“I just want to bring my son home,” Brian Shookman's mom, Rebecca, told Kelly Siegler, of Oxygen's “Cold Justice.”
Brian, 32, disappeared in Shoshone County, Idaho, in August 2012 on his way to a family reunion. His Ford Escort was found parked on a mountain access road. There were no signs of a struggle and no remains have ever been found.
His disappearance, however, has the specter of drug-related violence hanging over it, according to Shoshone County Sheriff's Office detectives who teamed up with Siegler and former homicide investigator Abbey Abbondandolo to re-investigate the case.
Shookman was recovering from drug addiction and had been sober for some time when he left his home in Montana for the family reunion. He met up with his cousin, Justin Smith, who was heavily involved in methamphetamine, however.
Authorities believe he relapsed with Smith and his then-girlfriend, and some of the people surrounding Smith have violent pasts, leading Brian's family to believe he may have been killed over a drug deal or by someone under the influence of drugs.
Brian's sister, Danielle Banning, told “Cold Justice” that Smith showed up for the family reunion with no sign of his cousin, and he was acting strange. Smith was trying to scare children at the reunion and talking about killing someone or a “dead body out that way,” according to Banning.
“Cold Justice” recreated the conditions Brian's car was found in with an identical model, including two energy drink cans that were left in the cupholders. The position of the driver and passenger side seats did not appear consistent with Brian or Justin driving the vehicle. The team had the energy drink cans tested for DNA.
They also interviewed two drug dealers who are believed to have had contact with Brian and Smith that weekend in 2012. Both were in prison on unrelated charges. They both claimed to have no knowledge of what happened to Brian. One did indicate that Smith was paranoid from the meth at the time and said he could picture Smith flying off the handle if he believed anyone was messing around with his girlfriend.
The men both agreed to DNA swabs, but investigators concluded that the DNA on both energy drink cans came from Brian. Siegler said she was “disappointed, but not surprised” — Brian likely was drinking both on the drive from Montana to Idaho.
Finally, “Cold Justice” and Shoshone County investigators confronted Smith’s then-girlfriend. She was visibly uncomfortable during her interview and insisted that she didn't go to the family reunion with Smith — even though she appeared to be in photos from the event.
“It’s frustrating, because she has all these reasons to lie, in her mind, that we don't even care about,” Siegler said, noting that the woman could be embarrassed about her past drug abuse.
Smith was in prison on grand theft auto and burglary charges during his interview and his story was unchanged from when he was interviewed in 2012. At the outset, Smith told the team that he expected them to try and trap him in a lie about Brian’s disappearance.
“I don't know what happened to him,” he said.
The possibility remains that Brian wandered off on his own, possibly because of his drug use, and succumbed either to an overdose or the elements, Siegler noted. And his mother, Rebecca, said she prefers to believe that.
“I don't want to think anyone hurt my son. I hope he just wandered off and did it to himself,” Rebecca said. “I just want to know.”
Shoshone County Prosecutor Keisha Oxendine vowed that authorities would conduct another thorough search of the area in which Brian's car was found.
“What I want is for Rebecca to bring her son home,” Oxendine said. “We are totally supportive and we are going back to that site.”
Another search was conducted in July 2019 by the sheriff's office and Idaho Department of Lands, but no remains were found, according to the Shoshone News Press.
“His story doesn't have a happy ending, but it isn't over yet,” Siegler said.
The investigation continues. Anyone with information on Brian Shookman is encouraged to reach out to Detective Jeff Lee, of the Shoshone County Sheriff's Office, at (208) 556-1114 or the Idaho Cold Case Tip Line at 1-844-TIP-4040.
For more on Brian Shookman's disappearance, including footage of “Cold Justice” and sheriff's office interviews with the Smith and others, watch “Cold Justice” at Oxygen.com and airing Saturdays at 6/5c.
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