The Disappearance of Brandi Wells

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EARLY LIFE:

Brandi Wells was born on November 28, 1982. Growing up in Tyler, Texas, she was known for her love of music, with a dream of becoming a country singer.

Brandi attended Chapel Hill High School, where her marks earned her a scholarship at the University of Texas. While in university, she discovered the Flag Corp and spent the majority of her free time practising for the team.

During her second year at university, Brandi fell in love and got married. However, she found she was unable to balance the marriage with school and work, so she dropped out of university. The marriage eventually ended in divorce, with Brandi first moving to San Antonio before settling in Brownsboro with a roommate.

When she moved to Brownsboro, Brandi was 23 years old and looking to restart her life. She applied to Trinity Valley Community College, where she received a scholarship through her past work with the Flag Corp. She was planning on pursuing a teaching degree, as she wished to become a kindergarten teacher.

Brandi had also recently gotten a job at the local Wal-Mart and was waiting for her manager to find space on the schedule for her.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

On August 2, 2006, Brandi arrived at her mother’s apartment, where she was planning on staying the night. Her mother, Ellen Tant, lived there with Brandi’s younger sister, and was told by her eldest daughter that she was planning on going out dancing with some friends.

At 8pm, Brandi asked if she could use her mother’s car, as her own was nearly out of gas. Given Ellen’s car was also short on gas, she decided to instead take her own and left the apartment. Ellen believed she was going to the local club, Electric Cowboy.

Brandi’s first stop that night was at the local bowling alley, where a family friend was a bartender. While there, she bought one drink, which she put on her mother’s tab., and told the family friend she was planning on heading to Grand Central Station, located about 45 minutes away in Longview. Given the distance and the fact she was alone, the woman tried to dissuade Brandi, but to no avail.

DISAPPEARANCE:

Around 9:15am on August 3, 2006, a highway trooper noticed a 2000 Black Pontiac Grand Prix abandoned on the side of Interstate 20. He ran the license plate and upon finding no records of it having been stolen, tagged it and drove away.

At 9:30am, Ellen awoke to find Brandi was not yet home from her night out. She wasn’t too alarmed, assuming her daughter had had too much to drink and was staying with a friend.

Later that day, Brandi’s roommate phoned Ellen, asking if Brandi was at the apartment, as she had been expected back in Brownsboro that afternoon. Ellen called her daughter’s cellphone, but it went straight to voicemail. At this point, she still wasn’t too worried about Brandi’s whereabouts.

On August 4, Ellen still wasn’t able to reach her daughter, so she went to the Tyler Police Department to report her missing. It was there that she learnt from her youngest daughter than Brandi had actually gone to Grand Central Station, not Electric Cowboy like first thought.

Upon learning about Brandi’s plans, Ellen drove to Longview to search the club’s parking lot and the surrounding area. However, she was unable to uncover any clues as to what had happened to her daughter.

On August 5, Ellen was informed the Longview Police Department would be taking over the case and that she would need to file a missing persons report with them.

SEARCH:

On August 6, 2006, police received a call from a citizen driver, who reported that the 2000 Black Pontiac Grand Prix was still abandoned on the side of I-20. Police soon connected the car to Brandi.

On August 8, CSI and cadaver dogs were called to the scene, but the dogs were unable to pick up on the missing woman’s scent. Investigators were unable to find any sign of a struggle near or around the car, but did notice a napkin inside that had a man’s name and number written on it.

Police contacted the man and found him to be forthcoming about the interaction he had with Brandi the night she went missing. He informed them that he had offered to buy her a drink, but she had declined and asked for some gas money. Not long after, the pair parted ways.

Police don’t consider him to be a suspect in Brandi’s disappearance.

In need of extra help, the Longview Police Department called in the FBI to help aid in the search.

Further examination of Brandi’s car raised police suspicions. The driver’s seat had been pushed back all the way, indicating someone taller than Brandi, who was a mere 5’0″, had been driving. The position of the car, which was found at an angle with its keys missing and the driver’s door ajar, was approximately 400 to 500 yards from the exit that would have brought the missing woman back toward Tyler.

Brandi’s purse was also found in the car, along with a cellphone that at first was believed to be hers. A gas can had been found in the trunk, but her family doesn’t believe it to be hers.

Police turned to Grand Central Station’s surveillance footage to see if they could spot Brandi. They noticed her driver’s license had been swiped around 10:44pm on August 2. Family was brought in to try and identify Brandi from those on the footage and they picked out a woman they believed to be her. She had been accompanied by men and a public plea was sent out for any information regarding their identities.

While talking to those who were working at Grand Central Station on the night Brandi went missing, police learned she had called the club multiple times that night for directions and at the most had ordered only one drink while there.

Ten days later, Brandi’s mother gave investigators a sample of her daughter’s DNA and noticed the cellphone they had in evidence wasn’t Brandi’s, but, in fact, that of an ex-boyfriend deployed overseas. The news about the cellphone explained to investigators why only a few of those in its address book knew who Brandi was. Not long after, Brandi’s cell records were subpoenaed.

Not wanting to wait for the subpoena, Brandi’s family contacted her friend, who shared a cellphone contract with the missing woman, and asked her to send over the records. It was discovered that, prior to Brandi’s disappearance, there was no suspicious activity. However, about nine days after her disappearance, there were calls made that raised the suspicions of investigators.

The calls were traced to two individuals, who were brought in for questioning. They led investigators to a potential person of interest, who claimed to have found cellphone on the side of the road, about a week after Brandi went missing. The area, which is located on the south side of town, was near where Brandi’s car had been abandoned and is known for drug and sex trafficking.

The man gave multiple, varying accounts of how he came upon the cellphone. He was offered a FBI-administered polygraph test, which he initially denied. He would later take one and fail. The two individuals first brought in by investigators were also administered polygraphs and passed.

The man is currently not considered a person of interest in Brandi’s disappearance.

While the investigation was going on, Brandi’s family set out to do everything they could to keep the case in the public eye. They sent out a chain email and frequently contacted local newspapers and television stations.

Approximately six weeks into the investigation, leads dried up and the case went cold.

In the hopes of reviving the investigation, Ellen took a look at the surveillance footage from Grand Central Station and discovered the girl who had initially been ID’d as Brandi wasn’t actually her daughter. She wasn’t wearing the same clothes Brandi had been when she left the apartment on August 2, 2006.

Brandi’s aunt and uncle also reviewed the footage and spotted Brandi, who was seen entering the club at 10:35pm. She had initially been mis-ID’d due to the surveillance camera’s time stamp being off. Brandi was seen entering the club alone and leaving at around 12:30am the same way. Given the camera was pointed at the entrance, it’s unknown what happened after she left the frame.

On September 19, 2006, Brandi’s family contacted the Laura Recovery Centre, a group dedicated to helping find missing people. The group set up a search of the area around Grand Central Station on September 26, with the use of volunteers on horseback and four-wheelers. Cadaver dogs were also brought in, but nothing was found.

On October 29, 2006, the burning body of a woman was found in the oilfields of Gregg County. The area is approximately seven miles from where Brandi’s car had been found. While the body was unrecognizable, police were able to note the unidentified woman was wearing a purple sweater and blue jeans.

An autopsy was performed, which confirmed the body belonged to a white female. A forensic artist was brought in to do a rendering, in the hopes someone would recognize the woman. While first believed to be Brandi, dental records later disproved this. The woman, who has since been dubbed “Lavender Doe”, was publicly identified as Dana Dodd in February 2019.

On December 23, 2006, a second search for Brandi was conducted by the Laura Recovery Centre. A bag of bones was found, but it was later determined they belonged to an animal.

A third search was done in early 2007, but nothing was found.

In 2010, Ellen received a call from a man who called himself Tim and claimed Brandi was alive in Kansas City, Missouri. However, the call disconnected before she could gather any more information.

THEORIES:

1) Some believe Brandi could have been the victim of a carjacking gone wrong. This theory is supported by the position of the driver’s seat and the location where the car was found.

2) Given Brandi was short on gas and had been asking those at Grand Central Station for gas money, some believe she could have met foul play after running out of gas on the highway. This is further supported by the fact Brandi’s car was facing in the direction of Tyler, where she was planning on staying that night.

3) Those in Brandi’s family and online sleuths believe Brandi could have been kidnapped and forced into prostitution. The area where she disappeared is known for both drug and sex trafficking, as is the area where her cellphone was found.

AFTERMATH:

Police say the case is still open. While they haven’t received any new leads as of late, they continue to investigate each one that’s called in.

Brandi’s mother is determined to keep the search for her daughter alive, driving around with missing persons flyers in her car. She has been critical of the police investigation, saying police have failed to keep in contact with her.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Brandi Wells went missing from Longview, Texas on August 3, 2006. She was 23 years old and was last seen wearing a floral print blouse, brown pants and black strapless high-heeled sandals. At the time of her disappearance, she was 5’0″ and weighed approximately 120 pounds. She has brown eyes and brown hair. Her ears are pierced.

Currently, her case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, she would be 35 years old.

If you have any information regarding the case, you can contact the Longview Police Department at 903-237-1110.

Image Credit: East Texas Matters

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