10 years missing: Brandi Wells' mother still hopes for daughter's return
Aug. 2, 2016 at 11:15 p.m.
Updated Aug. 3, 2016 at 11:40 a.m.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated that Longview police did not respond to emailed questions before deadline. Police did respond Tuesday afternoon. This version has been updated with the responses.
Brandi Wells was an aspiring elementary teacher at age 23.
Hopefully, she still is, 10 years to the day after the community college student exited a Longview nightclub and vanished from public view.
The Longview woman’s 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix was orange-tagged by a highway trooper who found it abandoned along Interstate 20 on Aug. 3, 2006. Longview police identified the car as Wells’ vehicle five days later, her mother said this week.
There were no signs of a struggle at the westbound shoulder of Interstate 20, about 300 yards west of FM 2087. Wells’ purse was in the vehicle, but it’s unknown whether cash was removed because Ellen Tant says her daughter wouldn’t have had any money to speak of. Wells was filling her gas tank with money from plasma donations and was planning to pawn a diamond pendant necklace. She owned no credit cards.
Wells did have a cell phone, and activity on the device would lead Longview police to briefly detain three men, one of whom failed a polygraph test that was given to each of them. Police released all three and have not named a suspect in Wells’ decade-old disappearance.
“These next couple of days are going to be tough to get through,” Tant said Monday by phone from her home in Tyler. “But, I’ll make it.”
No reported leads
Wells graduated from Chapel Hill High School in 2006, got married and enrolled briefly in the University of Texas at Tyler. After divorcing, she moved to San Antonio to live with Tant’s sister, Alleen Cormier.
She had boomeranged to East Texas and was living in Brownsboro where the flute player and flag corpswoman was poised to apply a band scholarship at Trinity Valley Community College.
“She wanted to be a kindergarten or first-grade teacher like my mom was,” Tant said. “We’ve had a lot of teachers in the family, and she wanted to follow in those footsteps.”
At her mother’s home in Tyler one Wednesday night, Wells announced she was going out to Graham Central Station. (Her mother didn’t catch that it was the Graham’s in Longview, not Tyler.)
A report on the missing persons website for the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons says Wells hit the club about 10:30 p.m. that Wednesday, after having called for directions as she wondered around town. Wells arrived with her gas tank on fumes, the web report says, and asked customers for assistance.
“(B)ut it is unclear whether anyone offered to help her,” the report says, adding Wells was alone when she left the club after midnight.
“We have tape of her leaving the club,” Tant said.
The mother was critical of police when asked the most recent time detectives reported progress. She last had contact with the department sometime last year, she said.
“I have not heard anything about anything,” she said. “They never really would keep in touch with me. It was really hard to get in touch with them. … There was a lot of things I ended up doing. It was kind of a frustrating deal where they didn’t take this seriously. I followed a lot of leads.”
Police contacted last Wednesday declined a request for a live interview about Wells’ case but asked instead to respond to emailed questions.
Spokeswoman Kristie Brian said Wells' disappearance is still a case Longview police are investigating.
"We have not received many new leads over the past few years," she said. "When we receive new leads or information the leads are investigated. At this time there is no new information we have to release beyond what we have released in the past."
Brian also wrote that if Longview police received information that fell under another agency's jurisdiction that the department would work with that agency to coordinate.
Tant’s investigation included three mounted searches aided by two groups that specialize in missing person probes – in September and November 2006 and early 2007.
“The last one was pretty dismal,” she said, describing low police and public participation.
The Identity Channel learned of the case and made Wells the subject of its pilot episode of “Disappeared.”
“There have never been bones or human remains,” Tant said. “You know, every time I’ve heard about human remains being found, I’m just on pins and needles.”
Rumors and a dropped call
The missing persons site also reports that Tant picked up the phone in 2010 to hear a man who called himself, Tim, telling her that Wells was alive and living in Kansas City, Missouri. The call disconnected before Tant could get more information, and she hasn’t heard back.
Tant attended a human trafficking seminar in Tyler in 2012 and said she learned of a sexual slavers’ ring operating among Longview, Tyler and Fort Hood in Killeen.
Officials with the Women’s Center of East Texas and Rahab’s Retreat and Ranch, the latter a shelter in Kilgore for women escaping from trafficking, were not familiar with an East Texas-Killeen trafficking circuit, but they said sex traffickers do patrol night clubs for victims.
Teresa Richenberger, leader of Rahab’s Retreat, said local women are in jeopardy of being nabbed and shipped across Texas and across the world.
“They do, they hit all venues,” Richenberger said. “They even hit topless clubs. They go to the bus station.”
Tant still prays for her daughter’s return.
“I put it in God’s hands now,” she said. “I’m just hoping that, by this time, somebody has grown a conscience that knows what happened. Any kind of information that we can get is better than no information at all – that is the worst part. Is she gone? Is she here? Is she being held captive? The more years that go by, the less hope that you have.”