Brandi Wells was looking forward to a night out before she had to start classes for the fall semester. Graham Central Station, a nightclub in Longview, Texas, offered Ladies Night specials on Wednesday nights; she decided to go there on the evening of August 2, 2006. She left her Brownsboro, Texas apartment and made the 30-minute drive to her mother’s house in Tyler, Texas. She was hoping that her younger sister would go to the club with her, but she wasn’t feeling well and was already in bed when Brandi arrived. Not wanting to miss out on her final chance to have some fun before she returned to school, Brandi made the decision to go to the club alone. She never returned home.
At 23 years old, Brandi was finally getting her life back on track. She was a graduate of Chapel Hill High School, where she had been a member of the band and the flag corps; she was talented enough that she received a college scholarship to the University of Texas at Tyler. Although she had done well in her freshman year, she fell in love and decided to get married at the age of 19. She continued going to college, but soon found that she couldn’t balance her school and her home life, so she dropped out after completing her sophomore year. She promised herself that she would go back to school one day to realize her dream of becoming a teacher, but after her marriage ended in divorce she moved to San Antonio to regroup and put her dream of going back to college on hold.
Brandi had recently returned to East Texas and decided to enroll at Trinity Valley Community College. She was a little nervous about going back to college because she was a few years older than most of her classmates, but she was excited at the same time. She was going to be participating in band front again, and she was looking forward to the start of band camp the following week.
Brandi had been having some financial difficulties, but she had just been hired at a local Wal-Mart, and was pleased that she would have a steady paycheck. Prior to finding employment, she had been considering going to a pawn shop to see how much money she could get for some of her items of jewelry. Everything in her life seemed to be coming together nicely, and she was looking forward to what the future would bring.
Brandi’s mother, Ellen Tant, was pleasantly surprised when Brandi showed up at her home that Wednesday night. She hoped her daughter would stay and visit for a while, but Brandi was determined to go out that night, with or without her sister. She got changed into a dark, floral-printed tube top and rust-colored gaucho pants, then carefully applied her make-up. She completed her outfit with a pair of high-heeled sandals, then emerged from the bathroom and asked her mother how she looked. Ellen told her she looked adorable.
Before she left, Brandi asked her mother if she could borrow her car for the night, as her own car was low on gas. Ellen didn’t have much gas in her car either so she refused to lend it to her. Brandi left the house in her own 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix; her mother assumed that she was going to one of the local nightclubs in Tyler.
Before heading to the club, Brandi stopped at a nearby bowling alley where a family friend, Jenette Green, worked as a bartender. Brandi told Jenette that her mother said she could order a drink and charge it to Ellen’s tab, and Jenette made her a cherry vodka sour. As she sat at the bar with her drink, Brandi told Jenette about her plans for the night. She was heading to Graham Central Station, located about 45 minutes away. She had never been there before, but wanted to check it out because it sounded like a fun place.
Jenette warned Brandi to be careful, especially as she wasn’t familiar with the Longview area and didn’t really seem to know where she was going. Brandi shrugged her off with a smile and told her she would be fine. She only finished about half her drink before she told Jenette she was leaving and would see her later. With a final wave, she walked out of the door.
Despite Brandi’s assurances that she would be fine, she didn’t really know where she was going and made several phone calls to Graham Central Station during her drive; she apparently made at least one wrong turn and needed to confirm directions to the nightclub. She eventually found her way there, and entered the club around 10:30 pm.
Although Brandi had told her mother that she was going to be meeting some friends at the club, this does not appear to be the case. Brandi did ask a couple people — her sister and her godmother — if they wanted to go to Graham Central Station with her, but most of her friends had no idea about her plans. Ellen believed Brandi was meeting up with some of her old high school friends at a club in Tyler, but none of them had spoken to Brandi about going out that night.
Brandi was recorded on surveillance video entering Graham Central Station alone, and she was seen leaving alone around 12:30 am. She spoke with several people inside the club, but she didn’t run into anyone she knew. It’s unclear if she had anything to drink while she was there, but those who spoke to her recalled that she appeared sober. She did seem to be extremely concerned about the fact that she was almost out of gas, and while she didn’t directly ask anyone for money, one man said she hinted that she could use some money for gas.
When Ellen woke up on Thursday morning, Brandi wasn’t at the house. Ellen wasn’t particularly concerned and assumed that Brandi had too much to drink the night before and stayed with a friend. Since she no longer lived in her mother’s home, she likely wouldn’t have felt it necessary to update Ellen on her overnight plans.
Brandi lived with a roommate in Brownsboro, and her roommate grew concerned when Brandi hadn’t returned by Thursday evening and called Ellen to see if she was still there. It was at that point that Ellen started to worry, and she began calling her daughter’s cell phone. She left several frantic voicemail messages without getting a reply.
There was still no word from Brandi by Friday morning, and Ellen started to panic. Although Brandi was an adult, it was unlike her to be out of contact for so long; she was normally very responsive to voicemail and text messages. Ellen continued trying to call her, but by that afternoon Brandi’s voicemail was full and she could no longer leave messages. She decided to call the police and report her missing.
Ellen called the Tyler Police Department, and they sent an officer to the house to take a missing person report. Ellen was still under the impression that Brandi had gone to the Electric Cowboy, a nightclub located just blocks away from their home, and that was what she told police. Brandi’s sister corrected her, telling her mother that Brandi had planned to drive to Longview and go to Graham Central Station.
Ellen and Brandi’s godmother, Michelle Cole, worried that Brandi might have run into car trouble on her drive to or from Longview, especially as she had mentioned she was low on gas. Ellen was annoyed that Brandi hadn’t told her she planned to drive so far away; she likely knew her mother wouldn’t have approved of the idea.
Once Tyler Police learned that Brandi had likely gone missing from Longview, they told Ellen that she needed to call the police there. Ellen did so, but the Longview Police Department didn’t seem at all concerned and told Ellen that her daughter was an adult who could come and go as she pleased; they weren’t going to search for someone who had most likely taken off voluntarily.
Brandi’s family and friends were convinced that she hadn’t run away, and they launched their own search for her. While Ellen stayed at the house and started calling all of Brandi’s friends, Michelle decided to make the 45-minute drive to Graham Central Station. She searched the parking lot and surrounding area for any sign of Brandi or her car, but found nothing.
Sadly, when Michelle went to Longview to look for Brandi’s car, it had already been located but hadn’t been connected to the missing person case. A trooper from the Texas Department of Public Safety spotted the car parked on the side of Interstate 20 just outside of Longview on Thursday morning, its driver’s side door partially open. He pulled in behind the car around 9:00 am and ran the license plate number; once he determined it hadn’t been stolen and wasn’t wanted in connection with any crime, he assumed it had simply broken down on the highway. He tagged it as abandoned; if the owner didn’t return for it, it would eventually be towed.
Brandi hadn’t been reported missing yet at the time the car was found; once the missing person report was filed, it would still take days before law enforcement realized the connection between Brandi and the abandoned Grand Prix. By this point, the car had been sitting on the side of the road for five days.
Investigators searched the car and the area surrounding it on August 8th. They found nothing inside the car or in the immediate area that indicated a struggle had taken place. Brandi’s purse and wallet were found in the backseat, along with a cell phone and a napkin with a man’s name and phone number on it. The driver’s seat had been pushed all the way back as if to accommodate a very tall driver; Brandi herself was only 4 feet 11 inches and would have been unable to drive the car with the seat in that position.
In the trunk of the car, detectives discovered a gas can that Ellen didn’t believe belonged to her daughter; this seemed to suggest that Brandi did indeed run out of gas and might have asked for help from someone she thought was a good Samaritan.
Since they now believed that Brandi might have been a victim of foul play, detectives finally launched an investigation into her disappearance. They called the man whose phone number Brandi had written down on a napkin, and he confirmed that he had seen her at Graham Central Station on Wednesday night and talked to her for a while. He had offered to buy her a drink, but she declined; she mentioned that she was concerned about running out of gas and left the club shortly after that. He had not spoken to her again.
Detectives were sent to Graham Central Station, and they learned that the club would swipe the identification card of every patron as they entered, and they were able to determine the exact time that Brandi’s license had been swiped. The club was equipped with several surveillance cameras, and they provided police with the footage from the night Brandi disappeared.
Detectives viewed the footage from around the time Brandi’s license had been swiped, and saw a woman who appeared to be Brandi talking with two men who arrived with her. Unsure if the woman on video was the missing woman, they asked for a family member to come down to the police station to view the surveillance footage. Ellen was too upset to go, but sent several other family members instead. They agreed with police that the woman was indeed Brandi.
Police released the relevant surveillance footage to the news media, hoping to learn the identity of the two men seen with Brandi. Although they received numerous tips, none of them led to Brandi or either of the men. When Ellen saw the video, however, she wasn’t convinced that the woman in question was actually her daughter. Although the woman looked similar to her daughter and had the same build, the clothing the woman was wearing was not what Brandi had left the house in that night.
A few weeks later, Ellen’s sister and brother-in-law went to the Longview Police station to watch the video, and within minutes they spotted Brandi — but it wasn’t the woman previously identified as their niece. It turned out that the time stamp on the surveillance video was nine minutes off from that of the ID swiping machine.
When Ellen saw the new footage, she was certain that it showed Brandi. She was wearing the clothing that she remembered Brandi changing into, and she arrived and left Graham Central Station alone. As she exited the club, however, an unidentified man wearing a white cowboy hat could be seen leaving right behind her. He appeared to head off in a different direction than Brandi did as he entered the parking lot, but he did glance towards her; immediately after Brandi moved out of the view of the surveillance camera, a shadow can be seen that seems to indicate she changed direction and headed towards this unknown male. Attempts at identifying this man were unsuccessful and it is unknown if he was at all connected with Brandi’s disappearance. There were no cameras in the parking lot.
Detectives called all the contacts listed in the cell phone they found in the back of Brandi’s car, which they assumed belonged to the missing woman. Some of the people they called knew who Brandi was, but others didn’t. They were confused about this; it wasn’t until they finally showed Ellen the cell phone that she was able to clear up the mystery for them: it wasn’t Brandi’s phone. It had belonged to her ex-boyfriend who was now in the military. Detectives had spent more than a week trying to track down leads from the wrong cell phone. Brandi’s cell phone was not found in her car, leading them to wonder if she might have taken off voluntarily after all.
Once they obtained cell phone records for Brandi’s phone, they discovered something disturbing. There was no activity on the phone at all for more than a week following her disappearance, but then a number of calls were made to and from her phone. Hundreds of calls, one right after the other, one to two minutes in length, suggested the phone might have been used by someone dealing drugs.
Authorities traced the phone to a man and his niece, who said they had been given the phone by a third man; this man claimed that he had found the phone on the ground on August 11th and simply decided to start using it. This man, whose name has never been released, had a criminal record and police were already familiar with him. The location where he claimed he found the phone was in a very high crime area about four blocks away from the highway where Brandi’s car was found; it is unlikely the phone would have gone unnoticed on the ground there for nine days before being found.
The man and his niece agreed to submit to polygraph examinations regarding Brandi’s disappearance, and they passed. The man who claimed he found the phone, however, initially refused to be polygraphed; later reports indicate that he finally agreed to take one but he failed. He is a person of interest in the case, but police do not have any evidence directly linking him to Brandi’s disappearance.
Over the years, there have been a number of searches conducted for Brandi, but there have never been any clues found that point to what might have happened to her. There are a number of theories, but no evidence to support or disprove any of them. Members of her family fear that she was abducted and forced into the sex trade industry; they do not want to think about the possibility that she was killed and still hope that she might be found alive. Ellen refuses to stop searching for her daughter and will not give up until she knows what happened to her.
Brandi Wells was 23 years old when she went missing in 2006. She has brown eyes and brown hair, and at the time of her disappearance she was 4 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing a dark-colored tube top with a floral print, rust-colored gaucho pants, and black high-heeled sandals. If you have any information about Brandi, please contact the Longview Police Department at 903–237–1110 or the Texas Department of Public Safety Missing Persons Clearinghouse at 800–346–3243.