http://www.charleston.net9 weeks ago, Brandy Hanna seemingly vanished, leaving her friends and family searching for clues
BY BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier Staff
Brandy Hanna left work in a playful mood that Friday, planning her weekend on the keypad of a brand-new cell phone. That night, she would go shopping with her best friend and on Saturday see her boyfriend before heading out to the beach. Sunday, she was supposed to have breakfast with her mother and younger brother.
But she never did any of those things. Sometime on the evening of Friday May 20, Brandy Hanna vanished.
She left behind her clothes, her money and an apartment devoid of clues -- a blanket and pillow on the couch, a cup of tea on the table.
There was no suggestion of a forced entry, no signs of a struggle. No hint of where she had gone.
It looked as if she would be right back.
The disappearance of the 32-year-old North Charleston woman has baffled police and kept her family and friends in an agonizing limbo for nine weeks now. At Alex's on Dorchester Road, where Hanna and her mother work, the restaurant's reader board asks: "Where is Brandy?"
It is a question that seems to have no answer.
Everyone who knows Hanna says there is no chance she would just leave. She's shy, has a tight circle of friends. She never missed work, where she has a great rapport with her customers. And silence is not her thing. Until she disappeared, she was on her phone constantly, chatting and text-messaging friends, and sometimes talking to her mother more than a half-dozen times a day.
North Charleston police say they have to treat Hanna as a missing person because they have no evidence that she was hurt or abducted, although her family is almost certain that is what has happened. Since May, police have questioned friends, boyfriends, family members, co-workers -- even given a polygraph test to one ex-boyfriend. But the police say they have no clues that point to foul play.
"Everyone tells me she would not go off without checking in, but we have nothing to suggest she was abducted," Detective Eric Jourdan said. "This is not common at all."While the national media provided 24-hour coverage of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba and breathless updates on runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks, Hanna's disappearance has received no such attention. There has been no full-scale manhunt and no national TV cameras focused on North Charleston.
Hanna's family still clings to hope that she will turn up; the alternative is unthinkable. But as every day passes, the people closest to her worry that she will become just another statistic, one of thousands who vanish without a trace each year.
"It's just unreal that someone can disappear off the face of the Earth," said Donna Parent, Hanna's mother. "Not knowing is driving me crazy."
'SHE WAS SCARED OF SOMEONE'
It had been a year of change for Hanna.
After working at Pappy's off Remount Road on and off for years, she had moved to Alex's on Dorchester Road in March. The move afforded Hanna a chance to spend time with her mother, the manager there.
"When you don't live with your children, some of that closeness goes away," Parent said. "So it was a thrill having her there. And my boss loved her. The customers loved her."
Tricia Williamson, her boss at Pappy's, described Hanna much the same way. "She loved animals and was always happy," Williamson said. "She was a good girl."
The job change came on the heels of a breakup with Ray McAdams, with whom she had lived for six years. In February, Hanna began seeing McAdams' friend Zeke Lankford.
In April, Hanna and Lankford rented an apartment together off Florida Avenue in a rundown neighborhood off Spruill Avenue. Her mother pleaded with her not to move into the neighborhood, within blocks of crack dealers and hookers, but Hanna said it was what she could afford.
"I begged her to come home, but she wouldn't," Parent said. "She's a grown woman; she wanted her own place."
Hanna didn't have a car, so she often walked to a convenience store two blocks away to buy cigarettes or soft drinks. She sometimes paid one of the regulars at Alex's, Andy Rangnow, to give her a ride to and from work. Hanna hadn't driven since her license was suspended on a bad check charge years earlier. She especially needed transportation after Lankford left a few weeks later, moving back in with his children and his wife, from whom he had been separated for a year.
Amy McAdams, Hanna's best friend and Ray McAdams' sister, said her friend was trying to decide what she wanted to do and that she had broken up with Lankford. But Hanna told some of her customers and co-workers that she was planning to see him the weekend she disappeared.
"We were still very close when she came up missing," Lankford said. "I was supposed to see her that weekend."
Lankford and some of Hanna's friends say they believed Ray McAdams wouldn't leave her alone; Ray McAdams said Hanna kept in touch with him and asked him to drive by her apartment to wave at her -- but not to stop because it would make Lankford mad. He said he last saw her on May 16, at his niece's doctor's appointment. Hanna had gone to the doctor's office with McAdams.
On Thursday, May 19, Hanna showed up for lunch with Amy McAdams at Pappy's, where McAdams works. She invited one of the other waitresses, Susan Berry, to go to the beach with her that weekend; Berry couldn't go.
The next day, Hanna worked her regular shift at Alex's, coming in about 7 a.m. and taking off about 2:30 p.m.
"She was fine all day long," Diane White, a waitress at Alex's, remembers. "She was happy because (Lankford) was coming to see her the next day."
Sometime that afternoon, a customer in the restaurant said Hanna took a call on Alex's main number that shook her up.
"She told me she was scared of someone, but she wouldn't tell me who," said Thomas Johnson, a regular at Alex's.
Parent said no one has checked records to try and trace the call. She isn't sure her daughter was frightened. If she was, she didn't let it show to many people. She seemed almost giddy. Another customer, a retired police officer, had offered to give her a ride to the beach the next day. Before she left, she called her mother, who hadn't arrived at the restaurant. Hanna didn't want to leave without seeing
"Momma, you're late. Where are you?"
Parent was just a couple of blocks away and told her, "Hold your horses. I'll be there in a minute."
Hanna was using a new cell phone her mother had bought her earlier that week. She'd previously had a prepaid cell phone, but Parent didn't want her to run out of minutes. She programmed the phone for her daughter before Rangnow gave Hanna a ride home.
A little before 3 p.m., Hanna walked out of the restaurant with Rangnow, carrying a to-go cup filled with iced tea.
In the car, Rangnow said Hanna was "happy-go-lucky and could not wait for the weekend to start." He dropped her off at the apartment and waited until she got inside before pulling away.
"She said she'd see me Monday morning," Rangnow said.
Hanna spent the afternoon watching television, curled up on her couch with a pillow and a blanket. At 5:50 p.m., she talked to her mother. She was expecting Lankford to come by, but he told police he had to work late and just went home instead.
About 8 p.m., she sent a text message to Amy McAdams: "Are you still coming?" The two were supposed to go to Wal-Mart to shop for bathing suits when McAdams got off work at Pappy's.
At 8:49 p.m. Hanna checked the voice mail on her cell phone and at 10:19 p.m. sent Lankford a text message, which he said was about their plans to see each other over the weekend.
Amy McAdams got off work late, about 10 p.m. and then got delayed at a railroad crossing. She didn't make it to Hanna's apartment until about 10:30.
When she got there, McAdams says she beat on the apartment door but got no answer. She tried to call Hanna on the prepaid cell phone (McAdams didn't have the new phone's number). She heard the prepaid phone ringing inside the apartment. She figured Hanna had fallen asleep, so she left.
Sometime that evening, Parent tried to call her daughter, but Hanna didn't answer.
"When she didn't answer the phone I got a feeling in the pit of my stomach," Parent said. "The feeling I had was something was wrong."
'I KNOW SHE'D HAD SOME PROBLEMS'
Parent worried all weekend. She tried to call Hanna several times, but the phone went straight to voice mail; it had been turned off.
Parent knew Hanna would not turn off her phone. It was practically glued to her ear. But Parent told herself that Hanna was a 32-year-old woman who was entitled to her privacy. She figured her daughter was spending the weekend with Lankford.
Lankford said he did not go see Hanna on Saturday morning because he could not get her on the phone. He figured she wasn't taking his calls because she was mad at him, so he went to work without driving by the apartment.
Amy McAdams tried to call Hanna over the weekend, to find out what happened Friday, but never got her.
"I didn't think anything of it," McAdams said. "I figured she was at the beach."
On Monday morning, Parent awoke and looked at the clock. It was 7:20 a.m. She was relieved, because she knew if her daughter hadn't shown up for work, someone from Alex's would have called her.
As she was having that thought, her phone rang. Hanna wasn't at work.
Parent called the police, but without signs of foul play or some sort of crime, it is a hard for them to investigate. Adults can do as they like, don't have to answer to anyone. North Charleston police listened to countless people say that Hanna wouldn't do that. They took a report, searched the apartment.
Hanna had left behind the money she'd made on Friday at Alex's and had not taken a single thing she owned. It looked like she had just stepped out for a moment. The cup of tea from the restaurant sat beside the couch.
"I thought: This happens on TV, not in real life," said Gary Dillon, Hanna's stepfather. "It is a horrible feeling."
North Charleston police interviewed Parent, Lankford and Ray McAdams. After a week of police tailing him, McAdams said, he volunteered to take a polygraph test. He passed it, and police say they have no reason to suspect he had anything to do with Hanna's disappearance.
"I do not know what happened to her, I wish I knew who did," McAdams said.
McAdams and Lankford look suspiciously at each other, and McAdams said drugs were involved, though Hanna's family and everyone else said she never touched any hard drugs. McAdams said he believes Lankford knows what happened. Lankford said he doesn't know what happened to her, but that he believes she left with someone she knew. He suspects McAdams knows more than he is telling.
"I think she left the house with every intention of coming right back," Lankford said. "I know she'd had some problems with her ex-boyfriend. ... I fear the absolute worst."
Police say neither man is a suspect; at this time, there's no sign of a crime.
Parent said she wishes people would stop pointing their fingers at each other and find her daughter. For nine weeks, she has searched and worked to raise money to pay for information. She hopes that money will make someone come forward.
So far they've raised $5,000, and on Thursday a customer at Alex's offered to match the amount. There is now a $10,000 reward for information that leads police to Hanna.
Parent said not knowing is killing her. She has been in touch with the families of other missing adults. It is a big community, bigger than she could have imagined. According to the National Center for Missing Adults, there were 47,842 adults missing as of last year, and more than 30,000 of them had been gone for more than a year.
The family has talked to private investigators, psychics and police from various departments. They've fended off crank calls and false leads. They've contacted the governor and senators. They want the FBI involved. They want answers.
They want Brandy Hanna found.
"The good, the bad, I've got to know," Parent said.