The Solo Attacker: Does it Fit the Brianna Maitland Case?

A reader and talented blogger from the site Me, Myself, and Aphrodite, suggested that I discuss the Brooke Wilberger missing person/kidnapping case.  Her request included the observation that randomness plays a part in a number of these attacks--or crime victims are targeted just because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

What can be learned from the abductions of Ms. Wilberger in Oregon and that of teenager Anne Sluti in Nebraska in relation to the Brianna Maitland missing person case?    

I believe the same modus operandi (MO) used in the Wilberger and Sluti attacks should not be completely discounted when discussing theories as to why 17-year-old Brianna vanished leaving very little forensic evidence at the scene of her abandoned vehicle.  


Summary of Case #1: Brooke Wilberger 

On May 24, 2004, Nineteen-year old Brigham Young University student Brooke Wilberger was working a summer job at an apartment complex that her sister managed in Oregon.  That morning, she was last seen cleaning lamp posts in a parking lot which bordered the Oregon State University campus.

Sadly, her remains were recovered five years later after Joel Courtney had agreed to plead guilty to her abduction, rape, and murder.  As part of a deal, he showed police where he had hid Wilberger's body.  Evidently, Courtney had tried to kidnap two other students shortly before attacking Wilberger, but they had escaped.

Courtney's MO: From the evidence, he targeted Wilberger as a crime of opportunity.  Acting alone, Courtney was able to attack the woman in a parking lot in broad daylight, place her in his van, and restrain her, without anyone seeing the crime and leaving behind no evidence of the incident.


Summary of Case #2: Anne Sluti

On April 6, 2001, seventeen-year-old Anne Sluti was walking through a mall parking lot in Kearney, Nebraska, when she was attacked and dragged to a Chevrolet Suburban.   

The kidnapper, later identified as Tony Zappa (whose real name was Anthony Wright), then fled the scene with his victim.

The daylight struggle lasted only seconds,  but several witnesses saw the altercation and called 911 (see note #1 below).

Ms. Sluti's courageous survival story is remarkable (and was later made into a movie entitled Taken in Broad Daylight) as she was able to leave multiple clues for the FBI and other authorities searching for them across several states during her six-day ordeal.  Finally, law enforcement caught up with Wright/Zappa at a cabin in Montana--arresting him and freeing Sluti. 

Wright/Zappa's MO: He also targeted Sluti as a crime of opportunity. Acting alone as well, Wright/Zappa attacked in daylight (striking her until she was unconscious), quickly placed her in his suburban, and restrained her later when she began to wake up (see note #2 below).  


Could one kidnapper have targeted Brianna Maitland in such a manner on the night she went missing?

A similar random attack does not seem to make sense in Brianna Maitland's disappearance.  On the night she vanished, a coworker observed her drive away from the restaurant where she worked.  It is difficult to develop a scenario that Brianna would have made an unplanned stop at the abandoned farmhouse (where her car was later found crashed into a building) less than a mile away from work to then be randomly attacked.

So, what can be learned from the MOs used in the Wilberger and Sluti kidnappings?

That a determined attacker acting alone, can quickly take someone against their will and leave no evidence behind. 

In Brianna's case, going with the attacker theory, it is likely to have been someone that she knew.  Then, it is certainly possible that she could have been taken against her will from the deserted farmhouse without anyone seeing anything--as it is a rural area.  Further, the ground was frozen which could have helped to hide indications of an altercation.

I have favored the multiple attacker scenarios, with at least one person that she knew, to explain Brianna's disappearance, but I certainly should acknowledge what one abductor can do. 

If a solo perpetrator is responsible for Brianna's disappearance, it would certainly explain why no credible leads have allowed police to solve this case--the one kidnapper who knows what happened is not talking.

Does this exercise mean that I have changed my mind about what likely happened to Brianna that night/morning? 

No, but the ability of a solo attacker in missing persons cases is worthy of consideration.

Thanks again to Me, Myself, and Aphrodite for the suggestion.

For more on my coverage and thoughts on the Brianna Maitland case, you can go here.

Note #1: In the Sluti abduction, mall cameras captured the crime.  I have seen the footage before on television, but could not locate it online to include in this post. It would have been a worthy example of how quickly these kidnappings can occur--and perhaps why people go missing without a trace.  

Note #2: Reading the news accounts of the Sluti court proceedings reminded me why I hate court.  Having to listen to Wright/Zappa's defense attorney, David Stickman, argue that the victim was a willing participant in the crime and that she could have easily stabbed him or tried to escape more frequently would have made me vomit--nothing like being kidnapped, beaten, raped repeatedly, and almost murdered, and then to have relive the experience with "the evil" sitting across from you while facing his "lawyer" who goads you in open court that this whole incident was your fault.  At least, Wright/Zappa became so enraged (he believed he was innocent) during the trial that he slapped his attorney Stickman in the courtroom.  


Ms. Sluti's photo was used from here.


My Husband's Watching TV... said...

I never knew what MO stood for, now I do-thanks! I'm can't belief the lawyer really said it was her fault?! Are you kidding me? The poor girl feared for her life! What good would it be to piss off your capturer by slapping, stabbing, spitting, hitting them if you don't get away? I'm sure she was in survival mode. Some people!

Expat From Hell said...

After reading some writings from agnostic philosophers and scientists, I wonder how much of this could be attributed to "random selection". But, the more I think about it, what are the conditions that are random? Exact location in the parking lot? Clothes, hair, appearance of the victim? The light of that particular day (or lack of same at night)? Almost as if, when those things are identified, you could reduce your exposure. Sorry, just wondering (wandering) through the great expose of your posts, SD. EFH

Momma Fargo said...

Very interesting case. Thanks for posting this so I could read about it. Must have missed the prior series.

Clara said...

That is unbelievable! How come it was her fault? Her life was in danger...
Thanks for another great post Slam!
Oh and I have an award for you at my blog!

Luisa Doraz said...

People need to take more responsibility for their actions. What a story.What a case,

suzicate said...

These cases make me so sad. Did they ever find a suspect in the case of (can't remember her name) the Va. Tech girl who disappeared from a concert in Charlottesville, VA and was found a few weeks later on a nearby farm right off of Route 29?

Bob G. said...

You bring up some excellent points...
What (exactly) defines "random" these days?
What's random to one is typical for another.
ANY place can the "wrong" place, and time is always relative.

Makes for siome interesting criminal profiling, that's for sure.

Very good presentation of these cases.
We've got way too many perps getting "under the societal radar" these days.

T. Anne said...

Both good lessons on not to be out in a vulnerable position.

LadyFi said...

It's so sad, but thankfully there are people who care about what happens...

Creepy Query Girl said...

It is really random- wrong place, wrong time. But that's what's so scary about it! I guess the most anyone can do is try NOT to be in the wrong place very often.

J. J. in Phila said...

It is difficult to develop a scenario that Brianna would have made an unplanned stop at the abandoned farmhouse (where her car was later found crashed into a building) less than a mile away from work to then be randomly attacked.

I think this is the problem with the "random attacker" theory.

obladi oblada said...

I think a similar attacker abducted (and more than likely murdered)Maura Murray from the side of a NH road

I see this also as a solo attacker and a crime of opportunity.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

That's scary how easily a girl can be abducted without leaving much/any evidence.

MONICA-LnP said...

I saw the movie Taken in Broad Daylight a couple weeks back and was surprised how long the struggle took,you wrote it was seconds,but the movie made it seem like forever, and how many people watched as it happened,but nobody ran over or tried to stop it!Scary how they can happen just like that!

Big Mama Cass said...

Jesus that is so scary! If I think about it too much, I am afraid to leave my house. But then just watch Oprah and you are afraid to be IN your house cause of some murderer who is going to just walk in and hack up up while you are watching tv. {shudder}

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
I'm late to the fair! But what an excellent run-down of these cases and how they might relate.

I am with you and J.J. (as usual)that the random seems less likely. As for the word itself, the more you study things, the less random they seem.

As for freaking court, I share your outrage and disgust. Big damn game that is ruining our sense of right and wrong.

Wonderful post,
Ann T.

thoughtsappear said...

I know it's sad, but I think your Missing Person Monday posts are a great idea! Keep it up!

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for all the feedback and sorry I am slow in responding this week.

@ Expat & Bob G.: That is a good nuance--random in terms of faith has a different meaning that I did not include.

@ Clara: Thanks.

@ Suzicate: I am not aware of any suspect that has been named in the Morgan Harrington case, though authorities did have at least one person of interest.

@ Obladi Oblada: Excellent point--I had forgotten about that case.

@ Monica: Nice catch. I am unable to find information on exactly how long the attack took. To allow for this unknown, I am going to modify the post, and note that the reason was your comment. Thanks again.

@Thoughtsappear: I appreciate your support.

Miss Caitlin S. said...

Oh, the Brooke story is close to my heart. She was abducted when I was in College 30 miles from my school at the other Oregon University. She was abducted outside the apartment my friend lived in and Courtney actually lived in my area. It is all very close to my community and very side- such a bright, beautiful girl!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an idea, you sparked at thought from a angle I hadn’t given thoguht to yet. Now lets see if I can do something with it.

Anonymous said...

An incredibly outstanding and helpful article at this time there. I printed your idea and looked over the idea again

Anonymous said...

One of the best posts I have ever before looked over on this topic. Many thanks!