Steven Nisenfled was puzzled by his son’s report card after he returned home for the winter break of the 1996-97 school year. Eighteen-year-old Bryan had been an honors student in high school, but his grades after his first semester of college were a different story. Bryan told his dad he was changing his major from Architecture to English and assured him he would do better in the second semester.
Steven was concerned by his son’s struggles. That concern soon escalated into panic and then into horror. Something other than the rigorous academic material was weighing on Bryan’s mind, and it may have led to his death.
Bryan grew up in New Jersey. He was well-liked, although he was an introvert who had few close friends. He preferred writing poetry over attending parties and proms.
Bryan had done well in high school, but his first semester at Roger Williams College in Bristol, Rhode Island, was a different story. The classes were more challenging, but Bryan’s struggles may have been compounded by another problem, the nature of which is unknown.
Shortly after midnight on January 30, 1997, an agitated Bryan called his father Steven and, with his voice trembling, said that another student was harassing him and threatening to beat him up.
Steven telephoned the Roger Williams campus security; they then called the student adviser in Bryan’s dormitory. When the adviser went to Bryan’s room, Bryan had calmed but again said he had received a threatening telephone from a former student he refused to name. Bryan assured the adviser he was alright. Bryan then called his dad again and assured him he had overreacted and did not need to come to Rhode Island.
Eight days later, on February 6, 1997, Bryan attended his afternoon literature class. He was not doing well in the class, and the professor attempted to speak to him regarding his struggles. Bryan, however, brushed her off. The professor said something appeared to be weighing heavily on him.
The following day, a Friday, Bryan failed to attend any of his classes. The weekend passed with no word from him, and he was a no-show for classes on Monday and Tuesday of the following week. On February 12, six days after Bryan was last seen, the college notified Steven of his absence.
Steven searched Bryan’s dormitory room. Other than being uncharacteristically messy, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Steven thought it appeared as though Bryan had stepped out briefly intending to return.
Six months passed with no sign of Bryan until a very troubling and puzzling clue surfaced.
On Labor Day weekend, as Lori Vales and her daughter walked along Hog Island Beach, only three miles from Roger Williams University, they noticed a shoe on the sand at the beach’s high tide line. After picking up the shoe, Lori was astounded to discover a human foot inside. Another bone lay nearby. Tests determined it was a human shinbone.
The boot was consistent with a pair owned by Bryan that was not among the items found in his dorm room. DNA tests identified the foot and shinbone as his. No other remains were found, but the finding all but assured that Bryan was dead.
The remains found were not enough to determine how Bryan had died or how his foot had become separated from the body.
Reporter Jody Ericson wrote a series of articles about Bryan’s disappearance.
After talking to Bryan’s parents and reading some of his poetry, she concluded he was questioning his sexuality and detected undertones of a homosexual relationship with Josh Cohen, a former Roger Williams University student.
Jody says whatever the nature of the friendship was between Bryan and Josh, it abruptly ended in late 1996 or early 1997. She believes the falling out may have occurred because Josh was going to expose their relationship, and Bryan did not want anyone to know he was gay.
Josh admitted he had made the harassing phone calls to Bryan, but claims they were only made in jest and that Bryan had made similar calls to him. He also said they were only friends and that there was no homosexual relationship between them.
The police are satisfied Josh had nothing to do with Bryan’s disappearance and likely death. I could not find a picture of Josh.
Jody Ericson theorized that anti-homosexuals might have learned that Bryan was gay and killed him. Authorities say there is no evidence to support that theory.
Bryan spent many hours alone, writing his poetry while sitting on the Mount Hope Bridge at Hog Island Beach, only a few miles from his campus dormitory.
Investigators have found no evidence of foul play in Bryan’s probable death and believe he either took his life by jumping from or accidentally falling off the 285-foot-high bridge.
Bryan’s parents do not believe he would have committed suicide, but they concede he may have accidentally fallen from the bridge. However, they lean toward believing their son was murdered and that Josh Cohen knows more than he is saying.
Bryan’s mother, Marianne Brown, said she received an anonymous phone call saying a Roger Williams University Administrator and two faculty members were withholding information about Bryan’s case.
The University denies the claim, and authorities found no evidence the college officials were not forthcoming.
Unless the rest of Bryan’s remains are found, the cause of death may never be discovered.
The chances of finding his remains are remote as they likely long ago decomposed in the Mount Hope Bay.
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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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