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The Disappearance of Brandon Swanson

Hello, my loyal true crime readers! I’m excited to present a guest post by Debbie Buck. Debbie is the owner of the blog True Crime Diva where she has been writing on unsolved murders and missing persons cases since 2010. She is also the researcher and writer for the podcast Criminology. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Enjoy the guest post ~ Christine

On Tuesday, May 13, 2008, Brandon Swanson, 19, of Marshall, Minnesota visited with friends and had a few drinks in nearby Lynd. The teen completed his first year of college at Minnesota West Community and Technical College that day. Between 10:30 and 11:00 pm, Brandon left the celebration and drove to another friend’s house in Canby to say goodbye to a classmate. Brandon did not appear to be intoxicated, according to his friends at the Lynd party. Witnesses at the Canby party said he had an additional shot of whiskey, but left sometime after midnight to head back to Marshall.

Highway 68 is a direct route from Canby to Marshall with an approximate 30-minute driving time. Around 1:15 a.m. May 14th, Brandon got his car hung up in a ditch along a gravel road. He attempted to call his friends for help but nobody answered. Around 1:54 a.m. Brandon called his parents, Brian and Annette Swanson, and informed them about his situation and that he needed a ride. He said he was between Marshall and Lynd and gave his location. He also said he was not injured from the accident.

His parents drove to pick up their son. When they arrived at the location Brandon gave, they could not find him. Annette called him on his cell phone, and they both agreed to flash their lights to let each other know they were there. She could hear Brandon flashing the car lights and at one point, she kept saying, “We’re flashing our lights! We’re flashing our lights!” His response to her was, “Don’t you see me?” They never saw him. Frustrated, Brandon hung up on his mom, but Annette quickly called him back apologizing for getting frustrated herself. He told her he could see Lynd’s town lights, and he was going to walk towards town. Brandon said to meet him at a Lynd tavern parking lot.

While driving, Brian and Brandon talked via their cell phones. Brandon explained to Brian that he was going to cut through fields so it would be quicker. Along the way, he walked on gravel roads, saw two fence lines, and heard running water. The call lasted about 47 minutes when all of a sudden Brandon yelled, “Oh sh-!” and the call was disconnected. His father said it sounded like Brandon slipped and fell. Numerous attempts to reach Brandon’s phone were unsuccessful. The phone rang each time it was called until the next day when calls went straight to voicemail. Brandon has not had any communication with his parents since.

The Search for Brandon  

At 6:30 a.m., Brandon’s parents called police to report him missing. Police told them to wait a while because it wasn’t unheard of for young males to go off the grid for a bit. However, later that day cell phone records showed Brandon was near Porter, Minnesota, not Lynd, when he phoned his parents. Porter sits between Canby and Marshall along Highway 68. A search began and around 12:30 p.m., Brandon’s Chevrolet Lumina sedan was found about a mile and a half north of Taunton, right on the border between Lincoln, Yellow Medicine, and Lyon Counties. There was no physical damage to the vehicle or evidence of bodily injury.

Location of Brandon’s vehicle

Photo of Missing Person Brandon Swanson Car Location
Source: Google Maps

“It was off the side of a field approach, and the vehicle was hung up,” Lincoln County Sheriff Jack Vizecky told CNN. “It’s sort of a sharp incline, nothing major but enough that the car would get hung up so the wheels are too high off the ground to get any traction.” (Weed, 2010)

Over the months following Brandon’s disappearance, volunteers, emergency personnel and law enforcement utilized walkers, boats, horseback, and all-terrain vehicles to search areas of Lincoln, Lyon and Yellow Medicine Counties and bodies of water including Yellow Medicine River.

The authorities believed that Brandon fell into a body of water and drowned. However, search dogs followed his scent to the river’s edge, but continued walking on. This suggested that Brandon probably fell into the water, managed to get out, and continued walking. The temperature that night was around 39 degrees, so Brandon may have succumbed to hypothermia.

Search dogs picked up the scent of human remains a few times, specifically in an area north of Porter near Mud Creek, but no body has ever been found. Police do not have any evidence of foul play and believe Brandon’s remains are within the 122 square-mile search area.

On the 10-year anniversary of Brandon’s disappearance, Yellow Medicine County Sheriff Bill Flated told The Marshall Independent, “It’s a huge area. If you take that immediate area where the car was and then the time frame when he was talking on the phone with his parents, who knows what direction he went and how far he traveled?” (Kirk, 2018)

Brandon’s Law

Established by Brian and Annette Swanson and sponsored by House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) and Senator Dennis Frederickson (R-New Ulm), Brandon’s Law was signed by Minnesota’s Governor Tim Pawlenty on May 7, 2009. It took effect almost two months later on July 1st.  

The law will require law enforcement to take a missing persons report without delay after notification of someone missing under dangerous circumstances, no matter the missing person’s age; immediately conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if the person is missing, and whether the person is endangered; and promptly notify all other law enforcement agencies of the situation. It clarifies that the agency taking the report be the lead agency in the investigation (Brandon’s Law).

Photo of missing person Brandon Swanson
Source: Wikipedia

Anyone with information leading to the whereabouts of Brandon Swanson, please call Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department at (507) 694-1664.

Sources:

Interested in missing persons cases? Check out the disappearance of Dail Dinwiddie and the vanishing of Doris Brown.

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18 Comments

  1. Todd Todd

    Darn, what a terrible thing to happen to a young man… his parents probably haven’t had a decent night sleep since.. seems like a cut and dry accident but you never know.. hopefully someone stumbles upon his remains if has for sure passed! Prayers for his family

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Todd. I couldn’t agree more. It’s a tragic case. Here’s hoping Brandon’s family one day finds out what happened. I can’t imagine living with the not knowing. As always, thanks very much for reading!

  2. Kris Kris

    The part that doesn’t make sense to me is, why were all of the car doors wide open when the vehicle was located?

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Kris. Great question! This is definitely a mind-bending case.

  3. Aaron Aaron

    I have listened to hundreds of podcasts about missing persons cases,and this one gives me the chills for some reason or other…just a sad story with no ending..hopefully they will find his remains one day…

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Aaron. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. It’s a very unsettling case and I hope Brandon’s loved ones can someday get closure.

  4. Sheena Sheena

    I grew up in the area and remember seeing signs posted all over after his disappearance and the local sheriff spent years searching on his own for anything… the whole thing is so bizarre. If he had fallen into the river wouldn’t you think something would have surfaced eventually? Clothing or something? THere’s also a farm sight that won’t allow searching in the premises, why?? It also bugs me what he yelled “oh sh*t!” About….. and how far off he was from where he thought he was… so many unanswered questions… I always ask about him when returning home, this one really gets to me

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Sheena. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. Wow! Talk about this case hitting close to home for you. I couldn’t agree more that there are so many answered about this case. My heart goes out to Brandon’s loved ones. Here’ hoping that one day they can get some answers. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Bill Bill

    The story is spooky but seems to be a tragedy rather than a crime. A few points are raised by the whole thing.

    I like to complain about young people and their dependence on GPS. I knew a young woman on Facebook who was driving in the city where she lived when the battery on her GPS died. She had to sit in a service station to recharge the GPS because she couldn’t get home without the GPS. She was posting about it on Facebook as she sat there. I asked why she didn’t just buy a map. She said rhetorically “What’s a map?” I once found a young woman at the bottom of an exit ramp on I-80 just sitting there because her GPS stopped (or maybe her phone battery died) and she didn’t know what to do next. She ended up using the GPS on my phone to get directions and wrote the directions for herself so she could continue. (As she bent forward to fiddle with my phone and write notes, her dog leaned towards me across the back of her seat. I reached into her car to pet the dog while she continued writing.)

    After the experience with the young woman, I started carrying a couple of my state’s paper-and-ink maps in my vehicle. The state provides them every year at rest stops, and I pick up a few to have. If I run into another lost young person, I’m going to hand him/her a map. If nothing else, I’ll enjoy the look of panic as the young person tries to figure out what to do with a map. If he/she will listen, I will explain.

    While I like to complain about young people, I can’t honestly blame everything on the advent of the GPS. In the 80’s, a friend and I came out of cave at night and became lost getting back to my car. We reached a fence line and weren’t sure which way to go. We checked a compass, and I realized we needed to go left. My friend had the same information but insisted that we needed to go right. Of the two of us, I always had a great sense of direction but not much self-confidence. He had a lousy sense of direction and tremendous self-confidence. We were five minutes from the car if we’d gone my way. We went his way and didn’t get to the car for ninety minutes. I had another friend with a similar problem. Several of us learned when trying to find something that he remembered that we should listen to what he thought he remembered and then go in the opposite direction. People became confused sometimes even in the days before so many became dependent on GPS devices.

    Having said all of this, I still think one point is that people need to learn at least a little orienteering as they grow up. As a whole, we’re living more and more urban lives where we just follow what the GPS tells us, but that only makes the need to understand direction more important in those circumstances when we are lost, particularly lost in a rural area.

    While I like to complain about GPS and possibly blame GPS for some human mistakes, I’d like to know whether he had any kind of GPS in his car and whether anyone thought to consult the GPS. If he had given coordinates to his parents, they could have known that he wasn’t where he thought he was.

    That Brandon Swanson wasn’t where he thought he was suggests one or a combination of a few things. One is that he didn’t have a good sense of direction and was lost as a result. Another is that something he ate or drank that evening intoxicated him in some way so that he lost his sense of direction or lost his memory of where he was going.

    Those who study these kinds of tragedies say that leaving one’s vehicle is usually a bad move. As long as someone is with a vehicle, one has shelter and the security of being able to close and lock doors. Finding a vehicle from a helicopter or drone is easier than finding a dead or injured person. One should only leave a vehicle for a very good reason. The “I don’t know why I’m not where I said I am but I’ll walk to another location” is not a good reason.

    Another point is that if one is going to walk, sticking to the roads is a better idea. Finding someone on the road is easier than finding someone who is in any kind of natural area.

    I feel for the young man’s parents. To be on the phone with one’s child and then lose the child forever must be heatbreaking.

    • Christine Christine

      Bill I miss the days of road trips with real maps when we just used to pick a general area and explore. The art of reading maps is sure a dying skill. While I was just listening to the True Crime Garage current coverage of this case I thought the same thing about leaving my vehicle if I was stranded. It would take a lot to separate me from its shelter. Like you, I believe it was a tragic accident and that he likely fell into a body of water. But as a mother I can’t imagine not knowing what happened to my son and hope that one day Brandon’s loved ones can get some kind of closure.

  6. Kristen Kristen

    I agree that he will be found in the area they have not been able to search. 😢 it is an absolutely heartbreaking case. Anything is possible and I will always be preying for that miracle that someone stumbles upon him. An example of this is Jonelle Matthews, her remains were found by workers digging a pipeline 34 years after she went missing.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Kristen. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to share your thoughts. It sure is a heartbreaking case and I hope he’s found soon. I can’t even imagine what his family is going through. Take care.

  7. Doug Doug

    I’m not familiar with the area but what I have read about this is there are areas where there are mining shafts. Is it a possibility that he fell? I’m not convinced that he fell in the water because it would seem like he would have been found. Does anyone know how fast the water was by the fence line was?
    Also, which side of the road do people think he was on? Is it possible for a hit and run scenario where someone took him and didn’t want to report it?
    Are there bears or or other animal predators in the area? I know that some animals will carry the prey off and bury it away from everything else.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Doug. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to share your thoughts. I think it’s possible Brandon fell into a mine shaft or well, but from what I’ve heard the ones in area were likely covered. The hit and run scenario is definitely a possibility. I wouldn’t discount him falling into the water, as depending on the water level in the river in the area he could have been carried away. Some of the best coverage I’ve heard of this case lately is True Crime Garage podcast did three episodes on the case earlier this month. It’s awesome coverage. Here’s a link. https://truecrimegarage.podbean.com/e/brandon-swanson-part-1-332/ Thanks again!

      • Doug Doug

        The True Crime Garage is how I came to hear about this.
        I keep picturing myself as a young person in his position.
        Driving the back way home after a few drinks to avoid the police. Driving down the gravel road and/or not seeing the white line. For one reason or another, I drove off road and now I’m stuck. I can’t stay with the car, that’s how I end up with a second dui. I call some friends to come get me. Frustrated cause no one can pick me up, I rifle through my car to find my heavy coat and I have to call my parents to come get me. Ugh! I start walking towards the street and town lights (not thinking about leaving the car doors open) . Walking by the fence… this will get me there faster. “Oh Sh$t” (phone cuts out).
        If he fell in the water or down a hole while on the phone. What are the chances that he would have that response and then the phone drops? I’m thinking that he wouldn’t say anything within the first few seconds of that type of event.
        If whatever happened, happened while he was on the phone, he had a second to respond right before this. If it were a car that struck him, it might explain the “oh sh$t” and phone outage and also could explain why the cadaver dogs hit on one spot then missed a few feet and picked back up for a while.
        The problem I have with this is that in this scenario, it seems like there would be pcs of broken phone or some kind of evidence at the scene.
        Does anyone know when he was reported missing and when the police got to the scene?

        • Christine Christine

          Brandon could have been hit by a car, but in the middle of the night on a quiet country backroad I think it would be very odd he did not hear the vehicle coming (or see its lights). And you make a good point that some evidence of the accident might be left behind. In response to your questions, at 6:30 a.m. Brandon’s parents called police to report him missing. Police told them to wait a while because it wasn’t unheard of for young males to go off the grid for a bit. However, later that day cell phone records showed Brandon was near Porter, Minnesota — not by where he thought he was. And then later that day the search started. I think around noon.

  8. Kris Bitar Kris Bitar

    I just can’t get past the fact that all four car doors were opened and his glasses, that he needed as he was legally blind in his eye, we’re left in the car. Something just seems off about that.

    • Christine Christine

      I wonder if someone came upon his vehicle and searched through it? They could have left the doors open. The glasses being left behind truly is odd! I have no idea why he wouldn’t take them if he was willingly leaving the area.

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