There are many mysterious disappearances of people around the world, ranging from simply incomprehensible to truly strange. One of these cases came from the US state of Ohio, where a man went to a bar and … did not come out, disappearing irretrievably, as if dissolved in air. This mystery still remains unsolved.
Brian Shaffer was a medical student at Ohio State University. On March 31, a Friday, classes at OSU ended for spring break the next week. Brian and Randy Shaffer, his father, celebrated the occasion by going out for a steak dinner together earlier that evening.
The older man noted that his son seemed exhausted from having pulled all-nighters earlier in the week cramming for some important upcoming exams. He did not think Brian should go out with a friend, William “Clint” Florence, later that night as he planned to do, but did not express his reservations to his son.
At 9 p.m., Brian met Florence at the Ugly Tuna Saloona, a bar in the South Campus Gateway complex on High Street. An hour later, Brian called Alexis Waggoner (his girlfriend). She had returned to her home in Toledo to visit with her family before she and Brian were due to depart for Miami.
He and Florence went bar-hopping, visiting several other drinking establishments and working their way down to the Arena District. At each stop the two had one shot each of hard liquor, according to Florence.
After midnight, the two met Meredith Reed, a friend of Florence, in The Short North. She gave them a ride back to the Ugly Tuna Saloona, where they had started the night, and joined them there for a last round.
While the three were there, Brian separated from his companions. Florence and Reed had been trying to find him, repeatedly calling him. They left with other patrons when the bar closed at 2 a.m., waiting outside for Brian. When he was not among the departing crowd, they assumed he had gone back to his apartment without letting them know.
Waggoner and Randy Shaffer both tried to call Brian later that weekend but he did not answer. On Monday morning he missed the flight to Miami he and Waggoner had scheduled long before. He was then reported missing to the Columbus police.
Police began their search for Brian at the Ugly Tuna, the bar where he had last been seen. Since the area around South Campus Gateway was somewhat blighted, with a high crime rate, the bar had installed security cameras.
They reviewed the footage, which showed Brian, Florence and Reed going up an escalator to the bar’s main entrance at 1:15 a.m. Brian was seen outside of the bar around 1:55 a.m., talking briefly with two young women and saying goodbye, then moving off-camera in the direction of the bar, apparently to re-enter. Shaffer has not been seen or heard from since.
Shaffer’s disappearance has been particularly puzzling to investigators since there was no other publicly accessible entrance to the bar at that time.
It was possible, investigators realized, that he could have changed his clothes in the bar or put on a hat and kept his head down, hiding his face from the camera. The cameras might also have missed him—one panned across the area constantly, and the other was operated manually.
He might have also left the building by another route. However, the building’s only other exit, a service door not generally used by the public, opened at the time onto a construction site that officers believed would have been difficult to walk through while sober, much less intoxicated, as Brian likely was at the time.
Since Columbus has the most security cameras of any city in Ohio, more than Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo combined, officers next looked to the footage from other bars to see if cameras there could explain how Brian had left the Ugly Tuna. However, footage from cameras at three other nearby bars showed no trace of Brian.
The search began to fan out from the Ugly Tuna, with officers, sometimes accompanied by police dogs, looking closely in the street, inspecting dumpsters and other waste containers and asking residents if they had seen him.
Flyers of Brian’s picture, showing a tattoo on his upper right arm of a stick figure logo from the cover artwork for the single of “Alive” by Pearl Jam, one of his favorite bands, and noting a distinctive fleck in one of his irises, were posted widely.
The police even persuaded the city to let them into the sewer system and search there. No useful information was uncovered. At Brian’s apartment on King Avenue six blocks from the Ugly Tuna, his car was still parked outside. Inside, nothing appeared amiss.
After searching miles away from the bar in every direction, police began to consider other possibilities besides an accident or foul play. Since his mother had recently died, it was speculated he had gone away temporarily to grieve in solitude. Yet, his disappearance proved permanent. No evident reasons appeared for him voluntarily disappearing.
Waggoner called Brian’s phone every evening before going to bed for a long time after the disappearance. Usually it went to voicemail, but one night in September it actually rang three times.
“I kept calling it to hear it purely because it was one of the best sounds I have ever heard, even if no one picked up”, she wrote on her MySpace page. Cingular, Brian’s wireless provider, said what Waggoner heard may have been due to a computer glitch. A ping from the phone was detected at a cell tower in Hilliard, 14 miles (23 km) northwest of Columbus.
The police received many tips, none of which resulted in any breakthroughs in the case. At a Pearl Jam concert later that year in Cincinnati, lead singer Eddie Vedder took time between songs to ask for tips in Brian’s disappearance, but none of those were useful either. Possible sightings in Michigan, Texas and even Sweden were investigated.
Randy Shaffer, who had recently suffered the death of his wife, continued the search for his son on his own. A psychic he consulted told him Brian’s body was in water near a bridge pier.
He and Derek, Brian’s brother, along with some other citizens who had become interested in the case, bought waders and spent much of their free time along the shores of the Olentangy River, which flows through Columbus adjacent to the OSU campus, searching in vain for the body near bridges.
In September 2008, during a heavy windstorm in Central Ohio, Randy Shaffer was out in the yard of his Baltimore home clearing debris. A branch blew off from a nearby tree and fatally struck him. Neighbors found his body the next morning and called police.
After his obituary ran online, a condolence book was posted. One of the signatures in it said “To Dad, love Brian (U.S. Virgin Islands)”.
This suggested Brian might have left Columbus for a new life elsewhere. However, upon further investigation, the note was found to have been posted from a computer accessible to the public in Franklin County; it was determined to be a hoax.
So, what happened to Brian Schaffer? Was this some very tricky scheme to hide from everyone? How has no camera spotted Brian leaving the pub? This case has remained one of the most strange disappearances of people in recent years.
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