March 31, 2004
VSP Forensics Team Studies Missing Teen's Car
By Gary E. Lindsley
A forensics team from the Vermont State Police lab in Waterbury began poring over a missing teenager's car Tuesday to obtain possible evidence, including whether foul play may have been involved in her disappearance.
Brianna Maitland, 17, of Sheldon, has been missing since she left the Black Lantern in Montgomery at 11:20 p.m. March 19. Her 1985 Oldsmobile sedan was found partially ensconced in an abandoned building off of East Berkshire Road, about a mile from the Black Lantern where she worked as a dishwasher.
Lt. Thomas Nelson, who is in charge of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation at the St. Albans barracks, said the forensics team began its investigation around 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Nelson said one of the things the team will be looking for is any sign of a struggle which may have occurred the night Maitland disappeared.
"The initial investigation did not show there was a violent struggle," he said. "We hope it's not a crime."
The Oldsmobile was discovered by a neighbor around 1:22 a.m. March 20, according to Nelson. The vehicle had sustained minor damage.
"It looked like it had been backed into the building," he said. "It did not look like a regular accident."
Kellie Maitland, Brianna's mother, also believes her daughter was not in an accident. She believes someone else was involved and forced the car into the building.
Maitland, and her husband, Bruce, are upset because they were never notified the car had been found, although Kellie is the registered owner.
The Maitlands were told by Brianna's friends March 23 she was missing and they filed a missing person report. State police did not mention anything about the car being found.
It wasn't until Thursday, nearly a week after Brianna's disappearance that investigators made a connection between the car and Brianna's disappearance, according to the Maitlands.
Nelson said he cannot say why the Maitlands were not notified March 20 when the car was found.
The reason could have been, according to Nelson, that the car was on private property and it didn't look like it had been involved in an accident.
"Oftentimes, people do leave their cars beside the road because maybe they had too much to drink," he said.
Also, it wasn't apparent to investigators Brianna had been the last person to drive the vehicle. However, the Maitlands said Brianna's paychecks were in the car.
Nelson said a couple of ground and air searches have been conducted of the area around the accident scene, although the area between the accident scene and the Black Lantern has not been searched. The searches have involved K-9 units and a helicopter from the Vermont National Guard.
"Troopers have done walks through the fields," Nelson said. "The search has been concentrated." So far, he said, nothing has turned up.
Regarding a woman's jacket which the Maitlands found in the area near the accident scene, Nelson said he does not believe there is any connection to Brianna's disappearance. However, he also said investigators haven't located the owner of the jacket yet.
When asked if investigators were looking at a possible connection between Brianna's disappearance in northern Vermont and the Feb. 9 disappearance of 21-year-old University of Massachusetts at Amherst nursing student Maura Murray, Nelson said they have not made any direct connection between the two cases.
"We never rule anything out," he said. "We will talk to (New Hampshire State Police)."
Murray, who is a resident of Hanson, Mass., disappeared the night of Feb. 9 after she had a car accident on a dark stretch of Route 112 in the town of Haverhill, N.H., about a mile east of the hamlet of Swiftwater.
Murray failed to negotiate a sharp left-hand curve past The Weathered Barn.
In another development, the Klaaskids Foundation, which was established in 1994 after Polly Klaas was abducted and murdered, has offered the Maitlands assistance searching for their daughter.
The foundation's search center director Brad Dennis has spoken with them about how he can assist them.
Dennis said the foundation also is working on contacting news groups nationally to help with finding Brianna.
Nelson said he would be more than willing to talk with people from the foundation's search center.
People with any information about Brianna, who is 5 feet, 4 inches tall, weighs 105 pounds, has hazel eyes and medium length brown hair, should call Vermont State Police at 802-524-5993.
Brianna has a nose stud in her left nostril and a faint scar in her left eyebrow.