Brian Shaffer: The Ultimate Disappearance

Brian Shaffer: The Ultimate Disappearance

Image for postBrian Shaffer ? Source: WBNS 10tv

On this blog, I frequently use the word ?vanished.? I write about a lot of missing person cases, but in just about every case, there is at least some idea of where the person disappeared to. Bare minimum, there is an idea of what happened to the person, be it suicide, murder, or simply walking away from life.

?Vanished? is really the only word to describe what happened to Brian Shaffer. He was there, and then he wasn?t. He might as well have been a ghost who walked through a wall and disappeared.

While many cases are famous for being tragic (and the disappearance of Brian Shaffer certainly is tragic), this case, more than anything, is well-known for its high strangeness.


2006 was a tough year for Brian Shaffer. In March, Brian?s mother, Renee, lost a battle with cancer. [1]

Image for postBrian and his mom, Rene ? Source: Armchair Detective

Grappling with grief, the 27-year-old decided to enjoy a night out on the town with his former roommate, Clint Florence, on April 1. But before he hit the bar with his friend, Brian went out to dinner with his father, Randy, and his younger brother, Derek. [2]

Image for postBrian and his former roommate, Clint Florence ? Source: Talk Murder to Me

The two men opted to spend the evening at South Campus Gateway?s Ugly Tuna Saloona bar, located in the Arena District of Columbus, Ohio, arriving around 9 p.m. It was the beginning of spring break. [1]

Just before 10 p.m., Brian briefly spoke with his girlfriend, Alexis Waggoner, a second-year medical student at Ohio State, who was visiting with her parents in Toledo. At the end of the call, Brian told Alexis he loved her, and it was the last time she ever heard his voice.

Image for postBrian and his girlfriend Alexis Waggoner ? Source: The Columbus Dispatch

Brian and Clint decided to do a bit of bar-hopping and the two traveled to the Short North where they met up with Clint?s friend, Meredith Reed. After doing several shots, Meredith offered to take Brian and Clint back to the Ugly Tuna Saloona, and they accepted the ride.

At 1:15 a.m., surveillance cameras caught the trio entering the building and riding the escalator up to the second-floor bar. Just before 2, the cameras recorded Brian speaking with two college-age women. He appears to say goodbye and walks away.

Image for postBrian talking with two women outside the Ugly Tuna Saloona moments before he disappeared ? Source: WBNS 10tv

Brian was never seen again.

Clint and Meredith assumed that Brian had gone back to his apartment and didn?t think much of it, but when they attempted to reach him on his cellphone all night and throughout the weekend, he never answered.

When Monday morning arrived, Brian?s family was alarmed to discover that he had missed a long-scheduled flight to Florida and called the Columbus police to report him missing. He was scheduled to vacation in Miami with Meredith, whom he was reportedly planning to marry. [3]

Brian?s vehicle was found in the parking lot of his apartment building, which was near the Ugly Tuna Saloona.

Image for postSource: The Lantern

A citywide search was launched, with police going so far as to check dumpsters and the sewer system. The Ugly Tuna Saloona was located in a high-crime area, so the possibility of foul play was a real possibility. [4]

Shortly after Brian?s disappearance, his empty apartment was broken into. Family and friends hoped the crime would offer clues about what happened to the medical student, but the break-in turned out to be unrelated.

Randy Shaffer, still reeling from the loss of his wife and absolutely desperate to find his son, consulted a psychic who told him that Brian?s body was resting in water near a bridge. For hours, Randy waded in the Olentangy River in Columbus with a search party, but there was no trace of Brian.

Image for postBrian?s dad, Randy Shaffer ? Source: WBNS 10tv

Alexis, too, was unwilling to give up on finding Brian. She dialed her boyfriend?s cellphone number every night, but it always went to voicemail. One night in September, Alexis held her breath as Brian?s phone rang three times before going to voicemail. She called again, but there was no answer. However, a ping from Brian?s phone was traced to a cellphone tower in the town of Hilliard, some 14 miles from Columbus.

The ping was an exciting development, but that excitement didn?t last long. Brian?s cellular carrier said the ringing and the tower ping could have been a glitch in the system, rather than a sign that Brian had turned on his phone.

Everyone in Brian?s life, including those he was with at the Ugly Tuna Saloona, willingly submitted to a polygraph test?except for Clint Florence. Clint?s attorney has stated that his client has nothing to hide, but he had given the police all of the information he had.

According to Brian?s brother, Derek, Clint spoke negatively of Brian after he went missing, which raised suspicions that Clint was somehow involved in Brian?s disappearance. However, there has never been a shred of evidence linking Clint to Brian?s vanishing. [2]

The two women Brian was seen speaking with outside the bar were cleared of any involvement in the case. [4]

The search for Brian went on for years and was aided by the likes of Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Brian?s favorite band, Pearl Jam, who took breaks between songs during a concert in Cincinnati to appeal to the audience for information concerning Brian?s disappearance.

Image for postEddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam ? Source:

All attempts at finding Brian were met with deafening silence, but in 2008, there was renewed hope that the would-be doctor was still alive.

Sadly, Brian?s father died that year, never having had the opportunity to reunite with or bury his son. But in an online condolence book, someone wrote:

?To Dad, love Brian (U.S. Virgin Islands).?

However, the police quickly learned that the message was a cruel hoax posted from a publicly-accessible computer in Franklin County, Ohio.


Brian slipped out of the bar unnoticed and met with foul play.

One theory is that Brian was chatting with the band while they were packing up and the bar was closing. The staff may have locked the bar without realizing that Brian was still there, and Brian left with the band and staff, after which point he met with foul play.

This doesn?t explain why Brian wasn?t spotted leaving on the bar?s surveillance cameras or on surrounding businesses? surveillance cameras.

The Smiley Face Killers

Image for postSource: Rolling Stone

In 1997, two retired NYPD detectives named Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte came up with a theory that a nationwide (possibly worldwide) ring of criminals was targeting men they perceived as ?privileged.? [5]

Image for post(L to R) Kevin Gannon, Lee Gilbertson, and Anthony Duarte ? Source: Rolling Stone

The men claim that there has been an ?epidemic? of college-educated young white men who have vanished after nights out with friends and were later found dead in local rivers and other bodies of water.

This coordinated group of killers is known as the Smiley Face Killers because the bodies of their supposed victims are found near smiley-face graffiti.

You can read more about the Smiley Face Killers here.

It?s currently impossible to tie Brian Shaffer?s disappearance to the ring, as no trace of him has ever been found.

While Brian matches the type of individual the Smiley Face Killers allegedly target, it?s just as likely that Brian fell victim to a robbery gone wrong or some other random crime.

I have a hard time buying into the Smiley Face Killer theory, to begin with. If these highly educated, ?privileged? young men are being targeted, one would think there would be at least a few reports of them being followed or stalked. If Brian was targeted, that meant that someone somehow tracked his movements throughout the night and knew he would return to the Ugly Tuna Saloona.

Also, it?s not exactly uncommon for people who do graffiti to spray-paint a smiley face. You see them everywhere. I don?t personally believe they have anything to do with a crime ring.

I suppose it?s possible that the Smiley Face Killers hole up in bars and make conversation with people to choose their victims, but it still seems like a longshot, to me.

Brian went out the emergency exit, fell in a hole in the construction site, and was covered with cement.

Image for postThe Ugly Tuna Saloona ? Source:

Since Brian spent the night bar-hopping and doing shots, it?s a safe bet that he was pretty inebriated when he got back to the Ugly Tuna Saloona.

The only other exit apart from the designated exit was an emergency door that led to a construction site. [6] Those involved in the case and those familiar with the building say it would have been incredibly difficult for Brian to get out of the building that way, but not impossible. It was a dark, chaotic area.

If he fell in a hole and was covered with cement, it wouldn?t have been an accident. Construction workers would have seen him passed out. So, unless a crew of demented killers was hired to work on the building, it?s unlikely that this theory explains what happened to Brian.


You don?t have to be a true-crime writer to know that there are a lot of sick people in the world. It would be nice to know if the construction crew had faced delays or had made costly mistakes that could have cost them the job or their paychecks. Desperation makes people do crazy things, so even though I think this is an unlikely theory, it can?t be ruled out.

Also, if Brian fell down some sort of shaft, it is possible that no one saw him.

Brian is still inside the Ugly Tuna Saloona.

The way this theory goes, Brian accidentally died while inside the bar. Fearful of lawsuits, the staff snuck his body out of the emergency exit and disposed of his body.

If this occurred, it?s not beyond the realm of possibility that the staff was able to sneak his body out with the cameras inside the bar turned off. But that still doesn?t explain why he wasn?t recorded by surveillance cameras from surrounding businesses.

Some theorize that Brian is still inside the building somewhere, dead. This seems unlikely, as the police checked every nook and cranny and didn?t find a place where one could hide a body.

Brian left to start a new life.

It?s possible that Brian simply walked away from his current life to start a new life. But why?

Brian?s mother died about three weeks before he disappeared, but friends and family reported that while he was grieving, he appeared to be handling the loss in a healthy way.

Image for postBrian and Derek with their mom Rene ? Source: Talk Murder to Me

The only reason anyone can think of why he would have left to start a new life is music. Brian was a medical student, but becoming a doctor was a back-up career for the career he really wanted: Musician.

Even so, it doesn?t make sense.

He had a close relationship with his girlfriend and reportedly planned on marrying her, he was doing well in school, and he had a bright future ahead of him, whether he became a musician or a doctor.

If he successfully escaped the bar undetected, he would have had to have changed clothes before he left the Ugly Tuna Saloona for a final time. But Brian was with people all night. Surely they would have noticed that he brought a change of clothes or some type of bag. And if he did bring a change of clothes, where did he hide it and how did he change into them without anyone noticing?

One of the investigators who looked into this possibility, Andre Edwards, said he could say ?with 100% certainty? that Brian did not leave via the escalator. [7]

Also, if Brian left on his own, he didn?t take his car. The vehicle was found still sitting in his apartment complex?s parking lot. [8]

Where is Brian?

Image for postSource: True Crime Society

I have had a working theory about every case I?ve written about?except for this one.

To me, it?s fairly obvious that Brian left the bar. I don?t believe his body was shoved into a wall, nook, or crawl space in the building. If he was in there, someone would have noticed a foul odor, if nothing else.

It?s possible that he fell into a hole or a shaft in the construction zone and his body wasn?t noticed, but it?s still puzzling how that could have happened when dogs were brought in to pick up Brian?s scent.

I do believe Brian met with foul play, but the when, where, and how is anybody?s guess. I don?t have the foggiest idea.

What I do know is that Brian?s brother, Derek, had a very difficult two years between 2006 and 2008. First, his mother died from cancer. Three weeks later, his brother went missing. Then, in 2008, he lost his father when a branch fell and hit him in the head while he was cleaning up after a storm. That?s an awful lot of loss in a very short period of time.

Hopefully, Derek will find out what happened to his brother and find a measure of peace. It seems implausible to me that nobody saw Brian leave that night, and that nobody knows what happened to him beyond that point.

But, ultimately, short of someone suddenly developing a conscience, we may never get the answers we are seeking.


  1. The Columbus Dispatch
  2. Real Life is Horror
  4. The Lineup
  5. Rolling Stone
  6. Talk Murder With Me
  7. True Crime Society
  8. Mysterious Universe

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