WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
On the night of March 31, 2006, Ohio State University medical student Brian Shaffer went out with his friends to celebrate spring break. When he got separated from his friends, they assumed that he had gone home. But, at 2 AM on April 1, he was seen via security camera talking to 2 women near the entrance to a bar, leaving, and then re-entering the bar.
Brian Shaffer has never been seen or heard from since.
The bizarre, mysterious disappearance garnered national media attention, especially because there was no other accessible entrance to the bar. If he left, he should have been seen on camera. Columbus Police have suspected foul play, perhaps from a friend who was with him that night who refused to take a lie detector test, or even from a serial killer, there is also some speculation that he could be alive, living elsewhere under a new identity.
A BIT ABOUT BRIAN (1)
Shaffer lived in Pickerington, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, for most of his life. He was born to parents Randy and Renee Shaffer, and had a younger brother named Derek. He graduated from high school in 1997, and attended The Ohio State University for undergrad, graduating 6 years later with a degree in microbiology.
After undergrad, he continued at OSU at the College of Medicine in 2004. While he was in medical school, his mother, Renee, passed away. Though he seemed to handle her death well, friends said that her death was really hard on him.
At the time, Brian was dating a second-year medical student named Alexis Waggoner. Though never confirmed before his disappearance, she and most of their families and friends believed that he planned to propose to her that year, during a planned trip to Miami for spring break.
DISAPPEARANCE AND INVESTIGATION (1)
On March 31, OSU classes let out for spring break, which was starting the next week. Brian got a celebratory steak dinner with his father, who noted that he seemed exhausted, having crammed and pulled all-nighters for his exams that week. He planned to go out with his friend Clint Florence, but his father did not think it was a good idea. However, he didn't express any concerns to Brian.
Brian met Clint at the Ugly Tuna Saloona, a bar in the area, and called Alexis, who had returned home to Toledo to see her family before they took off to Miami. Brian and Clint went bar hopping, working their way through the Columbus area, taking a shot at each bar they stopped at.
They met up with one of Clint's friends, Meredith Reed, in the Short North area of Columbus, who gave them a ride back to the Ugly Tuna, joining them for one last round of drinks. But, while they were there, they lost Brian. Client and Meredith called him repeatedly, and even waited for him outside the bar when it closed, thinking he may have just gotten lost in the crowd, but when he didn't come out, they assumed he had just gone home without letting them know.
Alexis and Brian's father both tried to get a hold of Brian throughout the weekend, but they were unable to. When he didn't show up to his flight to Miami for his spring break trip, he was officially reported missing to the Columbus police.
The police began searching for him where he started and ended the night, the Ugly Tuna. Because the area was a bit high in crime, the bar had installed security cameras, and police were able to review the footage. They saw Brian, Clint and Meredith going to the bar's main entrance at 1:15 AM. Then, he was seen talking to 2 women outside of the bar at 1:55 AM, saying goodbye to them. He moved off-camera, but in the direction of the bar, to re-enter. However, the camera did not record him leaving when the bar closed.
Investigators said it was possible that he could have changed clothes or put on a hat in the bar to hide his face, making it far more difficult to identify him coming out of the bar. Cameras also could have missed him, or he could have left out of the building's only other exit, though it was not typically used by the public.
Because Columbus has an enormous amount of security cameras, officers looked at footage from other bars to see if any other camera angles could help explain how he left the bar, but they did not find anything.
The search continued. Officers, accompanied by police dogs, looked throughout the streets, the dumpsters and all of the surrounding area. Officers went door to door asking if residents had seen him, flyers were put up, and they even checked in the sewer system. They searched his apartment, but nothing was amiss. After the search turned up nothing, police started to think of other possibilities, perhaps trying to disappear to grieve his mother's death. However, because he did not come back, this theory proved incorrect, and there was no evidence to suggest that he wanted to permanently disappear.
Alexis called his phone every night for a long time after the disappearance, usually going straight to voicemail. But one night, it rang 3 times. The cell phone provider said it may have been due to a computer glitch, but a ping was picked up in Hilliard, Ohio, a city northwest of Columbus.
Though the police received many tips, and investigated them, nothing ever lead to any breakthroughs in the case. Randy, Brian's father, continued to search for his son through whatever means necessary. A psychic told Randy that Brian's body was in a water near a bridge pier. Randy and Brian's brother, Derek, and other interested citizens, spent their free time wading through the Olentangy River, searching for Brian's body.
The police did, for a time, entertain the idea that the Smiley Face serial killer could have been involved, but after they looked into it, and the FBI looked into it, it was determined there was likely no connection.
In September of 2008, while picking up debris outside of his home during a windstorm, Randy was struck by a branch and killed. His online obituary collected signatures, and someone left a note that said "To Dad, love Brian (U.S. Virgin Islands), but it was determined to be a hoax.
During the investigation, everyone who had spoken to Brian that night was asked to take a lie detector test. Randy and Meredith both had, but Client had refused it. Shortly after Randy's death, Clint's attorney, wrote to the private investigator who was trying to find Brian, explaining that Clint did not want to take a lie detector test because he had already told police everything he knew, and that it was Brian, not Clint, who was causing pain and hardship, as the attorney claimed that Brian was still alive.
Derek, Brian's brother, believes that Clint knows more than he is letting on. He thinks that Brian might still be alive, and that Clint knows where he went. Alexis also believes that Clint withheld information from investigators, but not because he knew where Brian was hiding, alive, but because he knew something about his death. She could not believe her loving boyfriend would just up and leave with no contact to his family or loved ones.
The Columbus police, as of 2014, were still receiving about 2 tips a month, but none had helped to find Brian.
Though the police claim they have 3 theories of what may have happened to him, they've never shared them. That has not stopped true crime enthusiasts from theorizing what could have possibly caused a man to disappear out of thin air.
On the Unsolved Mysteries Reddit page, many people have their own theories or thoughts about the case.
1. Some believe that Brian left out of the back exit that was not used for patrons. The door opened up to a dangerous construction site, one that was reported to have been difficult to walk through sober, let alone intoxicated. Even though police and K-9 units searched for him in this area, some still think he may have fallen into a hole or shaft in the construction site where no one was able to find him.
2. Though Alexis and friends/family of both Alexis and Brian believed that he was planning to propose during their Miami trip, he had not purchased a ring yet. Because he disappeared on Friday night/Saturday morning and was supposed to be taking off on Monday morning, it wouldn't make sense that he didn't have a ring purchased yet. Some believe that a ring would prove he did not disappear intentionally, but there is no proof that he had recently purchased an engagement ring.
3. What many believe to be the most obvious theory is that Brian died in the bar. If you see someone go in, and you don't see them come out, it is because they didn't come out. Whether killed by foul play or drinking too much, the theory is that he died while in the Ugly Tuna bar, and then disposed of in a dumpster or trash compactor.
Though nobody truly knows what happened to Brian Shaffer that night, everyone who knows the case and thinks about it finds the whole ordeal to be terribly, terribly sad. For the father, who lost his wife and then his son. For the brother, who lost his entire immediate family. For the friends and girlfriend who never had any closure. And for Brian, who either felt so helpless in his life that he had to leave it behind, or who, more likely, lost his life that night 14 years ago today: a life that was probably going to be a good one.