Unsolved: The disappearance of Brianna Maitland



Any time a person goes missing, their loved ones are on high alert. When a teenager vanishes in the night without a trace and remains missing for years afterward, the situation is even more dire. Let’s talk about Brianna Maitland, who hasn’t been seen or heard from in almost two decades.


early life


Brianna Alexandria Maitland was born on October 8, 1986 to mom Kellie and dad Bruce. She also has a brother, but I couldn’t find his name or whether he was older or younger.


(Note: Some sources give Brianna’s middle name as Alexandra, not Alexandria.)


Growing up, Brianna was described by her loved ones as happy, spontaneous and well liked. Her parents said she was ambitious, friendly and independent. She loved to read, was trained in martial arts and, like many young people, dreamed of getting out of her small, rural area of Vermont and moving to a big city.


But by her teenage years, Brianna had few friends, and most of the ones she did have went to a different high school. In late 2003, the 17-year-old moved out of her parents’ home and enrolled at the school her friends attended. Her parents didn’t really want her to go, but, in their minds, there wasn’t much they could do to stop her.


For the next few months, Brianna couch surfed, living with different friends and a few boyfriends. In February 2004, she dropped out of high school and moved in with a friend named Jillian Stout. One source said the pair lived in East Franklin, Vermont, another said they lived in Swanton. (These towns are relatively close to one another.) After moving in with Jillian, Brianna got a job as a dishwasher at the Black Lantern Inn and Restaurant in nearby Montgomery.



disappearance


On the morning of Friday, March 19, 2004, Brianna and her mom went out to breakfast, then went shopping. That afternoon, Brianna took and passed her GED test. When she got home, she left a note for Jillian Stout, saying she’d be home after work.


That evening, Brianna headed to the Black Lantern Inn for her shift. It was a Friday night and, like many restaurants on Friday night, it was pretty busy. After Brianna’s shift ended, she and some of her co-workers hung out at the inn for awhile; everyone who saw her there reported that she seemed fine and nothing appeared out of the ordinary.


Around 11:20 pm, Brianna left the Black Lantern. Some of her co-workers had invited her to stay longer, but she wanted to get home and get some rest before an early shift at her second job the next day. She headed out, presumably to the apartment she shared with Jillian Stout. But she never made it home.


A few hours later, in the early morning hours of March 20th, at least three separate witnesses spotted Brianna’s car on the side of the road, close to an abandoned barn about a mile from the Black Lantern. The car’s headlights were still on. One of these witnesses was an ex-boyfriend of Brianna’s, who thought the car might be hers but he wasn’t sure. When Jillian Stout got home and didn’t see Brianna there, she assumed she’d gone to stay with her parents or another friend for the night and left for a weekend trip.


Later in the day on March 20, a state trooper spotted Brianna’s car in the same spot it had been a few hours earlier — though he obviously didn’t know that. The car had been backed into the building and there was some damage to both the building and the car. Two of Brianna’s uncashed paychecks from the Black Lantern were found inside, along with her contacts, migraine medicine, wallet and some food, were all found inside. The car was unlocked, but the keys were never found.


At first, the trooper assumed the car had been abandoned by a driver who had crashed it there while drunk. He went to the Black Lantern to follow up, but they were closed. The car was then towed, under the assumption that the owner would claim it once they’d sobered up.


On March 23rd, once Jillian Stout had returned home and realized Brianna wasn’t there, she contacted Brianna’s parents. But they hadn’t seen or heard from their daughter either, assuming she was still at her apartment as normal. Brianna was reported missing that day.


Not too long after this report, Brianna’s parents went to the police station to drop of some photos of her. Her dad gave police a description of Brianna’s car, and they showed him pictures of the car found on the 20th and gave him the details surrounding it. It was then that everyone put two and two together and realized this was Brianna’s car — which had been abandoned several days earlier.



investigation


At first, police didn’t believe anything nefarious had happened — that Brianna was a runaway and had voluntarily left town to start a new life. But as time passed, they started to suspect foul play. More than 500 people, both police and volunteers, aided in the search for Brianna, and dogs and helicopters were brought in. But these searches didn’t find anything of interest.


And Bruce Maitland was suspicious from the start. He thought the condition of his daughter’s car — wrecked and backed up into a building — indicated some kind of struggle. Four days after Brianna was reported missing — and after he learned police hadn’t searched her trunk yet — he forced it open himself with a crowbar. But other than a few more of her belongings, nothing was found there.


Early on in the investigation, a tip came in straight to Bruce Maitland. This person claimed Brianna had been kidnapped and was being held hostage in a house just outside of town. Bruce called the police who raided the house and found, according to him:

“everything that has to do with selling crack cocaine and — and — you know and all the paraphernalia, a gun, thinning agent, scales, ledgers, everything a drug dealer would have in the house.”

However, there was no sign of Brianna.


In 2006, there was a sighting of a woman who resembled Brianna at a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Her parents viewed the footage, but initially thought it was too grainy to tell if it was her or not. Brianna’s mom, Kellie Maitland eventually came to the conclusion that the girl in the footage was not her daughter. Police were never able to find or identify the woman.


In 2007, a pair of jeans was found not too far from where Brianna had last been seen. Police searched the area again, but found nothing else of interest. The jeans were close to Brianna’s size, but it’s not clear if they were hers.


After Brianna’s disappearance, her parents moved out of the area so they wouldn’t have to continually encounter people who knew about the case and could have somewhat of a sense of normalcy. They later divorced.


Bruce Maitland went on to start a nonprofit to help families with missing loved ones raise money for private investigators. (You can visit their website here.) Regarding his daughter’s case, he would later go on to say:


"There’s always a part of me that hopes she’s still alive, but I've come to terms with the fact that I don’t believe she is."

In 2012, Brianna’s case was featured on the TV show Disappeared. In 2016, the Vermont State Police announced they’d found DNA in Brianna’s car, but wouldn’t disclose when it had been found. They also said they were still regularly receiving tips about the case, sometimes as frequently as once a week.


At one point, Brianna’s family was offering a $20,000 reward in the case: $10,000 for information leading to her whereabouts, and an additional $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible. The reward was set to expire in July 2017, but a 2019 article said it was still active at the time. I’m not sure if it still is in 2021, but there is a separate $5,000 reward being offered by police.


In September 2020, the Vermont State Police partnered with a forensic testing company called Othram to test the DNA found in Brianna’s car. As of November 2021, I haven’t seen any updates on whether this DNA has been tested, so I assume it hasn’t been yet.



theories


So what happened to Brianna Maitland? Let’s talk theories and speculation. I’m going to do something a little different this time — first I’m going to talk about theories that have been debunked — or at least largely discounted. Then I’m going to talk about the ones that are still believed to be possible.


The first largely debunked theory is that Brianna left voluntarily. She’d told numerous friends and loved ones that she wanted to get out of her small, rural area and move to a big city. Had she gotten tired of waiting and finally just made the leap?


This theory isn’t very likely. Brianna left most of her belongings behind, including things like migraine medicine and contacts — things she’d presumably need in her everyday life. Her friends also don’t think she’d have cut off everyone she knew and never contacted them again.


The next debunked theory is that Brianna’s disappearance was connected to the disappearance of Maura Murray. If you’re interested in true crime, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this name before.


Maura Murray was 21 years old when she was last seen in Haverhill, New Hampshire on the evening of February 9, 2004. She’d crashed her car into a tree just off the road; a witness called the police, but she was gone by the time they got there. She hasn’t been seen since.


Brianna and Maura were both young, attractive females, close in age, and their disappearances both happened after car crashes, about 100 miles and just over a month apart from each other. The Murray family was in contact with Brianna’s aunt at one point, and police and the FBI did investigate the possibility of a connection. However, they agree that the two cases are probably not related.


There was also a theory at one point that Brianna was killed by Israel Keyes. Israel Keyes travelled the country in the early 2000’s and is thought to have killed between three and eleven people during that time. He was arrested in March 2012 and took his own life in prison later that year. However, he was ruled out as being involved in Brianna’s disappearance because he wasn’t in the area when she was last seen.


So now let’s talk theories that haven’t been completely ruled out. The first (and seemingly most widely believed) is that Brianna’s disappearance is drug related. Drugs were pretty common in the area where she was last seen. Based on what her friends and family have said, what little drug use Brianna participated in was casual and sporadic; by all accounts, she didn’t seem to be a regular user.


However, there was evidence that she was wrapped up in the local drug culture. Her friends claimed she associated with more regular drug users, and people interviewed about the case suggested she may have owned someone money for drugs. As Bruce Maitland put it in June 2004:


"To this day, from what I've gathered from all her friends, I don't think she was a heavy drug user. But I think she was, from what I found out, she was definitely hanging around with some people who were probably some pretty bad people."

Early on in the investigation, the lead detective publically claimed that Brianna owned someone money for drugs, a claim that a local newspaper soon published. There had been allegations of this, of course, but Brianna’s parents were not happy that the paper would print something with so little evidence behind it. The newspaper eventually retracted their statement, and police apologized to the Maitlands.


The last theory is that Brianna met with foul play of some other sort. Reddit users speculating about the case have suggested she witnessed something she wasn’t supposed to see, making her a target. Because her headlights were still on when her car was first found abandoned, police also wondered if she’d been kidnapped or attacked very quickly after getting out of the car. There has also been speculation that someone hid in her backseat, waiting for an opportunity to attack, or that she pulled over to help someone or because she thought she saw someone she knew.


In 2007, a policeman filed an affidavit that said a woman claimed Brianna had been killed by a man named Ramon Ryans. This name had come up before, and he’d been questioned in connection with Brianna’s disappearance — but not much came of it. The woman’s story hasn’t been confirmed or debunked.


There’s also been speculation that Brianna’s disappearance was connected to an altercation she got in about three weeks before she went missing. That Friday night, Brianna attended a party where she got into an argument with her friend Keallie Lacrosse — who ended up punching her. Brianna had to go to the hospital and filed a criminal complaint against her friend. A few weeks after Brianna was last seen, Keallie said she wouldn’t have to worry about any legal consequences for her actions now that Brianna was no longer around. The criminal complaint was dropped after Brianna’s disappearance, and Keallie was cleared of any involvement.


There’s also been speculation that Brianna was killed by an unknown person out of jealousy. She was attractive, ambitious and well-liked. Did someone get irrationally angry or envious about all this and have some sort of vendetta against her — a vendetta they ultimately took too far?



final details/conclusion

A photo of Brianna before her disappearance (right), along with an age progression showing what she might look like today

Brianna Maitland was 17 years old when she was last seen on the night of Friday, March 19, 2004 in Montgomery, Vermont. Brianna is a white female, 5 feet 3 inches tall and 118 pounds at the time of her disappearance, with brown hair and hazel eyes. She has a scar on her forehead and her left nostril is pierced. She wears contacts and takes medicine for migraines, but both of those things were left behind She goes by the nicknames Bri and B and would be 35 years old if alive today.


I’m really curious to see results for the DNA found at the scene. Hopefully they’ll give us a lot more information and this case can finally be solved.



If you have any information about the disappearance of Brianna Maitland, you can contact the Vermont State Police at 802-524-5993. They’re offering a $5,000 reward leading to the arrest of person responsible.

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