Brandy Hall case back on active status as police pursue new leads

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With the amount of work being done to solve Brandy Hall’s disappearance, the 13-year-old mystery can hardly be considered cold any longer.

With a new-found focus and attention on the case brought about in part by FLORIDA TODAY’s Murder on the Space Coast podcast and investigative work by private eye Nic Sandberg, Palm Bay police have dedicated more resources and attention to the case —  even scheduling a dig this month searching for Brandy’s remains.

It’s not that they ever stopped working the case but leads dry up, witnesses stop talking and new crimes and cases present themselves daily. 

Sgt. Jeff Spears, who oversees Palm Bay’s Major Case Unit, was in high school when Brandy Hall — a 32-year old firefighter and mother of two — went missing.

 “We want to solve all cold cases, but we have some that we really want to look at again because there may be things that are missing or other people involved,” said Spears. “This case, you have Mr. Sandberg, the private investigator who is doing a lot of work behind the scenes to help bring some closure to this case and so in the last year we’ve taken a closer look at this case. We’ve tried to pick up on it a little bit.”

He said they’ve assigned a new detective to the case “trying to get some new eyes involved.”  

“We’re still running hard with the case, we still consider it an active case in our eyes,” he added.

One of those things planned is a dig taking place this month. 

“We’ve tried to do some work to find her whereabouts and trying to figure out where we can actually locate Brandy and bring closure in that way,” Spears said. 

What makes progress in the investigation even more remarkable is that the key to any missing person investigation or homicide is the first 48 hours. 

It’s an accepted theory that chances of solving a case or finding a missing person are reduced by 50 percent if a viable lead is not produced in the first 48 hours. According to a 2013 U.S. Department of Justice study titled ‘Best Practices for Clearing Homicides,’ it is essential to have a profile of the killer developed even before the first 24 hours have passed.

The study also claims that the murderer had contact with police regarding the case nearly a third of the time before they even become a suspect. 

Why bring this up? Because any Palm Bay police investigation into Brandy Hall’s disappearance or murder was hamstrung right from the start, beginning with no body being found or crime scene to speak of. Brandy’s truck was found in a nearby pond with her blood inside but that did not prove a crime had been committed.

 On top of that, Brandy’s husband Jeff was under advisement from his lawyers in connection with a marijuana grow operation not to say a word until their appeal was complete. Finally, Brandy’s lover — then-married Palm Bay Fire Captain Randall Richmond — voluntarily went to the police station the day Brandy went missing and lied to police.  

He told them he had not heard from Brandy in weeks. He returned two days later and amended his story to say that Brandy told him she was leaving town. Those who knew her said she would never have left her children, especially with her husband about to go to prison. 

That’s not a great first 48 hours for police to work with. 

Equally as crucial, Spears said, is to have a solid understanding of Brandy’s last 24 hours.

“It’s extremely important,” he said. “I think it’s one of the most important other than what motive could be behind the killer, but I think it’s definitely important because it goes back to what I was saying about the first 48 hours. It’s a critical, crucial timeline to paint where they were and who they last spoke to moments before their death

Those hours leading up to the disappearance are definitely crucial and it’s going to be of evidentiary value in the long run to figure out who they were with last and what they were doing.”

And that right there, is the basis for the Murder on the Space Coast five-part podcast update on Brandy’s disappearance that starts Tuesday.  Using dissected phone records, interviews, work done by private investigator Nik Sandberg and notes kept by deceased Det. Sid LaDow, who worked the case until his death earlier this year, we have put together a detailed account of how Brandy spent the hours right up until the last record of her alive, a phone call she had with Richmond.

The only unknown is the question we’ve been asking for 13 years: what happened to Brandy Hall? Maybe the dig will yield some answers.

But even if the dig reveals nothing, it still allows police to cross one location off their list and more importantly is only one facet to the new information they’re getting. In fact, we were ready with our podcast in mid-August but police officials asked my editor if we would hold off for a little bit because of the impact the podcast might have had on a new lead they were working.

We agreed because like the police, our goal is to help Brandy’s family find closure and if that meant standing back and letting police pursue a sensitive new lead, we were willing to give them the time they asked for.

Wouldn’t it be something to record a sixth and final episode bringing closure for Brandy’s family and seeing her killer have to answer for what they did?

Contact Torres at 321-242-3684 or at jtorres@floridatoday.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter @johnalbertorres or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/FTjohntorres.

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