Reader "Joey" recently submitted several questions about the Brianna Maitland disappearance. The following post includes responses by guest blogger "Bob" and myself to some of those questions.
Case Summary: Seventeen-year-old Brianna Maitland was last seen around 11:30 pm on March 19, 2004, after she had completed her shift at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery, Vermont.
She left the restaurant in a 1985 Oldsmobile, which was later found abandoned on the property of an old vacant farm (referred to as the Dutchburn place)--about one mile from her employer. The vehicle appeared to have been involved in a traffic collision.
--Question Set 1--
Was the car mechanically checked? Was it possible that Brianna ran out of gas, or the car broke down due to a mechanical problem and HAD to stop where she did? Had the engine been tampered with in any way?
Bob: Joey, pleasure to hear from you… I inspected the engine myself, used to work as an auto-technician among other things. Nothing was tampered with. There was gas in the tank as far as I know.
Nothing seemed amiss with her car, although, I did find one thing that caused concern. The driver's side windshield wiper was "stuck" beneath the lower sill of the molding around the windshield.
See, that model car had a sill that was an overhang, and it was possible for the wiper to set the wiper blade under the recess. I showed Mr. Maitland this finding, but you have to remember I inspected the car months later after it had been returned to the Maitlands.
Still here's why it is worth considering. There are two ways the wiper blade could have been stuck under the sill. First, if pushed down and under. Either on purpose or if someone leaned down on the blade by mistake. The former is more likely, because the latter is quite the lean - a body contortion, not something that would be a comfortable recline.
So if on purpose, our concern was the blade was stuck there by someone the night she disappeared, on purpose, and it froze in position so it wouldn't work.
Two, someone was tossed onto the windshield and that forced the blade under the sill. Again the latter is more likely or possible. Mr. Maitland and MJA (a private search and recovery group) started up the car and tried the wipers to see if it would pop out from under the sill. It did, but then it wasn't frozen. But we also know the car started.
Slam: I am not aware of authorities releasing specifics as to what examination was performed on Brianna’s car. It is my understanding that the vehicle did “turn-over” after being recovered from the Dutchburn property, and authorities have released no indication that there were any mechanical problems with her car.
--Question Set 2--
Did Bri receive any phone calls that night at the Black Lantern? I wondered if someone called her workplace that night, to perhaps arrange a meeting with her on the way home. You said Bri's cell phone was left at her house, so if someone needed to call her, they would've had to call the restaurant. Were Bri's employers aware of her making any outgoing calls from her work? Were the Black Lantern's phone records checked? Was Bri in the habit of leaving her cell at home, or was this unusual?
Bob: My recall of the time was that the owners of the Black Lantern weren't very cooperative, though I believe they did speak with the police. The details of any interviews with the police were confidential. Obviously the big question the family had along with myself and others helping was that, I recall the Maitlands were told she definitely DID NOT receive nor make any phone calls at work that evening. Nor did she have any visitors.
Regarding, Brianna having a cell phone? I remember it was one of my first questions. I recall the answer was Brianna did not have her own cell-phone. However the idea of cell-phones being used by others came up... and it was originally assumed that there was no cell-phone reception near the Dutchburn place, as I recall. I pretty much solved this assumption myself - as my Tracphone worked fine. 3 bars at least.
Slam: These are good questions, and ones that I hope investigators have already exhausted. As you observe, checking with Brianna’s coworkers about potential contacts and examining phone records for that evening would have been easy. My guess is that these avenues were pursued, but it is unknown if anything useful was learned.
--Question Set 3--
It was bitterly cold the night Bri drove home, but not snowing. Were there ANY tire tracks at all from Bri's Oldsmobile on the grass, such as marks to indicate the car's original position, from which it had been reversed?
Bob: Not that I saw in the photo's - my computer has very good graphics software and, I painstakingly examined original high resolution photo's provided to me by the World Travelers (WT) using this software. It was the apparent lack of tire tracks that puzzles me! Tufts of grass are seen everywhere - so again, hard to see if a struggle is evident in the pictures.
I really tried to get good details on the weather that night and heard conflicting information. I have gone with what the WT told me, that it didn't snow that night, but later in the morning it did. I asked my source close to the case about this again, and I'm told "there were dry, very light flurries, the night was cold with a breeze.
There wasn't enough snow to blanket the ground, which can be seen in the pictures taken by the World Travelers that morning." I might add myself, the ground was frozen solid - I asked that numerous times as that means "no digging could have been done in the area.
Slam: I am not aware of any information on the original position of Brianna’s car has been released by authorities. Because the incident at the Dutchburn was initially treated as a simple traffic collision, any educated guess at the path of Brianna’s car would be in the officer’s accident report that resulted in the car being towed.
When authorities realized that the scene was more than a collision and returned to the property several days later, I doubt that much additional information was gleaned from the scene.
--Question Set 4--
Was the driver's seat pushed back? Bri was around 5' 4" tall - and I wondered if the seat was in a position to indicate she was the last to drive the vehicle. If it was pushed back, it would show a much taller person was responsible for the vehicle hitting the house.
Bob: No. I sat in her seat, and it was still set for someone Bri’s size… I don't think the position of the front seat was ever changed, because the controls were electronic and down on the lower, left-hand base of the seat, hard to locate.
Slam: If the seat was found reclined back, authorities would have to ascertain whether the wrecker driver among others adjusted the seat (since it was only considered a traffic accident at the time).
After checking with a source close to the investigation, I was informed that this was the order of persons having access to Brianna’s car: 1) the officer who assumed it was an abandoned DWI; 2) the garage guy who towed it; 3) Brianna’s father and brother in the company of another police officer as they searched the trunk for Brianna; and, 4) the Vermont State Police crime lab.
Previous posts in this series can be accessed by clicking "Brianna Maitland" on the right margin of the home page or a list of historical posts is here.