By: Dana Poll, MLIS

Brandon Lawson made a 911 call in 2013. Many years later, advocates continue to come together, looking for answers to what happened to this father of four.

The Charley Project Map and Meaghan Good

Collective Impact is a phrase you’ll see throughout the Uncovered website. It’s plastered on our mission page, it’s mentioned in nearly all of our visualized cases, and it’s the backbone of our crowdsourcing tools.

Using the true crime community to uncover answers and bring hope to the families of the unidentified and the murdered or missing is something we care immensely about. Being in the true crime space as champions for cold cases, we know that it’s never easy work that can be done alone.

Finding Brandon Lawson is a quest that the advocates and champions you’ll meet in this piece care deeply about.

Brandon Goes Missing

Thirty-five-year-old Brandon Lawson is last seen when he leaves his San Angelo, Texas home on Thursday, August 8, 2013, at approximately 11:53 PM after a spat with Ladessa Lofton, his girlfriend of 10 years and mother to three of his children.

In an effort to cool off, Brandon, a father of four, jumps in his truck and heads to his Dad’s house. While en route, Brandon calls his brother, Kyle Lawson, to ask for help because he ran out of gas on Highway 277 just 4 miles south of Bronte, Texas. Around the same time, he makes a frantic 911 call saying that he is being chased and needs the police.

In the harrowing 911 call, Brandon can be heard explaining that his truck ran out of gas, and that there was “a guy chasing me through the woods.”

“Please hurry,” Brandon urges the first responder on the other end of the line “There’ll be no talking to them. I accidentally ran into them.”

The phone call drops before the operator can obtain Brandon’s name and location.

About 20 minutes later, Brandon’s brother arrives on the scene. The Bronte police arrive at roughly the same time. They were dispatched because a concerned motorist had called 911 to report that a truck was partially blocking the roadway. When Kyle discovers that Brandon is not with his truck, he calls him. Brandon answers and says he is in a field and then the call is lost.

Unaware that Brandon had dialed 911, Kyle thinks that his brother may be hiding in the field to avoid authorities because Brandon had recently learned that there was a warrant for his arrest.

That call was the last time anyone would ever hear from Brandon again.

Ladessa Leads the Search

The following day Ladessa attempts to file a missing person’s report but is told that because Brandon is an adult, the report can not be filed for three days. She decides she can not wait for the police to start searching.

She knows she needs to find Brandon as quickly as possible. The rough terrain, aggressive wildlife, and the lack of water in the area will make it difficult for Brandon to survive, especially if he is lost and or injured. On Friday, Ladessa, a group of Brandon’s friends, and his family begin to search the area where Brandon’s truck was found. They continue their search on Saturday and on Sunday Ladessa hires a crop duster to do an aerial search of the area, but Brandon is nowhere to be found.

On Monday, the missing person’s report is filed and the police request Brandon’s cell phone records. Ladessa obtains a copy of the records and discovers that Brandon made a 911 call that night.  Ladessa requests a copy of the call. Nearly 5 months later, the call is released to her.

After much thought, Ladessa decides to share the call with the public. She hopes that it might help bring Brandon home.

This decision sets the wheels of collective impact in motion.

Jason Watts ‘Returning the Favor’

Jason Watts and Brandon met while attending Joshua High School near Fort Worth, TX.

When Jason remembers Brandon, he tells the story of how he was seconds away from getting beat up when Brandon stepped in and saved him. Jason was grateful and respected Brandon for doing him this favor. Fast forward to 2013, when Jason hears Brandon is missing, he reaches out to Ladessa out of compassion and respect for his friend. He tells her he will do anything he can to help. Out of compassion and respect for his friend, he reaches out to Ladessa and tells her he will do anything he can to help.

From that moment on, Jason takes on the role of family advocate/citizen detective.

He and Ladessa map, organize, and conduct foot searches, share Brandon’s story on social media, distribute flyers, request public records, speak to podcasters, law enforcement, private investigators, and landowners — and most importantly, they never give up hope that one day Brandon will be found.

Their determination to find answers leads them to many people who offer to help along the way.

John Lordan Covers The Case.

When the 911 is made public, it spreads like wildfire across social media platforms catching the ear of John Lordan, host of LordanARTS, a popular channel covering missing people, unsolved mysteries, solved cases, and more on YouTube.

John covers Brandon’s case on January 1, 2016. During this episode, he shares the 911 call and reports the facts as he knows them. Ladessa hears this episode and reaches out to John. She thanks him and asks if he would be willing to release another episode to clear up some of the misconceptions that have been shared in the media. After making that connection, John interviews Ladessa, Kyle, and Brandon’s cousin, Anthony. He releases a follow-up episode on January 15, 2016.

Enter Lou Barry, Private Investigations for Missing

In the summer of 2019, Jason is introduced to and begins working with investigator Lou Barry.

Lou is a retired police chief turned private investigator. Jason connects with Lou through Private Investigations for the Missing. Private Investigations for the Missing, established in 2018, supports families who are desperately looking for their missing loved ones. Lou tells Jason he is on the right track and identifies his only real weakness; a relationship with law enforcement. Lou agrees to take on the role of law enforcement liaison and to serve as the point of contact. With Lou’s help, the family can conduct two drone searches of properties in the area where Brandon’s truck was found. According to the Help Find Brandon Lawson FB page, over 1000 high-resolution photographs were taken and analyzed for any evidence of Brandon or his belongings.

A few of the images are pulled and the areas are explored on foot but no evidence of Brandon is found.  With Lou’s help, Jason leads a foot search in 2020 and another is planned for 2021. 

Podcasters Keep Brandon’s Story in the Media

Between 2013 and 2021, several podcasts including True Crime Garage and Crawlspace cover Brandon’s case. These episodes include 911 call analysis and interviews with Jason Watts, Lou Barry, Ladessa and Kyle. Early on these podcasters were determined to keep Brandon’s story in the public eye.

Uncovered Visualizes Brandon’s Case

In November 2020, Private Investigations for the Missing, introduces Rachael Rosselet, the former Head of Uncovered’s Data and Research team to Jason Watts. This connection will prove valuable in the coming months. 

Making Connections that Lead to Action-Oriented Advocacy

Around the same time, Ashlee Fujawa, Uncovered Co-Founder and former Head of Community attends CrimeCon House Arrest. She meets Whitney St. Andre and Melissa Leinweber hosts of the Navigating Advocacy Podcast, at the time, known as Cults, Crime and Cabernet.

During a follow-up meeting, Uncovered learns that Whitney and Melissa are looking for opportunities to engage in action-oriented advocacy. They want to take a boots-on-the-ground approach to helping families. Knowing that they live in Texas, Rachael and Ashlee suggest that Whitney and Melissa reach out to Jason Watt. Jason invites them to meet him in Bronte to see the area where Brandon disappeared.

They meet on January 15, 2021. Jason gives them a tour of the area and shares information about Brandon’s case. Rachael, Whitney, and Melissa collaborate to ensure that Brandon’s Uncovered case file will coincide with the February 8, 2021 release of the Cults, Crime and Cabernet’s episode on Brandon’s disappearance.

The release of the episode proves to be the beginning of a powerful friendship between Whitney and Melissa, Jason, and Brandon’s family.

In September of 2021, Whitney and Melissa attend the CrimeCon event in Austin, TX and meet with Jason again. When Jason mentions he is organizing another foot search, Whitney and Melissa volunteer to join the group. Based on the location of Brandon’s truck, Ladessa identifies a parcel of land that she strongly feels needs to be searched. Jason reaches out to the land owner and he agrees to allow Jason and his group to search his 400-acre property. The search is initially scheduled for late fall 2021.

Uncovered Community Member Transcribes Cell Phone Records

In early the fall of 2021, Rachael learns that Jason is organizing another foot search. She reaches out to Jason to see if there is anything Uncovered can do to help. Jason asks if someone in the Uncovered Community can transcribe Brandon’s cell phone records. In their current state, the records are jumbled and difficult to read and interpret. Lou thinks that organizing the tower pings could help Jason narrow his search area.

Rachael reaches out to the Uncovered community and Mary Storm — a co-host in the Unforgotten podcast, advocate for the missing, murdered, and wrongfully convicted — agrees to help. 

When Mary receives the cell phone records, she sees handwritten notes scattered throughout the documents, as well as artifacts from fax and copy machines. Due to the condition and formatting of the documents, hand transcription is required. The finished report consists of an excel document that includes tabs for process notes, calls and texts, calls, texts, and raw data. The final report contains the cell tower location coordinates for all of the calls, including the 911 call and the content of the texts which are needed to narrow the search area. Mary uses the data to create a map which is included with the report. The entire document is then triple checked for accuracy. Jason is appreciative and believes this report will help to narrow the search. 

Finding Brandon

Jason’s plans to conduct the search in late fall change when he discovers that seasonal vegetation in the area could hinder visibility and cause safety concerns. This prompts him to reschedule the search for Saturday, January 15, 2022.  As search day approaches, the weather conditions are not looking favorable. Jason is concerned and relays this information to his ten-member search team. He asks if they would like to delay the search.

They unanimously agree that the search will not be delayed again.

On January 15, 2022,  the search team including Whitney and Melissa, arrive at the site at 10:00 am. The forecast is predicting a high temperature of 45 degrees with wind gusts of up to 40 miles an hour.

The team is dressed appropriately and eager to begin searching. Jason explains that the team will be performing a lane pattern search. He instructs the team members to form a horizontal line, arms length apart. He asks them to stay in line, to move slowly and deliberately with their eyes focused on the ground in front of them. They search for a few hours before deciding to take a break and return to their cars.

While the group is eating snacks and talking with one another, Jason is looking at aerial maps of the property. He notices an area about a mile from where Brandon’s truck was found that doesn’t have ATV trails or deer stands. Because there is nothing to draw people to this parcel, he feels strongly that it should be searched. The team makes their way to the targeted area, they form a line and begin to search.

Less than five minutes later, a member drops out of line.

Jason walks back to join her and she says, “I think I found a shoe.”

When Brandon disappeared he was wearing a yellow shirt with camo shorts and a pair of white 2013 Nike Air Max shoes. Jason takes a look at the shoe and clearly sees the word Max. A few seconds later, a searcher finds what looks to be a piece of camouflage material. A few more seconds pass and another shoe is located. At this point, Jason instructs the searchers to return to their cars.

He calls Lou Barry and Lou contacts the Sheriff’s department.  The sheriff’s department collects the evidence.  The discovery of Brandon’s clothes feels surreal to the searchers. Jason, describes it as bittersweet and Ladessa, Brandon’s children, and his family begin to find peace because of the tangible objects.

Two weeks later the TX Rangers search the area and discover human remains. Although DNA tests are pending and could take up to a year, everyone involved in this case believes that Brandon Lawson has been found.

In the fall of 2023, Brandon’s family and the advocates posted an official update on the case using their Facebook page. The post reads:

Good afternoon community.
We do have a small update regarding the human remains found in February of last year. Since our last post the laboratory has been continuing to try to pull any kind of DNA/Genetic markers from the remains. A few weeks ago one of the tests was able to extract some information. This test confirms that the remains are in fact those of a Male. The test was also able to extract some Genetic markers that can be compared to DNA from Brandon’s father in attempt to ID them as being Brandon. While The Texas Ranger in charge of Brandon’s case stressed not to hang all of our hopes on this news. He did say that he was feeling positive about it, as are we. We ask for continued prayers for the laboratory results and the Lawson family. The Ranger was not able to give a timeline for when this analysis will be complete, but we are hoping it soon.
Thank you for all your continued support.

The Search Continues in 2024

At the beginning of March, a larger search was conducted in the same area where the previous evidence was discovered. The team — along with a K9 search group — got the green light from law enforcement to return to the area in an attempt to find Brandon’s keys, wallet, cellphone, and additional human remains. They combed through the area extensively, but didn’t locate further evidence.

In a Facebook post discussing the search, they made clear that just because nothing was located in this search, it doesn’t mean nothing is there. The terrain and thick cactus brush made it difficult to search everywhere they wanted to. There will be likely more from the Brandon Lawson advocacy team in the coming months.

Dana Poll

Dana Poll is a Georgia-based genealogist and cold case researcher. She was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where she earned a Bachelor’s in Journalism and Communications from Point Park University and a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. She is the Producer and host of the True Crime PI podcast, Associate Producer of The Investigators podcast, and a co-host of the Seeking Justice YouTube Live Investigative series.

Dana discovered her passion for cold case advocacy in 2005, when she began researching missing and unidentified person cases. Her goal then and always will be to help find the missing, give the unidentified back their names, and provide answers to families, who have been forced to carry “the unbearable burden of not knowing.”