An attorney believes that an Ohio State medical student who has been missing for more than three years is alive, he told a private investigator in an e-mail.
Brian Shaffer has been missing since April 1, 2006. He was last seen on surveillance video outside the Ugly Tuna Saloona on the South Campus Gateway at 1:55 that morning. One of the last people to see Shaffer that night was William “Clint” Florence, one of Shaffer’s best friends.
Attorney Neil Rosenberg represents Florence, who has refused at least two requests to take polygraph tests during the investigation of Shaffer’s disappearance. Florence is the only person who has refused to take a polygraph, said Kevin Miles, director of the Central Ohio Crime Stoppers.
Private investigator Don Corbett, who has worked on the case for free for the Shaffer family, said Florence refused his request to take a polygraph as recently as last September. Corbett said Florence also refused a police request to take a polygraph soon after Shaffer went missing. The Columbus Division of Police did not respond to phone calls last week seeking comment about Florence’s refusal to take a polygraph.
In the e-mail he sent to Corbett on Sept. 22, 2008, Rosenberg said: “If Brian is alive, which is what I’m led to believe after speaking with the detective involved, then it is Brian, and not Clint who is causing his family pain and hardship. Brian should come forward and end this.”
Rosenberg said last week in a phone interview that as far as he is concerned the case is closed, and he declined to comment about the investigation or the e-mail he sent to Corbett.
In an e-mail last week, Florence said: “While I appreciate any effort in trying to determine what happened to Brain [sic] that night, I must decline your request. ANY and ALL questions you have for me should be directed to my attorney, Neil Rosenberg.”
Florence, 32, works for the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Vanderbilt University Medical School, where he is a postdoctoral fellow, according to a Vanderbilt Web site.
Corbett said he doesn’t know which detective Rosenberg was referring to in the e-mail. However, he believes it is one of three men at Columbus Police: detective Andre Edwards of the Physical Child Abuse Section, Sgt. John Hurst of the Physical Abuse Section and Deputy Chief Antone Lanata of the Investigative Subdivision.
All three did not respond to repeated requests last week for an interview about whether they told Rosenberg they believe Shaffer is still alive.
Rosenberg also said in his e-mail to Corbett that, “The only burning issue with the authorities remains Clint’s refusal to be polygraphed. That decision was based on my recommendation and advise [sic] to Clint, not because he is, has been misleading or has something to hide, but that he simply has nothing new to tell and was totally up front and honest with them from the beginning. As far as Clint is concerned, this matter is closed.”
In a telephone interview Friday, Meredith Reed, a friend of both Shaffer and Florence who was with them that night, said she took and passed a polygraph about a month after Shaffer disappeared.
She said she assumes the Columbus Police asked her to take the test.
In fact, everyone who was asked to take a polygraph passed it, Miles said.
But not everyone who knew Brian or who had seen him the night he went missing was asked to take a polygraph.
The last time Shaffer was seen on surveillance video outside the Ugly Tuna Saloona he was with two women, Brightan Zatko and Amber Ruic. Ruic said in a phone interview Friday that she was never asked to take a polygraph.
Brian’s brother, Derek, is the last surviving member of the immediate family. His father, Randy, died on Sept. 14, 2008, when a tree limb fell on him outside his house during a windstorm. Derek’s mother died of cancer three weeks before Brian went missing.
In a phone interview last week, Derek Shaffer said he was not asked to take a polygraph but that his father took and passed one. Derek Shaffer also said he thinks it’s odd that Clint has refused to take any polygraphs.
“As soon as the detective started getting involved, that’s when he pretty much had no contact with anybody,” Derek Shaffer said. “I’ve always thought he definitely knows something – just won’t come forward with it.
“If Brian did take off somewhere, if that is the case, we just always had a strong feeling that Clint would possibly know that.”
Shaffer’s girlfriend at the time, Alexis Waggoner, also thinks Florence knows something he doesn’t want to tell. But her opinion regarding Shaffer’s whereabouts now is different than Derek’s.
“I don’t think he’s alive,” Waggoner said. “I can’t imagine he would have just done that.”
Alexis Waggoner’s father, Tom Waggoner, participated in the search for Shaffer in 2006. During that period he became acquainted with Florence.
“The gist of my perspective on Clint Florence is that I think that basically all roads to making any progress on the case on Brian Shaffer lead through Clint Florence,” Tom Waggoner said.
There is still a $25,500 reward for information leading to Shaffer’s whereabouts, Miles and Corbett said last week.
Drew Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]