As a crime writer, I do a lot of research into real life crimes and unsolved cases. According to official statistics, in the US alone 2,300 people go missing every day.
Around 91% of all cases are closed within 48 hours, and 99% of cases are solved completely within one year.
This of course leaves 1% of cases that aren’t solved.
The case of Brandon Victor Swanson is one of them.
Nineteen year old Brandon Swanson lived in Marshall, Minnesota with his parents. On the night of 14 May 2008, after celebrating the last day of college classes with a friend, he was driving home along a gravel road, and somehow crashed his car into a ditch.
Unable to move it himself and get back onto the road, he called home at some time after midnight and asked his parents to pick him up near Lynd, a small town Southwest of Marshall.
His parents left the house and began driving to pick up Brandon, at the same time speaking with him on his mobile phone to determine exactly where he was.
After getting to the location which he had described, they started flashing the car’s headlights so that Brandon could start walking towards them. Brandon told them he couldn’t see the lights at all, so he got back into his car and started flashing his own headlights in the hope that maybe they would see him. His parents said that they couldn’t anything either.
Both sides got increasingly frustrated, and Brandon eventually said that he was going to start walking towards the town of Lynd, to a friend’s house. He said that he knew which direction to head in as he could see what looked like the lights of a town.
His father dropped Brandon’s mother back at home, then began driving again to find his son.
At around 2am Brandon and his father were on the phone to each other, with Brandon desperately trying to direct his father to where he was, and Brandon’s father equally desperately trying to locate his son.
Forty-seven minutes into the phone call, Brandon suddenly exclaimed, ‘Oh shit!’ and the line went dead.
And that was the last time anybody heard anything from Brandon Swanson.
His dad tried calling back a number of times, but Brandon never picked up his phone. His frantic parents continued the search but were unable to find him. A few hours later – at around 6.30am – they notified the police.
Since that day more than five hundred volunteers have spent over one hundred and twenty days looking for Brandon – or any evidence pointing to where he could be – covering over one hundred square miles in the process. This has included over thirty dog handlers from nine different states.
The result? No evidence. No clues. Nothing.
The only thing that has ever been found is Brandon’s car, which was discovered around twenty miles away from where he told his parents he thought he crashed.
The authorities say that there is neither any evidence of foul play, nor any evidence that Brandon would have staged his own disappearance. They have also said that they do not believe there was any evidence that he was intoxicated or ‘impaired’ in any way. (And if he was drunk for instance, then it’s likely that his parents would have picked up on this over the phone).
The authorities received over seventy-five tips about Brandon, but none have borne any information that has led anywhere near to finding him. The last official search was conducted in October 2011, and age-progressed photos have also been distributed in the hope that somebody may recognise him.
As a crime writer I find this case fascinating and disturbing, and I have looked at countless theories around what happened that night. The most prevalent theory is that Brandon must have fallen into a river or creek – possibly the Yellow Medicine River – which is fifteen feet at its deepest point, and would have been running incredibly fast at the time he disappeared. The problem with this theory however, is that there would be some trace if he had fallen in, and so far nothing has been found at any point of the river.
A number of other theories have been considered, including the idea that Brandon might have hidden in an abandoned structure to escape the cold and then succumbed to hypothermia, or that he was attacked by an animal and taken away. Yet again, the main problem with these theories is that of evidence – or, more specifically, the big fat lack of it. If for instance he did hide in a structure, then surely it would’ve been found by now? Not to mention the fact that an animal attacking, fatally wounding and then dragging a person away would leave a huge amount of evidence behind.
Yet more theories are that Brandon was either hit by a car or picked up by an apparently helpful driver who turned out to have a malicious intent. These theories have major flaws, however; if a person has time to register danger, swear down the phone and then end a phone call, surely they would have time to get out of the way of an oncoming vehicle? And if he was picked up by someone, surely he would tell his dad, who he was on the phone with at the time?
Also, if someone had just offered to give him a lift home, why would he swear at all?
On the subject of the phone call, a huge question here is why the phone call was ended. If something dangerous was imminent, it seems unlikely that Brandon would actually hang up the phone. He would be more likely to drop the phone, and his parents would then hear anything that was going on (such as a struggle, or the whooshing of the river, or the impact of a car). But instead somebody pushed ‘end’ on the phone. As has been asked so many times in this case- why?
An answer might be that Brandon dropped the phone, causing the battery to fall out and so ending the call that way. However, Brandon’s dad said that after the call ended, he kept trying to call Brandon but that he wasn’t picking up the call, which means the phone was in working condition but not being answered.
At time of writing – six years later – there is still no evidence or even a trace indicating what happened. In spite of all the searches using state of the art equipment and techniques, and all of the theories and hours of investigations and searches, we are still no closer to knowing what occurred that night, or where Brandon Swanson is now.
Just as with the case of Elisa Lam in Los Angeles, there seem to be more questions than answers.
Impossible as it may seem, a nineteen year old man seems to have – literally – disappeared without a trace.
Note: As a result of these events, a new law has been introduced. This requires police in Minnesota to begin immediate searches for missing adults under the age of 21, as well as any older adults who have been reported missing where there are suspicious circumstances. It has been named Brandon’s Law.