This week we are talking about the baffling disappearance of Brandon Swanson. I first heard this case a couple of years ago and I find myself thinking about it all the time because it just doesn’t make any sense. So I’m going to tell you all about it so that you can be baffled along with me.
Brandon was born January 30, 1989 in Marshall, Minnesota. He graduated from Marshall High School in 2007 and enrolled in a wind energy program at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Canby, Minnesota which is about 30-35 minutes away from where he grew up. He lived at home with his parents and worked part time at Hy-Vee Food Store which is a supermarket chain store that is pretty popular in Minnesota.
On May 13, 2008, he attended his classes as usual before going out with friends and classmates to celebrate the last day of spring semester classes. According to eyewitnesses, there were alcoholic drinks at the party and Brandon had at least one shot of whiskey. When he left the party either just before or just after midnight depending on the source, his friends said that he didn’t appear to be intoxicated. Keep this in mind because it’ll be important later. He was going to head home, which again was about a 30-35 minute drive. He knew the drive well as he made it all the time and it was a pretty straight shot with the two towns being connected by one road.
Around 1:15 am, he ended up in a ditch and tried to call some friends for help. No one answered and according to one source, no one received his calls. I’m not sure whether that means the calls to his friends didn’t go through or they just didn’t hear their phones or what, but I did think that was interesting.
After no success trying to reach his friends he decided to call his parents at approximately 1:54 am. He called and told them that his car was stuck in a ditch off a gravel road and there was no way he could get it out on his own. He assured them he wasn’t hurt and there didn’t appear to be any damage to the car, he was just stuck.
They left right away to get him, but he wasn’t sure exactly where he was as it was late and dark. Brandon gave them general directions to where he was waiting with the car and said that he was about midway between Lynd and Marshall. Going by what he told them, Brian (Brandon’s dad) believed that he knew exactly where he needed to go, and that it was about a ten minute drive from their home.
Now, he told them that he thought he was between Lynd and Marshall which I thought was interesting because I looked up all these areas and in order to get to Lynd, you have to get off state road 68 which is the road that connects Marshall and Canby. I could just be reading too much into this and maybe when he said near Lynd he meant near the exit for Lynd or something like that, but if he actually meant Lynd I don’t know why he would have gotten off 68 or why his parents wouldn’t have questioned that. Maybe it’s like a backroads type of thing where the locals go to avoid 68, but all the sources highlight how it is literally a straight shot, so this sticks out to me. But it could mean nothing, no one else seems to be talking about it, and ultimately I don’t think that it matters in the grand scheme of things and I’ll explain why in a minute.
Getting back to where we were, Brandon was waiting for his parents to arrive and as they arrived in the area he had described and they were expecting to see him, they saw nothing. At this point, they called him back and told him to keep an eye out for them as they were probably really close, but just couldn’t see him. After a couple minutes and neither them spotting him or vice versa they started honking their horn and flashing their lights to help him locate them. As they’re doing this, Brandon said that he couldn’t see the headlights flashing or hear the horn. Of course, they immediately think that he must have given them the wrong location because they’re where he said he was and there’s no sign of him, but he insisted that he had given them the right information.
What they were doing clearly wasn’t working, so they switched tactics and told Brandon to start flashing HIS lights. They were still on the phone and could hear the click-click-click as he turned the lights on and off, but when they looked into the darkness for the flashing lights they saw nothing. And just to make it abundantly clear, this wasn’t an area with much space to hide or not be seen. His parents were surrounded by wide, open fields and there was nothing obstructing their view.
Still on the phone with them, Brandon was getting frustrated. He was confident he knew where he was and couldn’t understand why his parents were unable to follow his directions. They insisted they went exactly where he told them to go, but he was sure they were the ones confused. He ended up getting so frustrated that he hung up on his mom. She called him right back and apologized, understanding why he was frustrated.
So far, Brandon had stayed with his car thinking this would be the easiest way for his parents to locate them. Since this obviously wasn’t working and he was convinced his parents didn’t go where he had told them to, he decided they needed to change what they were doing. He thought that at this point it would be faster if he could go to them rather than them coming to him. He could see lights in the distance and thought they were coming from Lynd. He decided he would walk to a bar in Lynd and have his parents meet him in the parking lot. His dad agreed to this, but it was decided that he would drop Annette, Brandon’s mom off at home before heading to the bar. At this point it’s the middle of the night, everyone’s tired, Brandon has already snapped at her once, and they don’t really think it’s necessary for her to be there. It’s also going to take some time for Brandon to walk to the bar, so it’s not like they’re making him have to sit around or anything.
So Brandon starts walking to Lynd and Brian stays on the phone with his son. As he’s walking, Brandon is updating his dad on his progress. He said that he was walking along a gravel road, and that he had taken a shortcut through a field. At one point, he mentioned that he could hear running water coming from somewhere nearby, though he couldn’t see anything in the darkness. He just continued to walk towards those lights from Lynd.
Still on the phone, a little after 2:30 am, Brian suddenly hears Brandon yell, “Oh, shit!” and the call suddenly disconnected. Obviously concerned, he immediately tries to call Brandon back, but couldn’t reach him. He called back to back five or six times, but the calls were going straight to voicemail. With the phone that he had, it’s been confirmed that in order to go straight to voicemail he either had to have turned it off or something had to have happened to it to render it inoperable.
Not knowing what to do, Brian drove back and forth on the same stretch of road over and over trying to find any sign of Brandon or his car. Annette and Brian called some of his friends and they ended up coming out to help look for him. The group searched for through the night, going down all the side roads and looking everywhere. After a couple hours, confident they had exhausted all the possible places, they went to the parking lot of the bar they had planned on meeting at just in case he had miraculously made it there. They weren’t feeling very optimistic, but held onto the hope that he could have made it there, but when they arrived the parking lot was dark and empty with no sign of Brandon.
6:30 rolled around and Brian and Annette were beginning to panic. They were sure something had happened to Brandon and called the Lynd police to report him missing. Unfortunately, because Brandon was an adult and “had the right to go missing if he wanted,” police didn’t have the same level of concern. Annette insisted that something was wrong and explained what had happened with the phone call and after a couple of hours was able to convince the police to open a missing persons case for him. They did an initial search for him around town, but as far as they could tell Brandon wasn’t in Lynd. They also searched the roads leading into town and Brian thought they would be able to locate his car pretty quickly now that the sun was up and they weren’t searching in the dark. This didn’t happen though, and after hours of searching they had nothing to show for it.
This led police to get access to Brandon’s phone records in order to hopefully pinpoint the location of his car. This is when they discovered that the reason they hadn’t been able to find anything was because the calls weren’t made anywhere near Lynd. The calls he had with his parents had actually been made near Taunton, another small town located along 68, 25 minutes away from Lynd. Taunton is on the main route to Canby, but northwest of Marshall where Lynd is southwest of Marshall.
While Taunton is a ways from Lynd, it made more sense that Brandon would have been close to it as he was traveling home from Canby. What doesn’t make sense is why he had still been in that area if he left Canby around midnight. Leaving Canby on Highway 68, it is a 15 minute drive to Taunton and Brandon would have still had another 17 miles to go before he would be in Marshall. If Brandon left Canby shortly after midnight like his friends said, that would mean it somehow took him almost 2 hours to drive only 15 minutes (13 miles or 21km).
Now that they knew where Brandon had actually been, the search was moved to Taunton. Once they were in the right area, they located his car pretty quickly and just like Brandon had said, it was off a gravel road in a ditch. Investigators searched the inside of the car and found no sign of Brandon having been injured. The car was in an area surrounded by grass and gravel, so they weren’t able to see any footprints to be able to follow his path, but using his phone records again they got an idea of what direction he had gone in. Also, when going through phone records, it was determined that his phone wasn’t completely kaput after the call with his dad was disconnected. This doesn’t mean anything right now, but it’ll come into play when we talk about theories, so tuck that away.
An extensive ground search based on this information was launched and they even got helicopters to fly over the area looking for anything that might be relevant. They weren’t finding anything, so they brought in bloodhounds to track his scent. They followed a scent trail for nearly three miles as it went past fields and headed in a west-northwest direction to an abandoned farm. The dogs continued past the farm and headed along the Yellow Medicine River. At one point along the river, they indicated that Brandon may have entered the river. The water ranged from knee-high to around 15 feet which means that even if Brandon had entered the water it wouldn’t necessarily mean he drowned. It was possible that he could have made it across to the other side, but the dogs weren’t able to follow his scent after that. This doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t get out of the river because the water could have washed the scent off him and left nothing for the dogs to trace.
They did consider that he could have drowned though and searched the area along a two mile stretch extensively. If he had drowned, his body would have been washed downstream, but they didn’t find anything. The sheriff even walked up and down the riverbank for 30 days seeing if he could find anything but that never happened. Since nothing was found, investigators determined it was very unlikely that he drowned.
The official search for Brandon was suspended after a week, but his family continued searching. They organized searchers and had around 100 volunteers helping to look for him with some even using ATVs and horses to cover more ground, but they still found nothing. Police led another search in the fall once all of the fields had been harvested and cadaver dogs were brought in to assist. They initially seemed to be following a scent trail, but eventually lost the scent with nothing gained from it. Once winter rolled around, the searches were suspended again, and by this point over 122 square miles had been searched with no sign of Brandon. There was also a tip line set up that brought in 90 leads, but those didn’t lead anywhere either. The search had ended with a total of 500 volunteers, 34 dog handlers from 9 different states, and countless hours of searching with no trace Brandon.
In 2010, his case was handed over to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. They focused their investigation on the area around Mud Creek, a tributary of the Yellow Medicine River located directly north of Taunton. While they didn’t find anything, they continued to search there periodically over the next few years.
So what could have happened that night? Obviously we don’t know for sure, but there are some theories out there and I have opinions.
Of course there is always the possibility that the whole thing was staged and Brandon planned his disappearance and is out there living another life. This seems highly unlikely though because he was a good student, he had just completed a wind energy certificate course, and had no problems at home or school. He was also planning things for his future and had been looking forward to transferring to a school in Iowa a few months later to continue his studies. Also, if he were going to stage his disappearance why would he stay on the phone with his parents for over an hour? It just doesn’t make sense.
Another theory that has been tossed around is that he may have been involved in a hit and run. According to this theory, he would have been hit by a car while he was and the individual responsible may have panicked and hid his body. The problem with this though is that when he was on the phone with his dad, he was walking in fields not along the road. I also would think that if that were the case, the dogs would have been able to track his scent to where his body would have been. There also weren’t any signs of an accident.
Some people have speculated that he did in fact end up in the river and that if he made it out he could have succumbed to hypothermia. They say that he may not have been found because of wildlife that he could have run into like black bears. But if this were the case, there is still the problem of no evidence of this. With an animal attack you would still expect to find something like his glasses, keys, or phone – not to mention shreds of clothes and blood evidence. The other issue with this theory is it doesn’t explain why his phone was immediately disabled.
One theory I found that I think sort of makes sense is if he fell into an unmarked cistern or well when he was cutting through fields. If this is the case, his phone may have still been on, but unable to work because there isn’t any service that far down in the ground.
When I was explaining the searches, I did leave one thing out. I was saving it for the end because I think it could be the key to knowing what happened to Brandon. When Emergency Support Services took over the search efforts in late 2008, they ran into the issue of landowner permission, particularly among cattle farmers who took issue with search canines present on their property. To this day, some of these cattle farmers won’t allow the investigators on their properties. Ken Anderson of Emergency Support Services said, “In at least a couple of circumstances, that (problem) is still in existence. They will not allow us on their property. We don’t dispute the reason why. We try and work out a method that would make it acceptable, and we’ve not been able to come up with a working compromise.” I can understand why they would be hesitant with their cattle, but I can’t wrap my head around refusing any sort of search. There are obviously rules that emergency services have to follow and we have to respect that, but I find that super fishy. So here’s my theory and full disclaimer, it’s total speculation and a bit of a stretch, but it’s how I can make sense of what might have happened. Maybe when Brandon was going through fields he ended up on one of these cattle farmers fields and something happened. Someone could have seen him out there and done something to him because he was trespassing or maybe one of their animals killed him and they didn’t want to have to report it so they did something with his body. It could explain his sudden shock on the phone and if it was a person they could have taken his phone and turned it off without completely destroying it. It’s unlikely, but in my mind this is the only thing that makes sense with there being no trace of him found and these cattle farmers fields being the only places left to look.
Also, just putting this out there, but there isn’t much record of where Israel Keyes was in May 2008. Is it likely that he was hanging out in the middle of nowhere Minnesota waiting for an unlucky victim to fall into his lap? No. But is it impossible? Also no. I doubt he had anything to do with it, but I had to throw it out there just in case.
Brandon wears black wire-framed eyeglasses. He is legally blind in his left eye and has a small scar above it. He has pierced ears. He was last seen wearing baggy blue jeans, a blue striped polo shirt, a back hooded zip front sweatshirt with an emblem on the back, a white Minnesota Twins baseball cap, a heavy sterling silver chain, and one stud earring in each ear. He was carrying his black Motorola SLVR cell phone, his wallet, ID, and car/house keys. We will of course post his photo on our socials as well as an age-progressed photo that was released a couple years ago and if you have any information regarding the disappearance of Brandon Swanson you can contact the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department at (507) 694-1664.
Accessed April, 2022. https://medium.com/the-shadow/vanished-in-the-dark-where-is-brandon-swanson-d5d99bfde9a7
Accessed April, 2022. https://www.vizaca.com/brandon-swanson-disappearance/
Accessed April, 2022. https://disappearedblog.com/brandon-swanson/
Accessed April, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Brandon_Swanson
Accessed April, 2022. https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/vicap/missing-persons/brandon-victor-swanson
Accessed April, 2022. http://dig.abclocal.go.com/wls/documents/wls_081313_Israel%20Keyes_timeline.pdf
Accessed April, 2022. https://geology.com/county-map/minnesota.shtml
Accessed April, 2022. https://www.wassilykandinsky.net/work-50.php
Accessed April, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_Medicine_River
Accessed April, 2022. https://angelomarcos.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/the-disappearance-of-brandon-swanson/