Brandon Swanson, a 19-year-old from Marshall, Minnesota, went missing on May 14, 2008. After graduating from Marshall High School in 2007, he had enrolled at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College. He was interested in studying wind turbines, so chose to attend the Canby campus as it had a Wind Energy Technology course of study. Classes ended on May 13th, and he went out that night with some of his classmates to celebrate the end of the semester. He started his night at a party in Lynd, a small town located about 7 miles to the southwest of his home in Marshall. He later left Lynd and headed 35 miles northwest to Canby, a drive that would have taken around 40 minutes to complete. He said goodbye to his friends sometime after midnight and headed for home.
Brandon was extremely familiar with the 30-mile drive from Canby to Marshall, as he made it almost every day. The entire drive is done on one road, as the two towns are directly connected by State Highway 68. There is little traffic in the area, and the drive would normally take less than 35 minutes.
Brandon ran into some trouble on his drive; he accidentally drove his Chevy Lumina off the road and got it stuck in a small ditch. He made repeated attempts at freeing the car, but had been unable to budge it. After repeated calls to his friends went unanswered, he called his parents at 1:54 am. He reassured them that he wasn’t hurt at all, and there didn’t appear to be any damage to the car. He just needed help getting it back on the road.
Brian and Anita Swanson told their son they would leave right away to help him free the car. Brandon gave them directions to where he was waiting with the car; he was midway between Lynd and Marshall. Going by what he told them, Brian believed that he knew exactly where he needed to go, about a ten-minute drive from their home.
It didn’t take long for Brian and Anita to arrive at the location they believed Brandon was at, but they were unable to see him or his car. They called Brandon on his cell phone and told him to keep an eye out for them. After a couple minutes, they started honking their horn and flashing the headlights of their pickup truck, hoping that Brandon would be able to spot them. They were surprised when Brandon said he couldn’t hear their horn or see any lights on the road. They questioned if Brandon had directed them to the correct location, but he was certain that he had.
Changing tactics, they had Brandon start flashing his headlights. Through the phone, they could hear the clicking noise made as he turned his lights off and on. They peered out into the darkness, hoping to see a glow in the distance, but they still couldn’t see a thing. It didn’t make sense to them, as they were surrounded by wide, open fields. There was no reason why their view of Brandon’s car would be obstructed: if he was on that road, they should have been able to see him.
Brian and Anita remained on the phone with Brandon the entire time they were searching for him, and he was starting to get aggravated. He was sure he had accurately described his location to his parents, and he couldn’t understand why they were unable to follow his directions. They insisted that they were exactly where Brandon told them to go, but Brandon was certain that they were the ones who were confused. Finally, his frustration reached a boiling point, and he hung up on his mother. She called him right back and apologized; given the situation, his frustration was understandable.
Though Brandon had initially thought it would be best for him to stay with his stranded car, he was convinced his parents had somehow ended up in the wrong area and weren’t going to be able to find him. No matter how many times he repeated the directions, they didn’t seem to understand. Tired of waiting, he decided things would go quicker if he could get to wherever his parents were. He could see lights in the distance coming from what he assumed was Lynd, so he told his parents it would be easier for him to just walk to the town. He told his parents to meet him in the parking lot of a bar. Brian agreed; he dropped Anita off at home and drove to Lynd.
Brandon remained on the phone with his father as he walked, updating him on his progress. He said that he was walking along a gravel road, and that he had taken a short cut 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 what he assumed were lights from Lynd.
Brian could do little more than listen as Brandon narrated his journey. Suddenly, shortly after 2:30am, he heard Brandon cry “oh, shit!” and the call immediately disconnected. Concerned, he frantically tried to call him back, but he was unable to reach him. He called five or six times in quick succession, but all attempts went straight to Brandon’s voicemail without ringing. In order for that to happen, either Brandon had turned his phone off, or something had happened to render the phone inoperable.
Brian wasn’t sure what to do. He drove back and forth over the same stretch of road numerous times with no success. There was no sign of Brandon or his car. Annette and Brian started calling some of Brandon’s friends, and they came out to help look for him. They searched throughout the night, driving down various side roads and scouring the area for any sign of Brandon’s car. After a couple of hours went by, they were certain they had thoroughly searched everywhere that Brandon might have gone. They drove back into Lynd and checked the bar parking lot on the off chance that Brandon had somehow managed to make it there, but it was dark and empty. By 6:30am, Brian and Annette were out of ideas and beginning to panic. They were certain that something had happened to their son. Unsure of what else they could do, they called the Lynd police to report Brandon missing
Annette and Brian may have been frantic with worry, but it quickly became clear that the police did not share their concern. Brandon was an adult, and he had the right to go missing if he wanted. Anita tried to explain that this wasn’t a case of an overprotective parent worrying about a teen who had stayed out too late. Something had happened to Brandon in the instant before his phone went dead, and they were sure it hadn’t been anything good. Finally, a couple hours after they initially reported Brandon missing, police in Lynd agreed to open a missing persons case.
After a perfunctory search around town, police felt confident that Brandon was not in Lynd. A search of the roads leading into the town also failed to yield any evidence. As far as they could tell, Brandon wasn’t going to be found anywhere in the vicinity. Brian and Anita had continued their search for Brandon’s car, certain that they would be able to locate it when the sun came up. But after several hours of searching, they had been unable to locate it.
Police obtained Brandon’s cell phone records, hoping that would help them pinpoint the location of his car. They made a startling discovery: Brandon hadn’t been found in Lynd because he had never been anywhere near it. The calls he made to his parents the previous night had been made near Taunton, another small town located along State Highway 68. Taunton was on the main route to Canby, but it was northwest of Marshall, and it was 25 miles away from Lynd.
While Taunton was nowhere near Lynd, it made sense that Brandon would have been close to it as he was traveling from home from Canby. Less understandable is why he had still been in that area around 2:00am. Leaving Canby on Highway 68, it is a 13-mile drive to Taunton, and it would normally take about 15 minutes. From Taunton, Brandon only had another 17 miles to go before he would be in Marshall. If Brandon left Canby shortly after midnight like his friends believed, it somehow took him nearly 2 hours to drive only 13 miles.
Armed with the information gleaned from the cell phone records, the search for Brandon was shifted to the area surrounding Taunton. It didn’t take long for investigators to locate the car. It had been abandoned in a ditch off a gravel road, just over the Lincoln County line and about a mile to the north of Highway 68.
Investigators searched the inside of the car thoroughly, and they found nothing that suggested Brandon had been injured. It was clear Brandon had accurately described exactly what had happened when he called his parents; the only thing he had wrong was his location. He told his parents he could see lights in the distance that he thought were coming from Lynd, but it was obvious now that he had not been anywhere near there.
The car’s resting place was surrounded by grass and gravel, and there were no discernible tracks to show which direction Brandon had walked when he left the car. Further analysis of his cell phone records showed that his call to his parents had been routed through a cell phone tower near Minneota, another small town on Highway 68 located about 4 miles southeast of Taunton.
An extensive ground search was launched, with searchers concentrating on the area that had been pinpointed by Brandon’s cell phone records. Helicopters flew over the area, looking for anything that might be relevant. A team of bloodhounds were brought in, and they were quick to pick up on Brandon’s scent. They followed a scent trail for nearly three miles as it skirted 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. When they reached a certain point, their actions seemed to indicate that Brandon had entered the river at that spot. The water ranged from knee-high to around 15 feet; 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 dogs were unable to follow the trail any further.
Worried that Brandon may have fallen into the water and drowned, the area along the two-mile stretch of river was searched extensively. If Brandon had drowned, his body would have been washed downstream, but searchers found nothing at all. Sheriff Jack walked up and down the riverbank for 30 days with no results. Investigators determined it was unlikely Brandon had drowned there, as his body should have been located if that were the case.
The official search for Brandon was suspended after a week, but his family continued to search on their own. On May 24th and again on June 7th, around 100 volunteers joined Brandon’s parents in searching areas to the south and east of Porter. Some of the searchers used ATVs to be able to cover more distance, while others walked or rode horses. Despite their extensive effort, they found no sign of Brandon.
The search effort resumed in the fall once all the fields in the area had been harvested. Cadaver dogs were brought in to assist, and though they seemed to be following a scent trail into the area to the northwest of Porter, they eventually lost the scent, and nothing was found. When winter came, bringing along snowstorms and frigid temperatures, the search was suspended once again. By this time, 122 square miles had been searched without turning up any trace of Brandon. A tip line that had been set up brought in 90 leads, but none of them led to Brandon. All told, the search had involved 500 volunteers, 34 dog handlers from nine different states, and countless hours of hard work.
Brandon’s case was handed over to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation in 2010; from that point on, they would be the lead agency on the case. They focused their investigation on the area around Mud Creek, a tributary of the Yellow Medicine River located directly north of Taunton and to the northeast of Porter. While they didn’t find anything, they continued to search there periodically over the next few years.
Many theories have been put forth to explain Brandon’s sudden disappearance. Some people believe he may have staged his own disappearance, but it seems highly unlikely. Brandon was a good student, and he had just completed a wind energy certificate course. He had no problems at home or school, and had been looking forward to transferring to a school in Iowa a few months later to continue his studies. He wasn’t in any kind of legal trouble and he was close with his family. The circumstances surrounding his disappearance also point away from it being a staged event. Purposely getting your car stuck on the side of the road, calling your parents for help, then staying on the phone with them for nearly an hour until pretending to experience some kind of unsettling event is simply not plausible.
Another theory is that Brandon was struck and killed by a car while walking, and the driver panicked and hid his body. While there have been a handful of cases where this has happened, it is doubtful that Brandon met that fate. He told his father he had been cutting through fields, not walking along the road. This is supported by both cell phone records and the path taken by tracking dogs, both of which indicate Brandon was not on the road. Additionally, if this had happened, there would have been evidence left at the accident scene. Blood, tire marks, and possibly pieces of the vehicle should have been found, but extensive searching produced no evidence of this.
Foul play is possible, but unlikely. The area Brandon was in was sparsely populated: Taunton, for example, had a population of 135 at the time, and only 175 people lived in Porter. Much of the area is farmland, and houses are few and far between. It would have been almost impossible for someone to lie in wait for Brandon; there was no way anyone in the Porter area could have known ahead of time that he was going to get his car stuck in a ditch and proceed on foot. Likewise, it’s probably safe to rule out the theory that this was a crime of opportunity. The chance that someone just happened to see Brandon walking in the dark and decided to kill him is slim, especially when considering the small population size.
It’s possible — and quite probable — that Brandon’s disappearance was nothing more than a tragic accident. He was attempting to make his way, on foot, through darkened fields and side roads. There were no streetlights to guide him, and no houses or businesses he could use as landmarks. He was surrounded by corn and soybean fields, and they would have all looked alike in the dark. He had mentioned to his father that he could hear running water while he was walking, though he didn’t seem concerned about it. It’s possible that he did slip into the river at some point, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean that he drowned. He could have gotten up out of the water, disoriented but still very much alive. He may have been able to keep walking for a while, but he would have been wet and cold, and likely would have succumbed to hypothermia eventually.
There are wild animals in Minnesota, including dangerous ones like black bears and large wildcats, but an attack by one of those would have left some kind of evidence behind. If Brandon had run into a wild animal, it could have been enough for him to cry out in fear, but it wouldn’t have immediately disabled his phone. If there had been an animal attack, Brandon’s keys, phone, and glasses should have been found, as well as shreds of clothing and blood evidence.
Brandon Swanson has been missing since May 14, 2008. He was 19 years old at the time, 5’5”, and weighed around 125 pounds. He had brown hair and blue eyes. He was last seen in Canby, MN, wearing a pair of blue jeans, a blue striped polo shirt, a black hooded sweatshirt that zipped up the front, and a white Minnesota Twins baseball cap. He was also wearing eyeglasses with silver frames, as well as a sterling silver chain. He was carrying a black Motorola cell phone, a wallet, and car keys. If you have any information on Brandon, please call the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension at 877–996–6222 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org