Cold Case Explorations

Researching Cold and Unsolved Cases from the US and Beyond

The Curious Vanishing of Brian Shaffer

This case has remained unsolved for 17 years, 8 months, and 7 days.

Brian Shaffer had just finished up some spring finals at the end of March 2006. He often got excellent grades, but his spirits were a bit dampened by the death of his mother to cancer just a few weeks before. There was good news on the horizon though as he planned to go on a trip to Miami, FL with his girlfriend on April 3.

On the night of March 31, Shaffer and some friends decided to go bar-hopping. He was last seen on a bar’s surveillance footage in the early morning hours of April 1, 2006. He was seen entering the bar but never leaving again, and he’s never been seen or heard from again.

Was Shaffer’s disappearance the result of foul play? Perhaps there was some sort of accident inside the bar, or even an intentional vanishing by someone who wanted to get away from it all. There have been hundred of leads investigated and we still aren’t sure what happened to Brian Shaffer.

Table of Contents

About Brian Shaffer

In 2006, Brian Shaffer was a second-year medical student at the Ohio State University (OSU). He’d been at OSU since his undergraduate years, earning a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. He reportedly got excellent grades and was well-liked by peers and professors alike.

A photo of Brian Shaffer from his MySpace Page.
A photo of Brian Shaffer from his MySpace Page.

Shaffer had a strong passion for music and one of his favorite bands was Pearl Jam. He even got a tattoo of some of their album cover art.

As for his family, Shaffer had a younger brother, Derek, and was close with his father, Randy, and mother, Renee. Three weeks before his disappearance, Renee passed away from a rare form of bone cancer. According to friends and family, Shaffer and his mother were very close so he took the loss especially hard.

Brian Shaffer and his mother, Renee Shaffer.
Brian Shaffer and his mother, Renee Shaffer (Ranker).

By all accounts, Shaffer was on track to graduate in from OSU in another few years and there were no outward issues (like odd behavior or drug use) that might’ve led to his disappearance. He was simply there that night, and then he wasn’t, and no one seems to know what happened to him.

The Night of the Disappearance

On the night of March 31, 2006, Shaffer had plans to eat dinner with his father. The two ate at a local Outback Steakhouse and later, his father commented that Shaffer seemed exhausted from all his exams. Despite the exhaustion, Shaffer still decided to go out with his friends to celebrate the end of exams and the start of spring break.

After having dinner with his father, Shaffer called his girlfriend around 9 PM, telling her he loved her and that he was looking forward to their vacation. According to his girlfriend, the conversation was a normal one and nothing sounded off or odd.

A Bar-Hopping Night

At around 9:30 PM, Shaffer and one of his friends, William “Clint” Florence, decided to celebrate by going bar-hopping. They started their escapades at the Ugly Tuna Saloona in Columbus, OH.

The Ugly Tuna Saloona in Columbus, OH.
The Ugly Tuna Saloona in Columbus, OH (Photo by DRust).

The two friends soon progressed to other bars. According to Florence, they had a shot of hard liquor at each bar they went to. Eventually, they returned to the Ugly Tuna Saloona around 1:15 AM with Florence’s other friend, Meredith Reed. She’d offered to drive them back to the original bar after she found them wandering around in the Arena District and Short North.

Back at the Ugly Tuna Saloona, surveillance footage captured all three riding the escalator up to the bar’s second-story entrance around 1:15 AM. Later that night, at around 1:55 AM, Shaffer is seen on CCTV for the last time speaking to two unknown women. After that, he was seen heading back toward the entrance to the bar.

And that was it; no one ever saw Shaffer again.

CCTV Recordings

There were cameras that covered the Ugly Tuna Saloona’s emergency exit, but it revealed that he hadn’t left from there, either. Some have argued that it’s possible that he slipped past the cameras, but this seems unlikely — unless he’d planned to leave without a trace all along.

Inside the bar, Shaffer’s friends were trying to locate him. They called his name and checked the restroom, but he was nowhere to be found. When they couldn’t find him, they called his cellphone next, but it was never answered. Eventually, they figured that Shaffer had left the bar without them and they departed, thinking he had headed home alone.

The Next Morning

The next day, Shaffer’s girlfriend tried contacting him via cellphone. He didn’t pick up. It was unusual for him not to answer when she called, but she figured that he might’ve had too much to drink the night before and was nursing a hangover.

It was on April 3rd, however, that Shaffer’s girlfriend began to really think that something was wrong. That day, she and Shaffer were supposed to leave on their vacation to Miami but he never showed up at the airport.

Despite calling and texting him, she got no response, at which point she contacted Shaffer’s father, Randy, to let him know that something was wrong. Upon learning that his son was missing, Randy contacted the police to file a missing persons report.

The Search Begins

Part of the problem with a missing person’s case like Brian Shaffer’s is that a lot of time passed since the last time he was seen and when he was actually reported missing. Remember, the last time Shaffer was confirmed to be seen was shortly before 2 AM on April 1.

One of the last known security camera footages of Brian Shaffer.
One of the last known security camera footages of Brian Shaffer (Fresh Edits).

Schaffer’s father, Randy, went to Schaffer’s apartment to check and see if his son was there (although some sources report that it was Derek, Shaffer’s brother, who went to the apartment). Nothing at the apartment seemed out-of-place; in fact, everything looked as if it hadn’t been touched in days. Schaffer’s car was still parked outside, his bed was made, and his papers and books were organized on his desk.

Police Searched the Neighboring Areas

For several days, police scoured the area around the Ugly Tuna Saloona, knocking on doors and hoping someone had some information. Thinking that perhaps a taxi had picked Shaffer up on the night of April 1 and dropped him off somewhere, local taxi services were contacted. When that proved fruitless, local hospitals and homeless shelters were contacted next, but there were no reports of Shaffer.

According to the now-defunct website, the police were able to locate and speak to the two young women that Shaffer was seen talking to on the night of his disappearance. However, they were not able to provide any additional information that was helpful to the case.

Did Shaffer Drown?

Cadaver dogs were dispatched to sniff along the Olentangy River that snakes through Columbus, OH. The thought was that perhaps Shaffer had been so intoxicated the night of his disappearance that he’d fallen in and drowned. No sign of him was found. The dogs were also sent to OSU’s campus, but they found nothing there, either.

The FBI poster for Brian Shaffer.
The FBI poster for Brian Shaffer (

Additionally, None of Shaffer’s personal items that could be traced (cell phone, credit cards, bank accounts) have been used since the night of his disappearance. It’s like he simply vanished into thin air.

As weeks and months ticked by, Shaffer’s father set up a now-defunct website dedicated to finding Brian. Some tips came in, but none of them led to Shaffer’s location.

Shaffer’s Cell Phone Reconnected

Every evening, Shaffer’s girlfriend continued to call his phone, even as the months went by with little new information. It always went straight to voicemail, except for one fall night in September.

Six months after Shaffer went missing, his phone finally connected again. It rang several times, although no one picked up. Police traced the call and found that it pinged near a tower in Hilliard, a suburb about 15 miles north of Columbus. Unfortunately, this new clue didn’t lead to much else and it was ultimately concluded that it was due to a Cingular company glitch.

Theories on What Happened

Like so many of these unsolved true crime cases, there is no shortage of theories on what happened to Shaffer that night. There are additional, more far-fetched theories, but the following four theories are the ones that I find the most plausible.

There Was an Accident

At the time of Schaffer’s disappearance, the building that the Ugly Tuna Saloona was located in was under construction. Some have suggested that perhaps Shaffer, in an intoxicated state, somehow fell down a temporary freight elevator and either seriously injured himself or died.

A Facebook post spreading awareness about Brian Shaffer’s disappearance.
A Facebook post spreading awareness about Brian Shaffer’s disappearance (Facebook).

Even if there was an accident though, it seems likely that in the days after his disappearance and during the intensive searches, his body would have turned up.

Shaffer was Murdered

Some have suggested that Shaffer was another victim of the Smiley Face Killer, a serial killer thought to be active in the area at the time. The Smiley Face killer is one that is thought to prey on intoxicated, college-aged men. Many bodies have been found in rivers where smiley faces have been spray-painted somewhere along the riverbank. However, Shaffer’s body has never been found, nor were any smiley faces located along the stretch of the Olentangy river at the time of his disappearance. The FBI has ruled this theory out.

Others place the blame closer to home: on the friends that were there with Shaffer than night. There are some reports that Shaffer and Florence got into a verbal altercation in the Ugly Tuna Saloona. While Meredith Reed agreed to take a polygraph test, Clint Florence did not. Derek Shaffer, Brian’s brother, has said of Florence:

“I didn’t know Clint very well, but I always thought something was off with him. The way he talked about my brother after he went missing — kind of in a negative way. I wouldn’t expect that from someone whose friend vanished. If Clint knew something, I hope he would have shared it. I deserve to know.”

Derek Shaffer (Source: MEL Magazine)

Crime Stopper’s president, Kevin Miles, along with Lori Davis, someone who has helped with the Shaffer case since the start, both think that Shaffer is deceased, perhaps killed over a drunken argument. They also believe his body is still somewhere in Columbus.

Brian Shaffer’s OSU ID card.
Brian Shaffer’s OSU ID card (Fresh Edits).

Shaffer Committed Suicide

One of the other theories floating around is that Shaffer ended his life that night due to the stress of his mother’s recent passing and all the stress that he’d been under for the past week of final exams. (If you’re struggling yourself, please reach out to the Suicide Hotline.) I admit that it would have been possible that he was overly stressed and perhaps at his breaking point, but if that’s the case, how did he do that in a busy bar and where is his body?

Shaffer was never seen leaving the Ugly Tuna Saloona by anyone or by any surveillance cameras. If he did decide to commit suicide, then where is his body? Surely, someone would have located him quickly if that’s what happened.

Additionally, people who commit suicide don’t often choose busy places (like a popular college bar) to do it. So did Shaffer intentionally sneak out, avoiding all the security cameras around to find a more private place to take his own life? Even if that’s the case, it seems likely that his body would have been found by now.

Although this theory is possible, I don’t think it’s very probable based on the current evidence available to the public.

Shaffer Went Missing Intentionally

Many of Shaffer’s friends and family thought that he was preparing to propose to his girlfriend during the spring break trip to Miami. This could be an indication that he wasn’t planning to run off and start a new life, although it also could have been external pressure to propose which might’ve caused him stress, pushing him to run away.

However, Shaffer wasn’t spotted on any surveillance camera footage for the Ugly Tuna Saloona, even when the camera overlooking the emergency exit was screened. Additionally, three other nearby bars provided security camera footage to authorities and Shaffer wasn’t spotted on any of them, either.

There was also an early theory that perhaps Shaffer disguised himself so he couldn’t be identified and then left the bar. However, authorities scoured the surveillance footage and were able to identify every single person that left the Ugly Tuna Saloona that night — none of them being Shaffer.

There have been supposed sightings of Shaffer in many different states and even Sweden, but these sightings have never been confirmed. Clint Florence’s lawyer thinks that Shaffer is alive and out there somewhere. In 2008, he wrote an email to a private investigator who was working on the Shaffer case, stating:

“If Brian is alive, which is what I’m led to believe after speaking with the detective involved, then it is Brian, and not Clint who is causing his family pain and hardship. Brian should come forward and end this.”

Florence’s Lawyer (Source: The Lantern)

Of course, it’s worth noting the lawyer for one of the last people to see Shaffer alive was the one who said this. It would be in his client’s best interest that Shaffer is still alive and out there somewhere.

What Do I Think Happened?

The case of Brian Shaffer has been a popular one in the true crime sphere because it is just so bizarre. How does a 6’2, 170 pound man simply vanish from a crowded bar? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, regardless of which theory you subscribe to.

If Shaffer intentionally left the bar to vanish, how was he not spotted leaving on any security camera footage, neither on the Ugly Tuna Saloona cameras nor on any of the nearby three bars’ footage? And, even if he managed to slip by all the security cameras without being recorded, how has he started a new life without any money? His bank accounts have remained untouched since his disappearance.

Suicide Unlikely

I don’t find the theory of suicide very plausible either simply because we haven’t found his body. If he committed suicide in the Ugly Tuna Saloona, he would have been found quickly. Even if he went elsewhere to do it, avoiding all the security cameras, his body still would have been found eventually.

It also doesn’t seem likely that a suicidal person would make plans to go on vacation with a girlfriend he planned to propose to. Why make such plans if you aren’t going to be around to enjoy them? I suppose Shaffer could have intentionally made these plans to mislead his family and loved ones, but given what information we have about him, it doesn’t seem like he was that sort of person.

Was Shaffer Murdered?

If Shaffer was somehow murdered in the bar, then he would have had to be taken out of the place somehow or his body would have been found. Some have suggested that he was murdered and then buried somewhere in the construction that was going on the first floor of the building.

If he was murdered though, it would have been difficult for one perpetrator to drag his body out of a crowded bar without any witnesses. Then again, perhaps there was some sort of altercation down in the construction zone. Even that though would have left trace evidence like blood splatter or footprints, evidence that investigators would have located during their searches.

My Final Thoughts

The most plausible explanation, in my opinion, is that something happened to Shaffer that early morning and he never left the area. Whether that was an accident or a murder, I’m not sure, but if he’d left, we would have surveillance footage of him leaving.

I think that Shaffer’s friend Clint Florence probably knows a bit more than he’s telling authorities, whether it be information regarding an accident or a more serious confrontation. People don’t vanish into thin air and Shaffer is out there somewhere, dead or alive. It’s time for someone to come forward with information regarding where he is and what happened to him.

Case Updates

Unfortunately, there have been a number of misleading tips in this case that wasted law enforcement time and resources. There was a report that Shaffer is living in the Virgin Islands, and another tip came in claiming that Shaffer was killed, but both of these leads turned out to be hoaxes. The real updates have been few and far between, and none of them point to where Shaffer might be now.

September 2008: Shaffer’s Father Dies

In September 2008, two years after his son’s disappearance, Brian’s father died in a bizarre accident with a windstorm and a tree branch. He never was able to find out what happened to his son.

Brian Schaffer and his father, Randy Schaffer.
Brian Schaffer and his father, Randy Schaffer.

May 2010: Pearl Jam Dedicates a Track to Shaffer

In May 2010, the rock band Pearl Jam performed in Columbus, OH. Eddie Vedder, one of the group’s members, dedicated the track called “Come Back” to Shaffer. The song’s lyrics include the line, “From wherever you are, come back.”

April 2018: The Ugly Tuna Saloona Closes

It was announced in April 2018 that the Ugly Tuna Saloona would be closing its doors permanently. The establishment had been up and running for 14 years, and the cited reason for the closure was a disagreement over the lease renewal for the bar and restaurant. Some have also speculated that since Shaffer’s disappearance, there has been a cloud of suspicion that hangs over the place, possibly contributing to its closing.

2020: Shaffer Found in Mexico?

In 2020, the FBI was sent a photograph of a homeless man living in Mexico, thinking that it might be Shaffer. However, the FBI soon determined that the man wasn’t Shaffer.

This photo of a homeless man in Tijuana, Mexico was submitted to the FBI with the suggestion that he might be missing Brian Shaffer.
This photo of a homeless man in Tijuana, Mexico was submitted to the FBI with the suggestion that he might be missing Brian Shaffer (614 Now News).

November 2021: Shaffer’s Case on CNN Headline News

In November 2021, CNN Headline News put out an episode of their show Real Life Nightmare on the Brian Shaffer case. It’s unclear if this show led to any new leads.

Do You Have Information?

There is currently a $100,000 reward for information that helps solve the case of what happened to Brian Schaffer. At the time of his disappearance, Shaffer was 27 years of age, 6’2, and about 170 pounds. He has hazel eyes and brown hair, and has a Pearl Jam symbol tattooed on his upper right bicep. He was last seen wearing an olive green t-shirt with a long-sleeved white shirt underneath, jeans, and tennis shoes.

If you have information regarding Brian Shaffer’s disappearance, please contact Central Ohio Crime Stoppers at (614) 645–8477.

An age-progressed image of what Brian Shaffer might look like at 42 years old.
An age-progressed image of what Brian Shaffer might look like at 42 years old (Ohio Attorney General Office).

Cold Case Questions

  • What do you think happened to Shaffer?
  • Do you think Shaffer is still alive today?
  • Should anyone be prosecuted in the case of Shaffer’s disappearance?

Let me know your thoughts on this case below in the comments section!

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