In 2006, Brian Shaffer was a 27-year-old medical student at Ohio State University. He might have hoped he would be famous one day for curing an obscure disease or saving someone’s life. He probably never imagined he would become famous for being at the center of a particularly creepy unsolved mystery.
Brian completed his undergraduate degree at OSU in microbiology and decided to stay there for medical school. For the past few years he had been in a serious relationship Alexis Waggoner. They had plans for the future and friends believed Brian would propose on a trip the couple was planning to take. On his Myspace, he said “I have an amazing girlfriend”.
Friday, March 31, 2006 was the last day of classes before the start of spring break at OSU. It had been a rough semester for Brian, his mother had passed from cancer three weeks earlier. He also had a difficult course load and spent many all nighters studying. That night, Brian went out for a steak dinner with his father, Randy Shaffer. Randy says his son seemed “exhausted”. Brian told his dad he planned to go out drinking that night. His dad thought it wasn’t a good idea given how tired Brian seemed, but didn’t say anything.
Later that night, at 9pm, Brian met his friend and former roommate William “Clint” Florence at the Ugly Tuna Saloona near campus in Columbus, OH. Inside the bar, Brian talked to his girlfriend on the phone. He said he loved her and they chatted about their upcoming vacation. Brian and Clint visited several bars in the area and had a shot of liquor at each one. They met another friend, Meredith Reed, and the three decided to end the night back at the Ugly Tuna Saloona.
Back at the Ugly Tuna Saloona, Brian separated from his friends once they got inside. Clint and Meredith searched for him. Clint checked the men’s room and did not find him. At 2am, the bar closed and Clint and Meredith waited outside, searching the crowd for Brian. The two called him repeatedly and then eventually assumed he went back to his apartment alone. They went home and each tried calling him again later on.
On Monday, April 3, 2006 Brian did not show up at the airport for his vacation with his girlfriend Alexis. This was the trip where friends thought he might propose. He was reported missing to police.
Police reviewed security footage at the Ugly Tuna Saloona. They saw Brian enter the bar with Clint and Meredith at 1:15 am the morning Brian was last seen (April 1). At 1:55 am the security cameras showed Brian leaving the bar, talking with two women outside, and then appearing to re-enter the Ugly Tuna Saloona. He does not exit the bar with the rest of the customers at bar close. He does not appear in footage from the bar’s emergency exit camera. He also does not appear on other security cameras in the area. Columbus is known for having an abnormally high number of security cameras. Police are baffled about how he was not caught on any of the area cameras while leaving the bar.
Brian’s apartment appeared undisturbed. His car remained at his apartment and his bank accounts were unused. Brian’s father and girlfriend took and passed polygraph tests, his friend Clint declined. The area surrounding the Ugly Tuna was searched. Dogs were brought in. Cab drivers were questioned. OSU students were all asked to come forward if they had seen Brian on that night (or since). There were no clues. He had simply vanished.
These are the main theories that exist about what happened to Brian Shaffer:
Brian was the victim of an April Fool’s prank gone wrong. Because of the timing of Brian’s disappearance on April 1, some have speculated an April Fool’s prank gone awry could have played a part in his disappearance. Other than the date, there is no evidence for this theory.
Brian was the victim of the Smily Face Killers. This is a controversial theory that a number of men who have gone missing and died in river cities while out drinking could be connected by a single killer. Generally, people involved in these cases believe the men died accidentally as a result of drinking and/or drowning. A psychic told Brian’s father that his body was in the water near the pier and he and Brian’s brother and Brian’s friend’s searched the river and shore in that area.
Brian intentionally disappeared. Some people think Brian left his life that night intentionally. Police might even believe this theory themselves. Brian’s mother died two years previously and he was two days away from embarking on a potentially life-changing trip with his girlfriend. He could have changed clothes inside the bar and then he would not be recognized by his friends or caught on the security camera leaving the bar. Brian’s friends also noted he was a parrothead and could have idealized a tropical escape from his worries.
Clint knows what happened. Derek, Brian’s brother, has been suspicious of Clint because he had been drinking with Brian all night the night he disappeared, and because Clint refused to take a lie detector test. Derek said, “I didn’t know Clint very well, but I always thought something was off with him.”
Brian ran into bad actors. He may simply have been at the wrong place at the wrong time, in the wrong state of inebriation. Brian’s father noted that he was exhausted before he started drinking. If he was very drunk he could have been spotted by someone looking to harm someone.
Brian’s father died in 2008. His brother, Derek, has not heard from Brian and there have been no updates in his case. Brian’s favorite band was Pearl Jam and he had a tattoo of the band’s album artwork on his shoulder. Eddie Vedder asked for fans to help find Brian Shaffer at the band’s Cincinnati concert and he has since dedicated songs to Brian while on tour.