The Baffling Disappearance of Brian Shaffer

All right, this week we are doing another missing persons case. I try to mix up the sort of cases I do, but find myself leaning toward covering the missing persons cases. I think because there are so many unanswered questions and they just honestly baffle me and getting to talk through those things and hear all the crazy theories and Jennifer and Tina’s perspectives is just my favorite thing. And then having done Brittanee Drexel the other week and her case being solved literally as I was researching it and not knowing how much was going on behind the scenes and getting to witness the news breaking in real time right after taking the deep dive into her case was so cool and I mean if this could happen with other missing persons cases we cover would be freaking amazing. So imma just manifest that now even though Jennifer teases me for my manifesting ;).

Brian Shaffer was born February 25, 1979 in Pickerington, Ohio. He was the oldest of Randy and Renee Shaffer’s two sons. He graduated from high school in 1997 and went on to get an undergraduate degree in microbiology at Ohio State University. In 2004, he started studying medicine, again going to OSU. Even though he was studying medicine, he would tell his friends that his real dream was to start a band playing music like Jimmy Buffett’s.

In March of 2006, his mother died of myelodysplasia which is a type of bone cancer in which immature blood cells in the bone marrow don’t mature. This means they never become healthy blood cells and while it can be curable, the chances of surviving get progressively lower as age increases. It’s also a tricky one because early on in the illness, there aren’t really any signs or symptoms and once they do start presenting they are things that can often be attributed to other things like feeling tired, shortness of breath, anemia, and so on. I couldn’t find exactly how long they knew about her having this, but it sounds like it all happened pretty quickly.

With this happening during his second year of med school, I can’t imagine the amount of stress he was under dealing with not only the loss of his mother, but the pressures of med school as well. Despite all of this, his friends said that while her death was hard for him, he appeared to be handling it well. Of course, people on the outside looking in don’t know what is actually going through someone’s head and it could have been very different that what people were seeing.

He was also dating Alexis Waggoner, who was also a med student at OSU. The two had a trip to Miami planned in April for spring break. He loved tropical type places because he liked the more relaxed and laid back lifestyles. Alexis, along with both her and Brian’s family, was expecting him to propose during the trip.

Just days before this trip, on Friday March 31, the last day of classes for the semester, Brian spent the evening celebrating. He first went out to dinner with his dad, Randy. Randy noticed that Brian was exhausted after having pulled all nighters earlier in the week to cram for exams. He knew that Brian was planning to go out with a friend, William “Clint” Florence, later that night and didn’t think he should go because of his exhaustion, but he kept that to himself because Brian was an adult and could make his own decisions.

Nine p.m. rolled around and Brian met up with Clint at the Ugly Tuna Saloona (lol). Ugly Tuna Saloona was a bar in the South Campus Gateway complex on High Street and was a popular place for OSU students to go. Alexis wasn’t with them because she had gone home to Toledo to visit her family before her and Brian’s Miami vacation. He called her at about 10 p.m. to confirm everything was still a green light for the trip and to tell her he loved her. He and Clint then went bar-hopping at a couple different bars around, having at least one shot of hard liquor at each place they went. They ran into Clint’s friend, Meredith Reed, who offered to drive them back to the Ugly Tuna and they accepted.

According to security camera footage, the three of them got back to Ugly Tuna’s and rode the escalator to the bar’s second story entrance at 1:15 a.m.. Then, at 1:55 a.m., he was seen on the cameras again chatting with two women in their 20s before moving off camera in the direction to go back into the bar. Clint and Meredith didn’t know where he had gone and the bar was closing at 2, so they tried calling him but he wasn’t answering and when they didn’t see him among the crowd departing the bar at closing, they assumed he had gone home without telling them.

Over the weekend, both his father and Alexis tried calling him multiple times with no answer. Then, when he missed his flight on Monday, he was officially reported as a missing person to the Columbus police. Over the next few days, dozens of police looked for him. They of course started at the Ugly Tuna since that was the last place he was seen. They saw everything I explained before from the security camera footage and, just to be clear, he was never captured leaving the bar. It doesn’t seem possible that he could have left without being seen by the cameras unless he really knew exactly where to step and moved quickly because one camera panned continuously around while another was manually operated.

There was only one other exit from the bar and that was a service door. Initially, that sounds like a good place to start, but the problem with this is that it opened to what at the time was a construction site. This construction site was, according to officers, difficult to walk through while sober let alone as intoxicated as Brian would have been. And it had security cameras too, so he should have been caught on those if he did somehow make it through the site. (Construction sites are notorious for being places to hide bodies and other wrongdoings, just ask the mafia, well maybe don’t! But seriously, outside of work hours, nothing good is going on at construction sites and they really can be dangerous with all the equipment and unlevel ground, especially if a person is intoxicated.)

Since no answers were coming from the bar and its cameras, police started expanding their search. Columbus actually has the most security cameras of any city in Ohio, so they got footage from three other nearby bars, all with no trace of him. With no leads, the search started to fan out. Officers searched down streets, inspected dumpsters and other waste containers, showed his picture to people they came across, and even utilized police dogs to try and get his scent to trace. Unfortunately, they still weren’t finding anything, but they were committed. They went so far as to get the city of Columbus to let them into the sewer system to search there.

Flyers were posted everywhere that included information like the fact that he had a tattoo on his right upper arm of a stick figure logo from the cover artwork for the single “Alive” by Pearl Jam. They also mentioned a distinctive fleck in one of his irises, but nothing was working. They also went to his apartment which was six blocks from The Ugly Tuna and found his car still parked outside with nothing appearing out of place.

After searching in every direction leading out from the bar for miles, they started to consider the possibility that maybe it wasn’t an accident or foul play and that perhaps Brian had disappeared on purpose. It doesn’t make any sense that he could walk into the bar and never come back out if they’ve combed the whole bar and miles around it and found no trace of him. They considered that he could have changed clothes, put a hat on, and hid his face from the camera to leave without being seen. This would have been tricky though because he was seen on camera 5 minutes before all the patrons left and that doesn’t leave much time to change. He also wasn’t seen with a bag or anything else that could have been carrying a change of clothes. And before you say well maybe he had other clothes underneath the clothes seen on camera, the clothes he was wearing weren’t found anywhere either. Regardless of how unlikely it was, police did look into this and were able to actually match up each patron from when they entered the bar to when they left and there wasn’t anyone leaving that wasn’t seen going in.

Even though there wasn’t an explanation as to how he could have purposely disappeared without any trace, at this point it had to be considered because no scenario made much sense. They thought that maybe since his mother had recently died, he could have gone off to grieve by himself. If this were the case though, they figured it would just be temporary and he obviously hasn’t come back if that were the case. Of course it’s always possible that he wanted to disappear and start a new life and all of this was on purpose, but with all the things going on in his life that wouldn’t make much sense. He was doing well in school, had good relationships with family, and was about to get engaged.

Along with this, I also think it’s important to consider that he had actually invited his brother, Derek, and his wife to join them that night. They had planned to do so, but the comedy show they were at went late and they decided to call it a night after it ended. Why invite more people to have eyes on you if you are planning to disappear? I feel like I’m saying this a lot, but it just doesn’t make sense.

To cover all the bases, police had those who had seen Brian that evening take lie detector tests. Everyone that took one passed, but Clint did refuse to take one. I do think it’s interesting that the two women he spoke to at 1:55 actually weren’t asked to take tests. Do I think they had something to do with it? No. But the police were being so thorough with everything and said they had asked everyone who saw him that night to take one, but maybe because the women didn’t know him other than the few minutes they talked, police didn’t deem it necessary?

Alexis, his girlfriend, called his phone every night before going to bed after he went missing. It would always go straight to voicemail, but one night in September it actually rang three times. She said “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.” According to his phone provider, Cingular, the ringing she heard was probably because of a computer glitch. It also pinged at a cell tower in Hilliard, Ohio which is about 15-20 minutes from Columbus. This is definitely strange, but nothing came of it and I think it’s probably a red herring.
As always happens in a missing persons case, over the next months police received a lot of tips. Unfortunately, none of them ended up amounting to anything. Eddie Vedder, the lead singer in Pearl Jam, even took time at a concert between sets to ask for tips about his disappearance, but nothing ended up coming from those either. There were possible sightings in Michigan, Texas, and even Sweden that were investigated, but again, nothing.
The case was going cold and Randy, Brian’s dad, was left to continue the search pretty much on his own. At one point he consulted a psychic who told him that Brian’s body was in water near a bridge pier. He and his other son, Derek, took this seriously just in case and bought waders and spent a large majority of their free time searching along the shores of Olentangy River which is adjacent to the OSU campus. They searched and searched near bridges hoping that what the psychic said would finally help them find Brian. Police did consider this information and briefly considered that it could mean his disappearance could be connected to the smiley face killer. If you haven’t heard of the smiley face killer, it’s the name a group of investigators gave a killer who went after college educated young white men who were out drinking with friends. These men would then be found near bodies of water near smiley face graffiti. Of course, like all the other theories so far there are issues with this one. First, if he was a victim of the smiley face killer, he would be the only one where the body wasn’t found, which wasn’t their signature. Second, as we already discussed, when and where would they have apprehended him?

In September 2008, Randy was out in the yard of his Baltimore home during a heavy windstorm clearing debris when a branch blew off a nearby tree and fatally struck him. After his obituary was ran online, a condolence book was posted and in it, one of the signatures said, “To Dad, love Brian (U.S. Virgin Islands). This unsurprisingly, but unfortunately turned out to be a cruel hoax and was posted from a computer in Franklin County which is just north of Columbus and is coincidentally the same county Hilliard is in which is where his phone number had pinged. I’m not super educated on how these things work because it tends to go over my head, but I wonder if it’s possible that someone could use computer skills to make a phone number seem active for a little bit and if the same person that made this post was the reason his phone rang that one night.

The theory out there that a lot of people seem to lean toward is that maybe he got friendly with the band and accidentally stayed past closing and went out through the emergency exit with the band where he then had the intention to walk home, but something happened along the way as it wasn’t a very safe area of Columbus. But the same issues apply with this theory. Police identified everyone that left and said he wasn’t seen on camera leaving, the band would have likely remembered a patron being friendly and leaving with them, and he wasn’t picked up on any other surrounding cameras.

The most recent news in his case was in 2020 when someone thought they saw him in Tijuana. An image of a supposedly homeless man started circulating around and people thought it looked a lot like Brian. However, facial recognition analysis was done on the image and after four weeks, the FBI came back with the information that the man was not Brian Shaffer.
Derek is the only family member left and of course holds onto the hope that since he hasn’t been found he could be alive somewhere, but his credit cards, bank account, and cell phone were never used again and he realizes the odds are against it.

Police have released an age progressed photo of him and, as always, we will post a picture of that on Instagram. If you have any information about the disappearance of Brian Shaffer you can contact your local FBI field office or the Central Ohio Crimestoppers who are offering a $100,000 reward for information.

Brian Shaffer Age Progressed Photo

Age progression photo of Brian Shaffer, the central Ohio man who mysteriously vanished in 2006 (Source: Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation /



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