More than 11 years after a Brownsboro woman disappeared in the middle of the night, investigators have no new leads in the case.
“But until she is found in one form or another, it will continue to be an open investigation,” said Sgt. Shane McCarter of the Longview Police Department. “Det. Terry Davis is working that case. We will continue to wait for anything additional that will show up.”
On Aug. 2, 2006, Brandi Wells, 23, left her mother's house in Tyler and made the 45-minute trip Longview, where she spent a couple of hours at nightclub Graham Central Station. Surveillance video shows her arriving alone and, presumably, leaving the same way.
“Brandi called several people for directions to the club that night,” Wells' godmother, Michelle Cole, said. “And a bouncer there was one of the people who reported seeing her car on the side of the road several times with the door open. But I don't believe he was involved in her disappearance.”
Wells' black four-door Pontiac Grand Prix was abandoned on westbound I-20 near FM 2087 in Gregg County. She reportedly asked club patrons for gas money because she was almost out of fuel.
'Embedded in my bones'
“I don't believe she drove that car to the side of I-20,” Cole said. “I believe that Brandi was taken at that club.”
The club's cameras captured Wells leaving Graham Central Station in front of a man. In the days and months following her disappearance, Wells' friends and relatives wondered whether he was involved in foul play.
“A young lady I talked to said she was abducted at that club,” Cole said. “I have heard that gangs send people there to scout girls who look like Brandi. And Brandi was really standing out that night. I don't know if that's what happened that night, but I do believe she was taken for sex trafficking. And I have felt that way since Day 1. It is embedded in my bones.”
According to a 2014 Texas Department of Public Safety report, Texas ranked second in the nation with 2,236 tips received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center in 2013. Texas Department of Criminal Justice figures in the same report show that in January 2014, 24 inmates were serving time for human trafficking. Seventy-five defendants were serving sentences for compelling prostitution.
“Sex traffickers in Texas target runaway juveniles, illegal aliens and other vulnerable victims, using force, fraud or coercion to compel them into the sex trade,” the DPS report shows. “Often, victims are manipulated by traffickers to remain with them due to their emotional or financial dependency on the trafficker for food, housing and other needs.”
In Wells' car, police found her purse and wallet and an ex-boyfriend's cellphone. Her phone, however, was later found in the possession of several people. They were questioned but never charged.
“For 11 years, Brandi has gotten no justice,” Wells' mother, Ellen Tant, said.
The front driver's seat had been pushed back, as if someone taller than the 5-foot Wells had driven it. And a plastic gas container not believed to have belonged to Wells was in the trunk.
“From what I understand, police found one print in the car,” Cole said. “I don't think it's possible to find one print. Manny questioned them about the way they fingerprinted that vehicle.”
Manny Brock, a police officer, is Wells' ex-husband. He has remained in contact with Longview police and asked them repeatedly to consider other theories about her disappearance, including a possible link to a family secret.
“She told Manny that (two relatives) molested her,” Cole said. “I was sitting there in her home when she said that. I do remember it. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember where I was sitting and the look on her face. I am a witness to Brandi bringing that up, and I stayed on Ellen about that. She needed to do something about it.”
'Time to find the truth'
Close friend Janell Midkiff isn't sure what happened to Wells. But she does know one thing.
“Seeing how only one of the detectives assigned to Brandi's case in the last 11 years has contacted me, I would say the relationship between investigators and everyone else is very poor.,” Midkiff said. “I know Michelle was in constant contact with them early on, but it seems over the last several years there has been no communication. Someone or a group that has more resources and more power than the Longview Police Department should be assigned to investigate Brandi's disappearance. “It's time to find the truth.”
Wells lived in Brownsboro when she disappeared. A graduate of Chapel Hill High School, she was about to start a new job and planned to attend Trinity Valley Community College.
“There's been a report that she has been seen in Mexico,” Cole said. “Someone called years later and said they saw Brandi and talked to her pretty extensively. They said that Brandi said she was with her mother's husband there. That would be her stepfather. It's strange that exact wording was used.”
'Don't make sense'
Cole said the FBI has declined to get involved in the case but no evidence exists that a crime has been committed across state lines.
“We'd like to get the Texas Rangers in on this,” she said. “So many things don't make sense in her case. So many things have not been followed up on by police.”
In December 2007, Midkiff traveled from Minnesota to Texas to help the Laura Recovery Center in its search for Wells.
“I moved back to Texas to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in May 2015,” she said. “After the few searches, I flew in town for early on but not much activity or leads have happened since.”
Wells' case has been featured repeatedly on Investigation Discovery's “Disappeared.” Midkiff was on that pilot episode called “The End of Innocence.”
Anyone with information on the case is encouraged to call Longview police at 903-237-1199.