If there were ever a case in support of alien abduction, it would be that of Brian Shaffer. One moment he was surrounded by people in a crowded bar in downtown Columbus, Ohio. The next he was gone and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. As of April 1st 2019, Brian will have been missing for 13 years.
Brian is described as 6 foot 2 inches tall, Caucasian, around 165lbs, with brown hair and hazel eyes. He has a black spot on his left iris.
At the time of his disappearance, he was wearing an olive green short-sleeved polo shirt over a white long-sleeved shirt, blue jeans, white Adidas sneakers and a yellow rubber cancer awareness bracelet.
He is currently classified as an endangered missing person. You can view Brian’s missing persons poster at the end of this piece.
Brian Randall Shaffer was born February 25th, 1979 and was raised in the Columbus suburb of Pickerington. His parents were Randy and Renee, and he had a younger brother, Derek.
At the time of his disappearance in 2006, Brian was 27 years old and in his second year of medical school at Ohio State University, where he had previously completed his undergraduate degree in Microbiology.
Early in March 2006, Brian’s mother died of a rare form of bone cancer. According to his friends, Brian appeared to be handling his mother’s death reasonably well, however, they figured he may have been finding it harder to cope with than he let on.
Brian was a keen musician, guitar being his instrument of choice. His favourite band was Pearl Jam and he even had a tattoo of the band’s cover art from the single Alive on his upper right arm. Brian was also a fan of Jimmy Buffet. He aspired to play music of the same genre as Buffet and lead a similar relaxed lifestyle. He joked with friends that a career in medicine was a backup plan to his true ambition of being a musician.
At OSU, Brian met fellow medical student Alexis Waggoner and they began dating; they had been together for about a year at the time of Brian’s disappearance. The two planned to head to Miami for spring break of 2006. Word was that Brian planned to propose to Alexis on the trip.
Evening of March 31st 2006
It was a Friday and the beginning of Spring break. Brian was ready to relax; he had just completed a stressful week of exams, staying up late each night studying. On top of this, he was still dealing with his mother’s recent death.
Brian’s father, Randy, came to Columbus that evening to spend some quality time with his son and take him out for dinner. The two went out to a steak restaurant. At dinner, Randy noticed how tired Brian appeared and felt he shouldn’t go out drinking that night with his friends. However, he knew Brian was an adult and could make these choices for himself, so he didn’t say anything.
Brian said goodbye to Randy and headed to the Ugly Tuna Saloona, where he met his friend William “Clint” Florence around 9:30pm. From there, Clint and Brian went bar hopping, taking a shot at each place they went, working their way down High Street toward the Arena District.
Side Note: The Ugly Tuna Saloona and Surrounding Area
The Ugly Tuna was located on the second story of the South Campus Gateway Complex, slightly south of the OSU campus. The area surrounding the Gateway Complex is always busy with students, especially on a Friday evening.
True Crime Garage hosts, Nic and the Captain, who are originally from Columbus, shared their impressions of the OSU campus area in 2006. The campus was in the process of being ‘cleaned up’ at the time, in an effort to encourage more students to apply and attend the university. Newer and modern businesses were coming in, replacing smaller bars and restaurants which were a little worn out. It could be described as grungy at the time, not particularly clean and not especially safe. However, some felt that the ‘cleaning up’ of the campus resulted in it losing some of its character.
The Ugly Tuna was a large room with a bar situated in the middle. The main entrance was accessed by going up the escalator, turning right and walking across a small landing/atrium type space. Anyone entering or leaving from these doors would be caught on surveillance cameras.
The Ugly Tuna had bathrooms and an entrance/exit for staff. I’m really unclear on the details of this exit. From what I could gather, this exit led to a construction site at the time. Some sources refer to it as an emergency exit. Importantly, it was not meant for public use. I’m assuming you didn’t have to walk onto the construction site when using this exit; you could either enter the site or you could just exit onto the street.
Construction sites are extremely dangerous and obviously not open for the public to walk through. This site was no exception; it was reportedly difficult for a sober person to navigate, let alone someone who was inebriated.
So the only ways to leave the Ugly Tuna would be through the main entrance or through the emergency exit leading to the construction site. I’m also unclear as to whether this emergency exit had working surveillance cameras. I’m leaning towards no, but I can’t be sure.
The Evening Continued…
Around 10pm, Brian called Alexis, who was visiting family in Toledo that night, to tell her he loved her and was excited for their trip.
Around 12am on April 1st, Brian and Clint met with Clint’s friend, Meredith Reed. She gave them a ride back to the Ugly Tuna where they planned to see the live band that was playing and have their final drinks before calling it a night.
At approximately 1:15am, Clint, Meredith and Brian were recorded on surveillance cameras riding the escalator up to the entrance of the Ugly Tuna. Brian, who looks (understandably) tipsy on the footage, was the first to the top of escalator and the other two followed. As they entered the bar, they disappeared off camera. There were no surveillance cameras inside of the bar.
Once inside the Ugly Tuna, Brian became separated from Clint and Meredith, though they claimed to see Brian talking to the band. At 1:55am, just 5 minutes before the Ugly Tuna was closing at 2am, Brian was recorded on surveillance cameras talking to two college-aged girls. The footage then showed Brian going off camera, back towards the bar entrance. This was the last official sighting of Brian. He has not been seen since.
At around 2am when Clint and Meredith were leaving, they called Brian but got no answer. The two did a quick scan of the bar and then went to stand outside and wait to see if Brian appeared. When there was no sign of him, they called him again, but there was still no answer. They assumed he had left without telling them. At 2:09am, security footage recorded Clint and Meredith going down the escalator and to the parking garage, where Meredith’s car was parked.
Much later on Saturday morning, Alexis called Brian, but only got his voicemail. She wasn’t concerned, assuming he was still sleeping after a big night out. She continued to call him throughout the day but still got no answer. By Sunday, Alexis was worried and contacted Brian’s father to let him know she had not been able to get in touch with Brian. She was also anxious as they were meant to be flying to Miami the next day. On Monday, Alexis went to the airport, hoping Brian would be there and that they could go on their holiday and forget about what happened. However, Brian never appeared at the airport. He was subsequently reported missing.
The search began at the Ugly Tuna, where the last official sighting of Brian took place. Investigators also searched the surrounding area, as well as the dumpsters around the back of the building, but found nothing.
Tracking dogs were used to search any waterways or sewers in the vicinity. Investigators took the dogs inside and around the outside of the bar to see if they could pick up any scent, but still nothing.
Brian’s apartment was located six blocks away from the Ugly Tuna. When investigators went to his apartment to check if anything was amiss, they found nothing there either. Everything was in order and Brian’s car was parked in its regular spot.
Getting desperate, Randy contacted a psychic, who stated that Brian’s body would be found in a body of water. Randy and Derek, along with others concerned for Brian, searched the Olentangy River which flows through Columbus and about 1 mile away from Brian’s apartment (see map above). There was still no sign of Brian.
The staff from the Ugly Tuna and the band were questioned by investigators, as well as anyone they could think of who may have come into contact with Brian that night. The staff and band were cooperative but were unable to provide any useful information concerning Brian’s disappearance.
This is unsurprising given how busy the bar would have been that night. Nor would anyone have reason to notice Brian any more than anyone else (he had a very ‘all American guy’ look about him and wouldn’t have stuck out in the crowd).
Clint and Meredith were questioned by police and asked to take a polygraph test, which Clint refused to do. Clint also got a lawyer soon after the investigation commenced. He has been subject to pretty heavy criticism for these reason. Many think that if he had nothing to hide, why wouldn’t he take the test? On the other hand, polygraphs are notoriously unreliable. By getting a lawyer, Clint was just being smart. In these situations, however, people always look for someone to blame. There is no evidence that Clint would have wanted to harm Brian.
The two girls Brian was seen talking to were also questioned by investigators, but were never asked to take a polygraph.
Since the night he disappeared, Brian’s cell phone, credit cards and bank account have not been used.
There are far too many theories out there surrounding Brian’s disappearance for me to cover here. These are a mix of the most popular theories I’ve found along with my thoughts:
1.Brian slipped out unnoticed at the end of the night and met with foul play as he walked home. The area was known to not be particularly safe.
Explanation: Brian was talking to the band while they were packing up. The bar was closing and the staff may have locked the front doors after they thought everyone had left, without realising Brian was still there. He could have then left with the band and other staff members and then began to make his way home alone when he met with foul play.
Brian’s case is often lumped in with the Smiley Face Killer Theory, which really became known in 1997 when two retired NY detectives put it forward. A basic outline of the theory is that the bodies of white, college aged men (the exact number varies between sources, but I’ve mostly found 45-50) have been found drowned in bodies of water after a night out involving heavy drinking. The men have been found in 11 different states, mostly those in the Midwest (specifically Minnesota and Wisconsin). It is thought that these men didn’t drown by accident, but rather they were forcibly drowned by a serial killer or killers, who left their mark in the form of a graffiti-style smiley face near the body, for example, on a rock, a tree or the ground.
Personally, I don’t think this theory is very believable, given that it has occurred across such a large number of places and smiley faces are probably the most common graffiti drawn (they’re pretty much everywhere). There has been a decent amount of research into the theory, however, and some do take it seriously. If it is real, I don’t think it’s possible that it could be just one person murdering these men; surely it would have to be several killers or a group. I don’t think it’s really plausible to put Brian into this category, given that his body has never been found.
2. Brian went out the emergency exit and ended up in the construction site, where he fell into a hole and passed out. The hole was subsequently covered with cement.
It is possible that, being very drunk, Brian may have thought that it would be faster to go home through the construction site. However, I think if Brian had accidentally fallen into a hole, he would have been near the surface and therefore construction workers surely would have seen him before they began to pour cement over him.
3. Brian died accidently inside the bar. The bar staff were worried about lawsuits so they snuck him out of the emergency exit and disposed of his body.
This theory is supported by Brian never being seen on camera leaving the Ugly Tuna. Assuming the staff left through the staff exit and assuming this exit had no cameras, this could work.
However, I also feel like a lot of humans couldn’t handle a secret like this. How many staff members were closing up at the end of the night? All of these people would have to have known that they were sneaking a dead body out of the bar. Surely, if something like this did happen, one of those people would have cracked and said something to authorities about what happened that night. It would only take one person saying something.
4. Brian disappeared to start a new life.
Investigators never actually found anything suggesting foul play. However, no activity has taken place on Brian’s cell phone, his bank accounts, nor did he withdraw any cash after that night. Surely if he did want to start a new life he would have used at least one of these to get started? Also, given his call to Alexis and assumed plans to propose to her, he was clearly invested in their relationship. He would have had to have a pretty sudden change of heart to completely walk away.
I’m leaning towards the idea that Brian managed to leave undetected by the cameras, then met with foul play and his body was disposed of. I don’t think he died by accident as I really think his body would have been found. The surrounding area and rivers where thoroughly searched. I’m extremely baffled by this case. The more I think about it, the more confused I get.
Alexis continued to call Brian for several months but it always went straight to voicemail, apart from one time in September, when the phone rang 3 times. She thought this meant that Brian’s phone could have been turned on. However, Brian’s cell phone provider dismissed this theory as a glitch. I assume Brian’s dad would have continued to pay his phone bill after he went missing, in case he was still out there and decided to get in touch.
Brian’s dad, Randy, was killed in a freak accident in September 2008. His obituary was published online and the public were able to comment on it. A comment that was investigated said, ‘Dad, I love you. Brian (US Virgin Islands)’. However, it was determined that the comment was a fake, having been written from a public computer in Franklin County (where Columbus is located).
In April 2018, the Ugly Tuna Saloona closed after 14 years of business.
Detectives continue to be haunted by this case. No case has ever left me with so many questions. It’s extremely frustrating, because it feels like it should have such an obvious answer. How can someone be right there one moment and gone, just like that, the next?
…what happened to Brian Shaffer?