possible, but again, we’ve got nothing in black and white to lend credence to this claim.  Now, if there were any tensions, and both men were drunk, it isn’t impossible to see that something could have happened leading to Brian being killed, whether it had been on purpose or accidentally.  The problem is, can you guess?  Where is his body and how was it hidden and or removed from the bar?  Clint Florence doesn’t strike me as a criminal supergenius, so I doubt he’d have some way to not only eliminate Brian that night, but to also leave the bar and be captured on surveillance footage not looking the least disheveled or like he’d been in any kind of a struggle.  Could Clint have played a role in the alleged death of Brian Shaffer?  Absolutely, but again, we have nothing to support that theory.

                So what about the other side of the coin, could Clint in some way have facilitated Brian’s choosing to vanish?  Maybe.  If indeed Brian wanted to escape that night, and assuming he were aware of the surveillance cameras, it isn’t entirely impossible to believe that Clint could have brought something with him, a hat, a shirt, something which would allow Brian to leave unnoticed by the cameras.  Even the police have theorized Brian could have changed his clothing that night.  For me, it comes down to motive, the why and the how.  Could you help your best friend run off and then lie to his family, his girlfriend and the police without feeling guilty?  Also, when you know this case is slowly turning into a homicide investigation, and that the police consider you a person of interest, isn’t it more important to tell the truth, especially if it is as benal as Brian running away, rather than face the possibility of being arrested for murder?  It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and sadly, if it comes down to a choice here, I’d have to say if Clint was involved, I think it’s more likely he was party to a murder, rather than someone who helped his best friend run away.

                What happened to Brian Shaffer in the early morning hours of April 1st, 2006?  We may never know.  This is by far one of the most disturbing and mystifying cases I’ve ever covered.  I’ve been following it, since nearly the beginning, and it continues to baffle me today.  It’s like a vicious cycle, the deeper you dig into it, the less it feels like you really know.  I don’t know what happened to Brian Shaffer, and I have such a huge amount of empathy for his family and friends.  I can’t imagine what it was like for them when he disappeared, nor how every day since has been yet another one where some part of you, no matter how small, must still harbor hope that one day an answer will be found.  If still alive, Brian Shaffer would be thirty-eight years old.  He has been missing for over eleven years.  Maybe someday this riddle will have an answer, and peace and closure can brought to his sole surviving brother, Derek, and those who have searched for him all of these years.  Maybe someone out there has the answers, and we can only hope, that that person comes forward and put an end to this utterly baffling case.