Cold Case Explorations

Researching Cold and Unsolved Cases from the US and Beyond

Without a Trace: The Disappearance of Paula and Brandon Wade

This case has remained unsolved for 21 years, 1 months, and 26 days.

Paula Wade was looking forward to moving down to Orlando, Florida (FL) from her home in Valdosta, Georgia (GA). In a few short weeks, she and her 3-year-old son, Brandon, would be moving to be closer to her parents who lived in Orlando. But that day would never come to pass.

October 12, 2002 was the last time anyone saw Paula or Brandon. Her employer contacted authorities when she didn’t show up for work on October 14 — something very unusual for the typically punctual Paula. Authorities checked the apartment complex where she and Brandon lived with a roommate, but few clues were found.

Paula’s former husband fell under suspicion, but he was quickly cleared by authorities. Her roommate (and potential ex-boyfriend) was also looked at, but was uncooperative with the investigation. He sought legal counsel and refused a polygraph examination. Now, 20 years later, Paula and Brandon are still missing, and neither they nor their remains have ever been found. Where are Paula and Brandon Wade?

Paula and Brandon Wade.
Paula and Brandon Wade (Valdosta Times).

Table of Contents


About Paula & Brandon Wade

Paula McGrath Wade was born on October 30, 1976 to parents Regis and Mary McGrath. I couldn’t find much information regarding her early life, but later on, Paula married Lance Wade, a soldier in the Air Force. Together, the couple moved to Valdosta, GA so that he could be stationed at Moody Air Force Base. They welcomed their son, Brandon, to the family soon thereafter. 

A photograph of Paula and Brandon Wade.
A photograph of Paula and Brandon Wade (Paula Wade).

A bright-eyed toddler, Brandon was said to have had a “lot of energy” for a 3-year-old, and one of his favorite foods was French fries. He also went by the nickname “Munchkin” to his grandparents. By all accounts, he was a happy and loving child.

Troubles in the Relationship?

It seems that, after a few years, the Wade marriage was on the rocks. Some sources say that the couple split up, but others seem to indicate that they were still married but perhaps separated. Regardless, Lance was sent to South Carolina to be stationed there and Paula couldn’t get a transfer for her job, so she remained in Valdosta. The couple was separated by physical distance regardless of their marital status.

Living Situation

By October 2002, Paula had been working at the local Sam’s Club in Valdosta for several years and, by all accounts, she was a good employee. She and Brandon were living in a local apartment complex with one of her friends, Marcus Burroughs. One source claims that Marcus was Paula’s ex-boyfriend, but I couldn’t find any other sources claiming that.

Before the Disappearance

Two weeks before the disappearance, Brandon had spent a week with his grandparents in Orlando, FL. They’d taken him to Disney World where his grandfather worked and had a great time. “He was wanting to be picked up, and normally he wanted to walk because he had a lot of energy,” grandmother Mary McGrath recalled.

Thinking Brandon’s shoes might be getting too small for him, Regis McGrath, his grandfather, provided Paula with some money to buy his grandson some new shoes when he was returned to his mother in Valdosta. 

A photograph of Paula Wade.
A photograph of Paula Wade (Facebook).

A Planned Move

Sam’s Club had finally given Paula the green light to transfer to a new location, one down in Kissimmee, FL near where her parents lived. She and Brandon were slated to move down there later in the month of October, and Lance was supposed to come home and help her move on October 26. Other sources say that Paula’s father was going to help her move, although both accounts could be true. That day, however, would never come.


The Day of the Disappearance

Paula Wade was last seen on October 12, 2002 when she left her job at a local Sam’s Club in Valdosta around 3:00 PM. This was the last time anyone reported seeing her. It’s unclear if she and Brandon went missing on October 12 or 13 as there is no video surveillance, security cameras, or anything else showing either one after Paula left work on October 12. 

No Show at Work

On October 14, Paula didn’t show up for her scheduled shift at Sam’s Club. This was odd behavior for her, as she wasn’t the sort of employee who would no-call, no-show. She also wasn’t known to be a big partier or someone who would suddenly leave town, so it seemed unlikely that she was just hungover or had up and left Valdosta.

Concerned that Paula hadn’t shown up and they couldn’t figure out where she was, one of her supervisors sent an employee to Paula’s apartment to check on her. Although the employee reported that her car was in the parking lot, they didn’t see Paula or her son, Brandon anywhere. 

Another photo of Paula and Brandon Wade.
Another photo of Paula and Brandon Wade (Paula Wade).

Paula’s Parents Contacted

Employees then attempted to make contact with Paula’s parents, calling them to see if perhaps she had taken an unlikely impromptu trip to visit them down in Orlando. They confirmed that she wasn’t with them, and stated that she’d missed her weekly 6:30 PM Sunday night phone call. Her father, Regis McGrath, said: “We’d speak every Sunday night at 6:30 unless we arranged something ahead of time.”

Concerned about what they were hearing from their daughter’s coworkers, Paula’s parents told them to contact the Valdosta Police Department (VPD) and report Paula and Brandon as missing persons.


The Search Begins

When authorities at the VPD were contacted about the missing mother and son, they jumped into action, likely because it was two missing people at the same time and because her employer was the one to contact them, stating it was unlike Paula not to show up to work.

Apartment Searched

When authorities went to check the apartment, they described the place as looking “lived-in” but they didn’t find any evidence of foul play: no signs of a struggle, no blood, and nothing suspicious inside. They did however find the new shoes that Paula had purchased for Brandon with the money her father had given her.

Other items found in the apartment included allergy medicine, some luggage, as well as a blanket and musical tape that Brandon used to fall asleep with. It seems unlikely these items would have been left behind if Paula was planning on leaving and spending the night elsewhere since Brandon used the items during his bedtime routine.

One VPD officer, Sergeant Steve Owens, said of the disappearance, “We still have a feeling she might be out there on her own somewhere, but we do have some indications of foul play.” However, what that evidence is wasn’t elaborated upon.

A photograph of Brandon Wade.
A photograph of Brandon Wade (Paula Wade).

Cadaver Dogs Used

Law enforcement had some cadaver dogs go out into the wooded areas near the apartment complex to search for any potential human remains. Although the dogs found some bones, they turned out to be animal bones. No human remains were ever located during those searches.

Chevy Blazer Found

As the employee from Sam’s Club had reported, Paula’s 1998 Chevy Blazer was located at the apartment complex they lived in. According to Paula’s sister, Mary Ramsbottom, Brandon’s car seat was missing from the car. The car being located at the apartment complex seems to suggest that Paula made it home from work on October 12, although what happened after that remains unclear.

A billboard to raise awareness for the disappearance of Paula and Brandon Wade.
A billboard to raise awareness for the disappearance of Paula and Brandon Wade (Facebook).

Lance Wade Ruled Out

Authorities have publicly stated that Brandon’s father is not a person of interest in the case. By October 2002, Lance was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. He also reportedly took a polygraph examination, which authorities say he passed.

Furthermore, law enforcement has confirmed that he’s always cooperated in regards to the investigation. Lance told a news outlet, “It’s kinda hard to sit still and wait for something. I need to move on with life. I think about them everyday.” 

Roommate Examined

According to PaulaWade.com, a website dedicated to solving this case, Paula’s roommate (and potential ex-boyfriend according to one source) has been less than helpful when it comes to providing authorities with information. Marcus Randolph Burroughs, who was 19 at the time of the disappearance, allegedly refused to take a polygraph test and then retained legal counsel. 

Of course, not taking a polygraph test and getting a lawyer is in one’s best interest. Anyone with legal knowledge will tell you never to talk to police without a lawyer. My point is that just because Burroughs did these things, he shouldn’t be viewed with suspicion. There’s more, however, that paints him in a more suspicious light.

One of Burroughs’ friends was also brought in for questioning and reportedly told officials where the bodies could be found. However, when authorities searched that area, only deer bones were located. To date, Paula and Brandon’s remains have never been located.

Family Searches

Paula and Brandon’s family tried to help in the search efforts, putting up flyers around Valdosta and talking to people in the area, asking if they’d seen anyone fitting the description of the missing mother and son. No good information or leads seems to have come of this.

The family also didn’t think that the VPD was doing enough to find Paula and Brandon, and so they hired their own private investigator to look into the case. They also contacted some elected representatives as well as the FBI. It’s unclear if any additional information was uncovered by any of the other agencies involved. 

A missing poster for Brandon Wade.
A missing poster for Brandon Wade (Facebook).

Other Searches Conducted

When no information was forthcoming about the whereabouts of Paula and Brandon, authorities tried searching the sewers. Nothing was found. Additionally, Lance’s aunt hired a psychic in a desperate attempt to garner any sort of information about the case. The psychic suggested that Brandon was in Colorado, but that information never went anywhere.


Theories on What Happened

There are several theories in this case, mostly having to do with the idea that someone did something to Paula and Brandon. No one seems to believe that Paula up and left, taking her son with her to start a new life, nor was there any evidence pointing to mental health issues like a possible suicide. (As an aside, if you’re struggling yourself, please contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.) All that being said, let’s look at the most plausible theories in this case.

Lance Did Something to Paula and Brandon

Typically, the spouse is the one who is looked into when someone goes missing or is killed. In this case though, there seems to be no evidence that Lance had anything to do with his wife and son’s disappearance, nor was he even in the state at the time. There also is no evidence that there were issues in the home like domestic violence or other forms of abuse that would lead someone to suspect that Lance might’ve been involved.

A photograph of Brandon Wade.
A photograph of Brandon Wade (Paula Wade).

The Roommate Did Something to Paula and Brandon

Some have suggested that perhaps the roommate that Paula and Brandon were living with ended up doing something to her. Marcus Burroughs was 19 at the time when the mother and son went missing, and a source claims that he was an ex-boyfriend.

If Burroughs was an ex-boyfriend, then it seems more likely that he might’ve done something to Paula and Brandon. As I’ve pointed out in other cases, women are much more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than by anyone else

Additionally, one of Burroughs’ friends went to police, saying that he knew where the bodies were. Although this lead turned out to be untrue and the VPD only found deer bones, it seems like an odd thing for someone to lie about.

A Stranger Did Something to Paula and Brandon

It’s possible (but unlikely) that a stranger abducted Paula and Brandon. Strangers abduct less than 1% of missing children, and no doubt that number drops further if you consider that the mother was abducted as well. For two victims to be abducted at random seems statistically implausible, although not impossible. Additionally, there is no publicly-released evidence that points to a stranger abduction in this case.


What Do I Think Happened?

I can’t say for sure what happened in this case (or any other unsolved case, for that matter), but it seems to me that suspicion is rightly on Paula’s roommate and potential ex-boyfriend, Marcus Burroughs. He retained legal counsel and refused to take a polygraph — which, as I said before, is the smart thing to do — but that doesn’t explain why one of his friends went to the VPD with a story about where the bodies of Paula and Brandon could be found.

Why would one of Burroughs’ friends inject themselves into the investigation and say that they knew were the bodies were? It could have been for clout or fame, as many people do make up stories to tell police, but it seems more likely to me that there could have been some truth to what authorities were told; it’s possible that the bodies had been there and then were moved.

Potential Motives

There are any number of reasons why Burroughs might have snapped and killed the mother and son, and if we’ve learned anything from some of these true crime cases, sometimes there is barely a motive at all. I’d also like to know what evidence there is that makes the VPD say that there are “some indications of foul play” in this case.

Perhaps the fact that Paula was planning to move sent Burroughs over the edge and he snapped, killing her and Brandon so that they couldn’t leave him. Perhaps there was a money issue and Burroughs knew he wouldn’t be able to afford the apartment without Paula’s help. We just don’t know, and there isn’t enough publicly-available information to make that determination.

Questions Without Answers

Additionally, from the information we do have, Paula wasn’t a partier, nor did it seem likely that she’d be out all night. If Burroughs was uninvolved in her disappearance, why wasn’t he concerned when she wasn’t home at the apartment on either October 12 or 13? Wouldn’t a good person and ex-boyfriend be worried about their missing roommate and her son?

Did Burroughs try to contact Paula on those nights to see where she was? Surely there’d be cell phone records of text messages or calls from him trying to get in touch with her if she was missing. And it’s possible that there were, but VPD simply hasn’t released that information.

Case Outlook

Regardless if Burroughs caused the disappearance of Paula and Brandon, I think he knows more than he’s told authorities. It’s been over 20 years now and the family deserves justice. Mary McGrath, Paula’s mother and Brandon’s grandmother, said of the disappearance:

“It just never goes away. It’s like a nightmare that is always there. You just wonder. Even though it’s 20 years, you just have that (feeling) like it happened just yesterday.”

Mary McGrath (Source: WCTV)

Case Updates

There have been some updates in the case of missing mother and son Paula and Brandon Wade.

June 2013: Authorities Ask for More Information

In June 2013, VPD reached out to the public again, asking for any information regarding the case of missing mother and son Paula and Brandon Wade. Detective Chris Crews told media outlets:

“We’re reaching out to the public again to see if there’s anyone from back then that knew them, Paula or Brandon, that can give us any new information or shed any light on their leaving, their disappearance.”

Det. Chris Crews (Source: WALB 10)

Unfortunately, the plea didn’t seem to uncover any new information and the case remains unsolved.

2020s: Paula’s Father Dies

Unfortunately, Regis McGrath passed away before he ever found out what happened to his daughter and grandson. I couldn’t find the exact date of his passing, although it seems to have been sometime around 2020.

October 2022: 20 Year Anniversary

October 2022 marked the 20-year anniversary of Paula and Brandon Wade going missing. And 20 years on, there are still no answers. Paula’s sister, Mary Ramsbottom, said of the anniversary of the disappearance:

“The day they went missing I said, ‘Where are they? Somebody somewhere knows something,’ Why is nobody talking? Somebody knows something. I never imagined I’d be saying that same phrase 20 years later.”

Mary Ramsbottom (Source: WCTV)

Do You Have Information?

A cash reward is being offered for any information leading to the recovery of Paula and Brandon Wade. At the time of the disappearance, Paula Wade was 5’7 and weighed about 150 lbs. She has brown hair and brown eyes. Brandon Wade was about 2’9 and weighed around 32 lbs. with blue eyes and brown hair. If you have information about their disappearance, please contact the Valdosta Police Department at (229) 242–2606 or contact the anonymous crime tip line at (229) 293–3091.

A missing poster for Paula and Brandon Wade from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
A missing poster for Paula and Brandon Wade from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Cold Case Questions

  • What do you make of Paula Wade’s car being left behind?
  • What do you think happened to Paula and Brandon Wade?
  • Will this case ever be solved?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


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One thought on “Without a Trace: The Disappearance of Paula and Brandon Wade

  1. My gut tells me that someone who knew the victims is the culprit. This is statistically predominant in a disappearance. Your points regarding the roommate are correct. Why not attempt to contact the family or authorities? Why retain a lawyer and refuse a polygraph if one is innocent? Although a prudent choice, it points to having something to hide. I truly believe the one closest to the victims, the roommate, is the individual that deserves attention, even 20 years after the disappearance.
    Did he have a vehicle? If yes, was it searched for any physical evidence? Was he employed? Did he miss work during the time of the disappearance? What was his behavior during this time? Was he concerned? Was his family and/or friends interviewed. Was he involved in nefarious activities leading up to the disappearance?
    I could go on and on, however, suffice it to say I’m frustrated and feel so sorry for the family of the victims. The perpetrator was known to the victims, of this I am certain!

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