The Disappearance of Brianna Maitland

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EARLY LIFE:

Brianna Maitland was born in Burlington, Vermont on October 8, 1986 to her parents, Bruce and Kellie Maitland. The youngest of two children, she grew up on a farm in East Franklin, Vermont, not too far from the Canadian border.

Known affectionately as “Bri” and “B”, Brianna was a well-liked and well-rounded young woman who was a joy to be around. Her spontaneity and overall happiness resulted in her gravitating to everyone around her, and she is described as having been very trusting of others. In terms of her favourite activities, she was known to be an avid reader and had trained several years in jiujitsu.

In October 2003, on her 17th birthday, Brianna decided she wanted to leave the family farm and be closer to her friends, who lived 15 miles away and attended a different high school to her. Wanting more independence and to experience life away from her rural surroundings, she enrolled in her friends’ high school and ventured out on her own. Her living arrangements were not stable at this time, as she bounced between friends’ homes, and while her parents were not happy with her moving out, they decided to tolerate the situation.

By February 2004, Brianna had dropped out of school, but was still determined to complete her education and enrolled herself in a GED program. At the time, she had found stable living arrangements with her childhood friend, Jillian Stout, in Sheldon, Vermont. The town is approximately 20 miles west of Montgomery, Vermont, where she would last be seen.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

Approximately three weeks before her disappearance, Brianna was reportedly attacked by a female acquaintance whilst at a party. While the reason for the assault is unclear, Bruce believes it may have been the result of jealousy, caused by Brianna interacting with a male individual. According to witnesses, she hadn’t tried to defend herself, and when she went to the hospital she received treatment for two black eyes, facial cuts, a concussion and a broken nose. She’d filed a criminal complaint that was still pending at the time of her disappearance, but it would be dropped by the District Attorney three weeks after she went missing, against her parents’ objections.

As the investigation into her disappearance would continue, investigators would state the woman who attacked Brianna had been cleared of any involvement and had nothing to do with her going missing.

On the morning of March 19, 2004, Brianna took and passed her GED examination, meaning she could move forward with her plans to attend college part-time. To celebrate the accomplishment, she and her mother had lunch together and spent the afternoon shopping. According to Kellie, Brianna had been in good spirits and the two had spent a lot of time discussing her college plans. However, she did notice a shift in her mood while the pair were waiting to checkout at a store, when something caught her daughter’s attention. Brianna had went outside, and when Kellie went to meet her in the parking lot, she seemed noticeable shaken. Not wanting to pry, Kellie didn’t ask what was bothering her.

Kellie dropped Brianna back at her residence between 3:30pm and 4:00pm, as she had to work that evening. Before leaving for her shift as a dishwasher at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery, Brianna left Jillian a note to say she’d be home that evening after work.

According to Brianna’s co-workers, the shift went by uneventfully. Brianna hadn’t received or made any calls, and she did not have any visitors. After they had closed up, they remember asking Brianna if she’d like to have dinner with them, but she declined, saying she was tired and had to work the next morning at her second job at KJ’s Diner in St. Albans, Vermont, where she was a waitress.

DISAPPEARANCE:

At 11:20pm on March 19, 2004, Brianna left the Black Lantern Inn, with her co-workers recalling her getting into her car and leaving the parking lot. That weekend, Jillian had been away visiting family, so didn’t see Brianna’s note until she returned home that Monday. When she didn’t find Brianna in the residence, she assumed she’d simply moved back in with her parents and brother in East Franklin.

On March 20, 2004, a State Trooper was dispatched to an abandoned barn in Richford, Vermont, known as the “old Dutchburn house”. The house is about a mile west of Montgomery, just off East Berkshire Road and Vermont Route 118, across from Dutchburn Farm Road. When he arrived, he found a pale green four-door 1985 Oldsmobile Delta sedan backed into the barn, causing minor damage to the rear bumper. The vehicle had made a hole in the barn wall, causing a piece of plywood that had been covering one of the windows to land on its trunk. There were no indications that the car had come off the road in an uncontrolled way.

A closer examination would show the rear wheels had been raised, causing the car to become disabled, and the car itself would be unlocked, despite the keys being missing. Inside were two uncashed paycheques totalling $150 on the front seat, and a variety of other personal effects were found outside in front of the car, including some loose change, a water bottle and an unsmoked cigarette.

Assuming the Oldsmobile had simply been abandoned by a suspected drunk driver, the Trooper arranged for it to be towed to a local garage. A check of the vehicle’s registration showed it belonged to Kellie Maitland, but the State Troopers did not notify her of it being impounded, as the paycheques indicated that Brianna had been the primary driver. Hoping to inform her that it had been found, they went to the Black Lantern Inn, but it was closed.

Later, investigators would come to believe that the accident involving the car and the “old Dutchburn house” had been staged, this information coming from a 2007 flyer distributed by the FBI.

As Brianna was not scheduled to return to work on March 21, 2004, her co-workers were not aware that she had gone missing.

On March 23, 2004, Jillian telephoned Brianna’s parents and found out that she hadn’t actually returned home to East Franklin. Kellie became concerned upon learning that her daughter hadn’t been seen in a few days and thus began to call her friends and employers. Unfortunately, no one had been in contact with her since the last night she’d worked. As her concern grew, Kellie reported her daughter as missing, and it was at this time that the Oldsmobile became connected to the case.

SEARCH:

On March 25, 2004, Bruce and Kellie gave photos of Brianna to the Vermont State Police. However, they initially were skeptical that foul play was involved, given there were no signs of a violent confrontation at the scene where the car had been found, and they were considering her disappearance to be that of a runaway. Despite this, they still initiated a search, which involved police officers and search dogs combing the area around the barn on foot, but nothing of value was found. A look in the house uncovered drug-dealer paraphernalia and a gun.

At the time of her disappearance, Brianna had been taking medication for migraines, which had been left behind in the car, along with her contact lenses, clothing, makeup and driver’s license. This indicated to investigators that she’d either intended to return to the vehicle at some point or that she hadn’t abandoned it of her own free will.

A woman’s fleece jacket was found in the field near where the Oldsmobile had been abandoned, but it apparently did not belong to the missing girl.

On March 30, 2004, the Oldsmobile was processed by the Vermont state crime lab. While there were no signs of a struggle or that she’d met with foul play, it was later revealed that DNA had been found. Not long after, it would be concluded that Brianna’s disappearance was probably the result of something happening to her against her will.

Several people came forward to say they’d seen Brianna’s vehicle on the night she went missing. According to one witness who drove by the barn between 11:30pm and 12:30am, he’d seen headlights, but hadn’t seen anyone in or around the Oldsmobile, while another would state that he’d seen the turn signal flashing between midnight and 12:30am that night. Brianna’s former boyfriend had been returning from a party across the border in Canada when he saw the car around 4:00am, but, similar to the first witness, no one was seen with it. A few motorists noticed the scene the next morning, with some finding it strange enough that they actually stopped to take pictures. One reported seeing loose change, a bracelet or necklace, and a water bottle on the ground next to the vehicle.

Over the years, official searches have seen divers search a Berkshire pond, and police have scoured local wooded areas and the space around Hutchins Bridge with cadaver dogs. A court inquest also occurred, and officers with the Border Patrol utilized their helicopter to help cover more land. Overall, the searches involved officers from three states and members of Texas Equusearch.

Brianna’s friends and family conducted their own searches of the area and put up missing persons flyers across Vermont and surrounding states. Her parents took matters into their own hands, following leads across Vermont, New York, Quebec and Connecticut. They even went to a strip club in Boston after receiving a call that Brianna was seen there, but it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.

A month into the investigation, Bruce sent a letter to Vermont Governor James Douglas, stating that he felt the search had not been aggressive enough and that police were keeping him and Kellie in the dark over its progress.

In May 2004, the Maitland teamed up with the parents of Maura Murray, a woman who’d went missing in Haverhill, New Hampshire in February 2004, and those of Amie Riley, a 20-year-old New Hampshire woman whose murdered body had been found in April of that year, to plead for help from both public and federal authorities. At the time, it was believed the three cases were connected and thus the families wanted the FBI to become involved, since they crossed state lines.

On February 17, 2006, there was an alleged sighting of Brianna at the Caesars World Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Grainy surveillance footage showed a woman resembling the missing girl sitting at a poker table with a bald man. Unfortunately, the woman has never been identified, but Kellie maintains that she sees a strong resemblance between her and Brianna.

During a search of a remote wooded area of Montgomery in October 2007, a pair of weathered blue jeans were located. The area, which was approximately seven miles from where Brianna went missing, had not been searched previously. The jeans were sent to the state forensics lab to be analyzed, but the results of the tests have not been publicly released.

To help with the search for their missing daughter, Bruce and Kellie hired private investigator, Greg Overacker.

The family has received several uncorroborated anonymous phone calls from people claiming that Brianna had been tied to a tree in the woods and her body disposed of at the bottom of a lake.

In 2008, an expanded review of the investigation was conducted and a team was created that would solely be dedicated to the case. This meant that a more aggressive approach could be taken, and more interviews were conducted, some with those who had already been spoken to by investigators.

In 2010, the Vermont State Police Search and Rescue Team, along with a K-9 unit, conducted a search of Prive Hill Road in Richford, but nothing new was uncovered.

In March 2016, the information about the DNA discovered in Brianna’s vehicle was made public. However, the tests results were not released. Over four years later, in September 2020, the Vermont State Police Major Crime Unit teamed up with Othram Inc. to re-examine the evidence. Othram Inc. is the world’s first private DNA laboratory built to apply modern parallel sequencing with forensic evidence.

Currently, the Vermont State Police are offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to a resolution to the case and/or the arrest and conviction of those responsible. They say the investigation is still active, but that no clear suspect has been uncovered. Hundreds of people have been interviewed in relation to the case, and it’s said that new tips are still called in a few times a month.

THEORIES:

1) The strongest theory in the case is that Brianna’s disappearance was drug-related, this because it’s the authorities’ strongest lead. According to reports, drugs are very prominent in the Montgomery area, and Brianna’s friends have said that she’d experimented with “hard” drugs, particularly cocaine. This has led some to speculate if she could have been killed over a drug debt and her body hidden to hide the crime. It should be noted that investigators have not been able to substantiate this theory, and her parents maintain she was not seriously involved in the scene, this despite them finding out about her friendships with supposed drug users and dealers.

In the week following her disappearance, police received a tip stating that Brianna was being held in a house in Berkshire known to be occupied by drug dealers she was acquainted with: Ramon L. Ryans and Nathanial Charles Jackson, both of New York. On April 15, 2004, the house was raided and police uncovered cocaine, weed and drug paraphernalia, but no trace of Brianna. At this time, Ryans was arrested on drug charges.

In late 2004, investigators received another tip, this time from an anonymous female, that implicated both Ryans and Jackson in Brianna’s murder. The unknown woman stated that the pair had killed Brianna the week after her disappearance, after Ryans and her argued over money she’d leant him to purchase cocaine. After she was killed, the woman claims Brianna’s body was temporarily stored in the basement of another woman’s home, before being dismembered with a table saw and disposed of at a pig farm. Police have been unable to corroborate the validity of this statement.

2) Another theory in the case is that Brianna simply left of her own accord. According to friends and those who knew her, the young woman had mentioned plans of a short trip out of the area. This, paired with her history of running away, have led some to speculate she simply decided to move somewhere new and start over. However, police have been unable to uncover any evidence to indicate she left voluntarily.

3) A third theory is that Brianna was abducted by several people. Her parents have speculated that this would have to be the case, as a single person would not be able to subdue their daughter, given her martial arts training. They believe someone may have spotted her, became obsessed and hid in her backseat, before attacking her while she drove home from the Black Lantern Inn.

4) A popular theory is that Brianna’s disappearance is related to that of Maura Murray, this given that Haverhill, New Hampshire, where Maura was last seen, is only 90 miles from Montgomery. FBI agents met with local authorities to discuss the possible links between the two cases, including the fact that both had gone missing after a car accident; they both left their belongings behind; and that they were both young, attractive, brown-haired women. However, it was eventually concluded that, despite the similarities, the cases were likely not connected.

It should be noted that this theory has not been entirely ruled out.

5) A final theory that was eventually ruled out by the FBI is that Brianna was a victim of Alaskan serial killer, Israel Keyes. In 2012, investigators investigated a possible connection between Keyes and Brianna, as he was known to have committed his crimes in Vermont, New York, Alaska, Washington and Oregon. However, his financial records showed he was elsewhere on the day Brianna went missing.

On December 2, 2012, Keyes died by suicide while incarcerated at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, the result of self-inflicted wrist cuts and strangulation. While he left a suicide note, it didn’t offer any clues to additional victims of his crimes.

AFTERMATH:

In 2004, her parents organized a now-defunct website with a posted maximum reward of $20,000 for information leading to Brianna’s whereabouts. As of 2017, the reward has since expired. Two Facebook pages have been set up to help raise awareness about the case. Her parents set up Brianna Maitland missing – family page, which has not been updated since mid-2019. The other, titled Brianna Maitland, is still actively updated.

Brianna’s case was part of Project Jason’s 18 Wheel Angel campaign, which targeted truck drivers and business travellers to volunteer their resources and time to help spread the word about missing persons cases via printable flyers.

There are vigils held every year on the anniversary of Brianna’s disappearance, where her family and members of the community come together to bring about renewed awareness about the investigation.

Brianna’s parents have since separated, with Kellie now residing in New York.

Wanting to make something good out of his daughter’s disappearance, Bruce created Private Investigations for the Missing, a non-profit dedicated to providing private investigators to those who are unable to afford them. There is an active GoFundMe page where supporters can donate to the organization.

In July 2016, the “old Dutchburn house” was destroyed in a fire.

Brianna’s case has received widespread media attention. Along with being the subject of numerous podcasts, it has also been featured on Dateline NBC and Disappeared, amongst other television programs.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Brianna Maitland went missing from Montgomery, Vermont, but it should be noted that some agencies state her disappearance occurred in East Franklin or Sheldon. She was 17 years old. At the time of her disappearance, she stood at 5’3″ to 5’5″ and weighed between 105 to 118 pounds. She has brown hair and hazel eyes. She has a faint scar extending from her left eyebrow to her forehead, and her left nostril is pierced. According to reports, she was wearing either a small ring or a stud at the time.

Currently, the case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, she would be 34 years old.

Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Vermont State Police at 802-524-5993 or the investigation’s official tip line at 802-241-5355.

Image Credit: DNASolves Crime

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