It became clear from previous searches that in order to effectively detail - search the creek bed, both the water and vegetation must be gone. To this end, we planned on damming up Mud Creek for a short distance to draw down the water and allow the dogs to search the creek bed. Permits were obtained and plans made.
On the weekend of November 12 -14, 29 people met to carry out the plan. Unfortunately, the water level was much higher than anticipated and it took approximately 2,200 sandbags to effectively dam up the creek. Water was pumped around the dam to control the water level. While this proved to be an effective strategy and the dogs were able to work the stream bed some, there was still too much water in the creek to locate the source of the scent.
I cooperation with the landowners and the Department of Natural Resources, we developed a plan to definitively kill off the vegetation, come back in late summer when the water is lowest, and again dam up the creek. Hopefully, this will allow us to find the source of the scent or definitvely rule out this troublesome portion of the creek.
Follow - up Searchs in November of 2010
Several follow up searches were conducted in November of 2010 by two HRD (human remains detection) canine teams. In spite of frozen conditions, the dogs displayed behavior consistent with interest in human remains in several areas although no remains were found.
October 16-17, 2010 Searches:
A team of 27 people and five HRD canines met to search the Mud Creek area over the weekend of October 16-17, 2010. Three ground teams were formed to cut down the dense vegetation in the creek so that the dogs could work more effectively (with a permit from the DNR). This proved to be very physically demanding work, but the teams rallied and they cleared nearly ½ mile of creek. The dogs again displayed behavior consistent with interest in the odor of human remains in Mud Creek, but no physical remains were found.
The HRD canine teams also conducted some detailed searching of nearby fields. It is possible that remains are scattered in nearby fields and the interest in the creek is from scent draining into it. The dogs displayed some interest in the fields but no remains were found.
September 11, 2010 Searches:
A team of two HRD canines conducted follow-up searches of a stock pond that had previously been an area of interest. The canines gave alerts in the pond but no remains were found. The pond may be a scent pool. Further follow-up searches will be conducted at a later time.
With the heavy vegetation in the creek (the cattails are over eight feet tall), it is nearly impossible to spot disarticulated remains visually. The HRD dog still remain the most effective and efficient resource for completeing this search. However, to effectively utilize them, we need to knock down the vegetation to below head - level on a dog. We hope to return to the area in early October with a fairly large team to cut the vegetation in the creek so that the dogs can pinpoint the source of the scent.
A team of thirteen people and four HRD canines searched on the weekend of May 1 - 2, 2010. We detail-searched one field and about 80 acres of CRP grassland. The dogs again had very strong interest in portions of Mud Creek and the surrounding grassland.
May 15 - 16
A team of eighteen people and seven HRD canines searched on the weekend of May 15 - 16, 2010. We principally focused our efforts on the area near Mud Creek that has shown so much promise. Again, we had areas of very strong interest in the area, but could not locate remains. The water was fairly high and there was quite a bit of vegetation in the creek, so it was difficult to locate remains underwater. At least four of the dogs gave formal final responses (indications) in the area, which is the strongest signal that a trained dog can give that there are remains in the area.
June 12 - 13
A team of eleven people and one HRD canine searched on the weekend of June 12 - 13, 2010. We focused exclusively on the portion of Mud Creek in question. We had hoped that the water would be significantly lower than the previous search so that we could narrow the search area. However, with the heavy rains the area received for a few days prior to the search, the water was over a foot higher than the previous search. While the dog did obtain some strong results, the high water allowed the scent to spread out and hampered our ability to narrow the search. Considerable effort was expended by the team searching in the creek itself but again, the heavy grasses and reeds are hindering us.
We plan to watch the creek water level and come back when the water level is significantly lower. We are hoping that the combined effects of ageing remains producing less scent and low water levels and high grass inhibiting scent movement will allow to finally narrow in on Brandon's remains.
The 2010 Search for Brandon
March 20-21 Searches:
The search for Brandon’s remains resumed the weekend of March 20-21, 2010 with fourteen individuals from eight different organizations involved. Four Human Remains Detection (HRD) dogs were used as the principal search sensors. We continued to follow up on the canine clues developed on prior searches. After 22 months, we expected that there would be less scent available for the dogs to pick up. Therefore, if the dogs displayed behavior consistent with interest in human remains, we should have been closer to the source than in previous searches.
We were not disappointed. The dogs again reliably picked up the scent of human remains to the northwest of Porter. We systematically eliminated several fields, even though they were wet and difficult to search. While there was still snow on the ground in some areas, search conditions were generally good.
March 27-28 Searches:
The teams met again on March 27-28, 2010. Involved were ten people from six organizations and four HRD dogs. Again, the dogs displayed behavior that suggests human remains are located to the northwest of Porter.
April 17-18 Searches:
A team of nine people and three HRD canines searched on the weekend of April 17-18, 2010. We again obtained significant findings in Mud Creek. This suggests that spring runoff is moving scent into the creek from the scent source. This further reinforces our belief that Brandon’s remains are located somewhere in the Mud Creek Watershed.
Some General Thoughts:
This has been an exceptionally difficult and frustrating search. While there have been consistent and reliable indications that human remains are present in the area, we have yet to pinpoint the source (Brandon’s remains). There are several possible explanations for this.
One of the main reasons why this is such a difficult search lies in the fact that the region receives nearly constant winds which can come from any direction. These winds move scent from the source and deposit it into “scent pools” such as wind breaks around farmsteads, tall grass in CRP land, and along ditches and creeks. When the dogs alert on an area of “hot” scent, it is often very difficult to differentiate whether we are near the remains or searching yet another scent pool.
We also may be facing the difficulty of locating remains that have been moved and/or scattered over a wide area. It is possible that predators such as coyotes, raccoons, and the like have scattered the remains. It is also possible that they have been inadvertently scattered or moved by human activity such as farmers tilling their fields or baling hay or cornstalks.
We also have some access issues. We can’t search everywhere we would like to search. We are very careful to protect landowner’s property and have generally avoided searching fields with crops in them even though there is a fair chance that Brandon ended up in a field. This leaves spring and fall available to us to search the many fields in the area. With the wet weather we had last fall and our early start this spring, we ended up searching very wet fields. This is miserable work. To effectively search a single 160-acre field, the team must walk in excess of ten miles in difficult footing.
In addition, we haven’t been able to search many pastures because of the cows. Even though the dogs are well trained to be around other animals, we avoid working around cows, especially during calving season. This leaves gaps in our search coverage and makes it difficult to eliminate an area from further consideration.
It is also possible that Brandon attempted to seek shelter from the wind near the end of his journey and crawled into an outbuilding or under old machinery and perished there. Because we are trying to avoid disrupting landowner’s lives as little as possible, we have only searched a few farmsteads.
These are only a few of the issues that make this a very difficult search.
We need help from local landowners. We respectfully request that landowners within a corridor between Porter and Canby keep their eyes open for anything unusual on their property. While Brandon’s remains are now fully skeletonized, there is still a decent chance that keen eyes would spot them. Brandon’s tennis shoes and hat especially should still be readily identifiable. We also ask that anyone who feeds hay or uses cornstalk bedding from this area keep an eye out for human remains baled into the bales. If you find anything that might be related to this case, please contact your local Sheriff’s Office. If you have any questions, you can contact us at the number below.
Regarding Searching on Your Property:
We make every effort to contact each property owner and obtain permission prior to searching. This is sometimes a challenge, as the Plat book might not reflect who actually controls the land. If we have inadvertently trespassed on your property, please contact us at 612-708-2996 or 612-827-7141 so that we may offer our apology and resolve the issue. We will, of course, respect your wishes.
The established search and rescue (SAR) community calls this type of search a limited, continuous search. They are generally only successful when there is a good search plan in place. Last winter, the management team conducted an exhaustive deconstruction and reconstruction of previous search efforts and came up with a comprehensive search plan (requiring several hundred hours of work). The plan was outlined in the public meeting held March 20, 2008 and described in a previous posting. This search plan is still in place and is consistently producing results each search. After each search, we conduct a debrief to review the results and explore every conceivable theory to explain them. The next weekend’s search plan evolves from this critique process. While we are all frustrated at how slowly this search has evolved, there has never been a time where we did not know what to do next. This is the strength of a good search plan.
We are confident that we will eventually find Brandon’s remains. We cannot predict when this will be, as searches seem to evolve on their own time schedule. However, with each search we narrow the search area some. Eventually we will be able to bring Brandon home.
We will be back as soon as the majority of snow is out of the fields, hopefully in March of 2010.
The detailed search of the fields in question has proven very time-consuming and exhausting work. In an effort to extend the effective search time of the teams, we put out a request prior to this weekend for the use of side-by-side ATVs to shuttle teams about. We received three: two from the Swanson’s family and friends, and one from D & M Implement of Marshall. They proved to be quite useful. Thank you to those who generously loaned us the vehicles.
A team of nine people and three HRD canines searched on the weekend of December 12-13, 2009. Unfortunately, the area received a significant snowfall the week before and search conditions were not ideal. However, we were able to detail-search about ¾ of a square mile of fields and grassland. Several additional fields were eliminated from further consideration. Again, multiple areas of very strong canine interest were developed but no remains were found.
The management team also wanted to extend a thank you to the Porter Fire Department for their continued patience with us “invading” their Fire Hall each search. Without this important resource, we would have a very difficult time resolving this case.
This weekend’s team consisted of eight persons and two HRD canines. In addition, four members of Research and Recovery Experts (RARE) of Minnesota, a metal detecting club, joined the search to lend us their unique skills.
We continued to detail-search fields and follow up on previous clues. We were able to rule out a couple of additional fields and came up with several areas of moderate to strong canine interest.
The RARE team searched a corner of a field where the boots were contaminated the previous weekend. While they did not find any items which were related to Brandon’s disappearance, they were able to find quite a few small metallic items in the field, demonstrating that this is a useful search technique for small areas. They were confident that Brandon’s remains were not in the portion of the field they searched.
A team of ten persons and three HRD canines met for the weekend of November 14-15th. Another square mile of fields and pasture was detail-searched. Again, the dogs displayed strong interest in a number of areas. Additionally, we had two unusual incidents occur during this weekend that further our belief that we are closing in on the location of Brandon’s remains.
In the first case, the scent of human remains was transferred to a searcher’s boots. All three dogs later showed interest in the boots during a “scent line-up.” After considerable follow-up, we theorize that the scent was blown into the area and concentrated in the water that the searcher walked through. The fact that this is the first time we have seen this happen in this case is suggestive that the scent source is relatively close.
Secondly, two of the dogs gave a final response on a field cultivator that was parked alongside a field that we were searching, strongly indicating that the scent of human remains was present on it. There are a number of possible mechanisms for how the scent got there, most of which suggest that the source is relatively close by.
On the weekend of October 31st to November 1st, a team of twenty persons and four HRD canines resumed the search for Brandon. We focused on systematically searching each tilled field in the 7.5-square-mile high-probability area to the northwest of Porter.
This type of detailed searching is quite physically demanding on the search teams. For each 160 acres of field, the teams may have to walk 20 miles to cover the area to a sufficiently high Probability of Detection (POD). In wet tilled fields, this is slow and exhausting work.
During the weekend, the teams detail-searched approximately one square mile and effectively eliminated several fields. Less detailed searches were conducted over about another square mile. Areas of strong canine interest were found. As is typical for this search, most areas of interest appeared to be scent blown-in from elsewhere.
Accompanying the search teams was a documentary film crew led by Christina Fontana. Christina and her team are working on a documentary about the plight of missing adults in the United States and efforts to promote model legislation throughout the country designed to improve report taking and the investigation of missing adults. More information about this project can be found at http://www.voiceforthemissing.com