People go missing every single day. According to some statistics, there are almost 1800 that go missing in the U.S. every single day — and I would imagine a similar percentage of Canadians. Some of those may have met a nefarious fate while others may decide to disappear on their own for whatever reasons they have. Sometimes, we never know what happens to the person.
That’s why I stopped in my tracks yesterday while reading an article about missing person Brandon Cairney.
Brandon was just 31 years old when he vanished from Port Alberni, B.C., Canada in October 2017. At that point in his life, he had been struggling to recover from an accident that had happened 10 years prior and almost killed him. He was in a very serious car accident that left him with a major brain injury. Even 10 years later, he had to live with the consequences of that accident. While he used to be a very physically fit athlete who enjoyed playing basketball, soccer and running track and field — now he suffered from terrible headaches and short-term memory loss. Things were so physically and mentally challenging for him that he couldn’t hold down a steady job.
Brandon’s mother would also comment about how different he acted. The old Brandom seemed to be dead and gone — and this new Brandon was highly emotional and easily frustrated, which can be quite common with people who suffer from head trauma.
Because of his state of mind, Brandon found it difficult to be around other people. The way he understood the world around him and his relationship with others had completely changed. He became overwhelmed when in large groups. He didn’t like the way certain behaviours of people he believed were acting immoral. He spent a lot of time alone — often taking long walks by himself to sort through his thoughts.
In October of 2017, he did not return from one of these walks. Then — he missed an important appointment that he had in town. While it was common for Brandon to sneak away without telling anyone, it was not typical for him to miss important events — and to be gone for so long.
When his family couldn’t get a hold of him — they filed a missing person’s report. They didn’t believe that he would typically run off alone and not come back. Really, they were worried about his mental state and if he was in danger of harming himself. This new version of Brandon didn’t really have the ability to take care of himself. Physically — he was a grown man. But mentally, in many ways, he was childlike now.
There were many theories as to what may have happened to him — but five years would pass before his family would have answers. And now that they have some of the answers — there are even more questions.
Just this week, Laura Palmer, the host of a true crime podcast called Island Crime, received a tip from one of her listeners who said that they believed a missing person had been found in Burnaby, B.C. Laura had covered Brandon’s missing person story on the podcast previously — and after doing some digging, she discovered that it was Brandon Cairney. He was discovered sleeping on a park bench in the city.
But here’s the twist.
This man completely denies being Bradon Cairney. Fair enough…maybe a case of mistaken identity, right?
He was questioned and fingerprinted by the police to confirm his identity — and the fingerprints came back as a match to Brandon Cairney. But it doesn’t end there. This individual has continued to deny that he is Brandon. He says that he is an American citizen and has a completely different name. While it does appear that he had spent the last five years in and out of the U.S., fingerprints do not lie. Still, he appears to have given up his identity and life as he knew it as Brandon Cairney.
What’s really sad is that his family has not been able to get a hold of him or speak to him themselves, so they are left questioning what the heck has happened. They are relieved that he is alive and okay, but of course, they would like to see him with their own eyes. The police have stated that physically Brandon is fine — he has managed to take care of himself over the years. However, likely he is suffering from a mental break related to his head injury. For this reason, I’m a bit surprised they didn’t try to place him in a mental health institution until he could be evaluated.
This unusual story made me think.
As host of the true-crime podcast, Serial Napper, I read about a lot of different missing person cases. I’ve covered a lot of stories involving adults who seem to have just vanished. I know the term “vanished into thin air” gets overused, but it’s the only accurate way to describe how truly bizarre some of these disappearances have been. One example is a case that I’ve poured over for hours — Brandon Swanson, who vanished one night after having a minor car accident where he went into the ditch — the crazy part of his story is that he was on the phone with his parents when he went missing. The phone went dead — and he was just gone within a matter of an hour, never to be found again.
Is it possible that there are more cases just like Brandon Cairney, where it is believed that a crime has occurred, but the individual has decided to go off on their own? The obvious answer is yes. It’s more than possible — it’s inevitable. This is why we can never give up. It took five years for Brandon’s family to finally get some answers. Out of all possibilities, I’m sure they thought this scenario was the least likely. But if we simply stopped looking — we’d never know the truth of it.
About the author
Nikki Young is the host of the international true crime podcast, Serial Napper. Each episode features a different true crime story, told succinctly the way it happened. Serial Napper is available on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.