Category Archives: the skeptical folklorist

The Skeptical Folklorist: Spending a Week in a Haunted Hotel

I don’t believe that ghosts exist and am fascination by the psychology behind alleged ghost sightings. And while I don’t believe that ghosts exist, I absolutely love ghost stories and folklore and am always ripe for the opportunity to be proved wrong. So I was very excited when I learned that we would be staying for a week at the Horton Grand Hotel in San Diego. Andy had a business conference there and I decided to come down with him while the kids stayed with my parents. So, after spending a week at the Horton did I have an experience that caused me to re-evaluate my stance on ghost hauntings?

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The Skeptical Folklorist: Missing Persons: Brandon Swanson

I love a good spooky story. I love tales of ghosts and folklore. Do I believe ghosts exist or alien abductions occur? No. Do I believe in conspiracy theories? No. But it does not stop me from tracking down stories. I love exploring their origin. Usually, there’s more to the story than people who promote conspiracy theories or supernatural explanations mention, either that or they make a bigger deal of certain facts of the case than need be. And I don’t find that this detracts from the eeriness.

Let’s take the case of Brandon Swanson. When he was 19 years old in 2008, he crashed his car driving home from a party. He called his parents to pick him up, giving his location as just outside of Lynd, MN. His parents were unable to find him, and he them. Brandon eventually decided to walk into town, talking to his father on a cellphone. He was on the phone with him for 45 minutes when he exclaimed “oh shit,” and hung up. Brandon was never heard from or seen again, though his car was found the next day a good 25 miles away from where he thought he had crashed.

I first learned about Brandon on a video about creepy phone calls on MindChop. MindChop and others have likely made a bigger deal than needs to be on Brandon hanging up the phone, reasoning that if he ran into someone with ill intent he would not have hung up. Yet Dru Sjodin did that when she was abducted by the man who murdered her. She was on the phone with her boyfriend when she said, “okay, okay.” and hung up.

One mistake people make when considering mysterious cases is assuming that people think rationally in an emergency. Often, people don’t, hence Brandon hanging up when he likely should have stayed on the line is not too surprising to me. When researching mysterious disappearances, I think we need to keep in mind that people often do stupid stuff in an emergency.

Much is also made of the fact that not a trace of him was found, but according to people conducting the search, this was not surprising. For instance, though cadaver dogs were sent in and often picked up the scent of a dead body, because of the amount of wind in the area, it was difficult for them to pinpoint precisely where the smell was coming from. Further, he went missing over difficult terrain and by a flooded, complex system of rivers and creeks. And he was near a lot of farmland and searching for him meant coordinating with a lot of private land owners. There are also caves that are difficult to get to where he could have washed up to.

Likely he fell into a river. In the conversation with his parents he talks about hearing running water. And considering he was 25 miles from where he thought he was, I would venture that it’s possible he was disoriented, whether from the crash or a substance he took at the party he was at. Considering he was traveling at night over tricky terrain, it is not a stretch to think he could have fallen in a river.

Of course, there is the possibility that, like Dru Sjodin, he was abducted by someone with malicious intent. I’d rank this as possible, however, there is no evidence that he ran into a second person and he was in a very remote area so it is unlikely that he came across someone. Of course, it could be a tragic case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. While there are other options, neither are as likely as the first two proposed.

I hope that one day Brandon is found and his family has closure. In the mean time, i think this is a good example of how a few pieces of information can be blown out of proportion and can take on a life of their own, appearing far more confounding than they are. Yet, as it is, even with the bare bone facts the case is creepy; The idea that someone so young and in the prime of his life could vanish is terrifying. That it happened while he was on the phone with his father even more so. I am probably not alone in having walked alone somewhere at night, gotten spooked, and calling someone to put my mind at ease until I made it home. The fact that the cellphone may not be the lifeline I am hoping for is rather disquieting.