Brandy Hanna

Brandy Hanna disappeared May 20, 2005. Authorities are still looking for clues. 

Brandy Hanna has been missing for more than 13 years, but she hasn’t been forgotten.

This week, a former boyfriend pleaded guilty to obstruction in connection with the investigation of her 2005 disappearance. It is the most significant development the case has seen in years, perhaps ever.

Garland “Zeke” Lankford’s admission is a testament to the tenacity of North Charleston police and the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office. They haven’t given up on the case, and that gives Brandy’s family some hope that one day they’ll find out what happened to her.

And it should give everyone faith in the criminal justice system.

At any given time, there are 100,000 missing adults in the United States — and thousands more vanish every year. Solicitor Scarlett Wilson’s office juggles more than 10,000 criminal cases at any given time, and North Charleston police aren’t exactly sitting idle.

It would be easy to get lost in the system, and some no doubt do. Missing persons cases are particularly frustrating. If they aren’t solved within a few days, they seldom are.

So what does it say that both North Charleston police and the solicitor’s office have time to work on a 13-year-old cold case in which there were never any strong leads?

It says Brandy matters, and everyone matters.

Unsolved mystery

On the night of May 20, 2005, Brandy Hanna vanished from her North Charleston apartment.

She worked her Friday shift at Alex’s Restaurant on Dorchester Road, then got a ride home with a customer. She missed her mother, who also worked at Alex’s, by just a few minutes.

Donna Parent talked to Brandy by phone a couple of hours later, and it was the last time she heard from her daughter.

She reported Brandy missing that weekend, but police did not investigate immediately. That’s not unusual — without any evidence of foul play, police are hesitant to go hunting for adults. Privacy rights and the like.

But Parent knew something was wrong and finally persuaded police to search Brandy’s apartment. They found her money and all her belongings there. It appeared she had stepped out with every intention of coming right back.

And since then, nothing.

Although Brandy said she had plans to see Lankford that day, he told police at the time that he’d had to work late and hadn’t stopped stop by. A couple of days later, North Charleston got an anonymous tip that Brandy had been seen getting into a truck with an ex-boyfriend.

Then the trail went cold.

Initially overlooked in the media circus surrounding Natalee Holloway’s disappearance, Brandy’s case has since been featured on national television. It is a tragic, compelling mystery — and one that, statistically, could remain unsolved forever.

But local law enforcement hasn’t given up.

Thorough police work

Lankford has been sitting in jail for two years now, awaiting trial on a separate criminal sexual misconduct charge.

North Charleston police Sgt. Ron Lacher, who’s been working Brandy’s case since 2010, took advantage of Lankford’s availability and interviewed him several times.

Eventually, Lacher’s persistence paid off. Lankford revealed several facts that contradicted statements he made to the police in the weeks after Brandy disappeared.

For instance, Lankford initially told police he was working late that night, but now concedes he visited Brandy in the hours before she disappeared.

He also admitted to being the source of anonymous tips to police, calls in which he tried to implicate another of Brandy’s ex-boyfriends.

Those inconsistencies were enough for obstruction of justice charges, and Lankford pleaded guilty rather than face the prospect of a 10-year sentence. He got two years and another two years of probation. He will remain in jail until he goes to trial on the sexual misconduct charges next year.

Lankford’s admission certainly doesn’t prove homicide (which is how police are treating Brandy’s case), but it provides new perspective — and new life — to the investigation. The police ask that anyone who might have information to please get in touch.

After all this time, the odds of solving the mystery of Brandy’s disappearance should be slim. But Lacher, North Charleston police and the solicitor’s office are trying to buck that trend, give Brandy’s family some hope for closure … and justice. That is noble work.

And it should give everyone a little faith.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.