On March 19, 2004, 17-year-old Brianna Maitland left her shift at the Black Lantern Inn around 11:20 P.M. What happened next remains a mystery to this day.
Earlier that same day, Maitland had completed a test to obtain her GED and had lunch with her mother, Kellie, to celebrate. The two then went out shopping where, according to Maitland's mother, something–or someone–caught Maitland’s eye outside a store. She went outside to investigate, and when her mother joined her there later, the young woman seemed "tense, shaken, and agitated". Maitland said that she needed to get home to prepare for her evening shift at the Black Lantern Inn and, not wanting to pry into her daughter's private life, Kellie drove Maitland back to the apartment that she shared with her friend Jillian Stout. It was the last time she would see her daughter.
The year before, Brianna Maitland had decided to move out of her family home in order to be closer to her friends, who attended a different high school 15 miles away. Things did not go according to plans, however, and soon after Maitland dropped out of school entirely. Despite this rough patch, it took the young woman only a few months to secure more stable living arrangements, including working two jobs. According to those who knew her, Brianna Maitland had gotten her life back together–she was even talking about attending college part-time once she received her GED results.
Before leaving for her shift at the Black Lantern Inn, Maitland had left a note for her roommate saying that she would be home after work. When her shift at the restaurant was over, several of her coworkers asked her to stay and have dinner with them, but she said that she was tired and needed to get home and rest because she had to work at her second job in the morning. Her coworkers said that Maitland got into her 1985 Oldsmobile alone and drove off into the night.
The next day, several passing motorists reported an abandoned car with its rear end stuck in the wall of a vacant building, the Dutchburn Farmhouse, about a mile from the Black Lantern Inn. When state troopers investigated, they found Brianna Maitland’s 1985 Oldsmobile. Around the car, police found loose change, a water bottle, and an unlit cigarette. Inside the car, two of Brianna Maitland's uncashed paychecks and various other personal effects were found. The trooper who first visited the scene assumed that the car had been abandoned there by a drunk driver and had a tow truck take it to the impound lot. He drove down to the Black Lantern Inn in an attempt to get more information but finding it closed, radioed in his report and thought little more of it at the time.
However, even before the trooper came to the car, several passers-by found the scene suspicious, or at least interesting enough to stop and take photographs. The resulting image of the car stuck partway into the wall of the old, gray house presents a strangely haunting tableau, and more than one observer, including both Maitland's mother and the host of the Trace Evidence podcast, has said that they felt a sort of instinctive chill upon seeing the photograph. "My stomach rolled," Kellie Maitland later said of her immediate reaction to the photo," I started to shake. I saw evil in the picture." Maitland’s mother said that she knew immediately that it wasn't her daughter who had left the car in such a state.
However, it wasn’t until several days after the car was discovered that Brianna Maitland’s disappearance was recognized. With plans already in place to spend the weekend with her boyfriend, Jillian Stout thought little of Maitland's note when she saw it that Friday night. It wasn't until Jillian returned home the following Monday and found the note in the same place that she began to worry. Assuming that her roommate had spent the weekend with her parents, Jillian didn't call until that Tuesday, when she phoned Kellie and Bruce Maitland. They, in turn, began calling around to their daughter's various friends, none of whom reported having seen her since her final shift at work.
Finally, Maitland's panicked parents called the police and filed a missing person's report, but by then their daughter had already been gone for almost a week. In the years since, innumerable theories have come forward about what happened to Maitland that night. Police and Brianna's family almost immediately began receiving phone calls from people claiming that the young woman had been kidnapped, that her body was at the bottom of a river or lake, had been "tied to a tree in the woods" or disposed of at a hog farm. One call claimed that Brianna Maitland was being held against her will in the house of two known drug dealers in a town not far away. While the two men were investigated in relation to the disappearance, neither was ever charged.
This was only one avenue investigated by police: Maitland had recently been in an altercation with another teen at a party, supposedly over a boy. The other young woman had punched Maitland in the face, leaving her with a broken nose and concussion. She filed charges against the friend, which were dropped by the police three weeks after her disappearance. Police stated that they investigated the friend, and she had been cleared of any involvement.
A more chilling possibility was that Brianna Maitland's disappearance might have been somehow connected to the disappearance of Maura Murray just a month before and about 90 miles away. Investigators, however, never revealed any connections between the two cases. Later, a potential connection between Brianna Maitland's disappearance and serial killer Israel Keyes was brought to light, but the FBI eventually ruled out Keyes's involvement in the case. Keyes later killed himself in prison in 2012 after confessing to a string of rapes and murders.
Other theorists speculated that Brianna Maitland was still alive–either she had run away or been sold into sex slavery. In 2006, a woman who resembled Maitland was spotted on security footage at the Caesar's World casino in Atlantic City, though the woman was never identified. In 2016, police revealed that they had recovered DNA samples from the car at the time of Maitland's disappearance, but to this day, what happened to her on that dark March night remains a mystery.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons; Additional photo: Alchetron