The Big Business of Faking Your Own Death

The Big Business of Faking Your Own Death

Have you ever wondered what it is like to fake your death?

Who would fake their own death? While we may find it hard to believe, it’s actually more common than we think. 

To fake your death is also called pseudocide or a staged death is a case which an individual leaves evidence to suggest that they are missing or dead to mislead others. There could be a variety of reasons someone might choose to fake their death such as fraud to collect insurance money, those facing financial ruin, those wanting to evade police, or those who want out of a relationship. They all want to start a new life. 

Pseudocide has been committed for centuries. Those who attempt this façade come from all walks of life, from ordinary citizens to authors, and even those in the corporate world. However, people that attempt pseudocide lack comprehension of the consequences, and lack knowledge of how to successfully carry their plan out. 

To fake your death is not a crime, however, it is almost impossible to do it without breaking laws. 

(Raymond Roth was arrested in 2012, for faking his own death and impersonating a police officer.)

In 2014, Raymond Roth was sentenced for faking his own drowning at Jones Beach in a life insurance scheme and pretending to be a cop while attempting to lure a woman in Nassau County, New York. 

He was sentenced to 2 to 7 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $36,000 in restitution to the Coast Guard and Nassau County Police. 

On July 28, 2012, prosecutors said Roth was reported missing by his 22-year-old son Jonathan Roth who frantically called 911, saying his father had disappeared in the waters off of Jones Beach.

The 911 call triggered an intense water and air search costing thousands of dollars. No one witnessed Roth swim away and he was initually presumed dead due to drowning.

Prosecutors said in court that the father and son schemed to fake Roth’s death in hopes of cashing in over $400,000 in life insurance policies. The plan was Jonathan would file an insurance claim right away.

The plot was discovered when Roth’s wife, Evana, found emails between the father and son discussing the details of their plan.

Roth initially fled to Florida to hide out but was pulled over for speeding in South Carolina. In March of 2013, Roth plead guilty to conspiracy charges in the life insurance plot.

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(Jonathan Roth was sentenced to a year in jail for helping his father fake his own death in Massapequa, New York.) 

Roth’s son, Jonathan, apologized in court but was sentenced to a year in jail.

“Pseudocide isn’t inherently a crime,” said James Quiggle, director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud in Washington, D.C. “But it involves so many built in frauds that it’s virtually impossible to legally fake your own drowning. Frankly, you’ll only be drowing in fraud.” 

“You may be stealing life insurance,” Quiggle continued. “Or your spouse is part of the con and files a false police report. You’re also avoiding a large variety of taxes, and defrauding lenders of your home and car. Then when you resurface with a new identity, you’re defrauding every government agency that processes your new identity—and old identity. And you’re defrauding new lenders if you buy a house or car under your new identity.” 

Buying a “Death Kit” in the Philippines

As reported by Annabel Fenwick Elliott at Traveller.com, for $630 travelers can purchase a “death kit” complete with documents that “prove” your death. The process involves buying an unclaimed corpse from a morgue in the Phillipines.

(The Philippines is where people who want to disappear go to puichase bodies of dead people.)

One has to wonder if it is even possible to disappear anymore. Our every move is monitored by the National Security Agency, closed-circuit TV, phones transmitting our location, drones, even friend tagging us on Facebook. 

Elizabeth Greenwood, an American author of “Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud,” was one of those people. In 2013, Greenwood was 27 years old and burdened with a six-figure student debt. 

She decided to go to the Philippines to erase herself and escape her problems. 

Greenwood initially went to a man named Franki Ahearn. Ahearn resembled a biker and has the word “Freedom” tattooed across his shoulders. Mr. Ahearn told Greenwood that he helps people disappear, not fake their own death because it is illegal to file official paperwork about a fictitious death, but legal to disappear. 

In 2013, Greenwood “died” in the Philippines as a tourist. Several people witnessed her crash in a rental car into another vehicle in Manilla on a busy road. Doctors at the hospital there pronounced Greenwood dead on arrival. At least that’s what her death certificate says. 

In reality, Greenwood is alive and living in New York working as a journalist. 

“I’m dead on paper, but still kicking in Brooklyn,” Greenwood said. 

Why did she do it?

Greenwood began thinking about making herself disappear after she had told a friend about her school debt and they responded in jest that she should just disappear.

“I began poking around online and discovered that death fraud truly is an industry with a whole host of experts and c onsultants to help you go through with it,” said Greenwood. “And there are far more people than you might imagine who had done it themselves, with varying degrees of success,” she added. 

She decided she wanted to research the subject.

Why they do it in the Philippines

“In my early research, I dug up a 1986 Wall Street Journal article that quoted a representatives from Equifax insurance saying, ‘In one Southeast Asian country, there’s a private morgue that picks up dead derilicts, freezes the bodies, and sells them for insurance puposes.’ I found this totally intriguing , bizarre, and macabre,” Greenwood told Traveller.com.

Greenwood decided to work with two private investigators who consult for life insurance companies.

“Again and again, they named the Philippines as a hotbed for the kind of theatrical death fraud that involves false corpses,” Greenwood said. “They snigg out life insurance fraud all over the globe—it is attempted everywhere—but they told me some memorable stories about cases they’s worked on in the Philippines, so I wanted to checki it out myself.”

What is the cost? 

The cost can vary widely. Generally it costs anywhere from $180 to $630, but it can cost some up to $36,000 to hire a professional fixer to have a professional fixer erase their past and create a new identity. 

What does the cost include?

Greenwood stayed in the Philippines for a week, and while there, found some locals who obtained her death certificate from an infiltrator who worked in a government agency.  

Greenwood never broke any law by filing the documents with the US Embassy.

Do they need a body to pull this off?

“If you are trying to cash in on a life insurance policy—obviously you’d need an accomplise to make the claim for you—you need a body, since without one most companies will wait seven years before paying out the claim,” Greenwood tell Traveller.com.

In black market morgues, one would need a death certificate, autopsy repport, police reports, a medical report and witness testimony. 

Some may go as far as having a funeral for their decedent and filming it to submit to the insurance company, but unessesary. 

What if a person just wants to disappear?

“If you’re not committing life insurance fraud, you needen’t go through all the extra trouble, Greewood said. “Staging a more open-ended, elegant excape, like disappearing while on a hike, usually looks more believable to investigators.” 

Petra Pazsitka was presumed dead since 1985, and missing for twenty years without ever breaking any laws. German authorities discovered her alive in 2015. The only thing she was penalized for was failing to register herself alive. 

As for risks Greenwood took to research her book, “In my case, I wanted to go through the motions to see what it felt like to obtain these documents,” she said. “Filing would’ve been illegal. Obtaining them? I’m not sure, and I’m glad I never found out. But I’m not going to lie, I was definitely nervous flying back to the States with my own death certificate in my backpack.” 

Is faking one’s death happening more frequently?

Fraudulently dying happens frequently and Greenwood saw an increase in cases in 2008, when the United States suffered a financial collapse. 

(Elizabeth Greenwood faked her own death in 2013, to research how people commit pseudocide.)

“I think it will always happen. People will always look for a way out,” Greenwood told Traveller.com.

It may be easier now because there are more ways such as buying documents on the Philippines or finding a source on the deep dark web, or finding a pravicacy consultant to help.

“But the reason people get caught is time-proof and universal. They just can’t cut ties to their old lives.

Modern day Sherlock Holmes

Thomas Lauth, the CEO of Lauth Investigations International, is a modern day Sherlock Holmes. A private investigator since 1994, Lauth specializes in finding missing persons. 

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(Thomas Lauth has been a private investigator for over 25 years and works with his team o0f private eyes to solve missing person cases.)

“Sometimes people want to commit pseudocide to reboot their life,” Lauth said.

The work private investigators do is very different than what is depicted on television. It is often 90% routine and can be very boring, but the remaining 10% is filled with surveillance and work in the field making up for that, many investigators say. 

Lauth has worked on hundreds of missing person cases due to foul play, homeless due to mental illness or drug addiction, people with dementia, missing children and human trafficking cases, and those Lauth refers to as maliciously missing, who disappear on their own accord. 

“People who commit pseudocide or go maliciously missing, are mostly men but I’ve seen an increase in cases that involve women who are primarily escaping violence in their relationship,” Lauth says. 

After accepting a case of a missing person, Lauth assigns an investigative team to work closely with the family of the missing person, develop theories, physical search site logistics, create comprehensive data on the missing person, flyer and press release creation, along with a social media presence to help raise awareness of the missing person. 

The Lauth Investigations team works collaboratively with NGO’s, government social service agencies, local, state and federal law enforcement, and the local community.

Lauth has worked on over 30 cases of malicious missing or pseudocide cases during his career. “In my 25 years of conducting missing persons cases a number of my cases have been malicious missing adults. Adults who chose to change their life for various reasons from abusive spouse to wanting leave family and kids behind. Its unfortunate individuals choose this route as it can put families in so much pain missing their loved ones and thinking instead they are deceased.”

When Fitness Becomes Dangerous: Three Women Who Went Missing While Exercising

When Fitness Becomes Dangerous: Three Women Who Went Missing While Exercising

It’s not uncommon for women to jog alone. Unfortunately, it’s also not uncommon for women to go missing while jogging or exercising.

Millions of women exercise daily while alone, and most come home safe. However, imagine your friend goes out for a jog or bicycle ride and is never seen again. Women who go missing while jogging are not an isolated event. It may be hard to comprehend, but sadly, stories like this are becoming more common in today’s society.  

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), there are approximately 100,000 people missing in the United States right now. As of May 31, 2018, there were 19,183 women over the age of eighteen listed as missing in NCIC. Many of them go missing while jogging or exercising.

Stories like Molly Tibbets, who was abducted and murdered, make national news headlines, creating fear throughout the country. Women being attacked or kidnapped, or going missing while jogging is a nightmare we cannot run away from and one that continues to haunt families of the missing.

The Disappearance of Rachel Cooke

Our first woman who went missing while jogging is Rachel Cooke. Rachel Cooke, 19, was visiting her parents in Georgetown, Texas, during her winter break from college. No one knew that would be her last trip home. On January 10, 2002, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Rachel went out for her four-mile daily run and was last seen 200 yards from her family home. Somewhere in that short distance, the beautiful young college student with a smile that could light up the Texas plains—vanished.(Northlake subdivision in Georgetown, Texas, where Rachel Cooke vanished while taking a morning run.)

Northlake subdivision is a quiet place, about 45 minutes from Austin, where streets are named after Native American tribes and the only people there are residents and their visitors. The houses are set back on several acres of property with expansive drives. The serenity is rarely disturbed by strangers, making it a perfect storm of cirumcstances to go missing while jogging.

224 Navajo Trail was the Cooke family’s dream home, and they loved its spaciousness and tranquility. Robert and Janet Cooke raised Rachel and her little sister Joann there while Janet taught English at a nearby high school. Robert was a long-time software engineer for IBM and commuted daily to Austin. It was a place where people felt safe going outside alone and kidnapping did not happen—until Rachel.

The Cooke family’s idyllic life came to an end that fateful Thursday, but the day started like any other. Robert and Janet left early to work, and Joann went to her classes at the local high school. Rachel was enjoying her winter break as a freshman at Mesa Junior College San Diego, and her family let her sleep in.

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(Rachel Cooke was last seen at her parent’s home in Georgetown, Texas on January 10, 2002.)

When the family left that morning, Rachel was asleep on the living room sofa. Her mother kissed her goodbye.

Authorities believe Rachel got up and left the home at approximately 9:30 a.m. for her morning run. She went missing while jogging that morning.

When Robert got home at 5:00 p.m., Rachel was still not there and had no contact with anyone in the family the entire day. At first, Robert was not that concerned thinking Rachel was out with her friend Shannon, who she had plans with that evening. But, as time went by, Robert began to worry. He called Wildfire, a local restaurant, Rachel sometimes worked at while visiting. To the worried father’s relief, they told him Rachel had worked a shift that evening. However, morning came and there was still no sign of Rachel, so Robert called the restaurant again. To his horror, they told him, in fact, it was another Rachel that had worked the previous night shift.

Rachel was missing—and a sinking feeling overcame her father.

In the days following Rachel’s disappearance, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office conducted a search with help from hundreds of volunteers. After the initial search efforts concluded, Robert and Janet continued to organize searches on weekends.

“We carried on for nine months, but at some point, we thought we’ve done our best,” Robert told the Guardian. “If they took her 12 miles, there is no reason why they wouldn’t take her 15 miles. We could search the entire state of Texas and still not find her.”

Robert Cooke passed away in November 2014, never knowing what happened to his daughter.

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(The FBI erected billboards of Rachel Cooke in the state of Texas offering a $100,000 reward for information.) 

In May 2019, the FBI erected billboards throughout Texas offering a $100,000 reward for any information about the whereabouts of Rachel.

As drivers passed Rachel’s smiling face along I-35, it read “Missing but not forgotten,” and placed there on Rachel’s 37th birthday. Janet Cook saw it as a Mother’s Day gift as well. Time has not lessened the mother’s hope of finding her daughter—and at least knowing what happened.

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(In 2020, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office released two suspect composites in the disappearance of Rachel Cooke.)

In 2020, for Rachel’s 38th birthday, deputies met with Rachel’s mother Janet and released two new composite sketches of potential suspects in the case. 

Her mother had a remembrance ceremony at the campus of Georgetown High School where they planted a tree in memory of Rachel. Sheriff Robert Chody spoke at the ceremony to remind the public his investigators are still working the case.

Janet Cooke, who also spoke, said she is just “seeking closure” on the case. “At this point I just want Rachel and to be able to tell her sister it’s over,” she told the Statesman.  

If you have any information about the disappearance of Rachel Cooke, please call the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office at 512-943-5204 or email coldcasetips@wilco.com.

The Disappearance of Suzanne Morphew

Suzanne Morphew was another woman who very recently went missing while jogging or exercising, except she was on a bicycle. Suzanne Morphew, 49, went out biking alone on Mother’s Day and never returned to her central Colorado home. Just after 6 p.m. on May 10, 2020, a neighbor alerted the Chaffee County Communications Center that Suzanne had not returned from her bike ride.

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(Suzanne Morphew is missing from the small community in Maysville, Colorado, approximately 120 miles from Colorado Springs.)

An avid cyclist, Suzanne was biking near her home in Maysville, a small community in Chaffee County, approximately 120 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. Her disappearance has spurred nationwide press coverage and a Facebook page with over 16,315 followers.

There have been reports that Suzanne’s bicycle was found just west of County Road 225 and West U.S. Highway 50. However, the Sheriff’s Office has only publicly confirmed a “personal item” was found that they believe belonged to the missing biker.

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(Barry Morphew, Suzanne’s husband, made an emotional plea to the public offering a $200,000 reward for his wife’s safe return. Photo courtesy of Inside Edition)

Suzanne’s husband, Barry Morphew made a dramatic plea offering a $200,000 reward for the safe return of his wife. “No questions asked,” said Barry. “However much they want. I will do whatever it takes to get you back. I love you and I want you back so bad.” Barry, a volunteer firefighter is said to have been 150 miles away in Denver when Suzanne vanished. 

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(Suzanne Morphew has been missing from Maysville, Colorado, since May 10, 2020.)

Suzanne is a mother of two daughters and a cancer survivor. A former English teacher, Suzanne is described as “happy and active” who was always at the gym, hiking, or biking. She is loved in her community, and fliers dot the windows in the local businesses. Hundreds of volunteers have helped with the search efforts, organized by her nephew Trevor Noel, who has also become the family spokesperson.

“As time goes by, it gives us concern, but we are searching as if she is still alive and we think she could still be alive,” Sheriff John Spezze of the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office told Inside Edition. In an earlier interview, the sheriff also said they are not ruling out foul play.

Initially, authorities had seized the Morphew home but confirmed on May 26, 2020, that the house has been released back to the family. Investigators have also searched a local home construction site in Salida, approximately 11 miles east of Maysville, spurring rumors that Suzanne Morphew had been located and the husband arrested. The sheriff’s office issued a press release in response to the speculation.

“In response to the widespread rumors, the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office relays that Ms. Morphew has not been located and there have been no arrests in the investigation,” the release said.

Authorities say they have received over 400 tips and continue to encourage the public to call in with leads.

If you have any information about the disappearance of Suzanne Morphew, please contact the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office at 719-312-7530.

The Disappearance of Amy Bechtel

Amy Wroe Bechtel, 24, vanished on July 24, 1997, while jogging in the Wind River Mountains approximately 15 miles south of Lander, Wyoming. 

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(Amy Wroe Bechtel vanished on July 24, 1997, while jogging in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming.)

Amy Bechtel went missing while jogging in a little hamlet of middle America. Lander, Wyoming is located in Fremont County with a population of under 8,000 people. A popular tourist destination with guest ranches, it is located just below the Wind River Mountains where people go hiking, rock climbing, and backpacking. 

That Thursday morning of July 24, Amy told her husband, Steve Bechtel, that she was planning on running several errands in town after teaching a children’s weightlifting class at the Wind River Fitness Center. Steve planned to drive with his yellow lab, Jonz, to Dubois, 75 miles north, to meet his friend Sam Lightner, and scout some possible new climbing areas at Cartridge Creek. 

After teaching class, Amy stopped at the Camera Connection, a photo store near her home in Lander, and then stopped by Gallery 331, where she spoke to the business owner about submitting her photographs into a competition. Amy was an amateur photographer, an avid runner, and a marathon hopeful who loved the outdoors and pristine beauty of Wyoming. 

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(A quaint mountain town, Lander is located in Central Wyoming just south of the Wind River Indian Reservation.)

Steve and Amy lived on Lucky Lane, a hipster community where many rock climbers live, drawn by some of the most difficult mountain walls in the United States. Lander is a quirky town with funky shops and art galleries, old school watering holes, and small home-town restaurants. Steve and Amy both worked part-time at Wild Iris Mountain Sports, a local outdoor equipment store.

The couple had just closed on a new house and were busy planning a move. Amy was also organizing a 10k hill climb scheduled for September 7. She planned that the runners would climb a series of mountain switchbacks not far from town, then jump into the Frye Lake and finish with a picnic. On the day she vanished, Amy’s “to do” list included a run and lifting, recycling, get photo mounted, get more boxes, mow the lawn, and get flyers.

John Strom, the owner of Camera Connection remembers Amy wearing a yellow shirt, black shorts, and running shoes that day. He said she seemed busy and cheerful when she left at about 2:30 p.m.

After completing several of her afternoon chores and leaving the camera shop—Amy’s life becomes that of speculation.

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(Steve and Amy Bechtel with their dog Jonz.)

Steve returned from his day out with his friend at about 4:30 p.m. and found the house empty. He had returned earlier than planned and was not concerned but at about 10 p.m. he called her parents to see if Amy had driven to their house on the spur of the moment. She had not.

By 11 p.m. Steve had called the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office who sent two deputies to the house. They alerted the following shift who began to organize a search and rescue team to head out at daybreak. Steve and his neighbor Todd Skinner went to look for Amy’s car on Loop Road, a 30-mile road through the Shoshone National Forest. 

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(Amy Bechtel’s car was found alongside the road in Burnt Gulch, about 45 minutes from town.)

At approximately 1:00 a.m., Steve received a call that Amy’s white Toyota Tercel station wagon was found alongside the road at Burnt Gulch, about 45 minutes from town in the mountains, so he headed there immediately. Her car unlocked, the keys under her “to do” list on the front passenger seat, along with her sunglasses.

Steve and a small group began searching the woods with flashlights, calling Amy’s name. By the time the official search party arrived, a dozen people were searching for Amy and the site had not been preserved for evidence. Thinking Amy was just lost, no one could have imagined the site might be a crime scene,

For years, evidence remained elusive, and over the last two decades, law enforcement has only developed theories about what happened to her. They believe Amy left the camera shop and then went to scout the location for the 10k.

In recent years, national television and media interest in the case has waned and generated little leads that have been useful to authorities. A $25,000 reward went untouched and was eventually converted into two college scholarship funds in Amy’s name.

Fremont County Sheriff Sgt. Roger Rizor has been the lead investigator and told the Billings Gazette in 2007, that Amy’s case was cold, but it is still an open case. “I believe it was a homicide, and I believe that’s what happened on the day she disappeared.”

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(Jo Anne Wroe wanders in the meadows of her log home above Red Lodge to feel close to her missing daughter Amy Wroe Bechtel. Photo courtesy of the Billings Gazette.)

As years passed, Jo Anne stopped marking the anniversaries of Amy’s disappearance with yellow ribbons. She does not have a grave to visit so she loves to meander near the mountain creek among the aspen trees and wildflowers to feel close to her missing daughter. 

Amy’s disappearance has deeply affected every facet of Jo Anne’s life and that of her three other children. 

“A part of me is realistic, and I’m aware that she is probably not alive,” she said. “I have learned to live with the fact that Amy is gone. But I have not accepted it, and I will not until I know what happened.”

If you have any information about the disappearance of Amy Wroe Bechtel, please call the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office at 307-332-5611.

Kym served as CEO of the National Center for Missing Adults from 1994 to 2010 and advocating for missing persons and their families for over 25 years.

Kym has worked with national media to raise awareness and featured on Anderson Cooper Live, Greta Van Susteren, Montel Williams, the John Walsh Show, CNN, BBC, FOX, L. A. Times, People Magazine, Ladies Home Journal.

Lori Vallow Daybell arrested, fights for reduced bail

Lori Vallow Daybell arrested, fights for reduced bail

Lori Vallow Daybell has been arrested after failing to produce her two missing children in compliance with a court order.
Lori Vallow Daybell has been arrested after failing to produce her two missing children in compliance with a court order.

The nation has been feverishly following the dramatic events that surround the disappearance of two Idaho children, whose mother and stepfather fled the state following a request for a wellness check by a family member. Joshua “J.J.” Vallow and Tylee Ryan were last seen last fall, around the time their mother, Lori Vallow pulled J.J. from public school, citing a new job that would require the family to move out of state.

Authorities tracked Lori Vallow Daybell and her husband, Chad Daybell to the island of Kauai in Hawaii at the beginning of 2020. Authorities told her that she had until January 30th to produce her children to a state office to prove they were alive and well, but that date came and went—still no sign of J.J. or Tylee.

Despite failure to produce her children, Lori Vallow Daybell was not immediately arrested on a contempt of court charge, much to the public’s bewilderment. However, there are legal experts who said that law enforcement must build a strong case before taking a legal swing at Vallow Daybell. Samuel Newton, an assistant law professor at the University of Idaho said, “I’m willing to bet what everyone is trying to do is get enough evidence to get an arrest and prove some sort of felony. What they don’t’ want to do is file a charge and then have it get dismissed because there’s nothing to support it.”

Lori Vallow Daybell was finally arrested last week on the island of Kauai where she fled with her husband. The couple had been seen “island-hopping” while law enforcement built a case against her. When she appeared in court on her bail hearing, the judge handed down a judgement of $5 million dollars. Vallow appeared in court again on Wednesday to have that bail reduced to $10,000. Her extradition from Hawaii is being reportedly expedited by Idaho governor, Brad Little, who told a local news station, “I hope there is justice, and I hope the children are found.”

Who is Paul Flores? The Last Person to See Kristin Smart Alive

Who is Paul Flores? The Last Person to See Kristin Smart Alive

Paul Flores was the last person to see Kristin Smart alive on the morning she went missing in 1996
Paul Flores was the last person to see Kristin Smart alive on the morning she went missing in 1996

As true crime continues to climb the cultural ladder into mainstream culture, there has been a wave of true crime documentaries, television shows, and podcasts that revive interest in cold cases. A recent example has been the true crime podcast Your Own Backyard, hosted by Chris Lambert, which focuses on the disappearance of Kristin Smart—a Cal Poly freshman who went missing after a friend’s birthday party in spring of 1996. The podcast has listeners questioning the involvement of one of Kristin Smart’s friends, Paul Flores, who escorted her back to her dormitory after the party and was allegedly the last person to see Kristin Smart alive.

Paul Flores was instead labeled a “person of interest,” by authorities in 1997 and has remained so for over 20 years. The sheriff at the time, Ed Williams, told the media that there were “no other suspects” in Kristin’s disappearance. Law enforcement was only able to interview Flores once when Kristin was first reported missing and since then he had remained uncooperative in the investigation. During that interview, Flores gave conflicting accounts of how he had received a black eye that investigators observed, first stating that he got the shiner playing baseball and then later said he got it while working on his truck moments before he shut the interview down.

Flores was subsequently sued by Kristin Smart’s family in 1996, stating that Flores was the man responsible for their daughter’s disappearance and murder. Cal Poly was subsequently added to the lawsuit, with the family citing that the university did not do enough to keep their daughter safe while living on their campus. In a 1997 deposition, he repeatedly cited his right against self-incrimination, according to periodical archives. The lawsuit remains unresolved, as documents that could prove any of the family’s allegations still remain sealed in interested of preserving the criminal investigation. The family’s attorney, Jim Murphy, said in 2016, “In civil law, it’s what’s reasonable based on a preponderance of the evidence, not within a reasonable doubt as in criminal cases. Here, I believe there’s enough circumstantial evidence to prove to a civil jury that Flores is responsible for Kristin’s death.”

The popularity of Your Own Backyard has coincided with a recent break in the cold case, with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s office announcing that they have issued warrants to retrieve potential evidence from Flores’s mother’s home, including two vehicles and electronic devices, with authorities commenting only that these were “items of interest.”

Kristin Smart was legally presumed dead in 2002, but the community still holds out hope that law enforcement will find answers in her disappearance. A new billboard has been erected in Murphy’s front yard, urging anyone with information about her disappearance to contact the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s office at 805-781-4500.

Into the Night: The Bizarre Disappearance of Student Brandon Swanson

Into the Night: The Bizarre Disappearance of Student Brandon Swanson

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(Brandon Swanson vanished May 14, 2008, from Marshal, Minnesota while driving home late at night.)

Shortly after midnight on May 14, 2008, Brandon Swanson mysteriously vanished in Marshall, Minnesota. Brandon had been celebrating the end of the spring semester with friends from Minnesota West Community and Technical College’s Canby campus. 

Between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m., Brandon left the celebration and drove to another friend’s home in Canby to say goodbye to a classmate that was also having a party. Friends say Brandon did not appear intoxicated when he left shortly after midnight to go home. Canby is approximately 45 minutes away from Marshall where Brandon lived with his parents. 

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(Brandon Swanson called his parents and told them he believed he was near the town of Lynd, Minnesota, after crashing his car into a ditch.)

Brandon’s parents received a call from Brandon at approximately 1:54 a.m. telling them he had gotten stuck in a ditch on a back road that ran north of Highway 68, the main road he would normally take to get home. He told them he was not injured but needed help to get home. 

Why Brandon chose to turn off Highway 68 and take gravel back roads home is but one of the mysteries in this story. 

Unsure of his exact location, Brian told his parents he thought he was near Lynd, a small town in Lyon County with a population of only 445 people. 

Brandon’s parents, Brian and Annette Swanson, decided to go get him and went to the location but were unable to find him or his car. 

The Disappearance

The road was dark and the area remote. Annette called Brandon on his cell phone and they both agreed to flash their lights to let each other know they were in the area. On the phone, Annette could hear Brandon flashing his car lights and told him, “We are flashing our lights” We are flashing our lights!” Brandon replied. “Don’t you see me?” They never did see him. 


(Brandon Swanson’s parents drove to Lynd to search the dark gravel roads for any sign of their son or his vehicle.)

Frustrated, Brandon hung up on his mother. She quickly called back, and they both apologized to each other for becoming annoyed. 

Brandon said he would leave the car and walk toward Lynd and they agreed to meet him at the Lynd Tavern parking lot. 

While talking to his father, Brandon described seeing lights in the distance and continued to walk down the gravel road. He described hearing rushing water and saw two fence lines, all the while continuing to talk to his dad. 

The call lasted 47 minutes when suddenly Brian yelled, “Oh shit!” and the call disconnected. His parents tried to call him back numerous times, but the phone rang each time until the following day when calls went straight to voicemail. 

The Search for Brian

At 6:30 a.m. the following day, Brian’s parents called the police to report him missing. To their dismay, the police told them to wait as it was not unlike a young man Brian’s age, to disappear for a bit. 

Later that day, cell phone records showed Brandon was near Porter, Minnesota, not Lynd when he called them. Porter is between Canby and Marshall along Highway 68.

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(During a search, for Brandon Swanson, his vehicle was found on a gravel road just north of Taunton, Minnesota.) 

A search began and at approximately 12:30 p.m., Brandon’s Chevrolet Lumina was found about a mile and a half north of Taunton, right on the border between Yellow Medicine, Lincoln and Lyon Counties. 

According to True Crime Files, the car was found with no physical damage and no evidence of physical injury. 

“It was off the side of a field approach, and the vehicle was hung up,” Lincoln County Sheriff Jack Vizecky told CNN. “It’s sort of a sharp incline, nothing major but enough that the car would get hung up, so the wheels are too high off the ground to gain traction.” 

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(Searchers combed the countryside and the Yellow Medicine River for any sign of Brandon Swanson in May 2008.)

In the months following Brandon’s disappearance, law enforcement, volunteers, and emergency personnel search the area by ground, horseback, and all-terrain vehicles to search all three counties in the vicinity of where Brandon disappeared and the Yellow Medicine River.

Authorities believed Brandon may have fallen into the river and drowned, but canines followed his scent to the river’s edge but did not signal and continued walking on. To the police, this suggested Brandon may have fallen into the water but managed to get out and continued walking. However, the temperature that evening was around 39 degrees, and he could have succumbed to hypothermia.   

Cadaver dogs picked up the scent of human remains during several searches, in the area of Porter near Mud Creek, but a body was ever found. 

Police do not have any evidence of foul play and believe Brandon’s body would be found within a 122 square-mile search area. 

“It’s by far the biggest search I’ve ever been involved in terms of length of time, the number of missions and number of searchers involved said Jeff Hasse, founder of Midwest Technical Training Associates. 

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(Brandon Swanson with a friend, prior to his disappearance in 2008.)

Porch Light is Still On

Brian and Annette turned on their porch light on May 14, 2008 – the night Brandon vanished.

The light remains on every night. “There’s no reason to turn it off now,” Brian said. “I’m pretty sure we’re not going to find him alive, but I still want to believe that we will find him. That’s probably a stretch, but I still want to believe that.” 

One positive thing has come out of Brandon’s disappearance. Brian and Annette spearheaded legislation that was signed into law in 2009. Brandon’s Law requires police to make a report whenever a person of any age, is reported missing and investigation must ensue. It also clarifies jurisdiction. 

The Swansons face a life of ambiguity, never really being able to move forward, no way to gain closure. “They call it ambiguous loss,” Annette said. “It’s that state in your life – in our case it’s the loss of our son – without knowing what happened. It’s extremely challenging. It’s really hard to grapple with and to come to terms with. I think for Brandon’s father and I, and for his sister, we’ve kind of figured out how to live in that gray area. But it’s really not someplace you want to live.” 

Anyone with information about the disappearance of Brandon Swanson, please contact the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office at 507-537-7666.