UNSOLVED GEORGIA: Investigators re-examine case surrounding missing South Georgia father
Brandon Helms has been missing for nearly seven years.
LANIER COUNTY, Ga.- A South Georgia father has now been missing for nearly seven years.
Brandon Helms, 42, vanished on December 14, 2015. Some believe it was suicide, but his body has never been found. In 2022, investigators announced they were reactivating the case.
In the years that have passed, Brandon Helm’s family has been torn apart and his loved ones were left searching for answers.
“I’ve got a lot of time to think,” said Todd Helms. “It drives you crazy and then it makes you angry. Then it makes you depressed.”
Todd said it is in the most mundane moments during work at his landscaping business that he thinks about his little brother the most.
“I miss hearing his voice,” he told reporter Katie Kaplan. “You just don’t leave.”
Brandon was born and raised in the small, south Georgia town of Cordele. A charming place rooted in southern values. Something Brandon took after.
“Brandon was a loving, kind, sweet little baby,” recalled his mother, Gail Helms. “He was a hard worker when he got older. He loved his family.”
Brandon grew up along a stretch of country road on land that has been in his family for generations. His family said he spent countless hours fishing at the family pond.
“He would always take his girls fishing when he would come,” added his sister, Kelley Helms.
Brandon’s first job was at 16 in the print room of the local newspaper just across town. According to his father Roger, the position at the Cordele Dispatch started as a means for a paycheck but quickly became a passion.
“He loved it. He ate it. He slept it,” he said.
Brandon eventually went on to work for several south Georgia newspapers. The industry was a place that would lead him to his best friend, Monty Kilcrease, and eventually to Misty.
“When he found Misty, he thought he had found the world,” recalled Gail, as she sifted through old photographs on a sweltering afternoon this past May.
Brandon and Misty were married in the Summer of 2003 and welcomed two little girls over the years. The family said Ansley and Kaitlyn were the apples of their father’s eye.
“Their daddy loved them,” said Todd. “I’m telling you- loved them.”
Brandon eventually relocated the family to Thomasville for an opportunity at the Thomasville Times-Enterprise, but after he was laid off, he fell into a deep depression and started to drink, said Todd.
“It’s just like, like a sinkhole, that once he got in, it just kept sucking him in and sucking him in,” said Todd.
Eventually, Misty became “tired of it” and the couple separated, said Todd’s wife Shelly.
Brandon moved out of the family home and into Monty’s house near Lakeland in Lanier County, which is a little more than an hour’s drive outside Thomasville.
It was a rainy Monday afternoon about ten days before Christmas in 2015 when the Sheriff’s Office was summoned to the house off Teeterville Highway.
“It was Monday about 11:15. I got a call from what was then Brandon’s wife,” recalled Gail. “She said, ‘We can’t find him. He won’t answer the phone.’”
According to Misty, Brandon could not be found after sending some disturbing text messages to his estranged wife, said Shelly.
“She said, ‘Brandon, we’ll see you Christmas morning,’ and he said,`No, you won’t. I won’t be here,’” she said, as she recalled what Misty had told her.
“Kind of alarming to us is the fact that he did not take his vehicle,” said Chief Deputy Stryde Jones of the Lanier County Sheriff’s Office. “He did not take his personal belongings with him.”
Jones retired as a Captain with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office on February 1 and started in his role with Lanier County on February 2, when he took over the Brandon Helms case.
According to the case file, the responding deputies immediately noticed Brandon’s red pick-up truck parked in the driveway. It still had half a tank of gas. Brandon had also left his coat, cigarettes, and cell phone behind.
“When somebody is intending to leave, there are certain items that they usually carry with them,” said Jones. “Brandon didn’t carry those items with him. So that, you know, kind of lends itself to create suspicion with us.”
Search and rescue dogs were called out almost immediately but did not find anything. It is a day that Brandon’s parents will never forget.
“They had the tracking dogs out,” recalled Roger. “They found no place that he had stepped off that property.”
The home was only visually inspected the day Brandon went missing. It was not searched forensically by a crime scene team for roughly three years, said investigators. The initial handling of the case is something that has frustrated Brandon’s family.
“Just too many unanswered questions from the start of this thing,” said Todd.
It was not until a year had passed and a candlelight vigil was held outside Morningside Baptist Church, the same church where Brandon was baptized as a child and married as a young adult, that the investigation took a different turn.
“Maybe we can get some leads and help this family get closure,” said Jessica Taylor, at the time.
Taylor was the president of a nonprofit called ‘Faithfully Found,’ and helped to organize the 2016 vigil. It had been an entire year without a sign of Brandon. No phone calls. No sightings. No movement in his bank account.
“Concern built into, ‘Maybe Brandon didn’t just walk away and leave,’” said investigator Billie Jo Slaughter.
Slaughter now works for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, but back in 2017, she was an investigator and crime scene technician with the Lanier County Sheriff’s office. That is the year she took over the case.
She said she started back at the beginning, looking at the hours before Brandon disappeared and the place he was last seen- the home off Teeterville Highway.
“I’m not sure at this point that we can disclose exactly what was found in the search, but there were some things of concern,” she said.
Slaughter said the agency collected several samples, which were sent out to the crime lab at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. It has been roughly four years and they are still waiting on the results.
“It’s a slow process,” Slaughter added.
She also had the surrounding farmland, forest, and old wells searched with cadaver dogs. A dive team was even brought in to scan nearby ponds, but it was all to no avail. Brandon was nowhere to be found.
“We have literally searched everywhere you could search around Brandon’s last location and haven’t been able to find him,” said Slaughter.
She is convinced he is not in the area.
Meanwhile, a local man who owns most of the surrounding property gave WCTV a look around. He did not want to be identified but said the farmland is methodically burned every few months. If Brandon’s body was nearby, he believes it would have been found.
The Fall will mark seven years since Brandon disappeared and there are still no answers for Brandon’s loved ones. His family cannot help but wonder: if Brandon hurt himself, where is he and why hasn’t he been found?
“For Brandon to up and disappear without any type of coat, sweater, jacket on that cold dreary, rainy day? No. There’s too many unanswered questions,” said Todd.
“If you commit suicide, you can’t bury yourself,” said Shelly.
Besides, Brandon’s family believes he loved his girls too much to hurt them. It was something he had even said to his own father shortly before he disappeared.
“He said, ‘No, I wouldn’t do that and leave my daughters,’” said Roger, recalling one of the last conversations he had with his son.
Misty tends to disagree.
She did not respond to WCTV’s attempts to contact her, but dozens of court documents that were pulled from the Thomas County Courthouse tell what she believes may have happened.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal ideation or a personal crisis, dial 988 for free support and someone to talk to.
In a filing to have Brandon declared dead, Misty told the court she believes he committed suicide. She listed his chronic depression, struggles with alcohol abuse, and several suicidal texts, including one shortly before he disappeared.
Misty had Brandon declared as soon as Georgia law allowed. Court documents stated that she wanted financial assistance and closure for her daughters in the sense that he did not abandon them.
However, it was an act that went against his family’s wishes. They said they were concerned it would impede the investigation.
“We don’t want Brandon declared dead because we want to find out what’s happened,” explained Todd.
Brandon’s best friend and roommate Monty was the last person to see him, said Jones.
According to Slaughter, Monty told the sheriff’s office that he and Brandon had been drinking together and shooting guns near the home the day before he disappeared. At some point, they started arguing, said Slaughter.
“There was some disagreements and arguments between them on Sunday,” she said.
Slaughter would not comment on what the arguments were about but added that Monty told investigators that Brandon went to sleep Sunday night and was still there in the morning when he left for work. However, some details he provided have changed during subsequent interviews, she said, without elaborating.
Through the Lanier County Sheriff’s Office, Monty declined to be interviewed for the story. However, Jones said he has cooperated with the agency and that investigators have interviewed him multiple times.
In addition, Brandon’s family said that Monty filed the initial missing person report with the Sheriff’s Office and even spearheaded a search in the days after Brandon vanished.
At this point in time, the Lanier County Sheriff’s Office said they can’t be sure what happened.
“We can’t rule anybody in or out at this point because we just simply do not know,” Jones said.
Brandon’s family has been left with many unanswered questions.
“Here we are, right now, not knowing anything any more than what we did on the first day,” said Roger.
The relationship between Misty and Brandon’s family has since soured.
“I haven’t had any contact with Misty in three years,” said Gail.
“I miss the giggling and the laughter of my granddaughters,” said Roger. “We would want them to know that our love for them has not changed one iota.”
The family is heartbroken, but still holding on to hope that something, somehow will bring Brandon home.
“Just about every day, I look out that window and say, ‘He’s going to walk around that corner.”
The Lanier County Sheriff’s Office said they are hoping new technology or someone from the public can help make a breakthrough.
Brandon Lee Helms was last seen at a home on Teeterville Highway near Lakeland in Lanier County. He would be 49 years old today. He stands 5′11′' and weighed roughly 145 pounds at the time of his disappearance. His family says he may be recognized by his thin, receding hairline and slight hitch in his gait due to a knee problem.
Anyone with information should call the Lanier County Sheriff’s Office at (229) 482-3545.
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