Unsolved Florida: Kelley Brannon case details - Pt. 2
LIVE OAK, Fla. (WCTV) - It’s a question being asked across the nation, catching the attention of thousands of online web sleuths in chat groups, podcasts, and YouTube videos: What happened to Kelley Brannon?
Brannon and her boyfriend, Eddie Emerson, were ready to start fresh last July. They packed up their things in Micanopy, just south of Gainesville, each in their own car headed up Interstate-75 toward Detroit, Michigan, where they planned to buy a home.
But, only a short drive into their journey, Eddie had car trouble, landing them about an hour outside Tallahassee in Live Oak. July 15, 2020, outside the Sunshine Inn is the last time and place Brannon was heard from.
“This is the kind of town that you would describe as, ‘people know each other here,’” Captain Jason Rountree with the Live Oak Police Department told WCTV’s Katie Kaplan.
It’s a rural town just a short drive from the Florida-Georgia border. The last census shows a population of roughly 7,000, but Rountree said the number of cars that pass through each day can swell to five times that number.
“Live Oak is situated at a crossroads between two U.S. highways, U.S. 129 and U.S. 90, which cross in the heart of downtown,” he explained. “It’s also sandwiched between the crossroads of I-75 and I-10.”
That’s how the couple ended up there last July.
In an interview with Emerson just days after Brannon vanished, he told WCTV the story of what he said happened.
“We were driving up, and my transmission burned up about an hour and a half up the road,” described Emerson.
While waiting for the car to be fixed, the couple had spent several nights camping out, but after a few days, Emerson said they decided to “get a hotel room” for a night.
The pair checked into Room 70 at the Sunshine Inn, a low-cost motel off one of the main arteries into town, and quickly began to argue.
“She was crying,” Emerson said. “She was miserable. She was drunk. I didn’t comfort her. I just took her keys off her waist and I said, ‘you can’t drive right now, alright?’”
Emerson admitted to locking Brannon outside the motel room.
“I just went back in the room. Stupidly, I just went back in the room,” Emerson recalled.
Screenshots of the texts they exchanged that night show the argument went on for hours as well as Brannon threatening to leave.
“She’s texting me and calling me, and I’m answering and hanging up because it’s just mean stuff. She’s getting drunker and drunker. I’m just trying to sleep,” said Emerson.
Surveillance from the motel that night shows Brannon walking through the parking lot in the hours before she disappeared. A final voicemail from her was left on Eddie’s phone just before 1 a.m. might have included a clue to her whereabouts.
“You know, I’m sick of your abuse.....Oh, I’m getting in a car right now. Bye,” said Brannon before the voicemail ended with a click.
Detectives, who have pulled phone records, said those words 10 months ago are the last known from her.
“That is essentially what we believe to be the last contact that Kelley had with anybody that we know of or have evidence of,” said Rountree.
Rountree is the lead investigator on the case and says several people at the motel reported seeing Brannon around that time walking away from it along the highway toward downtown with her guitar slung over her shoulder.
Her purse, ID, and credit cards were left behind. Rountree said that there are unverified reports that her cell phone last synced with Google about an hour after that voicemail was left in the area of Dowling Avenue, less than a mile away from the Sunshine Inn. But, there’s been no activity since.
The couple has a rocky past with domestic violence issues in Gainesville, which is documented by court records, police reports, and 911 calls.
“It was very toxic and it just became more and more concerning for me and for a lot of her friends,” said Brannon’s friend of more than 30 years, Cheryl Speak.
Despite their sordid past, Emerson maintains he had nothing to do with her disappearance. When asked, “Did you do anything to harm her?,” Emerson replied, “Absolutely not.”
Emerson said that he woke up around 9:30 a.m. the next day, checked out of the motel, and started looking for Brannon. He spent the next few days doing the same thing.
“I’m looking around town. Nobody has seen her. Nobody has a clue,” Emerson said in last summer’s interview.
Emerson even drove back to Gainesville to search for Brannon before driving home to his parent’s house in Massachusetts in Brannon’s car.
“Eddie Emerson is a person of interest in the case,” noted Capt. Rountree.
Rountree said that because of their relationship and their history of violence, Emerson is being looked at, but that he has also been cooperative with the investigation- undergoing an estimated 13 hours of interviews with police and posting most of the “missing” flyers that are now fading around town.
Roundtree said there are also several other people who are under suspicion. Live Oak PD has been involved with more than 15 organized ground searches, using professional agencies, cadaver dogs, and drones.
Meanwhile, while another team of investigators has also been working the case. Brannon’s friends hired a pair of former law enforcement officers-turned licensed private investigators. They invited WCTV inside their “war room” at their Gainesville headquarters.
“Somebody in Live Oak knows what happened to Kelley,” said private investigator Michael Thompson.
Thompson said his team looked into Emerson’s past, retraced the couples’ steps leading up to her disappearance, and tracked down several alleged sightings of Brannon in South Georgia in the months after she vanished.
“It wasn’t her,” said Mike Pitts who traveled to South Georgia and spoke to potential witnesses.
They believe the key to what happened lies in the details of what the couple did in the days leading up to July 15.
“I don’t believe somebody came off of I-10 and scooped Kelley up,” said Thompson. “I believe she ran across somebody that she knew or was familiar with.”
While the couple had waited for Emerson’s car to be fixed, they made the rounds around Live Oak, visiting the Little Bar, getting their picture drawn at The Frame Shop and Gallery Shop, becoming acquainted with people at Armando’s Mexican Restaurant, and getting the vehicle serviced at Reece’s Auto Shop, which is just around the corner from that alleged final late-night phone ping.
And, there are, of course, several other people who had been staying at the Sunshine Inn that night.
“The issue with this case is there is a large number of possibilities that are open and that makes this case difficult,” admitted Rountree.
As time drags on, friends of Brannon’s have seen hope halt. Initially, they thought she might just be blowing off steam, but now they fear the worst.
“Something happened,” said Speak between tears. “Something happened and somebody knows something.”
Brannon’s only family is an elderly mother who lives in New Hampshire. Her friends describe her as “devastated,” but that she still hopes to see Brannon waiting on the front porch every time she pulls up to the house. Brannon has now uncharacteristically missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day, and her own birthday earlier this month.
The key to the case could be finding her guitar, a left-handed Fender Stratocaster with a sunburst finish. It has a unique feature- the branding is sanded off the headstock. Something Eddie said Brannon did herself.
MISSING PERSON DETAILS:
- Kelley Brannon, 37 years old (36 at time of disappearance)
- White female
- Brown eyes and black hair with gray streaks
- Height: 5′4″
- 130 Lbs
There is a $1,000 reward being offered by Suwanee County Crimestoppers. Anyone with any information can call 386-208-(TIPS) 8477.
Have a tip about this case? Contact Live Oak Police at 386-362-2222
Have an Unsolved story idea in North Florida or South Georgia? Email Katie at Katie.Kaplan@WCTV.TV.
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