My theories on this case are simply conjecture; my own personal opinions. I am not in law enforcement nor am I a private investigator, I’m only here to share my thoughts, take them for what they are.
Born on February 25, 1979, Brian Shaffer was the oldest of Randy and Renee Shaffer’s two sons. Having grown up in Pickerington, Ohio, Brian graduated from high school in 1997 and attended Ohio State University for his undergraduate studies, graduating six years later with a degree in microbiology. In 2004 Brian began studies at Ohio State University College of Medicine (OSU). Despite his interest in pursuing a medical career, Brian often expressed that his real dream was to start a band and play music along the genre of Jimmy Buffet; he had always been attracted to the laid-back vibe and lifestyle of tropical locations.
In 2006, during Spring Break of Brian’s second year of medical school, he and his girlfriend and fellow medical student Alexis Waggoner planned a trip to Miami where many believed Brian was going to propose. By all accounts, the future looked promising for the 27-year-old medical student. He was doing well in his classes and had a thriving social life. However, in March of that same year, Brian’s mother Renee would pass away from myelodysplasia, a form of bone marrow cancer. Brian was very close to his mother and although he, understandably, took her death hard, those close to him claimed he was handling it well; I suppose as well as anyone who has lost a parent could.
Friday, March 31st marked the end of classes at OSU and the beginning of Spring Break. Exams were over and Brian initially planned to celebrate that night with his brother Derek. When Derek and his wife canceled their plans with Brian, he then arranged to go out later with his friend William “Clint” Florence. Prior to meeting up with Clint, Brian met his father Randy for dinner. That evening, Randy noticed that his son looked exhausted which didn’t seem that unusual given that he had pulled some all-nighters earlier in the week, cramming for exams. I’m sure dealing with the grief from his mother’s passing only weeks before had also taken a toll on Brian. The elder of the two men had some reservations about Brian going out that night with Clint but kept these concerns to himself.
At 9 PM, Brian met Clint at the Ugly Tuna Saloona, a seafood restaurant, and bar located on the second floor of South Campus Gateway complex on High Street. An hour later he called Alexis who was visiting her family in Toledo and told her he loved her. Throughout the rest of the night, Brian and Clint visited several other bars, working their way down to the Arena District. According to Clint, the duo had one shot each of hard liquor at each establishment.
After midnight, they ran into Clint’s friend Meredith Reed who gave them both a ride back to the Ugly Tuna where a live band was playing. The three were caught on CCTV cameras at 1:15 AM riding the escalator up to the restaurant/bar. At some point, Brian separated from his friends. Some online sources claim that he told Clint and Meredith that he was going to talk to one of the members of the band but all that is known is that, again on camera, around 1:55 AM, Brian was seen outside the bar speaking briefly with two young women then moved off-camera to re-enter the bar. When the bar closed at 2 AM, Clint and Meredith noticed that Brian was nowhere to be seen. They searched for him within the massive swarm of people that were exiting then after a while, the two assumed that he had gone home without telling them. (I’m not entirely sure if there is any evidence showing that Clint and/or Meredith tried calling him on his cell phone.)
During that weekend, Alexis and Randy attempted to contact Brian to no avail. Concerned, Alexis went to his apartment but while his car was parked in its spot and nothing looked out of place in his apartment, there was no sign of Brian. Brian wouldn’t be reported as a missing person until that Monday, the day he and Alexis were to depart for Miami. Alexis arrived at the airport hoping that Brian might show up, explain his absence, and the couple would go on their romantic getaway and move on with their lives. Her hopes were short-lived.
Police began their search at the Ugly Tuna, where Brian was last seen. Not only did the Ugly Tuna have security cameras installed, but other bars nearby also had them and officers examined the footage from these establishments as well, yet there was no trace of Brian. Investigators knew it was possible that the cameras at the Ugly Tuna might have missed him as one camera panned across the area, while the other was operated manually. There was another exit not generally used by the public, a service door that, at the time, opened onto a construction site that officers believed would have been difficult to walk through while sober, much less intoxicated.
The search continued to fan out from where Brian was last seen with law enforcement, sometimes accompanied by police dogs, searching dumpsters, sewers, and landfills while flyers with Brian’s picture and description were passed along. The flyers noted the distinctive fleck in on one of his irises and showed the tattoo on his right arm of the stick figure logo from the cover art of Pearl Jam’s single, Alive.
After Randy Shafer received a tip from a psychic stating that Brian’s body would be found in a body of water, he and Derek, along with some other concerned citizens spent many hours searching along the shores and near the bridges of the Olentangy River, which flows through Columbus adjacent to the OSU campus and is about one mile from Brian’s apartment. Again, there were no traces of him to be found.
Everyone who saw Brian the night of March 31st/morning of April 1st was given a lie detector tests except for Clint Florence who, not only declined but lawyered up as well. It’s not necessarily suspicious that he retained a lawyer once the investigation began; Clint did provide police with everything he knew about that night. However, I do question why he wouldn’t agree to take the polygraph. The two women Brian had last been seen talking to were later identified in 2009 and claim that they had never been asked to take the test.
Again, nothing in Brian’s apartment was amiss. There were no signs of a struggle, nothing of value was missing and his car was in its usual spot. There was no activity detected on his cell phone or bank accounts after he disappeared. Every night for several months, Alexis called Brian’s cell phone in the hopes that someday he might answer. While her calls usually went straight to voicemail, one night in September his phone rang three times. In her excitement, Alexis called it several more times and, although it continued to ring, there was no answer. Brian’s wireless carrier, Cingular, said that this may have been caused by a computer glitch. As his phone was not GPS-enabled the exact location could not be determined but a ping was detected at a cell tower in Hilliard, 14 miles northwest of Columbus.
As of this writing, Brian Shaffer — along with his cell phone, and wallet, which were both on his person — have never been found.
There are many theories that can be found online as to what may have happened to Brian Shaffer. Many feel that he never made it out of the Ugly Tuna, having met with foul play somewhere inside the bar. Other’s feel that he was a victim of the Smiley Face killer and met his end in the Olentangy River, or that he could have taken a walk by the river and accidentally fell in. As the service door of the bar was not equipped with security cameras, some believe that Brian may have exited through there and had trouble maneuvering his way through the construction site and fatally hurt himself and, fearing a lawsuit, the owners of the Ugly Tuna disposed of his body.
Since more than eleven years have gone by and his body and other personal belongings have never been found, I have a hard time accepting the theory that he was either thrown or fell into the river. Security cameras around the area showed no evidence that Brian had been walking around there and as it is a high-traffic area, someone should have seen him at some point. I also have difficulty accepting the idea that a business owner would take a chance on disposing of someone’s dead body in order to avoid legal problems. Then again, I am willing to admit that nothing is completely impossible, but personally, it makes no sense to me.
The neighborhood around South Campus Gateway was known at the time to be a high crime area. There is a slight possibility that Brian could have been attacked after exiting the bar, especially if he used the unmonitored exit that opened up to the construction site. I have read some speculation online that Clint was a drug user although I don’t know if there is any proof. If this is true, could Brian have been in the wrong place at the wrong time due to his association with Clint? Could he have witnessed something? Why hasn’t Clint agreed to take the polygraph test? Does he know more about Brian’s disappearance than he initially let on? Brian’s loved ones seem to believe so.
One theory that those who knew Brian tend to dismiss is that he either took his own life or disappeared on his own, choosing to start a whole new life somewhere else. Personally, I have my doubts about the suicide theory. As for running off and leaving everything behind, here’s my input. Again, this is my opinion so take it for what it’s worth.
Those closest to Brian never detected signs of depression, they claim that although he was grieving over the loss of his mother just weeks prior, he was handling it well. Something that should be noted was that shortly after Renee passed away, in a phone call to Alexis, Brian told her that he was having difficulty coping with everything and that she should move on and find someone new. Not long after that conversation, Brian took back his words and asked her to go away with him.
While out for their steak dinner, Randy noticed that Brian looked particularly exhausted that evening which was to be expected given the workload at school leading up to Spring Break coupled with the loss of Renee. Randy also had a strong feeling that Brian shouldn’t go out with Clint that night but kept this to himself. Did Randy have some sort of premonition that something was seriously wrong with his son or that he was in danger?
While many feel that Brian would never have left behind his family whom he was very close with, or his promising career as a doctor, or his loving and beautiful girlfriend whom he planned to marry, haven’t stranger things happened? Do we truly know what’s going on in the minds and hearts of those closest to us?
Anyone who knows me personally or has read my memoir knows that I spent my first twenty-five years living a life that I hated all to please my family. Now I am not at all saying this was the case with Brian Shaffer; I’ve never met Brian or his family. The point I’m trying to make is this: people that thought they knew me during those years I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t, really didn’t know me at all. Then, one day, after one too many incidents took place within my personal life to create the perfect storm, I walked out on everything and began to create a life of my own, one that I wanted to live, not one that I was living simply to make everyone else happy. My taking this drastic step deeply shocked those supposedly closest to me, including my own parents. No one knew how unhappy I was until that point. Why? Because no one took the time to ask if I was happy and, as a general rule, the average person only looks at the surface or simply sees what they want to see.
Again, I am not saying that on April 1, 2006 Brian Shaffer decided to chuck it all and take off to a remote island with nothing but the clothes on his back, his phone, and wallet and decided to start that Jimmy Buffet-inspired band he always dreamed of, leaving behind his loved ones. The reason I’m bringing all of this up is because, in so much that I’ve read and listened to online, many people disregard that theory due to the fact that Brian seemed relatively happy and he was making plans for his future and it just didn’t seem at all like “him.” Is it difficult in this day and age to completely vanish on your own and fly under the grid without being detected at some point? Sure. Absolutely impossible? I don’t believe so. One argument against this theory is that there has been no activity on Brian’s bank account since he vanished so, in order to do this, he would have to use cash and he never carried cash with him. Who’s to say he didn’t have any with him that night? I’m a very firm believer that each and every one of us has multiple sides to our beings and some of those sides are hidden from others, even those that believe they know us best.
Tragically, Randy Shaffer will never have the chance to discover what happened to his oldest son. In September 2008, a heavy windstorm hit Central Ohio and while in his yard a branch blew off from a nearby tree fatally striking Randy. Neighbors would find his body the next morning. In the condolences/guestbook section of his online obituary, a signature was entered reading, “To Dad, love Brian (U.S. Virgin Islands)”. An investigation that took place found that the post was made from a public computer in Franklin County, Ohio and was determined to be a cruel hoax.
I cannot begin to imagine what Brian’s brother Derek must be going through having lost both parents and his older brother in such a short amount of time. I and many others can only hope that he eventually finds answers to the many questions that I’m sure have been tormenting him for years. If there is anyone out there that knows something, I truly hope and pray that they find the courage to come forward.
***Brenda Thornlow is a published author from Brooklyn, NY. Her work can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.***