ASHLAND -- If you ask around Ashland, Benjamin Brubaker isn’t missing. He was murdered and his body was burned in a tire fire in Polk, Ohio.
“That is the predominant (story) of the rumor mill,” said Det. Lt. Scott Smart of the Ashland County Sheriff’s Office, the detective assigned to the case. “But there’s nothing to substantiate that claim."
Let’s back up.
Brubaker went to Ashland High School and stayed around town after graduation.
For a short period, Brubaker found himself involved with the law and having to serve some time for a DUI-related incident.
But by all accounts and interviews, by 2005, Brubaker had turned his life around, had a steady job, a girlfriend and kept in constant contact with his mother.
On Oct. 13, 2005 (the date stated by Brubaker’s sister, Beth — it is listed as Oct. 30 on the Ohio Attorney General’s website) Brubaker disappeared. He has not been positively identified since.
Brubaker was 30 years old when he vanished. He was described as a white male, 5-foot-10, blonde hair, blue eyes and weighed 148 pounds.
When someone goes missing, the two obvious scenarios are that the person left of their own will or that something bad happened to them.
Scenario 1: Ben left Ashland on his own accord, and is living a happy, healthy life somewhere else.
“I was in jail with Ben years ago, he was the bunk beside me, used to tell me how easy it would be to pack up and leave this town with a new name and no one could find him,” wrote Michael M. in a Facebook (FB) correspondence.
There’s no reason to doubt that conversation actually happened, but that’s a common thought process when you’re locked up. Further, it is a sentiment many young Ashlanders utter at some point in their lives, wanting a fresh start, somewhere else.
While interviewing over 15 people about this case, another popular “tip” or rumor was that Brubaker got mixed up with the wrong people, and that’s why he fled.
But the arrests, background and statements from friends don’t put Brubaker in a “Breaking Bad” situation. There’s nothing to suggest he was running drugs, involved with any organized crime or gang where going into self-imposed witness protection would be the only option.
The year in which Brubaker went missing was inconvenient from a technology perspective, in terms of tracking him. The year 2005 was two years before the first iPhone; everyone wasn’t walking around with smartphones in their pockets, capable of recording audio and video, not to mention geo tracking and pinging cell phone locations.
Even the photo from the AG’s website, for example, looks like it was taken from a 1970s yearbook.
But we have much-improved technology now, and if Ben did flee, perhaps he might show up within the current digital landscape.
Starting with his picture, I did a reverse image search to see related and associated images. Nothing.
After enhancing the photo, there was still no link to his face. Using a pretty bootleg application to age his appearance, there was still no digital match from the web crawlers.
Next, I tried his tattoos. From the AG website, “He (Brubaker) has an Insane Clown Posse (ICP) logo on his upper left arm. On his upper right arm, he has a tattoo of the ICP’s Jester holding a bird in one hand and a magic wand in the other hand, with the words, ‘The Great Milenko’."
Sure, there are thousands of ICP tattoos, but the search was directed at specifically the “The Great Milenko” and the black and gray design. After a good hour of searching, nothing matched his faded, grayscale tat.
Image searches were even conducted on the crowds, against his picture, from current ICP concerts and gatherings, as maybe he was still involved and went to see the band live. No luck.
If Brubaker did leave on his own, he was successful in severing all ties, as, according to police, family and friends, he has never reached out, sent a letter, called or had any contact with anyone from the Ashland area.
“Ben was really close with his mother. Really close. There’s no way he would have left without telling her something, or at least sending her something like a cryptic postcard that only she would understand and know he was all right. Nothing,” said Matt Trukovich, a friend of Brubaker’s.
It was also alleged that Brubaker didn’t pick up his last paycheck from work. If you were going to start a new life, wouldn’t you want to take all the cash you could?
Scenario 2: Something extremely unfortunate happened to Brubaker, but no one knows exactly what.
Brubaker’s girlfriend at the time (who has not officially been named a suspect, and the case is open and ongoing, so her name won’t be revealed), even without the endless rumors surrounding her, was naturally someone of interest in regards to the case. She was one of the last people to see Brubaker before he disappeared, according to authorities.
“(Brubaker’s girlfriend) was cooperative and consented to be interviewed,” said Lt. Smart. But as previously mentioned, there was nothing to “substantiate” the claim that she killed or conspired to harm Brubaker.
Friends close to the couple (and even law enforcement) described the nature of their relationship as “love-hate.”
Brubaker’s girlfriend could not be reached for comment. Based on the evidence gathered and what police can say, all that was left surrounding her was small-town speculation.
When you need a suspect and closure, stories are created or grossly exaggerated to fit the narrative. I’m not saying that is the case here—just that the police have looked into these “leads,” but again, nothing has ever materialized.
“The file sits on my desk. It is an active investigation. I talk to Ben’s mom a lot. Whenever a lead comes in, we investigate it. We haven’t had a sighting in years,” Lt. Smart said.
By sighting, Lt. Smart means a call about someone being somewhere and having seen Brubaker, like when he was “spotted” in Millersburg, Ohio, years ago but it didn’t pan out.
It’s said a killer sometimes likes to return to the scene of the crime. Perhaps if someone did harm Ben, they would inquire about it or mention it online.
After going through many different forums and discussion boards related to missing persons and abductions, I ran across this post concerning an unidentified body in Rittman, Ohio.
“Wondering about Benjamin Brubaker of Ashland Ohio. Ashland Ohio is about 45 minutes from Rittman and a straight shot on 604...” posted user “Irish_Eyes” on websleuths.com in 2008.
I registered an account on the site and direct messaged Irish_Eyes, asking if she had any further information and why she mentioned Brubaker’s name. The user never responded.
As my editor reminded me, cold cases are extremely hard to solve, that’s why they’re cold cases. But in a small town like Ashland, I refuse to believe someone doesn’t know something more about the Brubaker case.
You never know what one little detail could lead to—a search warrant, a new suspect, a fact that was overlooked.
If anyone has any information, no matter how seemingly trivial, please contact Lt. Smart at Sheriff’s Office: 419-289- 3911 or please feel free to reach out to me personally, email@example.com. Your information can be kept anonymous.
Closure would mean everything to the Brubaker family, friends and our town as a whole.