For nineteen-year-old Brandon Swanson, May 13, 2008 was an exciting day.
He had just finished up his last day of classes for the spring semester at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College’s Canby campus, where he was studying wind turbines. After wrapping up his last day and bringing his first year of college to a close, he decided to spend the night celebrating with his friends.
He started the night off at a party in Lynd, a small town just seven miles from his native Marshall. He then headed back to Canby to continue his night of celebration. At around midnight, he said his goodbyes and got in his Chevrolet Lumina to make the drive back home.
While on his way, he accidentally drove his car off of the road and got it stuck in a ditch. After some attempts to free the car himself and trying to call some friends, Brandon decided to give his parents, Brian and Annette Swanson, a call at around 1:54 a.m. to let them know what happened.
He reassured them that he was not injured and that the car did not have any damage, but he needed help getting the car free. As his parents left their home to lend him a hand, Brandon directed them to exactly where he was: about midway between Lynd and Marshall.
Confident they knew exactly where he was, Brian and Annette head to help their son. However, once they arrive to Brandon’s location, he is nowhere to be found.
They call him back and tell him to keep an eye out for them. They start honking their horn and flashing the headlights on their truck but to no avail. He tells his parents that he does not see or hear anything at all. Despite this, Brandon is sure that he knows where he is and gave them exact directions.
To try and help his parents out, Brandon decides to try flashing his headlights instead. His parents can hear it through the phone: click-click. Click-click. But still, nothing. Despite being surrounded by wide open fields, they see nothing at all, which does not add up. If Brandon was there, they would definitely be able to see him.
His parents stay on the phone with Brandon the entire time, but he is starting to get aggravated. He cannot understand why his parents are so confused and are struggling to find him when he told them exactly where he is.
After some time, Brandon decides to stray from his initial plan of waiting by his car and instead tells his parents that he will head towards Lynd. He can see its lights in the distance, so it should not be too far of a walk. Hoping this will be a faster plan, he tells his parents to pick him up in the parking lot of a local bar/nightclub.
Brian drops Annette off back at home and makes the drive to his son, staying on the phone with him the entire time. They carry on a long conversation, Brandon telling him that he can hear running water nearby and is passing some fences as he walks.
Then, at around 2:30 a.m., 47 minutes into the phone call, Brandon suddenly interrupts himself on the phone, exclaiming, “Oh, s***!” and goes silent for the remainder of the call.
His dad makes multiple attempts to call for his son, but receives no answer. He hangs up the phone and tries to call Brandon back several times, but he never picked up the phone again.
Brian goes back to Annette so they can start looking for their son together. They enlist the help of his friends, who participate in the search. After a long night of searching, at around 6:30 a.m., the Swansons call the Lynd Police Department to report Brandon missing.
Right off the bat, police were not convinced that Brandon was actually missing. According to them, it was not uncommon for a nineteen-year-old to stay out all night after finishing classes.
One officer in particular even stated that, at his age, Brandon, “had a right to be missing,” a remark that has stuck with Annette Swanson years later.
Officers finally joined in the search efforts, but they still came up with nothing. They decided to put in a countywide request so the search could be expanded, bringing in the Office of Lyon County Sheriff Joel Dahl.
They got a hold of Brandon’s cellphone records, which revealed something intriguing.
Brandon was nowhere near Lynd like he thought. His phone call pinged off of a tower near Taunton, another small town 25 miles away from Lynd along State Highway 68, the main road that connects Canby to Marshall.
Armed with this new information, the search moves to the area where they finally find Brandon’s car in Porter, stuck in a ditch. There was nothing amiss with the car, and because the surrounding area was full of grass and gravel, there were no footprints and no way to tell which direction Brandon may have gone.
The search had expanded tenfold now. There were massive ground searches being conducted along with an aerial search of the fields. Search dogs were brought in from the Twin Cities, and a team of bloodhounds from nearby Codington County, South Dakota were utilized.
The bloodhounds picked up a 3-mile scent trail that went along field roads to an abandoned farm, and then carried on along the Yellow Medicine River to a point where it seemed like Brandon entered the stream and then got back out. After that, the dogs could no longer pick up his scent.
The trail with the river lined up with Brandon hearing running water nearby. The river varied in depth, going from just knee-high to 15 feet deep, and at the time Brandon went missing, the river was racing fast.
They searched the river high and low, but still, no sign of Brandon. Lincoln County Sheriff Jack Vizecky even personally walked up and down the two mile stretch of river in the area every day for 30 days, but nothing was found.
As days bled into weeks, the search efforts slowly died down. It was almost as if he vanished into thin air. With no solid leads and no concrete evidence being found, the case quickly grew cold.
But one question still lingered on everyone’s mind: What happened to Brandon? Multiple theories have been brought forward over the years to try and explained what happened that night.
The most popular theory among authorities is that Brandon fell into the river. It is not plausible that he drowned, because they would have found his body somewhere downstream. Instead, it is believed he fell into the river, causing him to shout that expletive, but got back out and kept walking. However, considering it was just under 40 degrees that night and he would have been freezing and soaking wet, he could have possibly died due to hypothermia.
This theory has been widely criticized, however, due to the fact that there is simply no evidence to suggest he died of hypothermia. His body would have been discovered in the wide, open fields. Also, his phone was still taking calls. If he fell into the water along with his cellphone, all calls would have gone straight to voicemail.
Darrin E. Delzer, a volunteer firefighter at the time, brought up his own theory that perhaps Brandon slipped and fell into an unmarked well or reservoir. Brandon was legally blind from his left eye and had left his glasses in the car the night he disappeared, so he could have missed something in his peripheral, causing him to shout that expletive and fall.
Other theories that have floated around are that Brandon had some sort of mental breakdown or had planned his own disappearance. These have been discounted as well. Both of his parents state Brandon sounded clear-headed and coherent when they were on the phone with him, and he had no history of mental illness or mental disorder. Also, if Brandon was actually planning his disappearance, getting his car purposefully stuck in a ditch and trying to reach out to multiple people to get help seems like a strange way to carry out such a plan.
His parents believe foul play is involved, and, although unlikely, it is possible an offender happened upon Brandon and sought an opportunity to take him. Even the idea of vehicular homicide has been brought up and that someone could have accidentally hit Brandon and hid the body in their car, but with no concrete evidence whatsoever, these theories are hard to prove.
Trying to explain how Brandon could have mixed up his location has proven challenging. This is a trip that he made practically daily, considering he would drive from Marshall to Canby and back for classes all the time. It was a straight shot down Highway 68, so what was different that night?
Brandon had been partying and drinking that night, but many witnesses have confirmed that he was not visibly intoxicated or incoherent in any way. His parents attest to this as well based on the phone calls they had with him.
Another mysterious detail is the length of Brandon’s trip that night. The drive from Canby to Marshall in total is about 35 minutes. He ended up in Porter, which is only 10 minutes away from Canby. He left for home at midnight, but somehow, almost two hours later, was still by Porter.
So what happened in the time that is unaccounted for? Unfortunately, no one has been able to answer that for certain.
A shining light on this tragedy is the passing of Brandon’s Law. His parents lobbied for change due to the delayed response time from police, causing a new law in Brandon’s name to be written, requiring law enforcement to respond to a missing person’s report immediately, regardless of the person’s age.
Brandon’s full name is Brandon Victor Swanson. He was born on January 30, 1989. He would be 33 years old today.
Brandon was 5 feet 6 inches and weighed 120 pounds at the time of his disappearance. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, a blue-striped polo shirt, a black zip-up hoodie, a sweatshirt with an emblem on the back, a white Minnesota Twins baseball hat, glasses and a silver chain. He was carrying his black Motorola SLVR cellphone, his wallet with identification and his keys.
If you or someone you know has any information that could lead to the discovery of Brandon Swanson, please call the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office (Minnesota) at 1-507-694-1664 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5687).