The disappearance of Brandy Hanna has stymied police investigators for more than a decade, but Sgt. Ron Lacher may finally have the lead to solve the mystery.
Hanna vanished without a trace 11 years ago from her North Charleston apartment. The only real break in the case came in 2009 when police found a shoe believed to have been worn by Hanna — until nearly three weeks ago.
Lacher, a North Charleston detective with the vice unit, took over the case five years ago and is doing all he can to get answers. The recent lead came from a woman who provided “good information” about what happened and a suspect the department had already developed.
“I thought, ‘let me reach out to this girl and just see, because she knew these people,’ and she dropped this bombshell on me,” Lacher said. “She’s been holding this information for 10 years.”
Of course, there are still obstacles. Without Hanna’s body or concrete evidence, it’s difficult to bring a charge, Lacher said. But he’s hoping that will change Monday when Investigation Discovery airs an episode of “Disappeared” about the 32-year-old.
Hanna’s mother Donna Parent, like Lacher, hopes the show will shake loose more substantial leads.
“I’m excited; I’m nervous; I’m hoping that someone will see it and I’m hoping it will jar someone’s memory,” Parent said. “I’m hopeful that someone will finally come forward.”
She said film crews from the show spent about a week and a half in Charleston and that she spent a lot of time talking with them. She will be working when the show airs, but she plans to watch it after work.
Hanna disappeared May 20, 2005, from her Florida Avenue apartment, which is between Rivers and Spruill avenues. She worked an early shift at Alex’s Restaurant on Dorchester Road that day and caught a ride home.
She sent a text message to a friend around 8 p.m. and checked her voicemail less than an hour later. Thirty minutes after that, she sent a text to a boyfriend. And around 10:30 p.m., the friend she had texted earlier showed up and knocked on Brandy’s door. There was no answer.
Hanna had a full weekend planned — shopping on Friday night, the beach on Saturday and breakfast with her family on Sunday.
But shortly after talking to her mother by phone that evening, Hanna vanished. She left behind her money, her clothes or any hint of what happened. Police questioned her boyfriend at the time, Zeke Lankford, as well as a former boyfriend, Ray McAdams. Both men passed polygraph tests. McAdams has since died.
Lacher said the suspect in Hanna’s case is still living but declined to give an identity. He said a lot of people assumed McAdams killed Hanna, which was another hurdle investigators had to overcome.
“It’s very easy to point a finger at a dead man, and so that’s been a thorn in the case, too,” he said.
The case languished for years before the white Nike tennis shoe with a light blue stripe in Hanna’s size was found under a pier near Riverfront Park, just blocks from her apartment. Lacher said the shoe was tested but didn’t have any DNA on it.
Convinced that the shoe belonged Hanna, Lacher said the police department in November brought in three of the best cadaver dog teams available from other states to search along the Cooper River near where it was found. They locked in on a spot inaccessible to the public where the old Charleston Naval Station golf course used to be.
The department began digging there in the pluff mud in November, sifting through the rich soil that Lacher said would preserve bone well. He added that sifting through a small area of the mud can take hours because of the texture, but it usually only takes digging about a foot and a half deep before they reach untouched soil.
Investigators have since stopped digging because of vegetation, tides and alligator issues but plan to continue in a few months.
“Right now, we’re focusing on the lead from a couple weeks ago and gathering intel,” Lacher said.
Parent described feeling apprehensive about the latest progress in her daughter’s case.
“You want to hope; you want to pray but you’re so scared of it being another dead end,” she said. “You always have hope that it will be over. You want to know that you’ll have closure.”
She said living without her daughter all these years has been a “nonstop hell.”
“Always wondering, always worrying; it’s just constantly on your mind,” she said.
Lacher and Parent have developed a strong bond and friendship since he took over Hanna’s case. He said he tries to call her every few weeks.
“I told her (in the beginning), ‘I can’t promise you I’ll find her, but I promise you I’ll never stop,’ ” he said.
“This case haunts me like nobody’s business. I can’t let it go.”
Reach Melissa Boughton at 843-937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.