People go missing all the time. In fact, the United States sees about half a million missing persons every year (2020 had 540,000). That number alone is both worrying and intriguing. Who’s going missing and why? Most of us (parents) worry about our kids getting taken, but we don’t think about the adults with seemingly no enemies who simply vanish into thin air.
Take the disappearance of Brian Shaffer – one of the most baffling missing person cases of all time. It really seems as though Brian vanished into thin air. It’s been 15 years, and the nation is still talking about what happened to him on his last night alive and where he may be now.
He Was Last Seen in Ohio in 2006
Brian Shaffer was last seen at a bar in Columbus, Ohio, in 2006. The thing is, no one saw him leave, and it took more than two full days for his family and friends to realize that he was missing. And as most of us, crime junkies know, the first 48 hours are crucial.
When the police were finally called, they searched for the 27-year-old medical student but came up empty-handed. As for Brian’s apartment, it appeared untouched. His car was still in the parking lot, too. It was bizarre as there was also no evidence of foul play.
Just Like That – Gone
There wasn’t any activity on his cellphone nor his credit cards. His disappearance stunned not only his family and those who knew him; it also baffled investigators. The young man essentially vanished. Poof.
Over the last 15 years, information, theories, and even age-progressed photos have been released and poured over by all the sleuths and curious people alike. As recently as March 2021, the aged photo of Brian – and what he would look like now – was published, proving just how much people want Brian to be found. So, what happened? Was he abducted? Killed? Forced to lead a new life as someone else?
Who Is Brian Shaffer?
Brian Shaffer was like any other college student in his mid-20s, looking forward to celebrating spring break when March 2006 rolled around. At the time, he was in his second year of med school at Ohio State University.
On the evening of March 31, he met up with some friends at a local college bar called the Ugly Tuna Saloona. Brian and his friend Clint Florence left the bar after taking a few celebratory shots at the bar but came back with their mutual friend Meredith Reed at 1:15 a.m. (April 1).
It Took Two Days for Anyone to Notice
Clint and Meredith eventually lost sight of Brian at the bar, making it the last time they ever saw him. They searched around for him after the last call, but since he was nowhere to be found, the two friends assumed he had just walked back to his apartment, which was close by.
It then took a couple of days for anyone to even notice that Brian was missing. When the police were informed, they started the investigation by watching security footage at the bar. One of the security cameras was manual, and one panned the whole area.
Did He Leave the Bar?
With such wide footage, it made it almost impossible for a person to slip in or out of the bar undetected. CCTV had footage of Brian, Clint, and Meredith going up the escalator to the bar’s main entrance at 1:15 a.m. on April 1.
Brian was last seen in the footage about 40 minutes later at the main entrance – at about 1:55 a.m. – talking to two female college students. But after he stepped back into the bar, there was no footage of him leaving that night.
Was He in Disguise?
Investigators managed to identify each and every patron leaving the bar in those late hours of the night, yet no sign of Brian. How could it be? Was there a trap door inside the Ugly Tuna Saloona? (That would make for an interesting theory, but it’s not the case.)
Since the police were unable to identify Brian among the patrons seen leaving the bar, they had to start coming up with other theories about how he disappeared. One of the initial theories was that Brian left the bar in disguise.
It Would Be Impossible to Miss Him
Perhaps he changed his clothes or put on a hat and snuck out with another group of patrons before closing time. Sure, it’s not unreasonable, but this theory doesn’t account for the fact that investigators identified every person who left the bar.
So that theory was tossed out. It should also be known that Brian wasn’t a little dude; he was 6’2” and weighed 165 pounds. It would be hard to miss him. Also, he had a unique Pearl Jam tattoo on his left bicep.
Maybe He Left Through the Back Door
In other words, even the lowest quality security camera footage would have been able to pick him up. If he indeed left the bar, then he must have managed to bypass both cameras. In case you’re wondering – there is a back door, too.
It is possible that Brian left through the back door, but that theory also hit a snag in the investigation. The bar’s rear exit led to a major construction site, which the police assumed would have been confusing for Brian to navigate through if he were intoxicated.
Did He Jump?
Okay, so you might be thinking that maybe Brian wasn’t even drunk. The thing is, both Clint and Meredith reported that Brian had been drinking heavily throughout the evening, convincing the police even more of their rear-exit theory.
But even the construction site at the back of the Ugly Tuna Saloona had security cameras. And no, there was no sign of him there, either. Another plausible, but less likely theory, was that Brian had jumped from the bar’s balcony. But that, too, would have been nearly impossible for someone as intoxicated as he was.
A Wealth of Security Footage
The question remained: How did Brian get out of the bar? And where did he go? The security cameras may have failed to record Brian’s departure from the bar, but there was still a wealth of security footage to investigate.
At the time of his disappearance, the city of Columbus had its hands on more video surveillance than the areas of Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo combined. Three bars surrounding the Ugly Tuna Saloona – Sloppy Donkey, Mad Mex, and Lucky’s Stout House – handed their security footage to investigators.
He Had Plans for the Future
Still, Brian was nowhere to be seen. People started wondering if Brian wanted to go missing. His family, however, told the police from the get-go that there was no apparent reason for him to just walk away from his life.
Brian had plans for his future, after all. He and his longtime girlfriend, Alexis Waggoner, were planning to fly to Miami two days after he disappeared. It was Alexis who knew something was terribly wrong when her boyfriend didn’t show up for their flight.
He Lost His Mother Two Weeks Earlier
Those who knew Brian well later revealed that he intended to propose to Alexis on that trip. The vacation was actually a gift from his mother, Renee, who had passed away from cancer just three weeks before he disappeared.
Renee was a nurse, and Brian had said that she was his inspiration for choosing to go to medical school. It would be fair to think that perhaps his mother’s death was too traumatic for him – that he might have wanted to end his own life.
Meredith Was Cleared of Any Involvement
Still, no signs were ever made for his loved ones to think that was the case. Meredith and Clint were two of the first people interviewed by the police. They were, after all, with Brian most of the night and tried multiple times to call him before leaving the bar.
About a month after the disappearance, Meredith was asked to take a polygraph test in order to rule out her involvement in the case. She passed the test, clearing her name. Clint, on the other hand, was less keen on assisting the authorities.
Clint Wasn’t as Helpful
Clint – for whatever reason – hired a lawyer and refused to take a polygraph test. Naturally, investigators raised their collective eyebrow. While Clint may have been the last person to see Brian, he was quite mysterious over the years following the disappearance.
In 2009, Clint wrote an email to reporters: “ANY and ALL questions you have for me should be direct to my attorney, Neil Rosenberg.” It also came to light that he and Brian got into an argument that night at the Ugly Tuna Saloona.
What Was Clint Hiding?
Those who believe that Brian took his life say that Clint may have been involved in the plan. Derek Shaffer, Brian’s older brother, said in an interview that Clint seemed “off.” Derek said, “The way he talked about my brother after he went missing – kind of in a negative way….”
He continued: “I wouldn’t expect that from someone whose friend vanished.” Derek went on to declare that he deserved to know any piece of information that Clint might have about his brother’s disappearance.
The Lawyer’s Cryptic Message
By 2009, Clint had refused to participate in at least two polygraph tests relating to Brian’s case. In an email between Clint’s lawyer and a private investigator named Don Corbett, Rosenberg wrote that he was convinced that Brian was still alive.
On September 22, 2008, Rosenberg wrote: “If Brian is alive, which is what I’m led to believe after speaking with the detective involved, then it is Brian and not Clint who is causing his family pain and hardship. Brian should come forward and end this.”
A Mysterious Conversation With the Detective
Corbett had been helping the Shaffer family search for Brian, but he was unable to identify which detective (there were three involved in the case) Rosenberg allegedly spoke with. Rosenberg subsequently declined to discuss that email and the claims he made when he was confronted by reporters.
Many who were close to Brian have criticized Clint for not being forthcoming enough. “As soon as the detective started getting involved, that’s when he pretty much had no contact with anybody,” Derek said.
Does Clint Know Something We Don’t?
“I’ve always thought he definitely knows something – he just won’t come forward with it.” Derek believes that his brother could very well still be alive and that Clint might know something about it. “If Brian did take off somewhere, if that is the case, we just always had a strong feeling that Clint would possibly know that.”
Derek says he still wears a green missing-person bracelet with his brother’s name on it. Tragically, Derek is the only surviving member of his family; he lost his entire immediate family in a short period of time.
He Could Have Been There
Derek recalls the very night his brother disappeared. Brian had invited Derek and his future wife Maurin to meet him at the Ugly Tuna Saloona after the couple’s date at the Funny Bone Comedy Club. The show ran late, though, so they decided they were just too tired to go to a crowded campus bar.
They went home instead. “I’ve thought about that night over and over and over for ten years,” Derek admits. “What if I had been there that night? Would things have been different?”
Son, Your Brother’s Missing
“I’ve carried that guilt around for a while,” Derek said. Two nights after that night, Derek got a call from his dad saying that his brother was missing. At first, Derek thought Brian was just sleeping off a hangover at a friend’s house – that or he was playing some kind of joke.
But his heart dropped, and everything suddenly changed when Derek saw the police at his brother’s apartment. That’s when he learned that all his brother’s possessions, even his glasses, were left untouched.
A Brotherly Bond
After their mother passed, the brothers grew very close. Of the two, Brian was the charmer. Derek was more introverted and happier to be with a smaller group of friends and his wife, whom he married in 2009.
Derek joined in the massive searches for Brian when everyone was looking around the campus area and the Olentangy River. Like Alexis, Derek also called Brian’s cellphone number hundreds of times for nearly a year, praying to hear his voice again.
The Toll of No Closure
These days, Derek and Maurin are still carrying the emotional toll of having no closure. “We could never have believed then that ten years later. We still don’t know what happened to Brian,” she said. “It’s been so hard watching Derek go through this, but we had to get back into our normal lives.”
The couple now lives in Canal Winchester with their son. Derek works in electrical and communication systems around central Ohio. The hardest part for Derek is when he hears news reports of a missing person.
Alexis Waited for Him
When Alexis discovered that Brian was missing, she waited in his apartment alone for two days. But he never showed up. She called his cell phone every night in the hopes that he would eventually pick up. But each and every time, it went directly to voicemail.
Alexis’ routine went on for six months, up until one Friday night in September 2006, when Brian’s phone finally rang. “It scared the crap out of me,” she later wrote on her MySpace page (it was 2006…).
A Fleeting Glimmer of Hope
The phone rang three times before going silent. Alexis immediately called the police, who then traced the call. The police saw that the call was pinged to a cell tower in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard.
The proximity of the tower to where Brian disappeared, only about 14 miles away, was strange. While the ping gave Brian’s family a little glimmer of hope, it was a fleeting moment. Investigators soon determined that it was a mere technical glitch. Brian’s phone never rang again.
They Met in 2005
She is now married with kids, but she finds herself occasionally online, searching for answers that may never come. Alexis became an OB-GYN in Toledo, and tragically for her and her husband, their first son was born prematurely and lived only four hours.
In an interview, Alexis recalled her relationship with Brian. The two met at medical school in the fall of 2005. They fell in love quickly and were planning their future together right up to the night he went missing.
Days and Nights
Alexis spent months on-campus posting hundreds of missing-person fliers. She would also walk the riverbanks and surrounding neighborhoods, searching under bridges and in trash cans. There were days when she couldn’t eat or sleep, yet she somehow managed to thrive in med school.
After about a year, she felt she needed to move on and stop waiting in this sort of purgatory. So, she packed away T-shirts and other stuff that belonged to Brian. “I put his things in the back of my closet, and I just needed that chapter of my life to be over.”
Time to Move Forward
“There were a lot of tears, and it was sad,” Alexis recalled, “but it was time to move forward.” She eventually married a man named Eric Noss in 2009, and they have two sons together. Eric has known of his wife’s past and the fact that her former boyfriend went missing.
“I met the right girl, and my life changed in the best way possible,” Eric said. “There was just no doubt in my mind that even if Brian came back around, we were going to be together… Everyone has a past, and I think that period of Alexis’ life made her stronger.”
Curiosity Consumes Her Now
Alexis doesn’t believe in one theory regarding Brian’s case. She says she became numb to the emotions around it. Her continued interest is mainly rooted in curiosity. Looking back on it all, Alexis said she finds it odd that just a few days before that night at the college bar, Brian actually told her to move on and find someone else.
Why? Because he was mourning the death of his mother. Just a few weeks before that, Brian asked her to “just go away” with him. He was clearly struggling. “It almost feels like this all happened to someone else… It was all in a different life for me.”
A Freak Accident Took His Father’s Life
On September 14, 2008, another tragedy struck the Shaffer family – another unexpected incident. Brian’s father, Randy, was killed in a freak accident when a tree fell on him during a windstorm. Randy was in his yard of his Baltimore home, clearing debris from the storm, when a branch blew off from a tree and struck him.
It was only on the next morning that his neighbors found him lifeless on the ground and called the police. Tragically, the father who had spent the previous two-and-a-half years looking for his son never got the closure he needed.
A Strange Post Popped Up
Randy even sought the help of a psychic, who reportedly told him that Brian’s body was underwater. Upon hearing this, Randy searched for his son underwater, nearly drowning in the process. Following Randy’s death, a post popped up in the comment section of his online obituary.
The comment read: “Dad, I love you. Love, Brian (U.S. Virgin Islands).” An investigation into the comment concluded that the comment was most likely a sick joke – a hoax – by someone rather heartless. The comment came from a public computer in Franklin County.
The Sergeant and Friend of the Family
Detective John Hurst was closely connected to the case and would awake to middle-of-the-night phone calls from Brian’s father. Randy would ask for updates on his son’s investigation or just the consolation of a friend.
Even after he switched police units and jobs, he kept the case and still remains on it as the lead investigator. Hurst was on vacation when Brian’s family called to report that he was missing. For Hurst, no other case has consumed him like Brian’s. “The detectives involved in this case became personally and emotionally involved,” said Hurst.
You Ask, Hurst Answers
Hurst has lost a child himself recently and now understands even more just how deep the pain is – was – for his friend Randy. Hurst has tried to prove or disprove theories in the case, answering questions online.
Is Brian alive? Hurst says: “There is a possibility he is alive, but if you look at the probabilities that he isn’t alive, those are just as great.”
Was Brian murdered? Hurst says: “There is nothing we have been able to recover that shows he succumbed to foul play, so again, the probability of that isn’t as great as he just walked away.”
Did he take his own life? Hurst says: “Most people who commit suicide want to be found; I would say that is probably in the lower category.”
Tips Are Still Coming In
In 2014, Columbus police reported that they were still receiving several tips every month on the case through the local Crime Stoppers hotline. However, none have proven to be useful. One of the initial investigators, Andre Edwards, spoke to Columbus Monthly.
Andre said that after an in-depth review of the camera footage at the Ugly Tuna Saloona on the night of the incident, he could “say with 100-percent certainty” that Brian did not leave on the escalator.
Remember the Pearl Jam tattoo detail? Well…
The Pearl Jam Tattoo
The most distinctive feature on Brian’s body was the Pearl Jam stick figure tattoo he got on his left bicep. Clearly a fan of the band, he was planning to go to one of their concerts in Detroit a month after he went missing.
His girlfriend Alexis reportedly auctioned off the already purchased concert tickets and placed the money toward Brian’s reward fund. His disappearance even made its way to the attention of Eddie Vedder, the band’s lead singer. And during a 2006 concert in Cincinnati, he made a public statement.
Eddie Vedder Pleaded With the Crowd
Eddie Vedder spoke to the audience about Brian, asking them for their assistance in finding the guy. Brian’s father, Randy, also attended the concert. Vedder was evidently taken aback by the case and driven to make an impact of his own.
Years later, in May 2010, Pearl Jam performed in a concert in Columbus. There, Vedder dedicated their song Come Back to Shaffer. Surely, Brian’s friends and family were moved by the act of appreciation on the part of Vedder. Unfortunately, though, he wasn’t much help…
What Brian Would Look Like Now
On March 29, 2021, a new age-progressed photo of Brian was released by the Ohio Attorney General’s office released, giving us an idea of what he would look like at 42 years old. When the photo was released, Interim Columbus Police Chief Michael Woods made a statement.
“We would like to find every person from our missing persons cases and believe this is another step in hopes that we can find Mr. Shaffer.” There was even a credible sighting of Brian, according to the authorities, in 2020.
A “Credible” Sighting
The last “credible” sighting of Brian was in 2020 when the FBI conducted facial recognition on a photo of a homeless person in Mexico. The photo that circulated the internet showed a bearded man on a Tijuana sidewalk, with a statement that there “is a possibility this same man was seen in San Diego.”
The outlet noted that they want to “proceed cautiously.” Four weeks later, the FBI contacted Columbus detective Blanch Tucker to inform him that the man on the image was most likely not Brian Shaffer after all.
Alexis Moved On
This potential sighting of Brian likely sparked hope for some, but the FBI ultimately concluded that he was not the same man in the photo. Considering the fact that 15 years have passed, Brian’s loved ones have moved on.
Alexis, for example, married another man and now has a family of her own. Brian’s younger brother, Derek, has a family as well. But there are thousands of people who spent hours online, discussing and researching the case. One major topic of discussion is the theory of a possible serial killer…
The Smiley Face Killer Theory
After a year of nothing but dead ends, investigators were forced to start thinking outside the box, and that meant entertaining the wilder and less likely theories. One of them was the idea that Brian was a victim of a serial killer.
Web sleuths started making far-fetched links to the alleged Smiley Face Killer who was known for killing intoxicated young men by drowning them. The killer’s signature was – you guessed it – a smiley face spray-painted near the victim’s body. It’s unclear, though, if the Smiley Face Killer is one person.
The FBI Ruled It Out
There is also no apparent link between this one serial killer and the 40 murders that have been attributed to them. Brian did fit the age and was indeed intoxicated, but investigators never found Brian in any of the nearby bodies of water.
They also never saw any smiley faces spray-painted in the area. By 2008, two years after the disappearance, the FBI ruled this theory out. You can still find (even popular) web sleuth forums across the internet dedicated to this theory.