|This case has remained unsolved for 7 years, 1 months, and 22 days.|
Stacey Smart had just recently moved from Weaverville, CA to the nearby town of Lewiston, CA to live with her boyfriend, Tony Brand. As far as her family knew, the relationship was going well — up until she simply vanished on October 15, 2016. Later, accusations of cheating on Brand’s part were uncovered.
For weeks, Smart’s family tried to get in touch with her but were unable to make contact. Her daughter and son-in-law even drove to her home, leaving a note on the door for her to contact them. She never did. For weeks, neither Smart nor her boyfriend Brand could be contacted by the family.
Ultimately, Smart was reported missing November 2, and despite search efforts on behalf of the family, paid search organizations, and authorities, they were unable to uncover anything substantial. Brand says he didn’t contact authorities because he thought “she left” him and she had “left notes” for him, so he wasn’t worried about his missing girlfriend.
Over half a decade later, the family is no closer to knowing what happened to their loved one. There have been no confirmed sightings of Smart, nor has she made contact with anyone since she disappeared. Why did this loving mother and free spirit go missing? Was this a woman simply leaving her friends and family behind to start a new life, or was foul play involved, as many suspect? What happened to Stacey Smart?
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About Stacey Smart
Stacey Smart was 52 years old in 2016. I couldn’t find a lot of information about her background, but her friends and family spoke very highly of her loving nature. “She was free. She was nurturing. She would take care of you,” said sister Melissa Smart.
Mike Hamann, Smart’s son-in-law, said of her:
“We called her sometimes ‘spacey Stacey’ because she was just kind of flighty and fun, y’know, just wanted to have fun and you’d be driving down the road with her and she’d stop and jump out to pick flowers on the side of the road… Just a real free spirit.”Mike Hamann (Source: True Crime Daily)
At the time of her disappearance, Smart was living with her boyfriend Tony Brand (62) of six months near the Pine Cove Marina on Lewiston Lake. Brand was a local home health worker and a karaoke DJ. Smart had moved to be with him from Weaverville, CA.
Due to some injuries, Smart had a difficult time walking and didn’t drive. Instead, friends often drove her to stores so that she could run her errands. How did a woman who had trouble walking and driving end up going missing?
We aren’t entirely sure what day that Stacey Smart went missing, but most sources agree that the last time she was seen alive was around October 15, 2016 at a housewarming party in the Lewiston neighborhood where they lived. A neighbor reported that after the couple had attended the party, they’d seen Smart and Brand fighting.
When asked about the last time she spoke to Smart, daughter Nicole Santos-Hamann said, “She seemed very happy and we were making plans to get together for Halloween.” Her last contact with her mother was reportedly on October 12.
Unable to Find Smart
As the days after October 15 went by, Smart’s daughter tried to call her mother several times but was unable to make contact. When Smart’s mother tried to get a hold of her, the home phone was disconnected.
Later, after Smart’s daughter and son-in-law still couldn’t touch base with her after Halloween, they drove to her home and left a note on the door requesting that she contact them. The note went unanswered. The family was also unable to make contact with Smart’s boyfriend, Brand, for several weeks.
It seems that because Smart was such a free spirit, her family wasn’t too worried about her going missing as she might’ve gone off on an impromptu trip. However, when they were unable to make contact with her after many weeks, they finally contacted authorities and a missing persons report was finally filed on November 2.
The Search Begins
Authorities found Smart’s disappearance somewhat suspicious given that she had many connections to the Lewiston community — including many close family members — and hadn’t been in touch with any of them. It was very out-of-character for Smart and, since she hadn’t been seen or heard from since October 15, they took the missing persons report seriously.
Smart’s family also hired their own private detective early on in the investigation to help in the search. Most of all though, the family found it odd that Smart’s boyfriend, Tony Brand, hadn’t reported her as missing when she first disappeared.
Two Missing Women
On the same day that Stacey Smart was reported missing from Lewiston, CA, another missing woman was also reported missing roughly an hour away in Redding, CA. The other woman was Sherri Papini. At first, authorities thought that there might be some connection between the missing women.
However, Sherri Papini ultimately turned up a few months later on Thanksgiving Day in 2016. In later years, she was was found to have faked her own kidnapping and, in 2022, was sentenced to 18 months in a federal institution. Smart, however, has yet to be located, and it’s now clear that there is no connection between the missing women.
A Troubled Relationship?
Melissa Smart said of the relationship between her sister and Brand, “They were very happy and she was telling me how awesome they were together.” From the outside, the relationship appeared happy — at least, early on it did.
However, a month before she went missing, Smart had called her mother and complained that Brand had been cheating on her. Smart was reportedly very upset and crying during this phone call. It’s not clear if the allegations of cheating are true or false, although Brand somewhat alluded to it in talk about “another woman.”
The Ever-Changing Story
On November 8, the family finally managed to contact Brand. “He was polite, he let us in. He didn’t say very much,” said sister Melissa Smart of the meeting. He claimed not to know where Smart was and that “she left.”
However, Brand had reportedly told another friend another story about Smart’s disappearance, saying that Smart had moved out “two weeks earlier.” He allegedly told a third friend a third story, claiming that Smart had become “violent” with him and he had to “make her move.”
When Smart’s daughter Nicole Santos-Hamann asked Brand about the disappearance, he reportedly told her that Smart had left notes and she had been back to his house several times. When Santos-Hamann requested to see the notes, he said he didn’t know where the notes were.
Smart’s Possessions Were Still in the Home
Due in part to the multitude of stories that the family was being told by Brand, the family requested to have a look around the home. When he granted them permission, they noticed that all of Smart’s possessions were still present. If Smart had up and moved out as he told one of his friends, why would she have left all of her belongings?
Sister Melissa Smart also found a suspicious oval area of carpet that had been removed in their bedroom. Authorities were notified and sent a forensics team to the home, although they didn’t find anything peculiar about the spot of carpet. Some friends did acknowledge that the couple was planning to make changes to this area of carpet prior to Smart’s disappearance which could explain the missing patch.
Additionally, it was discovered that the last time Smart’s bank card was used was on October 16 around 6 PM, the day after she was seen at the neighborhood party fighting with Brand. It’s not clear if law enforcement was ever able to determine who it was who used her card.
When interviewed by authorities, Brand told them that Smart had left the home and he had started seeing another woman. However, Smart returned at some point later and they rekindled their relationship.
Brand also reportedly refused to take a polygraph examination. Smart’s son-in-law offered to pay for a lawyer to sit with Brand while he took the test, which Brand allegedly agreed to. When the day and time came to take the test though, he never showed up. Later, when interviewed by the The Trinity Journal regarding Smart’s disappearance, Brand said:
“This whole time, we’ve just been waiting for her to come back and show up and she hasn’t. I just hope and pray that she’s OK. I do really love the girl and we did have a lot of good times.”Tony Brand (Source: The Trinity Journal)
He also stated that he didn’t report Smart missing because he thought she’d just left without telling him. Many people who heard this thought it was a strange explanation. “You don’t have a girlfriend living with you or a boyfriend living with you and just wake up one day and say, ‘Oh, I don’t know where they’re at,’” said sister Melissa Smart.
Aside from declining to take the polygraph test, the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office said that Brand has been cooperating with authorities, answering their questions and allowing them to search the home.
Brand Finally Takes Polygraph
Brand ended up taking a polygraph on March 2, 2017, but he didn’t take one through the Sheriff’s Office. From what I can gather, he took a polygraph from an independent organization and then posted a picture of the results on his Facebook page.
Of course, Brand claimed that the polygraph showed he had nothing to do with Smart’s disappearance since the results indicated that he didn’t lie when asked about hurting and/or killing Smart. Smart’s family isn’t so convinced. They’d like him to take a polygraph that is administered through the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: polygraphs are not a good gauge of whether some is guilty or innocent. They aren’t even a good gauge of whether someone’s lying or telling the truth because you can lie and pass a polygraph just like you can tell the truth and fail one. Don’t get me wrong; polygraphs are a great investigative tool, but they shouldn’t be the barometer of whether someone is supposedly guilty or innocent.
Reported Sightings of Smart
Some witnesses reported seeing Smart near a gas station called Weaverville Gas. She was supposedly with an older man in a green SUV, and because the witnesses knew Smart, they reportedly “saw and hugged her.” These sightings were around the week leading up to Halloween, although authorities have not been able to confirm the sightings through the gas station’s surveillance footage at this time.
Family Hires Private Searchers
Smart’s family, not getting anywhere with Brand, hired private searcher teams to try and find answers. Searchers combed the area surrounding the couple’s home as well as the nearby Lewiston Lake. Brand never showed up to any of the searches, save for the first one where he was there for “about three minutes,” according to Smart’s son-in-law.
To be fair to Brand, he did give the search teams written permission for them to go and search the outside perimeter of the property. Reportedly, search dogs hit on the back of an old shed, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that Smart had been out there.
One of the search organizers pointed out that the dogs could have hit in that location if someone had been out back and ended up cutting their hand, spilling some blood in that area. It isn’t necessarily an indication of foul play.
One of Brand’s Friends Speaks Up
A woman who was friends with Brand approached the family weeks later, claiming to have more information about Smart’s disappearance. She reportedly told Smart’s loved ones that Brand had admitted to her that he had put Smart “somewhere.” (Some details were left out in the reporting and it’s not clear where “somewhere” is referring to.)
The family directed the friend to the police department where she was interviewed several times. A deputy with the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office suggests that the interviews could be “an important piece of circumstantial evidence.”’ However, no arrests have been made at this time.
Where the Case Stands
It’s been over half a decade now and we aren’t any closer to figuring out what happened to Stacey Smart. A deputy with the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office stated of Smart’s case that they can’t rule anything out or in — be it a voluntary disappearance or foul play. There simply isn’t enough evidence pointing to any one conclusion.
Theories on What Happened
There have been several theories proposed about what happened to Stacey Smart. Part of the problem in this case is that we don’t have a definite timeline in her disappearance; we only know that she was last seen in the evening of October 15 and was reported missing on November 2. That’s several weeks of time where just about anything could have happened.
The fact that she didn’t make contact with anyone after October 15 suggests something happened to her either on that day or close to that day, but that’s only speculation. We have no hard evidence pointing to anything — and that’s what’s making this case so hard to solve.
Brand Did Something to Smart
The prevailing theory is that Brand did something to Smart to make her disappear. The fact that Brand’s story has changed many times is suspicious to many people, as is the fact that he put off a polygraph examination for months only to eventually take one through a third-party company. He also failed to report her missing for several weeks.
I agree that these factors certainly make him look less-than-innocent, but they aren’t exactly proof that he did anything to Smart. Someone can be a liar without being a murder, the same way they can be a cheater without having done anything to their missing significant other.
Angie Forslund, one of the search managers hired by Smart’s family, has suggested that Brand may have something to do with Smart’s disappearance. The family is also suspicious of Brand, although Smart’s daughter suggested that there might’ve been an accident of some sort that resulted in her mother’s death.
Someone Else Hurt Smart
Others have posited that someone else other than Brand hurt Smart, potentially killing her. The fact that Smart had difficulty walking and didn’t drive suggests to me that she didn’t end up wandering off and getting herself into trouble.
Even if Smart was mad at Brand over an argument and walked away from the home, she wouldn’t have gotten very far from the home because of her physical limitations. She also didn’t drive, so it’s not like she hopped into a car and drove off somewhere where other people might’ve had the opportunity to target her.
To be fair though, there are the witness reports of them supposed sightings of Smart at a Weaverville gas station with an older man. If these reports are true (they can’t be verified currently due to a lack of surveillance footage), then maybe this older man is the one who did something to Smart.
Smart Left Voluntarily
Another possibility is that Smart left voluntarily to start another life. This is possible, but I don’t think it’s probable. If she did leave of her own volition, that would explain why she hasn’t made contact with anyone; she wanted to start fresh.
However, that doesn’t explain the whole situation and many questions remain. Why would Smart have left all of her earthly possessions behind? Remember, she left all of her belongings at Brand’s home. Her bank card was supposedly used on October 16, the day after she was last seen by anyone besides Brand, but how much money did she take out (if she was indeed the one who used it)? Surely it wasn’t enough to survive for years on, as most ATMs have withdrawal limits and the card hasn’t been used since October 16, 2016.
Smart’s family also doesn’t believe she would have up and left them. “I know that my mother would never leave her family without contacting us,” Nicole Santos-Hamann said of her mother’s disappearance. And, for all of the research I’ve done on this case, I’ve located no publicly-available evidence that hints that Smart ever would have simply left her family without explanation.
Smart Committed Suicide
There’s always the chance that Smart decided to take her own life. However, she did not have a history of mental illness according to her family, so it’s unlikely that she suffered some sort of psychotic break and wandered off, ending up ending her own life. (As an aside, if you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help.)
It’s true that family members often don’t want to believe that their loved one might’ve committed suicide, but in this case, there just isn’t any evidence that points to the idea that she would have taken her own life. She didn’t struggle with drug abuse or mental illness — at least, there is no publicly-available information that suggests that she did.
Again, it’s possible that she was hiding a deep, internal struggle, but there’s no evidence that points to that outcome. So, although it’s possible Smart committed suicide, I find it highly unlikely that she did.
What Do I Think Happened?
For a case that’s been dragging on for the better part of a decade now, there really are only two plausible theories in my opinion: Brand did something to Smart or someone else hurt Smart. I doubt she left voluntarily or committed suicide.
Eyewitness Account Likely Mistaken
The supposed sightings of Smart are up for debate. It’s possible that witnesses saw Smart earlier in the month and had gotten their dates mixed up. Even daughter Santos-Harmann suggests that they may have mixed up Smart and her sister: “I think [the witnesses] are either off with their dates or they are thinking of my aunt; people get them mixed up all the time.”
The problem with eyewitness testimony is that it’s not always accurate or reliable. It certainly can be under the right circumstances. However, mistaken eyewitness testimony accounts for roughly half of all wrongful convictions. It’s not because the witnesses are lying — they really believe they saw a certain suspect at a certain location at a certain time — but the fact of the matter is that our memories are not perfect. We misremember things all the time, and our recollections are aren’t as reliable as we think they are.
So, I think that the witnesses believe they saw Smart at the gas station, but I don’t think that they actually did based on the relevant research that I was able to gather. Time may prove me wrong, however.
Brand’s Stories are Suspicious
I have reservations regarding Brand because he’s told so many people so many different stories about where Smart went. There’s a saying that my attorney mother often said to me growing up that I think applies here: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” If Brand really is innocent and has nothing to hide, why does the explanation of where she went keep changing? Did she actually move out, as he told one friend, or did she get violent and he had to “make her move” as he told another?
Brand also didn’t seem overly-worried about his missing girlfriend, neglecting to participate in the search efforts. I know if one of my friends (not even a significant other) went missing, I would be doing everything I could to try and help find them, be it participating in searches, handing out flyers, managing a missing persons social media page, etc.
It’s strange to me that he apparently did nothing. Again, this doesn’t mean he’s guilty; it’s just strange behavior coming from someone who professed to “loving” Smart.
Brand’s Bizarre Apathy After Disappearance
Also, why was Brand so apathetic about Smart’s disappearance — an apathy that was further revealed when he didn’t even report her missing after she was gone for several weeks? Then again, one of his stories was that Smart had been returning to the home to “leave notes,” so maybe that’s why he supposedly wasn’t worried.
Even if Brand had nothing to do with Smart’s disappearance, I think his mannerisms and actions after she vanished are bizarre, and I think he knows more than he’s saying. Again, time will tell whether I’m right or wrong about this.
The bottom line is that someone out there knows something. I find it hard to believe that Smart simply left her family and has never made contact with them again. “We need answers. Somebody has to know something,” said Smart’s daughter Nicole Santos-Hamann. If you know something, it’s time to come forward. Stacey Smart and her family deserve justice and closure.
Unfortunately, there haven’t been many updates in the case of Stacey Smart. Hopefully there will be more in the future and I’ll one day be able to mark this disappearance as “solved.”
November 2016: GoFundMe Established
Smart’s daughter Nicole Santos-Hamann set up a GoFundMe to raise funds to help find her missing mother. The GoFundMe is still active today, and far short of its $15,000 goal as of writing this.
January 2019: True Crime Daily Investigates
The crime TV show True Crime Daily did a report on Smart’s case in 2019, looking into where she might’ve gone. Reporters went to speak with Brand to get his side of the story, but he refused to talk on-camera. Brand’s attorney released a statement after Brand was confronted by reporters for the crime show:
“Tony was in a loving, intimate relationship with Stacey, which ended with as much mystery to him as anyone else. He has cooperated fully with investigators in this case and is as afraid for Stacey as any of her other loved ones.”Brand’s Attorney (Source: True Crime Daily)
Do You Have Information?
There is currently a $10,000 reward for information in this case. At the time of her disappearance, Stacey Smart was 52 years old, 5’8, 180 lbs., with blonde hair and blue eyes. She has a tattoo of a red lotus blossom on her lower back. If you have information, please contact the Trinity County Sheriff’s Department at (530) 623–3740 or the NorCal Alliance For The Missing anonymous tip line at (530) 378–4491.
Cold Case Questions
- What do you think happened to Stacey Smart?
- Do you think Brand had anything to do with Smart’s disappearance?
- Where do you think Smart is today?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below!
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