The Disappearance of Brandon Swanson

Night road

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.

The Disappearance

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.

The Aftermath

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.

The Theories

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.

No Trace

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.


127 thoughts on “The Disappearance of Brandon Swanson

  1. Hello from NC usa,
    I’ve been following this story since it happened in 2008. I was even lucky to find Haase’s report and read something’s that are not in the handful of net reports. But let me back up. I’m a volunteer firefighter and we deal with a lot of car vs ditch simple reason I’m in the marine town of New Bern craven county and the Marines do not know how to drive on gravel roads. They loose control it’s easy to do when speeding and takes tight turns. It’s been years since I looked at the maps but remember from the SAR report Brandon was driving in a downward zig zag way off the highway taking access roads (gravel) when he turned left out of a field onto LCLRd and put his Chevy lumina high centered. So he didn’t crash it, he took a turn too hard skid and stopped.
    Another strange thing that’s never mentioned due to the fact I’m sure most people don’t know, Brandon was legally blind in his left eye I believe, (been years forgive me if it was his right) and in the SAR report, Brandon’s glasses where left in the front passenger seat.
    True odd it is the his Mom was taken home, but in that report it read the reason was she was under the weather, ill, and exhausted, but stop blaming her, no one knew this was going to happen, I’m sure she has to deal everyday with the thought that she went home instead of keeping at it.
    I don’t know what happened to him, and my heart has been heavy for him and his poor family that still to this day, leave the front porch light on for him.
    I plan one day to go out there as I have had experience looking for lost folks. My thoughts are that since his Dad said in the SAR report in that secret 47min call, Brandon told his Dad he was crossing fields and hopping fences. Just before the Oh Shit, Brandon said Not another fence, his Dad heard him climb a fence then seconds Oh Shit the sound of him slipping on rocks was at the same time. My thought is, he fell into a cistren/well that is unmarked or unknown. Why? Here in NC we have them, property owners don’t know they are out there due to over growth, but why do I also think this? In NC a lot of cistrens abandoned Wells are filled in with rocks sometimes over years the shaft opens more rocks fall and now you have a deathtrap waiting. He was crossing grassy fields, came to another unexpected fence possibly one around an old cistren, hopped it, being dark, fell in slipped on the rocks around the edges, and dropped his phone on the outside.
    10 years now, the shaft could have opened deeped more rocks covering him, it’s the only reason nothing of his body or clothes were ever found. So he wasn’t on the dirt road.
    Oddly, the SAR noted that from his cat at night they went out there to see what lights he spoke of seeing, but there was nothing but darkness.
    On a personal note as a firefighter, if you or a loved one ever have a stuck car, ALWAYS stay with the vehicle. It’s shelter if bad weather comes, and it WILL BE FOUND, you on the other hand might not.
    Be safe all, Be Well!

    • Good information, Darrin. I am wondering if taking off his glasses and not wearing them was normal for Brandon and why do you think all the car doors were left open?

  2. I think that Brandon had probably been drinking, and got turned around in the dark. His parents couldn’t find him because they were 20 miles away. The accident probably scared him and sobered him up. When he took off walking, my guess is that he found himself trespassing somewhere he wasn’t wanted. He hung up the phone to keep his dad from asking questions and being overhead, but when his dad called back, the sound betrayed Brandon.

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