Cold Case Explorations

Researching Cold and Unsolved Cases from the US and Beyond

The Bizarre Disappearance of Brandon Swanson

This case has remained unsolved for 15 years, 6 months, and 24 days.

It was almost summer and 19-year-old Brandon Swanson was celebrating the end of the school year at a friend’s party in Canby, Minnesota. Around midnight, he called it a night and headed back to his parents’ place, roughly a 30-minute drive away.

However, Swanson ended up getting his car caught in a ditch. He called his parents to come and pick him up, and although they tried to locate their son, they were unable to find him based off of his explanation of where he was.

While still on the phone with his son, Brandon’s father heard him curse, and then the call ended. And that was it; no one ever saw or heard from Swanson again. Although the car was later located, no other evidence or remains have been found. What happened to Brandon Swanson on that night? Why did he vanish and why has no evidence been found pointing to his whereabouts over a decade later?

Table of Contents

About Brandon Swanson

Brandon Swanson was born on January 30, 1989 in Marshall, MN to parents Brian and Annette Swanson. He had a younger sister named Jasmine. Family and friends said he was a “high-functioning and emotionally stable individual” without many issues.

Brandon Swanson (left) and his younger sister, Jasmine.
Brandon Swanson (left) and his younger sister, Jasmine.

In 2008, Swanson was 19 years old and studying wind turbines at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. According to his parents, he loved his car, a Chevrolet Lumina, and he loved to drive. His mother recalls that she had many fun times with her son before his disappearance:

“Sometimes you think about all the fun things you did with Brandon. Sometimes that doesn’t work, either, so you try to get your mind on something else. You just never think something like this will happen to you.”

Annette Swanson (Source: Joy Baker)

Overall, it didn’t seem like Swanson had a reason to disappear and leave his family behind. So what happened on the night he did?

The Night of the Disappearance

On May 13, 2008, Brandon Swanson had just finished his freshman year at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. To celebrate finishing his first year, Swanson went to a classmate’s home for a party in Canby, MN (although some sources state that the party was in Lynd, MN).

According to his friends at the party, he drank some alcohol, but not to the point where he was overly inebriated. His friends said that he “did not appear to be intoxicated.”

Around midnight on May 14, Swanson left the party to head back to his parent’s home in Marshall, MN. It should have been about a 30-minute drive, although he took back roads instead of Highway 68.

It’s believed Swanson took back roads in order to avoid being pulled over by law enforcement because he’d been drinking. Swanson had a prior DWI conviction from 2006 and he likely wanted to avoid getting into that same situation again.

Brandon Crashed His Car

Swanson ended up driving in to a ditch and called his parents around 12:30 AM for assistance, although he tried calling some of his friends first. He wasn’t sure exactly where he was (because it was so dark and rural roads don’t tend to have a lot of lighting and signage), but he guessed that he was somewhere outside Lynd and about 10 miles from his parents’ place.

Both of Brandon’s parents headed out to retrieve their stranded son that night. They arrived at where they thought he had said he was shortly thereafter, but they didn’t find his car there. Brian suggested that Brandon flash his lights to see if they could spot him that way, but that didn’t work either.

Frustrations Rose

Because it was late, frustrations rose and tempers flared, and Brandon ended up hanging up on his parents. Soon thereafter, his mother called him back to apologize and he told her that he was walking back to his friend’s house in Lynd and he would meet them there.

Brian drove Annette home so that she could get some sleep and then turned around and headed back out toward Lynd so he could pick up his stranded son. By then, it was around 2:30 AM.

While he was driving, Brian called and remained on the phone with Brandon. They discussed what Brandon could see around him — surroundings, signs, and buildings — in case Brian recognized any of the places and could pinpoint Brandon’s location. Brandon stated that he saw some gravel roads, fences, and could hear some flowing water.

A map of approximate locations from the night that Swanson went missing. Note how far away his car was from where he told his parents he was.
A map of approximate locations from the night that Swanson went missing. Note how far away his car was from where he told his parents he was.

Brandon Vanishes

Then, at 3:10 AM, Brandon complained about “another fence,” then shouted a curse word, and the call ended. Frantically, Brian tried to call his son back, but the phone was never picked up again. When he couldn’t reach his son, Brian called his son’s friends and asked them to look around the area Brandon he thought had last been in.

At 6:30 AM and after having Brandon’s friends try to search for him, Annette contacted the Lyon County Sheriff’s Department.

The Search Begins

Authorities were a bit reluctant to go on an all-out search for Brandon Swanson at first because, legally, he was an adult. Since Swanson was 19 years old, he was allowed to be out all night and not contact his friends and family. As one officer described it, he had “a right to be missing.”

Even after Swanson’s father explained the abrupt end to the cell phone call, authorities still hesitated. However, as the hours ticked by, it became clear that Swanson likely wasn’t voluntarily missing and the search became more serious. Authorities got involved in the search that afternoon.

Swanson’s Car Found

In the afternoon of May 14, authorities found Swanson’s car near Taunton, MN by tracing his cell phone data to a nearby cell tower. The car was located in a rural area near the Lyon and Lincoln county lines. Additionally, the car was about 25 miles from Lynd, far further than Swanson had told his parents he was.

Lincoln County Sheriff Jack Vizecky said of the vehicle’s location:

“It was off the side of a field approach, and the vehicle was hung up. It’s sort of a sharp incline, nothing major but enough that the car would get hung up so the wheels are too high off the ground to get any traction.”

Sheriff Vizecky (Source: CNN)

Inside the vehicle, nothing suspicious was found. There was no blood, no drugs, no alcohol — nothing that would indicate there was some sort of an issue in the car itself. Unfortunately, authorities were also unable to locate any indicators of where Swanson might’ve gone (like footprints).

The 140-square mile search area identified by Emergency Support Services.
The 140-square mile search area identified by Emergency Support Services.

Some sources say that Swanson’s glasses were left in his vehicle, glasses that he always wore because he was legally blind in his left eye. Why would Swanson have taken his glasses off? And why would he have left them behind? Other sources however claim that his eyeglasses have never been found, so it’s not clear whether they were located or not.

Was Swanson Swept Away?

Searches by land and air took place, along with some nearby bodies of water. Search dogs led investigators to a spot by the Yellow Medicine River. At that time, the water levels were high and flowing quickly. Was it possible that Swanson got swept away?

However, investigators weren’t convinced that Swanson went into the river at all. They searched the area and many miles downstream, but ended up finding nothing.

A missing poster for Brandon Swanson.
A missing poster for Brandon Swanson (Twin Cities).

The Possibility of Foul Play

Although there were no signs of foul play found (like blood in the car), Sheriff Vizecky left open the possibility of foul play. He stated:

“The only thing would have been if someone was in the shadows, and they got him that way. I can’t say there wasn’t someone else there, but I can’t find any evidence of it.”

Sheriff Vizecky (Source: CNN)

Nothing was found in the car that would indicate a struggle of any sort, although it was possible that something happened to Swanson after he got out and started walking down the road.

More Searches, Nothing Found

When no signs of Swanson were located, more searches were carried out in the surrounding areas. Cadaver dogs were brought in, and although some of them indicated around certain areas, no remains or other items (like his cell phone) have been located.

Images from some of the many searches for Brandon Swanson.
Images from some of the many searches for Brandon Swanson (The Search for Brandon Swanson Blog).

Despite all the searches and efforts on behalf of volunteers and authorities, no trace of Swanson has ever been found. It’s now been over a decade since his disappearance, with no further clues or answers.

Theories on What Happened

Because this case has been ongoing for about 15 years now, there are many theories about what might’ve happened to Swanson. However, since there was so little evidence found at the scene where his car was found, no one can really say for sure what happened.

Swanson Left Intentionally

Authorities initially suspected that Swanson had left the area intentionally and of his own volition. After all, as they stated, it’s not illegal for an adult to leave and not contact their friends and family.

However, given that he contacted his parents when his car got caught in the ditch, it doesn’t seem likely that he was planning on going missing that early morning. Why would he call his parents if he planned on leaving? Furthermore, if he didn’t want to be found, why would he tell his parents where he thought he was?

There Was an Accident

If, for example, Swanson fell into the river and was swept away, authorities have stated that some evidence would have been located. Especially with the cadaver dogs, something would have been found. Sheriff Vizecky stated:

“I can’t explain why clothing, belongings wouldn’t surface. I can’t explain why after searching for three weeks, [the dogs] could not smell anything.”

Sheriff Vizecky (Source: CNN)

If Swanson had gone into the river though, it’s entirely possible that he succumbed to the elements after that. The temperature that night was a chilly 40 degrees and, if he’d ended up drenched in water, he could have ended up with hypothermia.

Search Manager Jeff Hasse with Midwest Technical Rescue Training believes that this is what happened to Swanson. He said of the case:

“We believe that he got disoriented. And at one point, we know for a fact, he ended up traveling on a field road between two fields… I believe he fell, got wet, cell phone went dead. I think he continued walking. It was cold. It got down to 39 degrees.”

Jeff Hasse (Source: HaveYouSeenUs)

Swanson had a Mental Break

Some have suggested that Swanson had some sort of a mental breakdown. However, he had no history of mental illnesses, nor did he sound off or odd when he was on the phone with his parents. His friends also didn’t report any odd behavior from Swanson when he was at the party.

Swanson Committed Suicide

A few people have put forth the theory that Swanson took the opportunity of his car crashing in the ditch to take his own life. (If you’re struggling yourself, please contact the Suicide Hotline.) I find this difficult to believe. Why would he have called his friends and family if he was planning on committing suicide? Why would he call his parents to have them come and pick him up if that was his plan?

There was Foul Play Involved

Authorities couldn’t rule out the possibility of foul play in the investigation into Swanson’s disappearance. They also couldn’t find any evidence supporting the idea.

Some have suggested that he was struck by someone driving and killed, and then his body hidden to get rid of the evidence. I suppose this is possible, but it seems unlikely given that Swanson’s father was on the phone with him that night and he would have heard the sounds of tires squealing or a crash if that had happened.

The FBI poster for Brandon Swanson.
The FBI poster for Brandon Swanson (

It should also be noted though that the FBI has Swanson’s disappearance listed in the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP), indicating that they might have more information that hasn’t been released to the public.

What Do I Think Happened?

This is another one of those cases where, although all of the potential theories aren’t very plausible, one of them has to be true. Clearly, something happened to Brandon Swanson that night, whether he left voluntarily or foul play was involved.

An Accident Most Likely

For me, the most likely theory is the accident one. From what we know about Swanson, it wasn’t likely that he was trying to run away or commit suicide. He was a lost kid, perhaps still a little drunk, trying to find his way home on that cold night.

Accidents happen in rural areas. A volunteer firefighter suggested the idea that Swanson slipped and fell into an unmarked cistern or well. Out in the country, it would be entirely possible for that to have happened and for him never to be found until the cistern or well is dug up again.

This seems even more likely when you consider that Swanson had possibly left his glasses in his car, making it much more difficult for him to see clearly. Perhaps he was walking and, distracted by the phone call, he failed to notice the opening of a well. Without his glasses, he couldn’t see clearly and ended up slipping.

The other accident idea that many believe is that Swanson fell in the Yellow Medicine River and ended up succumbing to the elements, a very possible outcome given the frigid temperatures that night. If he fell in and ended up getting his clothes soaking wet, he wouldn’t have been able to dry off — a potential death sentence that low-temperature night.

Foul Play Possible

It’s possible that somehow foul play was involved, although I don’t think it’s very likely based on the evidence that has been released to the public. Unless there is some other evidence that is being deliberately held back by authorities, I don’t think anyone else had anything to do with Swanson’s disappearance.

Not Knowing is the Hardest Part

Unfortunately for Swanson’s family, there are still no answers. Annette Swanson, Brandon’s mother, has stated that not knowing where her son is or what happened to him is the most difficult part. She said of her son’s disappearance:

“The not knowing where a loved one is, not knowing what happened, is awful. Ultimately, you’d like an answer. You know they’re not where they should be, but you have no idea where they are. You don’t know if they’re living 50 miles away from you, or if they’re dead. You don’t know if something horrific happened to them, or not. You don’t know if they’ve had an accident, lost their memories and are living a life someplace else not knowing somebody is looking for them. You just don’t know.”

Annette Swanson (Source: Joy Baker)

The only way we’ll ever find out what happened to Brandon Swanson is to keep searching for him until he’s found. He’s out there somewhere, and his family deserves answers.

Case Updates

There have been many case updates in the disappearance of Brandon Swanson, although unfortunately none of them have revealed where he is or what happened to him. New Lyon County Sheriff Eric Wallen has stated:

“It seems that every tip that we receive, we investigate and we run into a dead end. It was either false or the information wasn’t accurate… they all seem to run into a dead end.”

Sheriff Eric Wallen (Source: Inforum)

July 1, 2009: Brandon’s Law

Because of the slow response to the disappearance by authorities, Swanson’s parents started a petition for “Brandon’s Law,” named after their lost son. The law was enacted on July 1, 2009. This law requires that authorities conduct a preliminary investigation when a missing persons report comes in without any delays, even if someone is above the age of 18.

March 2010: Bloodhounds Caught the Scent?

In March 2010, an additional search for Swanson was conducted, with search dogs leading investigators to a specific area of Mud Creek.

Fall 2010: More Searches Conducted

Searchers once again headed to the area of Mud Creek in early August 2010, an area that is near where Swanson’s car was found. In September 2010, a stock pond was searched. Other searches were also carried out in October and November 2010 by human remains detection canine teams. The dogs showed some interest in several areas, but still, nothing was found.

More images from some of the many searches for Brandon Swanson. Note how thick the foliage is in the search areas.
More images from some of the many searches for Brandon Swanson. Note how thick the foliage is in the search areas (The Search for Brandon Swanson Blog).

May 2011: Even More Searches

Even more searches were conducted in the Mud Creek Area. Heavy rains made the area muddy and hard to navigate, and it doesn’t seem like anything of use was found.

Do You Have Information?

At the time of his disappearance, Brandon Swanson was 19 years old, 5’6, and 120 lbs. He has brown hair and blue eyes, and has his ears pierced. He was last seen wearing jeans, a striped polo shirt, a hooded sweatshirt with a zipper in the front, and his normal square-framed glasses. If you have any information, please contact Agent Woodford at (651) 793–7000 or the Lincoln County Sheriff at (507) 694–1664.

An age-progressed picture of Brandon Swanson for what he might look like at 30 years old (Missing Kids).

Cold Case Questions

  • What do you think happened to Brandon?
  • Do you think Brandon will ever be found?

Let me know what you think about this case in the comment section below!

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