Musician and activist Kelley Brannon is known by her loved ones as a free spirit, someone who marches to the beat of her own drum -- and, from time to time, goes off the grid.
But the 36-year-old has always managed to keep in contact with someone, mainly her mother. Until now. Four months have passed without any word from the New Hampshire native and many are left with more questions than answers.
According to the Live Oak Police Department, Kelley was last known to be at the Sunshine Inn in Live Oak, Florida, late in the evening of July 14 and into the early morning hours of July 15, 2020.
Earlier that week, Kelley and her boyfriend, Eddie Emerson, had begun a road trip, driving from the farm where they had been living in Micanopy, Florida near Gainesville, to Detroit, Michigan, where they planned to buy a $2,000 fixer-upper house.
“We were about to start a new chapter of our lives together,” Eddie told Dateline. “And then this happened.”
On July 9, 2020, the couple loaded up Eddie’s Toyota pickup truck and Kelley’s Toyota Camry with their belongings, which included their guitars, Eddie’s dog and eight chickens they were transporting up north in a dog kennel. They then headed up I-75.
But they didn’t get very far. About 77 miles into the trip, Eddie’s truck broke down after the transmission overheated, leaving them stranded in Suwannee County. Eddie told Dateline they had the truck towed to a local car shop in nearby Live Oak, Florida and the couple decided to camp in the area for a few days while they waited for repairs.
However, the repairs took longer than expected, so on July 14 the couple decided to shell out some money for a hotel room. While checking in to the Sunshine Inn, Eddie said they got into an argument over where they would keep their chickens while they were staying at the hotel.
“I found a grassy spot in the shade for them, but Kelley wanted to bring them up to the room,” Eddie explained. “I already had my dog with us. We didn’t need the chickens in the room, too. We had a long couple of days and I was tired… so yeah, I got angry. I threw my hat on the ground and yelled and we just kept arguing.”
He said Kelley then angrily left in her car while he set the chickens up outside to graze and then headed to the room to rest. While in the room, he said the argument continued over text messages, but Kelley eventually returned to the room with pizza and wine and they made up.
“By the time she came back, we had both cooled off,” Eddie said. “When she saw the chickens were fine, I think that calmed her down. I gave her a hug and everything seemed OK again.”
But as the sun set, the couple’s argument over the chickens reignited. A few stubborn chickens had escaped the makeshift pen outside the hotel, Eddie told Dateline, but when they couldn’t catch them, Eddie said he assured Kelley they’d get them in the morning. But Kelley insisted they find all the chickens and bring them inside, which stirred another fight.
“I was tired of chasing the chickens. And of arguing,” Eddie said. “So, I went to the hotel room to sleep.”
Eddie told Dateline that he received more angry texts from Kelley throughout the night. Around 10:30 p.m., he said he went outside to check on Kelley and found she had been drinking and crying outside of the hotel.
“I slipped her car keys off her waist so she couldn’t drive,” Eddie said. “I didn’t really comfort her at that moment, but I should have.”
It was the last time he saw Kelley.
Eddie said that it was just after midnight when Kelley texted him, threatening to leave. She told him she was taking her guitar, which is a left-handed Fender Stratocaster with a sunburst finish, her vehicle’s registration and a new bag of clothes.
“I was still in the room in bed when she texted me ‘I’m leaving,’ so I texted her back, ‘Why don’t you come sleep,’ and she said no,” Eddie explained. “So I just went to sleep.”
In text messages provided to Dateline, Kelley told Eddie she “would rather starve to death or jump off a bridge or be eaten by vultures, than share a room with someone like you.”
“We both said a lot of mean things to each other. And the biggest regret of my life right now is falling asleep,” Eddie told Dateline. “I should have been there to protect her. Made sure she was safe inside the room.”
The next morning Eddie said he woke up to a voicemail from Kelley that he still plays over and over. In the voicemail, which Eddie shared with Dateline, says she got another room at the Sunshine Inn and reported her car stolen by Eddie because she was angry he took her keys. Police later told Dateline that an official report by Kelley was never filed.
“I should obviously, definitely do the Detroit thing on my own or go to Iceland,” she is heard saying in the voicemail. “You are not a partner.”
The voicemail suddenly cuts to Kelley announcing that she was “getting in a car.” Her phone has been off ever since and her car was left unlocked at the hotel, some of her belongings still inside, including her purse that contained money and her ID, according to police.
“She didn't take her purse, which had money and her ID, or phone charger, which is concerning,” Eddie said. “She wouldn’t go this long without contacting me - even when she’s mad. She would contact someone, her mom or her friends.”
Cheryl Dumont went to school with Kelley in New Hampshire and the two have been friends for at least 25 years. She told Dateline that Kelley’s group of friends spans the country from her travels over the years, but not one of them has heard from Kelley.
“She’s a free spirit and can certainly be stubborn,” Cheryl said. “But she’d never not contact anyone for this long. Especially her mom.”
She said Kelley’s mother, who is in her 70s, lives alone in New Hampshire and still grieves the loss of Kelley’s father, who died when Kelley was just five years old.
“This is extremely hard for her,” Cheryl said. “Kelley was always in contact with her mom. And Kelley always made it home for Thanksgiving. But it’s just been so long, and we have no answers.”
On July 15, Kelley’s boyfriend Eddie filed a missing persons report with the Live Oak Police Department.
According to Captain Jason Rountree, searches were conducted by law enforcement officials in the wooded areas surrounding the hotel. Guests of the hotel that evening later told officials that they saw Kelley outside of the hotel with her guitar around the same time she left the voicemail for Eddie.
Over the months, there have been reported sightings of Kelley in Tallahassee, High Springs and Live Oak, as well as Lake Park and Camilla, Georgia, according to Captain Rountree. But after collecting witness statements and security video, the sightings could not be confirmed to be Kelley, he said. He added that if anyone spots Kelley, to call local police immediately.
Captain Rountree told Dateline that Kelley’s case is still an active investigation and that her lack contact with friends or family “over a greater period of time than normal” has been a concern from the beginning.
“As a result, this investigation is being conducted with all possible outcomes in play,” Capt. Rountree said. He stressed that investigators cannot yet determine if foul play is even involved in her disappearance.
“From the time Kelley was reported missing, all aspects and possible outcomes have and are continually being considered,” Capt. Rountree said. “There is no specific piece of information as of this time that leads us to determine -- or to rule out -- that foul play has occurred. Equally, certainty regarding Kelley’s current condition continues to remain unknown.”
Captain Rountree told Dateline that several people have been interviewed on multiple occasions, including locals who came into contact with the couple during their time in Suwannee County, the hotel guests, and Kelley’s boyfriend, Eddie.
“Eddie has and continues to be a person of interest in this investigation primarily as a result of his relationship to Kelley,” Captain Rountree said. “However, we have not ruled out or discounted other person(s) throughout this investigation.”
Following Kelley’s disappearance, Eddie stayed in Live Oak for four days searching for her, hanging fliers and talking to the locals. But without any leads or clues, he said continued his trip north, without Kelley.
“I was thinking, I can’t believe I have to start driving our trip without Kelley,” Eddie said. “And I guess I was hoping that maybe I’d see her along the way somewhere - maybe hitchhiking. But I never did.”
This week marks four months since Kelley has been gone, but Eddie told Dateline he won’t give up searching for her. In September, he went back to Live Oak, Florida to continue hanging fliers and talking to locals. He also recently traveled to New Hampshire to deliver Kelley’s belongings to her mother.
“She loves her mother deeply and even when she was touring for a show, she’d find a way to call her,” Eddie said. “It’s the saddest thing in the world. She’s 74. This is killing her.”
Eddie is now Dracut, Massachusetts, and said he spends most of his time online and on the phone trying to find information that will lead him to his missing girlfriend.
A Facebook page “Missing Kelley Brannon” was created to help generate information and one of Kelley’s friends, Bob Murray, started a GoFundMe page to finance a private investigator as well as a $1,500 reward for information that leads to her whereabouts.
In comments on the page, Kelley’s friends say she is the kind of person who has an idea and then makes that idea happen. Someone who is talented, jumps into creative projects, giving them her all. According to Kelley’s LinkedIn page, she’s a freelance artist, writer, filmmaker and musician.
“She gives her all to each and every project she takes on,” Cheryl told Dateline. “She has so many goals, and when she set her mind on something, she wouldn’t stop until she completed them.”
Cheryl said these goals, which include writing a book, along with her interest in current events such as the recent political protests and presidential election are reasons why she doesn’t think her friend just went off the grid.
“For her not to vote in this election is very worrisome,” Cheryl said. “She’s an activist. And just everything that has gone on since this summer, she would want to be part of it.”
After four months of no answers, Cheryl told Dateline she fears the worst outcome, but doesn’t understand why someone would hurt her friend. Her friend, who she describes as a creative soul with a big heart who always rallied to help others.
She recalls a time when someone in Kelley’s neighborhood was on the verge of eviction because they couldn’t pay rent.
“So Kelley said, ‘We have to do something,’ and organized a mic night to raise money,” Cheryl explained. “And she did it. She raised enough money to pay the rent. That’s who she is. When she sees someone struggling, she wants to help.”
Cheryl told Dateline they feel stuck in the search for Kelley and believes it’s going to take someone coming forward with information for them to find her.
“Her mother just wants everyone to know that she is so grateful for all the support and love during all of this - and that we still hope she'll be home safe for Thanksgiving,” Cheryl said.
“We just want to know where she is," she added. "And we want the best answer… but I’m just afraid we won’t get the answer we want.”
Kelley is 5’5” tall, weighs approximately 130 pounds and has blue eyes and black hair that is graying. She has a circle A tattoo on her right hand near her thumb. She was last seen wearing a white shirt and black shorts, carrying her guitar.
If you have any information about the whereabouts of Kelley Brannon, please call the Live Oak Police Department Criminal Investigations Division at 386-364-7463 or call the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch at 386-362-2222. You can remain anonymous by contacting Suwannee County Crime Stoppers 386-208-8477(TIPS).