Disappearance of Brian Shaffer

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Coordinates: 39°59′38″N 83°00′24″W / 39.99382°N 83.00657°W / 39.99382; -83.00657

Brian Shaffer
A smiling clean-shaven young Caucasian man with short dark hair wearing a white shirt and silvery tie against a blue background
Shaffer before his disappearance
Brian Randall Shaffer

(1979-02-25)February 25, 1979
DisappearedApril 1, 2006 (aged 27)
Columbus, Ohio, U.S.
StatusMissing for 14 years, 9 months and 9 days
EducationB.S., Microbiology
Alma materThe Ohio State University
OccupationMedical student
Height6 ft 2 in (188 cm)
  • Randy Shaffer (father)
  • Renee Shaffer (mother)
RelativesDerek Shaffer (brother)

Brian Shaffer (born February 25, 1979)[1] was a medical student at Ohio State University. On the night of March 31, 2006, Shaffer went out with friends to celebrate the beginning of spring break; later he was separated from them and they assumed he had gone home. However, a security camera near the entrance to a bar recorded him briefly talking to two women just before 2 a.m., April 1, and then apparently re-entering the bar. Shaffer has not been seen or heard from since. The case has received national media attention.[2]

Shaffer's disappearance has been especially puzzling to investigators since there was no other publicly accessible entrance to the bar at that time. Columbus police have several theories about what happened;[3] some interest and suspicion has been directed at a friend of Shaffer's who accompanied him that night but who has refused to take lie detector tests regarding the incident.[4] While foul play has been suspected, including the possible involvement of the purported Smiley Face serial killer,[5] it has also been speculated that he might be alive and living somewhere else under a new identity.[6]


Shaffer grew up in Pickerington, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus where Ohio State University (OSU) is located. He is the older of Randy and Renee Shaffer's two sons. He graduated from the local high school in 1997 and went to OSU for his undergraduate work. Six years later he graduated with a degree in microbiology.[1]

The same man seen in the infobox, here shown smiling with his teeth showing wearing a white doctor's coat over a shirt and tie, standing on the left of a smiling older woman with red hair and rosy cheeks wearing a black print dress with a pale yellow jacket. Behind them is a tage with a portion of a large seal visible
Brian and his mother

Following that, he began studies at Ohio State University College of Medicine in 2004. During his second year there, in March 2006, his mother Renee died of myelodysplasia.[7] His friends say that although he appeared to be handling it well, her death was hard for him.[5]

During his time at medical school, Brian had become romantically involved with another medical student, Alexis Waggoner. She, along with their families and friends, believed that Brian would probably be proposing marriage to her later that year, most likely on a trip to Miami the couple had planned for spring break at the beginning of April.[5]

Tropical locations such as Miami were attractive to Brian; he liked the relaxed lifestyles. He told his friends that despite his decision to pursue a medical career, his real ambition was to start a band playing music in the vein of Jimmy Buffett.[7]


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. Randy 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.[5]

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 Waggoner. 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.[5]

A view across a signalized intersection, with a green sign opposite reading "High Street", to some buildings with an irregular, stylized entrance on one side of a pedestrian mall, lit by low raking sunlight. In the rear is a sign with "Gateway" on it in vertical red letters.
South Campus Gateway in 2015. The Ugly Tuna was located in the upper story of the building on the right.

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.[5] 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.[3]

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.[5]


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. The camera did not record him leaving shortly afterwards when the Ugly Tuna closed; that was the last time he was seen.[5]

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.[5]

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.[7]

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"[7] 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.[5] 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.[5]

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.[5]

Those who had seen Brian that evening, including his father, were asked to take lie detector tests. Reed and Randy Shaffer passed theirs, as did reportedly all the others, while Florence refused. The two women Brian had last been seen talking to were later identified; they said in 2009 that they had never been asked to take one themselves.[4]

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.[7]

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.[5]

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.[5]

This possibility also led police to briefly consider the heavily disputed Smiley face murder theory. Brian Shaffer, under this theory, would be the killer's only victim whose body had not yet been found. Columbus police eventually rejected any connection to the alleged killer in Brian's case, following the lead of most law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that have looked into it.[5]

Death of Randy Shaffer[edit]

The same young man seen with his mother in the photo above, in the same setting, with an older bespectacled man on his right this time
Brian and Randy Shaffer

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.[8]

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.[6] 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.[5]

Subsequent developments[edit]

Shortly after Randy Shaffer's death, Neil Rosenberg, attorney for Clint Florence, wrote to Don Corbett, a private investigator who has volunteered his time to help the Shaffer family find Brian, regarding his client's ongoing refusal to take a lie detector test. Rosenberg intimated that he had learned that the Columbus police investigating the case believed Brian was alive.[4]

In April 2009, The Lantern, Ohio State's student newspaper, disclosed the exchange. "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 [Florence] who is causing his family pain and hardship," Rosenberg wrote. "Brian should come forward and end this." Florence, he said, did not have anything to hide; he had merely told everything he knew from the beginning and did not see the value of doing so again.[4]

Rosenberg's assertions notwithstanding, many of those who were close to Brian have criticized Florence for not being forthcoming enough. "As soon as the detective started getting involved, that's when he pretty much had no contact with anybody," recalled Derek Shaffer, Brian's brother and last surviving immediate family member. "I've always thought he definitely knows something–just won't come forward with it." He believes it is still possible that Brian is alive, and Florence knows where he might have gone. "If Brian did take off somewhere, if that is the case, we just always had a strong feeling that Clint would possibly know that," he said. Shaffer's girlfriend at the time, Alexis Waggoner, also thinks that Florence is withholding information. However, she believes that it's likely her former boyfriend is dead and did not run off. "I can't imagine he would have just done that," she said.[4]

In 2014, the Columbus police said they were still receiving at least two tips a month on the case via the local Crime Stoppers hotline, though none had proven useful. The evidence in the case filled four boxes of files. One of the original investigators, Andre Edwards, told Columbus Monthly that after extensive review of the camera footage at the Ugly Tuna from the night Brian disappeared, which was intended to rule out the idea that Brian could have left in disguise, he could "say with 100-percent certainty" that Brian did not leave via the escalator. Police say they have three theories about the case but declined to discuss them even generally with the magazine.[3]


Between Brian's disappearance and his own death, Randy Shaffer joined the families of other missing adults in Ohio in lobbying the state legislature to pass a bill establishing a statewide protocol for such cases. At the time Brian disappeared, it was left up to individual departments how to handle the cases, and some parents felt that investigations into their relatives' disappearances had suffered as a result. By the time Randy died, the bill had become law.[5]

See also[edit]

Other missing people who were last seen alone by security cameras


  1. ^ a b "Brian Randall Shaffer". The Charley Project. May 10, 2009. Archived from the original on March 20, 2016. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  2. ^ Stafford, Rob (May 8, 2006). "Into thin air". Dateline NBC. Archived from the original on March 13, 2016. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Sullivan, Michelle (September 2014). "When Missing Persons Cases Go Cold". Columbus Monthly. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e Sullivan, Drew (April 12, 2009). "Is Brian Shaffer alive?". The Lantern. Archived from the original on March 17, 2016. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Johnston, April (April 2009). "In the Name of the Father". Columbus Monthly. Archived from the original on March 13, 2016. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Miner, Abigail (October 12, 2008). "Brian Shaffer: Clue could lead to missing student". The Lantern. Archived from the original on March 16, 2016. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e Pepi, Kirk (November 13, 2016). "A Guy Walks into a Bar — And is Never Seen Again". Mel. Archived from the original on February 12, 2017. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  8. ^ Lane, Mary Beth; Ludlow, Randy (September 15, 2008). "Missing OSU student's dad among six killed in storm, aftermath". Columbus Dispatch. Archived from the original on March 24, 2016. Retrieved March 17, 2016.

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