August 17, 2007Clues remain scant in Brandy Hall case
Police scour for info as family, friends push to make story more visible
BY J.D. GALLOP and KIMBERLY C. MOORE
PALM BAY - Jeff Hall still wears the wedding band his wife, Brandy Hall, slipped onto his finger long before the volunteer Malabar firefighter vanished.
"It's been a year -- it's just hard to believe," said Hall, talking openly -- and without a lawyer -- with FLORIDA TODAY.
"In my heart of hearts, I don't think she ran off. I mean, you always hold out a glimmer of hope, but, you know, that would be just devastating if she did that. But based on what we know -- evidence and stuff -- it's kind of hard to think that somebody hasn't done something bad to her."
Today marks one year since 33-year-old Brandy Hall walked out of the Malabar Volunteer Fire Station and stepped into a missing-persons mystery that continues to confound police, family and friends.
Hall and the rest of Brandy's family
are caught between hopeful and heartbroken, not knowing what happened to her the night of Aug. 17, 2006.
Detectives -- who have even relied on psychics for help in the case -- are at a standstill. Even though they've found some items belonging to Brandy in remote locations, they have almost no new leads coming in and no physical remains have been found.
And her friends, frustrated with the lack of clues to her whereabouts, have settled into a crusade mode, hawking T-shirts to raise reward funds and pleading for national crime-fighting programs like "America's Most Wanted" to tell Brandy's story.The case
Police have sorted through several theories about what happened to Brandy. Did she just decide to leave behind her two children and family troubles? Did her husband's marijuana-growing business, and subsequent arrest and conviction in Osceola County, lead to her disappearance?
Hall, the former Osceola County fire chief, was sentenced to 18 months in prison the day after Brandy was last seen. He has yet to report to prison.
Since Brandy vanished, Palm Bay police homicide detectives have:
Drained and searched a pond near Brevard Community College's Palm Bay campus, in which Brandy's truck and firefighting gear were found.
Used cadaver dogs to search the woods surrounding the Malabar home Brandy and Jeff Hall shared.
Sorted through financial records, cell phone records, tracked down reported sightings and conducted some searches based on detailed tips from psychics.
Interviewed some family and friends, including giving two lie detector tests to fellow Palm Bay firefighter Randall Richmond. Police have not named Richmond as a person of interest in the case.
Searched a Vero Beach canal and fields surrounding it after Brandy's book bag was found there in late June.
"It's still an open case. We've been following any leads that come in," said Palm Bay police Detective Ken Arnold, one of several investigators who have poured over two thick binders packed with details and photographs from the Brandy Hall case.
"Someone has to know something," he said. "It's frustrating that that person hasn't come forward."Emotionally drained
Brandy's parents, Debbie and Cliff Rogge, said they are devastated.
"Please, somebody wake us out of this horrible, horrible nightmare and have my daughter standing in front of me," Debbie Rogge said.
A year later, tears still well up in Hall's eyes when he talks about the impact of Brandy's disappearance on their children and his life.
He recalled the last time he spoke to his wife, about an hour before a video camera caught grainy images of Brandy leaving the Malabar Fire Department. He said Brandy prayed by telephone with their children, who were nestled in bed with him in their home.
Minutes later, he called her again to talk about a job and his sentencing hearing on drug charges the next day.
"She goes, 'I'll see you in the morning. I got the truck all fueled up and ready to go,' " he recalled. "She said, 'I love you,' and that was it."
When Brandy failed to arrive the next morning, Hall said he tried calling her on her cell phone. Hall, facing 18 months in prison, was hoping Brandy would be by his side in the Osceola courtroom.
"That's when I really started freaking out," Hall said. He started calling friends, family, hospitals, anyone who might know something.
Hall said he knows police consider him a person of interest in Brandy's disappearance and he understands why.
"It's always the thing with the spouse -- you see it on TV, on CNN," Hall said. "I understand a certain aspect to that, but it was explained to me by (the police), 'Nothing has ruled you out,' so you're always in that loop among other people."Police frustrated
Detectives say the person they most want to talk to about the case is the one who likely knew Brandy the best: her husband. Arnold said Hall has yet to sit down for a formal interview with police or take a lie detector test to clear up lingering questions.
"His attorney won't allow it," Arnold said. "(Jeff Hall) does provide some information every once in awhile, mostly from his psychic connections. But we've never formally spoken. Any information we get would be helpful. He's the husband."
Hall, for his part, says he has offered to talk to Palm Bay detectives and already has been interviewed by a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent.
"I've never been offered a lie detector test. I told my attorney that I would be glad to take one. I've actually given the police information," he said.
"You know, it's tough dealing with this every day. You get depressed, and on top of that, you're not being told anything."
Hall's attorney, Kepler Funk, recently lost an appeal in Hall's drug case and Funk said he is now discussing with prosecutors when Hall will have to report for his 18-month sentence.
Hall said he has ridden an emotional roller coaster for the last year, hoping one day that Brandy's alive, but thinking the next day that she might be dead.
Hall said he and Brandy's 6-year-old son and 11â€“year-old daughter have gone to counseling, but the counselor first made him tell the children that their mother was gone.
"I asked the lady, 'How do you tell your kids their mom is dead when you don't even know?' " he said.
But the most visceral impact has been on the couple's son. Hall said that almost nightly, the boy wakes up at 10:30 or 11 p.m. with "night terrors," screaming.
"He sees Mommy," Hall said.