19-year-old Brandon Victor Swanson disappeared near Taunton, Minnesota in the early morning hours of May 14, 2008 after driving his car into a ditch and speaking with his father on his cell phone. Despite ongoing searches over the years, Brandon has never been found.
About the Case
On Tuesday, May 13, 2008, Brandon Victor Swanson, 19, of Marshall, Minnesota visited with friends and had a few drinks in nearby Lynd. The teen completed his first year of college at Minnesota West Community and Technical College that day.
Between 10:30 and 11:00 pm, Brandon left the celebration and drove to another friend’s house in Canby to say goodbye to a classmate. Brandon did not appear to be intoxicated, according to his friends at the Lynd party. Witnesses at the Canby party said he had an additional shot of whiskey, but left sometime after midnight to head back to Marshall.
Highway 68 is a direct route from Canby to Marshall with an approximate 30-minute driving time. Around 1:15 a.m. May 14th, Brandon got his car hung up in a ditch along a gravel road. He attempted to call his friends for help but nobody answered.
Around 1:54 a.m. Brandon called his parents, Brian and Annette Swanson, and informed them about his situation and that he needed a ride. He said he was between Marshall and Lynd and gave his location. He also said he was not injured from the accident.
His parents drove to pick up their son. However, when they arrived at the location Brandon gave, they could not find him. Annette called him on his cell phone and they both agreed to flash their lights to let each other know they were there. She could hear Brandon flashing the car lights and at one point, she kept saying, “We’re flashing our lights! We’re flashing our lights!” His response to her was, “Don’t you see me?” They never saw him.
Frustrated, Brandon hung up on his mom, but Annette quickly called him back apologizing for getting frustrated herself. He told her he could see Lynd’s town lights, and he was going to walk towards town. Brandon said to meet him at a Lynd tavern parking lot.
While driving, Brian and Brandon talked via cell phones. Brandon explained to Brian that he was going to cut through fields so it would be quicker. Along the way, he walked on gravel roads, saw two fence lines, and heard running water. The call lasted about 47 minutes when all of a sudden Brandon yelled, “Oh shit!” and the call was disconnected. His father said it sounded like Brandon slipped and fell.
Numerous attempts to reach Brandon’s phone were unsuccessful. The phone rang each time it was called until the next day when calls went straight to voicemail. Brandon has not had any communication with his parents since.
The Search for Brandon Victor Swanson
At 6:30 a.m., Brandon’s parents called police to report him missing. Police told them to wait a while because it wasn’t unheard of for young males to go off the grid for a bit. However, later that day cell phone records showed Brandon was near Porter, Minnesota, not Lynd, when he phoned his parents. Porter sits between Canby and Marshall along Highway 68.
A search began and around 12:30 p.m., Brandon’s Chevy Lumina sedan was found about a mile and a half north of Taunton, right on the border between Lincoln, Yellow Medicine, and Lyon Counties. There was no physical damage to the vehicle or evidence of bodily injury.
“It was off the side of a field approach, and the vehicle was hung up,” Lincoln County Sheriff Jack Vizecky told CNN. “It’s sort of a sharp incline, nothing major but enough that the car would get hung up so the wheels are too high off the ground to get any traction.” (Weed, 2010)
Over the months following Brandon’s disappearance, volunteers, emergency personnel and law enforcement utilized walkers, boats, horseback, and all-terrain vehicles to search areas of Lincoln, Lyon and Yellow Medicine Counties and bodies of water including Yellow Medicine River.
The authorities believed that Brandon fell into a body of water and drowned. However, search dogs followed his scent to the river’s edge, but continued walking on. This suggested that Brandon probably fell into the water, managed to get out, and continued walking. The temperature that night was around 39 degrees, so Brandon may have succumbed to hypothermia.
Search dogs picked up the scent of human remains a few times, specifically in an area north of Porter near Mud Creek, but no body has ever been found.
Police do not have any evidence of foul play and believe Brandon’s remains are within the 122 square-mile search area.
On the 10-year anniversary of Brandon’s disappearance, Yellow Medicine County Sheriff Bill Flated told The Marshall Independent, “It’s a huge area. If you take that immediate area where the car was and then the time frame when he was talking on the phone with his parents, who knows what direction he went and how far he traveled?” (Kirk, 2018)
Established by Brian and Annette Swanson and sponsored by House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) and Senator Dennis Frederickson (R-New Ulm), Brandon’s Law was signed by Minnesota’s Governor Tim Pawlenty on May 7, 2009. It took effect almost two months later on July 1st.
The law will require law enforcement to take a missing persons report without delay after notification of someone missing under dangerous circumstances, no matter the missing person’s age; immediately conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if the person is missing, and whether the person is endangered; and promptly notify all other law enforcement agencies of the situation. It clarifies that the agency taking the report be the lead agency in the investigation (Brandon’s Law).
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
I know this is a well-known case, but I wanted to give my thoughts on it. I got obsessed over this one and had a hard time pulling myself away. Not from the writing part, but the analytical part, so, I hope I make sense here!
This is one of the strangest cases I’ve ever seen and makes zero sense. So many questions. I do believe, though, that Brandon died that night from either drowning or hypothermia. It’s the circumstances prior to the disappearance that baffles the mind.
At 1:15 a.m., Brandon called his friends for help after the car went into the ditch. Canby to where the car was found is no more than a 15-minute drive. So, how on earth did he think he was between Lynd and Marshall? That would have been at least a 30-minute drive. How did he not realize he had not been driving far? Did he think he was driving home from Lynd, which is where he originally was that night? What was the cause for Brandon’s disorientation? Alcohol? Fatigue? Combination of both?
Brandon was extremely convinced of his location. He knew the area well, so this bothers me immensely.
The Last Phone Call
If Brandon had simply fallen before yelling, “Oh shit!”, and dropped his phone, maybe he lost it. However, when someone calls a cell phone, it lights up and if he had the sound on, he should have heard the ringtone. Those two things would have led him to find his phone. Yet, he never answered when his parents called numerous times. So, this tells me that either the phone fell in water or a hole, or for some reason, Brandon could not answer.
I feel that when he yelled, “Oh shit!” that something or someone startled or scared him. If he had slipped, it may have happened out of fear, if that makes sense. But the slipping sound may have been something else entirely. We just don’t know.
Why did he turn north instead of south off Highway 68? This is what I don’t understand the most. If he was heading home and decided at the last minute to take back roads due to drinking, for example, then he should have turned right off Highway 68 instead of left. It makes no sense that he turned in the opposite direction when back roads south of the highway would have led him home.
When he told his parents he saw Lynd’s town lights and that he was going to walk towards Lynd, we know he probably saw the lights of Taunton or Porter, not Lynd. So, he started walking towards the lights. From what I understand, he traveled towards Porter, following the Yellow Medicine River. The canines followed Brandon’s scent on a really weird path which lined up with the 47-minute phone call he had with his dad before it was disconnected.
In the country at night, those town lights would have been like a beacon, guiding him closer to civilization and home. It makes no sense he would have not kept walking towards the lights unless something bad happened first.
Brandon and his parents were flashing their car lights, and Brandon asked, “Don’t you see me?” Did he see car lights and assumed that was his parents? I find this odd, too, because it sounds to me like he saw car lights and assumed they belonged to his parents car, and he could not understand why they did not see him flashing his lights. Did Brandon see another car that night?
Yellow Medicine River
Below is a map of rivers in this area of Minnesota, including Yellow Medicine River. If he drowned, Brandon’s body could have traveled into the Minnesota River as they appear to be connected. It may have gotten trapped somewhere in the river.
As far as all the searches for Brandon go, there is the possibility that the scent of human remains the canines are picking up are not Brandon’s.
While it’s not very likely in this case, I don’t think we can rule out abduction. The abduction theory also explains why no body has been found – Brandon may have been taken out of the area. Iowa and South Dakota are not too far away. They searched and searched for Brandon for 10 years. If he was in that search area, you’d think he would have been found by now. Nothing has been found, not even clothes. It doesn’t sound like authorities ever treated this as a possible crime. Did they check his car for any evidence?
Brandon was not very tall – 5’6″ – so did police check the position of the front driver’s seat? Was it pushed back as if someone taller sat in it?
This one is a mystery for sure, but I just hope he is found one day. I feel like we are missing something with this case. It just doesn’t feel right, in my opinion.
What do you think happened to Brandon Victor Swanson?
Brandon Victor Swanson. (2008). [image] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57359642.
Kirk, J. (2018). Swanson Case Still Unsolved. The Marshall Independent. [online] Available at: http://www.marshallindependent.com/news/local-news/2018/05/swanson-case-still-unsolved/.
Weed, A. (2010). Teen drove into ditch, vanished as parents searched – CNN.com. [online] Cnn.com. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/01/18/grace.coldcase.swanson/index.html.