Did Kelley Brannon “Get Into a Car?”

Painting of Kelley by stefan.the.alligator
Painting of Kelley by @stefan.the.alligator

One of the most confounding aspects of Kelley Brannon’s disappearance is the enigmatic end to her last voicemail. Her exclamation of “Oh, I’m getting in a car right now. All right, bye” seems to come as a surprise to her and cuts her off mid sentence.

These last words have divided those who have taken an interest in the case into two camps: those who think she got into a car in an attempt to hitchhike away from Live Oak, Florida, and those who think it’s a red herring.

On one hand, we have Kelley’s own voice claiming that she did so. In addition, Kelley had a history of sometimes making rash choices. With her car keys taken by her boyfriend, Eddie, and few options available, perhaps she did try to hitch a ride out of town, only to get into a car with someone with ill intent. There isn’t really any hard evidence to refute this claim. There isn’t any evidence to support it, either.

In her last voicemail, Kelley also claimed that she was reporting her car stolen and that she was getting her own room at the Sunshine Inn, neither of which occurred. If we leave aside the theory that the voicemail was tampered with, couldn’t her claim of getting into a car also be false? Could this all have been said for the singular purpose of angering Eddie, who refused to leave the motel room? There is precedent for this kind of verbal sparring between them, too.

At a quick glance, both hypotheses seem plausible. But before coming to a hasty conclusion, let’s slow things down and put ourselves in Kelley’s place. Have you considered not only how but why Kelley would have made the choices she did? Would they really be different from the decisions you would make in her situation?

Let’s first set the scene so we can better understand how Kelley ended up in the predicament she was in on July 14, 2020.

Kelley left Eddie in June, 2020 and traveled back to her hometown in New Hampshire. There is a selfie video from Kelley’s phone taken on June 27, 2020 where she was both furious at how Eddie had betrayed her and elated that she was free from his physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. 

Sometime after June 27th, Eddie traveled to see Kelley at her family home in New Hampshire and managed to convince her to give their relationship another try. Or at least that’s what we assume happened; the details are unknown. 

We don’t know how or why Kelley went from being jubilantly free from Eddie to traveling back down to Florida with him with the intention of driving to Detroit and purchasing a home together, but eighteen days later, Kelley would never be seen again.

We don’t have many hard facts surrounding Kelley’s disappearance. If there was any perishable forensic evidence, it had long disappeared before law enforcement started taking the case seriously. There is motel camera footage from earlier in the afternoon and evening showing Kelley walking around the parking lot, but there is apparently no footage of her walking off or getting into a car. We have seen some texts sent from Kelley’s phone to Eddie’s phone, but there’s nothing conclusive in them. We have her last voicemail, but it proves nothing. We’ve heard rumors that some of the semi-permanent denizens of the less-than-salubrious Live Oak Motel and Sunshine Inn said that they saw Kelley walk away from the motel towards town with her guitar on her back. The only official documentation we’ve seen regarding eye witnesses is from the private investigator’s report, wherein one woman claimed she saw Kelley walk away from the motel, only to rescind her claim the next day saying “she was high.”

Since we don’t have much evidence, we need to plot out all of the possible ways Kelley could have disappeared. Unfortunately, we have to make some assumptions about what happened based on verbal testimony from Eddie and others.

According to Eddie, he had a change of heart the night of July 14 and became concerned that Kelley was drunk and might drive intoxicated. He claimed that he “slipped [Kelley’s] keys off her waist” and held onto them for safekeeping. His truck was in for repairs, so Kelley’s car was the only working vehicle available to them. We have no evidence that this “key slipping” happened the way it was explained, but in Kelley’s last voicemail, she did claim that Eddie had stolen her car. This is perhaps what she was referring to, although we can’t be certain. 

Imagine the scene: Kelley is sitting in her car in the parking lot of an unfamiliar Florida town during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic without her car key or access to her motel room. She’s angry that she was tricked once again by Eddie, who turned out to not have changed one bit. She’s angry that she has to wait around in Live Oak while Eddie tries to get his truck fixed while she makes arrangements to house her beloved chickens. And now she’s angry her boyfriend is pretending to sleep in their motel room refusing to answer his phone while she sits in the parking lot, hot, tired, and alone.

Wouldn’t you be angry? 

Put yourself in her position. You still technically have your car, just not your keys. You can definitely get your keys back. Maybe not right now, but certainly in the morning. Eddie can’t stay inside forever. His dog is in the room, and he’ll need to be let out to use the bathroom. You could call the cops, but you don’t trust them and would rather they not get involved. Oh, and you have around $10,000 in your bank account that’s available to you, should you need it.

So. Do you wait it out? Do you start pounding on the motel room door? Or do you leave your purse and bank cards in the unlocked car, take your cheap guitar, and start walking towards a small town where nothing is open? And if you start walking, do you then get into a stranger’s car?

Let’s say you take the illogical and unnecessarily dangerous choice of walking down a desolate street at night. You stop somewhere along the way to leave an angry voicemail. This all seems plausible, especially if emotions were running high and intoxicants were imbibed.

But where things become difficult to rectify is if we assume that Kelley gets into a car. Recall that in the voicemail, Kelley is interrupted mid-sentence to say that she’s “getting into a car right now.” It sounds as if the car came up suddenly and that she expected it. There’s no doubt and no hesitation in her voice. There’s no talking with a driver. No inquiring where the car is going. Just straight up confidence that she’ll be getting into it. 

We need to remember that she had her own car, her purse, her chickens, and all of her worldly possessions with her. Instead of staying with her things, though, she’s just going to impulsively leave all of it? She even left small things behind that would be easy to bring, like her purse. 

As crazy as that seems, let’s think of the scenarios in which this could even happen, since so many think it did.

One scenario is that Kelley was trying to flag down cars on the road in hopes of getting a lift. Where to and why, no one knows. There are no drivers who reported seeing her on the road with her guitar slung on her back, but apparently the one car that does drive by pulls over and, without even the smallest interaction between Kelley and the driver, Kelley decides to get into the car on the spot. At 1am. In a strange town. Alone. As a woman. During Covid, which she was known to be extremely cautious about.

Wait, what? Who doesn’t even ask the driver who they are or where they’re going or whether they’d wear a mask? (Kelley was adamant about mask usage.) Nope, Kelley just gets into–or assumes she’s going to get into–the first car that pulls over.

Can you imagine doing that? Even if you were in Kelley’s situation, would you say you’re “getting into a car,” or would at least say to the driver, “Hey! I’m trying to get to XYZ! Which way are you going?” I’m not sure what the chances are that at 1am, the average driver on Howard Street in Live Oak, Florida would be beginning a cross-country, north-bound trip out of town, but I’d wager they’re not great. They’d probably be heading to the gas station for a pack of smokes.

Doesn’t this all sound a bit implausible now that we’ve teased it out a bit? And yet this is somehow one of the prevailing hypotheses of how Kelley disappeared.

Judging from Kelley’s tone of voice and choice of phrasing in the voicemail, it seems more likely that she either knew the person in the hypothetical car and/or was expecting the car to show up.

Let’s think about this a bit. While we have not seen Kelley’s phone records, the police have. Respectively, it’s safe to say that she didn’t call or text someone to pick her up or call a taxi or a car service. If she had, we’d either have an arrest by now or at least some more focused guidance from police. So, how would someone intentionally come and pick her up? Kelley didn’t seem to think she was in particular danger at the time–she was just angry–so pre-planning an “escape” would have been unnecessary.

Maybe someone she had met over the previous couple of days happened to drive by and they recognized Kelley? She certainly didn’t know anyone in Live Oak well, and friends and family were far away. Maybe someone from a store, bar, or restaurant that Kelley had visited pulls over. She recognizes them and without a second thought says… “I’m getting into a car right now.” Huh? That doesn’t make sense either. Not even a, ”Hey! Remember me? It’s Kelley. Can you help me? I need a lift.” Nope, just an immediate assumption of transportation under less-than-urgent conditions from a mostly-stranger in the middle of the night. Seems unlikely. 

How about someone she met at the motel? Any communication with them would have been done verbally and hence not leave a digital trail. Did they plan the ride at the motel but the pickup point was somewhere along the road? Or it happened in the parking lot but no one saw it and it wasn’t on the surveillance footage? Again, it’s possible, but improbable. It really all comes down to there being no reason to try to hitchhike out of Live Oak when in possession of your own motor vehicle.

There is one last thing that seems important to mention is that those of us who live in New York City–like Kelley had for years–often call car service taxis “a car.” As in, “it’s late, let me call a car.”, or, “I’m gonna call/take a car”, or, “oh, my car’s here.” This phrasing might be unique to NYC or maybe to urban areas in general. As such, it’s very likely Kelley would refer to a car service vehicle in such a way.

Are there such services in Live Oak at 1am? It doesn’t look like it. If there was a service still open, from what phone did she call them? A payphone? C’mon. Maybe the “getting into a car” part of the voicemail is an anachronism from a previous time and another place entirely. Something to think about, anyway. It’s no less or more likely that the other hypotheses.

So, let’s say she didn’t get into a car. This is, after all, possible, as there is no definitive proof she did. Where is Kelley Brannon?