Brandi Stahr Missing Texas Student Found After 7 Years

Brandi Stahr, whose disappearance from Texas A&M in 1998 sent off a massive nationwide search and press explosion, has been found alive and working in Kentucky. She was apparently hiding from her family because of a poor grades.

Missing Texas Student Found After 7 Years (AP)

Photo: Brandi Star Missing Texas A&M student found after 7 yearsA Texas A&M University student who had been feared murdered after disappearing nearly seven years ago has been found alive and working in Kentucky, according to authorities. Brandi Stahr went missing in October 1998, and police spent hours searching for her body in wooded areas. They questioned a serial rapist and murderer about her just hours before he was executed last year.

But a telephone tip led investigators to Florence, Ky., where Stahr has been working for the last five years at a Sam’s Club, said Texas Ranger Frank Malinak. “We thought we were dealing with a missing persons case,” Malinak said. “But, in actuality, we were dealing with a person who did not want to be found and was in hiding.” Stahr, 27, hid from her family after she and her mother, Ann Dickenson, got into an argument over bad grades she received during her sophomore year and her family stopped paying for school.

For the last five years, Stahr worked under her real name, using her Social Security number. But police said they were unable to locate her that way because they don’t have access to IRS records.

Dickenson and Stahr haven’t reunited yet, but have talked on the phone. Stahr told her sister the family should not bother visiting, but her mother said nothing will stop her. “We’re going. I’m going. Even if I have to sit out in a (Sam’s Club) parking lot to see her,” Dickenson said.

Although Stahr committed no crime in her disappearance, investigators spent a lot of money and time looking for her, Malinak said. “The responsible thing to do would have been to let someone know you’re OK,” Malinak said. “There are going to be people expending man-hours and effort, trying to find a missing person.”

No kidding. This makes Jennifer Wilbanks, the Runaway Bride, look considerate by comparison.

Above photo from Texas Department of Public Safety Missing Persons. The photo, obviously, is from at least seven years ago. No word on what she looks like now.

Moody couple’s missing daughter found alive and well in Kentucky (Waco Tribune, May 27)

Ann Dickenson’s heart sank when she saw a Texas Ranger, two deputy U.S. marshals and a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper standing near the principal’s office at Moody High School Wednesday afternoon. Her daughter, Brandi Stahr, had been missing without a word or a trace since October 1998. Although Dickenson was reluctant to entertain such dark thoughts, she says that deep down, she gave up hope about three years ago of ever seeing her daughter alive again. In fact, she and Brandi’s stepfather Ken Dickenson were preparing to have Brandi declared legally dead in October and planning to cash in Brandi’s life insurance policy, Ken Dickenson said. So when Texas Ranger Sgt. Matt Cawthon put his hand on her shoulder and told her that they needed to find a quiet office to talk, Dickenson braced for the worst. “Matt sat me down and got a hold of my hand and said, “I told you we would never quit looking for Brandi.’ I said, ‘She’s dead, isn’t she?’ He said, ‘No, she’s alive and well and living in Kentucky.’ Well, I just fell completely apart,” Dickenson said.

Brandi, a Moody High graduate who made good grades and played basketball and volleyball, has been living in Florence, Ky., and working at a Sam’s Club there for the past five years, her mother said. Dickenson said she talked to her daughter, now 27 and unmarried, on the phone for about 90 minutes Wednesday. Dickenson says she and other family members are going to see Brandi in a couple of weeks when their recreational vehicle is repaired.

Before that, Dickenson’s last words to her daughter had been “I love you,” after they argued on the telephone about Brandi’s college grades and exorbitant credit card charges in May 1998.

Cawthon promised Dickenson in March 2001 when he agreed to look into Brandi’s disappearance that he would never stop looking for the missing Texas A&M University student. Investigators spent “hundreds of hours” on the case, Cawthon said, searching wooded areas with dogs, talking to former roommates and boyfriends, putting Brandi’s story in prison newsletters hoping that someone there would come forward with information and tracking down numerous leads. Cawthon even interviewed serial rapist and convicted murderer Ynobe Matthews, four hours before Matthews was to be executed in January 2004, to see if he would confess to murdering Brandi and lead them to her body. Cawthon left convinced that Matthews had nothing to do with Brandi’s disappearance.

In the end, it was an anonymous tip to the DPS Missing Persons Clearinghouse that led authorities to Brandi. The caller had seen information about Brandi on the clearinghouse Web site and said she was living in Florence, Ky., about 20 miles south of Cincinnati.

An amazing thing to put one’s family through.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Charlie (Colorado) says:

    Now think of what her family must have put her through.

  2. Jim Henley says:

    Heh. On first reading that headline I’m wondering where the paper gets off calling her parents “moody.” I mean, if my daughter disappeared for seven years I’d be moody too, y’know? But I get it now.

  3. FireWolf says:

    I think the first thing we shouldn’t do is judge the daughter for what happened. We don’t know what that social structure was at her family, I have seen alot of neurotic family relationships in my time and to say that what she was was wrong may not be an accurate judgement on our part. While in any normal family relationship what she put her parents thru could be considered mean, and worthy of removing one from any type of inheritance, but it could very well be that Brandi’s mom is a zealot, and perhaps for her “bad grades” means b+. Or heck, even a C. LOL You and I do not know what happened in that family.

  4. Brian J. says:

    Felony charges! Felony charges! Certainly we, the outraged people and prosecutors who serve us and want higher office, can find some felony.

    Aren’t bad grades against the law yet?

  5. Creatrix says:

    Actually, FireWolf, the article says, “But the A’s and B’s turned to D’s and F’s, and Brandi stopped going to class. She wouldn’t return phone messages at her apartment and started dating someone that the Dickensons didn’t approve of. The Dickensons learned that they had been paying tuition for classes she wasn’t attending and rent for an apartment she wasn’t living in. She also rang up $26,000 in credit card debts, the Dickensons said. They told her she was through in College Station and offered to let her move back home and attend Baylor if she wanted to, Ken Dickenson said. Instead, she disappeared without a word. “She was so disappointed in herself for not being able to hack it in college,” Ken Dickenson said. “She was just ashamed of that fact. She just had so much pride that she didn’t think she could face everybody back home.”

  6. Maniakes says:

    Unlike the runaway bride, Ms. Stahr never called the police and claimed to have been kidnapped.

    Morally (and out of simple courtesy), she should have let people know that she was alive and well (for their peace of mind, and so the police would know not to waste resources looking for her), but when it comes down to it an adult in a free country has a right to disappear. Not knowing the details or the context of the argument that prompted her decision to hide, I am reluctant to judge her too harshly.

  7. Sven says:

    What a waste of police time and money! This girl should be punished just like the run-away bride. The resources spent trying to find her could have been better spent on combatting real crime, not trying to find a scared spoilt child!

  8. SoCal Lawyer says:

    There is a huge difference between this case and the Runaway Bride. The Runaway Bride made a false statement to police regarding a kidnapping that never occurred and, as reported by some news sources, even went so far as to submit to a rape exam. Had the Runaway Bride never made a statement to the police, no charges would have ever been made.

  9. Nancy Irving says:

    What kind of sick people take out a life insurance policy on a twenty-year-old kid with no dependents?

    I’ll bet they’re really peeved they won’t be able to collect on it…

  10. Jufray says:

    This IS a run-away-bride scenario…
    with just a SEVEN year gap in MEDIA ATTENTION.
    (until now)

  11. Stormy70 says:

    Lots of people take out life insurance on minors to cover the cost of the burial in case the worst happens. A baby died in our family, and his burial was $14,000. It is smart financial planning to insure your dependant children.

  12. bryan says:

    A baby died in our family, and his burial was $14,000.

    That is flippin’ ridiculous.

    For those who say “don’t blame the daughter, don’t judge the daughter,” sorry, but I’m full well blaming her. As an adult, she could have simply told her parents she was leaving, and don’t bother looking for her. She could have let someone know that she was alright. As it was, she didn’t just put her family through hell, but she wasted a lot of tax dollars and time.

    She deserves all the scorn she’s going to get. And from what we can tell, she wasn’t going to tell anyone either. Somebody else had to turn her in. What a witch.

    Part of being an adult means taking some sort of responsibility for your actions. I have family members who’ve been bitter enemies for a number of years. Never spoken to each other, didn’t know where each other were for years at a time. But they didn’t just disappear and leave everyone thinking they’d been killed.

  13. Stephanie says:

    In response to Nancy Irving – my mother is not a sick person, however, according to you, since she took a life insurance policy out on me when I was very young, she is. It is obvious to me that you have NO conception on how much it can cost to bury someone. What a shame you feel that you are an expert to something you know nothing about.

  14. Heidi says:

    Nancy Irving,

    I don’t see where it says they took out a life insurance policy on her. Are you reading something I don’t see?

  15. jacquie says:

    There is no doubt that public sentiment will not be with the young lady. I would not be at all surprised if she bolts again, before her family and the media get to her.

  16. outsider says:

    She was disowned, she did not disown her family

  17. outsider says:

    in response to sven…there was never a large police search for her, in fact her parents did not even report her missing for many weeks, they had refused to speak to her for months before mostly because she was dating a black man at the time of her disappearence. She wasn’t trying to hide from anyone, she thought that no one would care if she left. In fact the last thing her parents said to her after they cleaned out her entire apartment and took her car while she was at work was “if you try anything we will call the police.”

  18. an angry person says:

    She ran up thousands of dollars in debt…not even including all the wasted tution her parents paid for. They had every right to take her car away, and be mad at her for many other things that whom she chose to date.

    She deserves absolutely no sympathy…especially since she’s telling her family not to visit her now that “she’s mad about the media coverage”.

    What a selfish, spoiled little brat. Seven years! Too bad Sam’s Club can’t fire her for having a lack of human decency! Ugh…and I thought the Wilbanks case made me angry! 🙁

  19. Dawn says:

    All of my kids have a life insurance policy – when they get older they can borrow against it..What do you mean thats sick? We buried my brother and father at the same time..Do you have 20,000$ laying around? Get a life or look into the real world…
    Also – She is very selfish! Her parents grieved for her for years..My cousins live by Moody and that family never gave up. The mom had stated in out local newspaper that they were ready to cash out the insurance…Wouldn’t you? They had a small memorial service for her..She is selfish plan and simple…It never once said ANYWHERE becuase her boyfriend was black..What do u people sit around and make stuff up? GAWD…grow up…

  20. good guy says:

    This story should serve as a warning to parents. Trying to control your child’s life through financial leverage is wrong. If you think it’s OK to manipulate your own kid in such a cynical way, you’d better be prepared for what the consequences might be.

    Everyone deserves respect for their own freedom. Snatching away financial assistance with the aim of strongarming them into doing what you want them to — even if you’re “right” — can backfire. If you’re really helping them out financially out of kindness, that help will be unconditional. But it’s not kindness to use your money as a weapon to impose your will on a child.

    I don’t blame Miss Stahr for her actions. Whether she was “spoiled” is beside the point — it’s not the amount of money involved that matters, it’s the drastic way her parents used it to try to manipulate her.

  21. Kami says:

    Her and parents guilty! Yes, she SHOULD’VE let them know she was alive and well. Maybe she thought she was nothing more than a disappointment, running up $26k on cards, etc.
    Why didn’t the parents keep closer track of her spending? Giving her a car, credit card with an obviously high limit, and paying for college, that’s just asking for trouble. Unless it was under the pretext she was to get a job out of college and then was 100% on her own. My dad paid for my college, but I damn well got good grades and could NEVER run up his cards like that, etc. I have more of a conscience. Didn’t this girl? guess they need major family counselling. Sounds like issues all the way around.

  22. Joan says:

    Give Brandi a break. We don’t know what went on in ’98. She may have felt threatened. My heart goes out to her. We’ve all gone thru bad times.

  23. outsider says:

    in reference to dawn’s statement…i am from moody and and i know her parents never had a memorial for her. i am not making up stories about her dating a black man, i knew the guy and i have known brandi and her family for 15 years. she had no idea that anyone was looking for her, why would she? they told her months before she left that they wanted nothing to do with her as long as she was dating him.

  24. Becky Gambell says:

    To Nancy Irving’s response. Every responsible parent has life insurance on their children. If something should happen who pays the funeral expenses??

  25. Feels Sorry says:

    It’s really sad how everyone jumps to conclusions after hearing only one side of the story. I admit, it may not have been the most logical thing to do- disappear without a trace and making your family worry. But I worked with this girl in college at PPRI, and I remember her in tears everyday after arguing with her parents on the phone. I remember her stranded up at the office because her parents took her car while she was working, and I remember her going home to an empty apartment because her parents had cleaned everything out. I don’t think her parents were acting in her best interests at all. Who in the world leaves their daughter without transportation and living arrangements just because they don’t like the color of their boyfriend’s skin? That is plain ignorance.

  26. TX says:

    to the outsider…
    How do you know she didn’t realize anyone was looking for her for the past 7 years? If you did are just as guilty..and did you give th police at that time this information…since you are a good friend… .If every kid that went to college and had an expense account, apartment and then you thanked them by racking up charges (could it be to get back at them for not liking her b-friend) and then leaving for 7 years to have them think she were dead…that is bullcrap..and there is no excuse for that … she could have at least contacted a friend (could have been u since you know all the details) ..and let her parents know that she was okay ….and she didn’t want to have any contact with them…and what about her sister….everyone should look at the big picture…if your kids were given those “extras” and all you had to do was study…keep your b-friend away from the folks…and study….and manage your account better. From reading the other messages…she wasn’t “stupid” but very irresponsible..and then there was a quote she still doesnt’ want to see them or they shouldn’t bother….(see crimelibrary for that article)…I would just to see if she were healthy…and be on my way if she feels that strongly about it… but the bottom line is that it is cruel for anyone to have a family think that something has physically happened to you when you just decided to leave…
    and for the comment by Feels Sorry….
    Who hasn’t cried after arguing with their parents? And where is it required that a parent has to purchase a vehichle for their children? Some kids actually work and get it on their own..and speaking of work…if she wasn’t handling her end of the deal ( b/c they probably had one ) ..why not remove the things they purchased..after she was working with you so you said..and she could have bought her own things and they can’t take what she has bought on her own… how long are people going to whine..and you did choose sides based upon the fact you worked with her…. and I know for a fact that I have chosen…the parents..and before you ask…I am black…and if her b-friend was the cause of her grades to go down (as reported)…I wouldn’t want my daughter to date him either…regardless of the color of his skin….I am sure there is more to this story and we will be hearing alot more…

  27. outsider says:

    To Tx…
    Why do you assume that she knew that her family thought something terrible had happened to her? As I stated before, she had no idea that they were looking for her. She didn’t change her name,she lived in the same home for the past 7 years, worked at the same job, filed taxes every year,etc. She wasn’t in “hiding” at all. The real question is if they were really looking, what took them so long? Not her parents, but the police and US Marshalls. Can’t you see how she would think that no one cared or was looking for her after all this time when she really wasn’t trying to hide at all? And why would she call her parents for any reason, she doesn’t owe them an explanation for her choices. They lost that privilege when they decided to stop being her parents. They turned her life upside down in just a couple of days over some guy. It wasn’t as if they warned her they were going to do all this if she didn’t straighten up, they just flew off the handle and took away everything including a college education. I hope they can see now that in the grand scheme of things a few bad grades and a boyfriend they don’t approve of isn’t worth losing your daughter over.

  28. Tracey says:

    To outsider:

    One of the reports I read was that she tried to hide herself even once she went away by not applying for a Tennessee driver’s license, and also by having utilities put in her roommates’ names. If the police can’t search tax records (privacy concerns), how on earth were they supposed to find her?

    I keep seeing you try to draw the blame away from Brandi by continuously bringing up the color of her then-boyfriend’s skin and her parent’s alleged bigotry. Brandi cost her parents tens of thousands of dollars not only in a blown education, but in enormous credit card bills, and an un-used but still paid for apartment. And gosh…they wanted her to go to Baylor instead of A&M…it’s not like they were “taking her education away”. (Besides…she flunked those classes all by herself. She took her OWN education away.) They had every right to be mad at her and take all her toys away. THEY paid for them.

    What an incredible sense of entitlement. It’s no wonder that she’s mad at the news coverage and now doesn’t want to see her parents. This is one of the most self-absorbed people I have had the displeasure to read about. It’s a shame that Sam’s Club can’t fire her for having a lack of human decency.

  29. No BS says:

    To outsider:

    From the arguments you presented it seems to me that you are trying to convince the readers that the parents are to blame. It really pissed me off reading your perspective of the incidents and the audacity you have questioning their efforts in looking for her. I witness with my very own eyes while watching the evening news A MOTHER IN PAIN over the disappearance of her daughter and PLEADING to anyone who new her whereabouts to come forth. I find it rather disturbing, since you are so “knowledgeable and well informed”, to see that you obviously knew her whereabouts…what kind of person are you to allow such pain to last for so long in the hearts of those who love her?

    It is apparent to me the company Brandi keeps is just as self-absorbed as she was the day she left.

  30. Her Sister says:

    First let me say that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. However – it’s the people like Outsider that think they know everything and doesn’t have the first clue.

    Outsider – I agree with Tracey – you are continually trying to play the race issue. But since you know everything then you know that this was not the only reason everything happened the way it did. I am not denying that my parents disapproved of her relationship or that maybe they could have handled that situation better. BUT the fact is she wasn’t doing well in school and they were wasting a lot money paying for everything and it was not being appreciated. I’m sorry – but if my son goes off the college and I am paying for it and he’s not holding up his end of the “deal” – I will do the same thing. So you can leave that “black boyfriend” reason alone cause you know there’s more to the story. One more thing Outsider – I’m married to a black man and my parents and I have a great relationship – so next excuse!!!

    And the part about taking everything and not letting her get anything from her apartment is not right either, she had plenty of time to get things.

    Then, where you said “She was disowned, she did not disown her family” – wrong! I am part of her family and I DID NOT disown her. But by her actions – I was disowned. I stayed in contact with her all the way up until two days before she “disappeared”, so what can you say to that? What did I do to her that she couldn’t contact me? I’ll tell you – NOTHING…..As a matter of fact I wanted her to live with me while she was trying to get back on her feet and go to school here. So you tell me – who disowned whom? Everyone is talking about the parents in this situation but what about the rest of her family that she didn’t have the “argument” with? Why didn’t we deserve to know something?

    Then, you say that they didn’t report her missing for weeks. Well, again, it goes to show that you don’t know what you are talking about. I’m the one that reported her missing. My parents didn’t know anything about it until after the fact because I didn’t want to upset them or worry them anymore than they were. And it was about a week and half before I did report her to the police for reasons that I had myself – besides the fact that I didn’t want to think the worst but knew I had to face it eventually. So if I was wrong for waiting, that’s my fault not my parents.

    And since you are from Moody – then you know how this has affected this family. And you are wrong and just as selfish as anyone that you didn’t say anything to my mom or any of us. Even if to tell us that she was ok and still didn’t want to talk to us. We could of handled that a lot better than not knowing. And if you are the person I think you are……you are SORRY! SORRY! And how it took years for Brandi’s where about to surface – your identity will also…… And outsider – I’ve already told Brandi everything that I am saying here – so you don’t need to…..

    And to those that read this – I do love my sister and I am VERY glad that she is ok…..

  31. Tracey says:

    So I guess the question remains…how did Brandi not know that she was being looked for if this Outsider person knew she was being looked for? Something doesn’t jibe here. And I agree with the above posters that commented on how sorry a person this “outsider” must be to have let Brandi’s family suffer for so long.

    Brandi’s sister…I’m sorry you had to go through this for all these years. It was the thought of the hurt inflicted on you and your family that made me so upset in the first place. Granted, I didn’t know the whole story, but I am sorry you had to read the things about your sister that have been written here by myself and others.

    I believe that you and your family have a lot of support out there. Just ignore the naysayers and go with your heart. I AM glad that your sister is safe, I’m just sad for you all that you had to deal with that pain for so very long. Hopefully your sister will come around and see what she has done…and if not, at least you know that she is safe and sound once again.

    My thoughts (and many others, I’m sure) are with you. 🙂

  32. Someone anonymous says:

    Nobody knows exactly went through Brandi Stahrs head before leaving – except for she herself.

    As a Non-USian I find it quite ridiculous that she lived under her own name and filed her tax reports, while the police thought she was missing – and did so for several years.

    While she put her famility through hell, we only have the medias view on why. Personally I think it shows quite a lot of willpower to drop your family, move, and get yourself a job somewhere else. If you want revenge – that’s a good way to do it! 🙂

    Some complain about the police spending lots of manpower on the case — I disregard that completely. You’ve got a fucked up system when the police can’t check for indications on whether she is alive or not.