The Deck - Brian Sullivan (3 of Spades, New York)

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Our card this week is Brian Sullivan, the Three of Spades from New York.

In 2007, 19-year-old Brian was enjoying his summer, hanging out and making music with

friends when one July day he vanished without a trace.

Over the past 15 years, law enforcement’s investigation has yielded answers to many

of the questions surrounding his disappearance, but not the one still weighing on his friends

and family daily.

Where is Brian?

I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.

On July 8, 2007, Barbara and Dan Sullivan were enjoying a warm summer afternoon at home

in Chile, New York, when they were startled by a knock on their door.

It was a deputy with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office asking to speak to their 19-year-old

son Brian, but Brian wasn’t home.

He hadn’t been for almost a whole day at this point.

Once he was unavailable, the deputy let Barbara and Dan know that their son’s red 95 Pontiac

Sunfire was found abandoned at the end of a dead-end street in the suburb town of Gates,

which is about a 10-minute drive northeast of the Sullivans’ home.

The deputy questioned Barbara and Dan about their son’s whereabouts, like when they had

last seen him.

They said 4 p.m. the previous day.

They said they saw him as they left to take their dog for a walk, but when they returned,

Brian and his car were gone.

The deputy then asked about his mental health history, but there was nothing worth telling

there either.

No history of any known issues.

What about drugs, he said.

And to their knowledge, Brian didn’t use hard drugs.

I mean, he smoked weed recreationally, but as far as they knew, that was it.

They didn’t know why Brian’s car would be on some random street in Gates, and they couldn’t

think of any friends that he even had in that town.

Part of the deputy’s report from that day reads, quote, Sullivan’s parents did not seem

overtly concerned with him not coming home.

They said it was not abnormal for him to go away for a day or so, end quote.

And it’s true that Brian’s abandoned car didn’t send Dan and Barbara spiraling because they

knew their son had been having car trouble recently, and he also had a habit of not coming

home for a day or two at a time.

They likely just assumed that his car died, he ditched it on that dead-end road, and then

went to stay with a friend or something.

But that night, Brian still didn’t come home, and he wasn’t answering his cell phone.

So the following day, Barbara and Dan went to Gates to get the car for him.

Just like the deputy said, it was at the end of a dead-end street, Leadington Avenue.

The car was locked with nobody inside, and peering through the windows, Barbara and Dan

couldn’t see much.

The car was locked, and they didn’t have a spare key, so they phoned a mechanic who came

and broke in using one of those Slim Jim tools.

Barbara and Dan then had the car towed back to their house, where they began cleaning

it out.

Inside, they found empty Burger King wrappers and a Burger King receipt, timestamped July

8th at 5.38 a.m.

That’s the same day that the deputy would later show up at their house.

Brian’s wallet was also in the car.

The wallet had his bank card, but it was missing his driver’s license.

Now even this isn’t that weird, because it was actually pretty common for Brian to not

keep his wallet on his person.

After going through Brian’s car, his parents had an uneasy feeling, but they weren’t going

to report their son missing just yet.

He was an adult, and there was nothing illegal about going off the grid for a day or two.

I mean, like they told the deputy, this kind of thing has happened before.

Brian would disappear for a few days, then show back up safe and sound.

And Barbara and Dan were holding tight to the hope that this was just another one of

those times.

But as the hours tick by with no sign of Brian, their hope begins to fade.

Over the next few days, Barbara and Dan reached out to Brian’s closest friends and relatives,

anyone they could think of, to get the 411 on his whereabouts.

But no one had seen him since the wee hours of the morning on July 8th, the day that his

car was found.

By the time Wednesday rolled around, it had been four days since they’d seen or heard

from Brian.

And by now, they knew in their gut that something was terribly wrong.

With a lump in their throat, Barbara went to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office to

file a missing persons report for their son.

She told investigators about Brian’s car being found in Gates and how no one had seen

or heard from him in days.

She couldn’t think of any reason that he would want to run away.

She wasn’t on bad terms with him, and there was no recent problems at home or with any

of his friends that she could think of.

According to police reports, Barbara did say that Dan had given Brian an ultimatum recently.

He had to get a job or move out.

And the deadline for that was July 9th.

But according to later reporting by Rochester newspaper, The Democrat and Chronicle, Barbara

characterized the ultimatum as more of a joke than a serious warning.

And they actually teased him about counting down the days.

She said, quote,

We told him he had to get a job, but we weren’t fighting or anything.

We told him he had to get one in a week, but we didn’t say he had to move out if he didn’t.

End quote.

Barbara let investigators know that her son regularly used cannabis and alcohol, but police

reports don’t seem to indicate that he ever struggled with a substance use disorder.

It seems like it was just casual recreational use.

But other than that, she couldn’t think of anything that would possibly be related to

his sudden vanishing.

While the sheriff’s office was launching its own investigation into Brian’s disappearance,

Barbara and Dan were continuing theirs.

In the following days, they returned several times to Leadington Avenue where Brian’s car

was found and walked the nearby trails looking for any clues.

They even recruited friends and family to help in their searches.

But nothing turned up.

Here’s investigator Phil Trubia with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

He’s been involved in the investigation since its early days.

I believe that Barbara was just following her motherly instincts and just doing everything

she could to try and lead or to suggest to police that something more sinister was involved.

If it was in fact involved, other than, you know, just finding the car abandoned somewhere.

Since their search of Leadington Avenue found nothing, Barbara and Dan turned to technology.

They logged into Brian’s T-Mobile cell phone account.

And that’s when their hearts really sank.

His records indicated that his phone hadn’t been used since early in the morning on July

8th.

Barbara called the sheriff’s office to let them know about this discovery.

She also let investigators know that she’d done some snooping around at home and found

that all of Brian’s toiletries were still there, along with an uncashed $700 check made

out to him.

To her, this is more evidence that Brian didn’t just up and run away.

Barbara reiterated to investigators that her son wasn’t diagnosed with a mental illness

and he’d never tried to hurt himself.

So she thought suicide was off the table too.

Investigators at the sheriff’s office wanted to know more about Brian’s phone usage, particularly

who his last call was to and where it was made from.

So on July 13th, they reached out to T-Mobile and filed a request for his phone records.

And while investigators were waiting for those, other sheriff’s office personnel were headed

to the area where Brian’s car was found to launch a full-scale search for Brian.

Now the Gates Police Department had done a search of their own when Brian’s car was found

on July 8th, but this was the first official search after Brian was declared missing.

The sheriff’s office scoured the area on foot, even broke out the big guns, the K-9

unit, but nothing showed up.

Since nothing notable was found on Leadington Avenue, a deputy went to the Sullivans’ home

and searched there for clues.

He inspected Brian’s car and his bedroom for anything that Barbara and Dan might’ve missed,

but the search didn’t turn up anything helpful.

Later that same day, investigators heard back from T-Mobile.

They said that Brian’s phone hadn’t been on for the past two or three days, and his

last call was made at around 6 a.m. on July 8th.

And that call hit a tower in the Churchville area, which is just a few minutes outside

of Chi-Li.

And it was made to Tim McDonald.

That’s Brian’s longtime best friend.

Detectives got a hold of Tim and asked him if he knew anything about Brian’s whereabouts.

He said that the last time he talked to Brian was around 10 p.m. on July 7th.

Tim was hanging out with his girlfriend when Brian called and asked him what he was doing.

They chatted a bit.

Brian told Tim that he was with a friend on his way to buy some cigarettes and that he’d

just been hanging out at Tim’s uncle’s house, watching a movie.

After Trubia told our reporting team that it seemed like Brian hanging out with Tim’s

uncle was actually a normal thing.

I mean, Brian and Tim were close enough that Brian often went to their family gatherings,

so it’s likely that this would have been nothing out of the ordinary.

Brian and Tim’s whole conversation that night was only a couple of minutes long, and that

was the last time Tim talked to him.

But it wasn’t the last time he heard from him.

Tim said that he had also received two voicemails from Brian early on July 8th.

The first message left was at around 3 a.m. and it was Brian saying, quote,

This is the realm.

This is the realm.

This is the realm.

End quote.

The second message left was around 6 10 a.m. and it was Brian saying, quote,

This is just a preview.

End quote.

Now, both of those to me are totally out there, but it’s actually not as weird as you think

when you dig in, because Tim said that those were lyrics to a song that he and Brian were

trying to write.

Investigators asked him what he thought happened to Brian, and he said that he wouldn’t put

it past him to just take off and change his identity.

Tim said that because of the recent pressure from Brian’s parents to get a job at first,

he thought he might have just taken off to prove a point.

But Tim said that he would have definitely called him by now just to let him know that

he was OK, but that call had never come.

So Tim now thought that something more serious might have happened to Brian.

After talking with Tim, investigators felt like they had a better idea of Brian’s personality

and habits, but they were no closer to finding him.

So they continued their investigation.

They went to the Burger King that the receipt in Brian’s car was from and talked to an employee

who remembered Brian coming through the drive through that morning.

They said Brian appeared to be alone in the car and they didn’t have any other helpful

information.

On July 13th, investigators were notified that Brian missed a probation appointment.

He was on probation for burglary and missing an appointment was something totally out of

character for him.

Detectives went and talked to his probation officer, who said that Brian had been doing

really well with his probation and showing up to all his check-ins.

But he did say something that raised some eyebrows.

He said that Brian was trying to get his probation transferred to Memphis, Tennessee, where his

sister lived.

But his sister says that she hadn’t seen or heard from Brian recently, so it seemed

like that wasn’t the reason for his sudden disappearance.

At this point, Brian had been missing almost an entire week and investigators felt like

they were no closer to finding him.

Over the next week, detectives kept returning again and again to the area Brian’s car was

found in in Gates.

They were conducting searches, expanding their perimeter, searching more and more, but all

of their searches turned up nothing.

They went knocking on doors in the area, asking if anyone had seen anything, but everyone

they talked to said they hadn’t seen anything suspicious.

On July 18th, Brian’s disappearance hit the news with a plea from his mother.

The Democrat and Chronicle quoted Barbara saying,

Come home.

Just come home.

We’re not mad.

About two weeks after Brian was last heard from, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office

got a promising tip.

A woman called in and said that she thought she’d seen Brian on July 23rd at a Wegmans

grocery store, which is a 30-minute drive south of Chi Lai.

Investigators went to the Wegmans and got security footage.

They found the man that the caller had seen, and it sure did look a lot like Brian.

In fact, it looked so much like him that investigators asked Brian’s parents to look at the footage

to see if they thought it was him.

But Barbara and Dan said that the man in the video wasn’t their son.

It was disappointing, but the very next day, investigators got another tip, and this one

was the biggest tip they’d received yet.

Someone called into Crimestoppers anonymously, saying that Brian had been stabbed to death

by a man named Derrick Murray.

The caller said Derrick also went by the nickname Black.

Since the tip was anonymous, there was no way to know if it was reliable or not, but

investigators weren’t taking any chances.

For days, investigators tried to track down this Derrick Murray guy.

They found some of his relatives and told them that they wanted to talk to Derrick about

the Brian Sullivan case, but the relatives claimed that they didn’t have any way to contact Derrick.

But apparently, someone knew how to get in touch with him, because the next day, investigators

got a call from Derrick himself.

He told detectives that he was willing to talk, and they could swing by the local barbershop

that he worked at to have a conversation.

Investigators wasted no time and headed straight there.

Now, detectives didn’t tell Derrick that someone had implicated him in Brian’s disappearance

or potential murder.

They just told him that someone had seen him with Brian shortly before he went missing,

and they just wanted to know if he had any information that could be helpful to their

investigation.

Derrick said that he knew Brian was missing, he’d actually seen his face on the news,

but he didn’t actually know Brian all that well, and he said he didn’t have any information

about his disappearance.

He said that they knew each other from a local bar called the Chai Lai Inn, and they’d hung

out to smoke and drink together before.

But beyond that, Derrick didn’t say he knew anything helpful.

But police weren’t buying it.

After meeting with Derrick, they went to his girlfriend’s apartment, where he had been

staying recently.

Detectives knocked on the door and his girlfriend answered, but she refused to let them come

inside and take a look around.

Detectives tried to talk to Derrick’s girlfriend a week later, but she was still uncooperative

and wanted nothing to do with the investigation.

Now detectives didn’t have enough probable cause for a search warrant at this point,

so they decided to move on.

But later that month, another tipster came forward, and this tip was also about Derrick.

The tipster said that he heard from a friend that Derrick and Brian were doing drugs together

one day when, for some reason, a fight broke out.

Derrick got so angry that he stabbed Brian to death, buried his body somewhere, then

paid someone $30 to dump the car.

He said that Derrick confessed to the murder to a man who we’re going to call Rex, and

then Rex then told someone else who told the tipster.

Now this sounds like a long game of telephone, so probably not a super reliable tip, but

this was the second time they’d heard Derrick’s name brought up, also the second time they

hear about him stabbing Brian.

So after talking with the tipster, investigators went to Derrick’s workplace to try and talk

to him again, but this time he wasn’t there.

And they got the impression it wouldn’t be easy to find him.

According to police reports, other employees of the barbershop told them that Derrick had

actually moved to Orlando about a week and a half or two weeks ago because of some problems

he was having, but they wouldn’t elaborate on what those problems were.

It’s unclear whether investigators tried to reach Derrick in Orlando, or if it was

even true that he moved there at all, but it seems likely because they didn’t hear

from him for a few months.

But that wasn’t the last time they heard his name.

In September, another tipster came forward and said a man named Rex told her that Derrick

killed Brian.

Rex said that Brian and Derrick were doing drugs together, Derrick got angry, so he hit

Brian in the head and killed him.

Now since two people say that they heard a story from Rex, investigators decide to

track him down to get the story straight from the horse’s mouth.

Later that month, they found Rex, and they asked him some questions about Derrick and

about Brian, but Rex said that he didn’t know anything.

He claimed that he never had any conversation with Derrick about Brian, and he flat out

denied having any knowledge about his disappearance.

Investigators went and talked to Rex again in October, but he still denied knowing anything.

And with that, the investigation went from a slow roll to a screeching halt.

While detectives were trying to keep Brian’s case from going cold, Barbara and Dan were

left picking up the pieces, hoping their son would come bursting through the front door

at any moment and everything would go back to normal.

They missed his personality and his jokes.

Investigator Trubia said Brian had this dry sense of humor and was known for being hilarious,

and he was also a talented, dedicated musician.

He liked all kinds of music.

He had recently, prior to going missing, he had ordered a bunch of audio producing equipment,

like music equipment, and was planning on trying his hand at creating music or producing

music.

He was into the rap genre at the time, and that was kind of what was driving him at his

age.

He was constantly writing down, like, his thoughts in little notepads that would pop

into his head, and he had all kinds of little notepads where he wrote down lyrics that he

thought were good.

It wasn’t until January of 2008, six months after Brian disappeared, that investigators

caught a break.

They got word that Derek was back in town working at a barbershop.

Investigators went to the barber, found Derek, and pulled him aside for a conversation.

And for the first time, they let him know that he was officially a suspect in their

investigation into Brian’s disappearance.

But once again, Derek denied any involvement or knowledge of Brian’s whereabouts.

Over the coming several months, investigators’ suspicions surrounding Derek grew.

More and more people came forward saying that Derek had confessed to murdering Brian.

They’d either heard it from someone else, or Derek himself had told them.

And every tipster’s story was virtually the same.

Derek and Brian were doing drugs together, some kind of fight broke out, and then Derek

stabbed Brian.

In June 2009, investigators tried going back to Derek’s girlfriend’s apartment, hoping

that she had a change of heart and would be willing to talk to them, maybe let them take

a look around.

But when they knocked on the door, they were greeted by a new resident, who said that she

had moved in around the end of April, maybe beginning of May.

They asked her if she noticed any bloodstains or unusual damage to the apartment when she

moved in.

And she said, you know what, there actually was something that I found really odd.

The new tenant said there was one large dark stain in the bedroom area, and she invited

detectives in to take a look at the stain for themselves.

And they agreed, it did look suspicious.

The new resident and the landlord agreed to let crime scene technicians come and collect

whatever they needed.

The technicians went and got samples from the stained carpet and some samples of dark

substance found on the bedroom wall.

They sent all of that off to the Monroe County Public Safety Lab for analysis, and the results

came back quickly for once.

No blood detected.

After that, the investigation seemingly hit a wall again.

In August 2009, someone thought they saw Brian working at a hotel in Niagara Falls.

Investigators asked the Niagara Falls Police Department to go check for Brian at the hotel,

and they actually found the man that the tipster was talking about.

According to police reports, the guy did look a lot like Brian, but he wasn’t Brian Sullivan.

Again, in April of 2010, someone called in another sighting of Brian, but this tip was

a bit different.

A woman who we’ll call Kendall told investigators that in 2008, she had taken in a person experiencing

homelessness who closely resembled Brian.

The man said that his name was Michael Alexis, but he’d been arrested once under the name

Samuel.

Kendall said that she lived with the man for about two months before he took off on a bus

to go to New York City.

Kendall gave photos of the man to investigators who then showed the photos to Brian’s family.

But once again, it wasn’t him.

Later in 2010, Brian’s case was featured in an episode of Psychic Kids on the A&E Network.

And that feature did generate a new tip.

A woman in North Carolina saw the episode and called the sheriff’s office saying that

she thought Brian might be an acquaintance of hers.

She gave police the guy’s Facebook page, and the profile picture, again, did pretty closely

resemble Brian, but sure enough, it wasn’t him.

Just another dead end.

By 2011, investigators were convinced Brian wasn’t out there living another life.

Something bad had happened.

So they renewed the search for his remains.

They expanded that search perimeter and searched in places that they hadn’t before, using

cadaver dogs.

And on July 30th, investigators thought they might’ve found something.

Along the railroad tracks beside Chile Avenue, investigators found a partial vertebra.

They were hopeful at first, but they quickly determined that it was animal remains, not

human.

But moments after finding that vertebra, about 10 feet from the tracks, two different cadaver

dogs indicated that they smelled possible human remains.

Searchers didn’t immediately see any remains, so they came back another day with the same

two dogs.

And again, they both indicated the scent of human remains in the same spot.

So a few more days later, detectives did a follow-up search with two dogs that hadn’t

participated in the previous searches, but neither of them indicated the smell of human

remains in that exact spot.

One of them seemed interested in an area about 40 yards away from the spot, and the other

was also interested in a spot like 15 feet away.

So investigators organized a thorough search of all of the areas.

And for hours, crews searched and searched, but no human remains were found.

Over the next few years, investigators honed in on Derek.

They knew in their gut that he had something to do with Brian’s disappearance, so they

started surveilling him.

On several different occasions, they staked out Derek’s workplace, hoping that they’d

see something that would at least be a piece of the puzzle that they needed to charge him.

Investigator Trubia was assigned to the surveillance unit at that time, and he went on several

of those surveillance details.

Even from afar, investigator Trubia got the feeling that Derek was hiding something.

My impression of Derek was that he was bearing a heavy burden.

He either made a horrible decision or was possibly defending himself, killed Brian Sullivan,

and wanted to be free of that burden, but was afraid to come forward to law enforcement.

That’s my opinion.

The surveillance didn’t stop at stakeouts.

The sheriff’s office put wires on confidential informants and had them go talk with Derek.

For security reasons, the sheriff’s office didn’t want to get into how many confidential

informants were used or what information they gathered.

But it was enough for police to be confident that Derek was their guy.

By summer 2016, they felt that they had probable cause to arrest Derek for Brian’s murder.

But without knowing where Brian’s remains were or knowing more specific details about

the murder, they knew prosecution would be virtually impossible.

So the sheriff’s office and the county DA’s office hatched a plan.

They had evidence to prove Derek was committing another crime, welfare fraud.

He was collecting welfare payments while also working at a barbershop and not disclosing

his wages.

So investigators decided that they would arrest Derek for that crime, and while they had him

in custody, they would interview him and try and figure out where he hid Brian’s remains.

The paperwork was all lined up for the arrest, and the plan was for all of this to go down

in August 2016.

But literal days before the arrest was planned, the unexpected happened.

On August 15th, Derek died of a heart attack at age 49.

Derek’s death must have been a crushing blow for investigators and Brian’s family,

because it meant that he could never be held accountable for taking another life.

But on the other hand, investigators knew that those with information about the murder

and the location of Brian’s remains might now be more willing to talk since they don’t

have to fear retribution from Derek anymore.

Police reached out to several of Derek’s relatives, hoping someone would cooperate

now that he had died, but none of them provided any useful information.

So on August 26th, same year, 2016, the sheriff’s office held a press conference announcing

that Derek Murray was the only suspect in Brian’s murder, and they were asking anyone

with information or knowledge of the crime or the location of Brian’s body to contact them.

This actually generated a few tips, people saying that Derek confessed the murder to

them, but nothing that helped them locate Brian’s remains.

In 2017, Brian’s murder was officially reclassified as closed by death of offender, but his missing

person’s case is still active and ongoing to this day.

We asked investigator Trubia what he thinks happened to Brian on July 8th, 2007.

I believe he was hanging out with Derek Murray.

Their paths crossed.

I don’t think it was anything crazy to begin with.

A physical altercation occurred.

You know, it could have been self-defense on Derek Murray’s part.

It could have been where Brian was the aggressor.

I don’t know those facts, but once that physical altercation occurred, I think that Derek Murray

either made a very bad decision or was self-defending himself, and Brian was killed, and then he

was taken from this house somewhere off of Chilay Avenue and moved to a different location

that we don’t know of.

And then I believe that friends and family of Derek Murray know information, know where

it happened exactly, know where Brian was moved to.

At the very least, I know somebody knows who moved Brian’s car.

It wasn’t Brian that moved it, it was somebody else that moved it there.

So there’s a lot of people out there that know what’s happening, what happened, and

they can’t be charged with providing information now that it’s point.

They can just tell us anonymously if they want, or they can even collect a reward as

far as finding where Brian is right now.

People out there know, and hopefully they’re listening, and they can provide that information

to the sheriff’s office or even to Brian’s parents.

Obviously it would mean the world to Brian’s parents.

They’ve been so frustrated knowing how he died and who did it.

They want nothing more than to know where Brian is now so that they can have closure

and more importantly, peace.

They just want to be able to, whenever, every time I talk to the Sullivan’s, they just want

to bring Brian home.

That’s what they say to me time and time again.

It’s been 15 long years since Barbara and Dan have seen their son.

Although they believe beyond a reasonable doubt who harmed Brian, they are still waiting

for the closure of bringing him home.

If you know anything about where Brian Sullivan’s remains are hidden, please speak up.

You can call the Rochester area Crime Stoppers and remain completely anonymous.

This will give the family closure.

Call Crime Stoppers at 585-423-9300, or you can call the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office

directly at 585-753-4177.

Brian’s parents are offering a $2,500 reward.

The Deck is an AudioChuck production with theme music by Ryan Lewis.

To learn more about The Deck, visit thedeckpodcast.com.

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