March 3, 2002

03/03/02: Brendan McNelis, 20, Binghamton, NY

Brendan McNelis, 20, a Queensborough Community College student in Queens, NY traveled by bus to Binghamton, New York on February 28, 2002 to visit his long-time friend, Fiorella Ramirez, a student at Binghamton University whom he had dated 18 months before.

McNelis spent both Thursday night (2/28) and Friday night (3/1) at Ramirez's dorm on the Vestal campus. On Saturday, March 2, the pair boarded a shuttle bus and headed to the east side of Binghamton to attend a fraternity party hosted by Phi Iota Alpha at the American Legion Post 1645 on Robinson Street.

When they arrived at the party, McNelis stayed at the bar while Ramirez danced with some of her friends. When she returned from the dance floor, McNelis complained he wanted to leave because he didn't like the music. Ramirez agreed and after having one last dance and saying goodbye to her friends, she returned 5 minutes later to find McNelis gone. It was the last time Ramirez would see her good friend.

On May 15, McNelis' body was found in the Susquehanna River, not far from where he was last seen.

Witness Accounts

After disappearing, McNelis was spotted at a payphone inside the American Legion by a witness. According to Ramirez, the only number he knew in the area was for a cab and he had, at most, $2.00 on him.

He was spotted again at around 1 a.m. across the street from the American Legion having an argument with an unknown male, which was broken up by a woman working at the American Legion. But there were also six Binghamton police officers present at the party and they reported that nothing unusual occurred during the night. It was also reported in the media that "police and Legion representatives said there were no fights or other disturbances at the party, which attracted about 1,000 students and non-students."

Search and Investigation 

This was the first time Brendan McNelis had visited Binghamton and he did not know anyone else in the area. He had very little cash and a Discover card, which hadn't been used since the time of his disappearance. His clothing and bus ticket home were still in Ramirez's dorm room where he had left them.

McNelis's family took an active role in trying to locate him by posting his picture with a physical description and his last known whereabouts on store windows throughout Binghamton. The family also hired a former New York City police detective, now a private investigator, weeks after their son disappeared.

The New York Police Department searched the riverbank on foot and also searched the river from boats and state police airplanes. Police also added McNelis' name to the nationwide missing persons list.According to the Southern Tier Police Canine Inc. website, "police dogs from more than half a dozen Southern Tier Police agencies joined the ongoing search." One dog indicated an area of interest in the area near the Susquehanna River.

A preliminary autopsy report given to police Tuesday, May 21 concluded that McNelis died as the result of drowning. His body did not have any physical injuries, such as stab wounds, gunshot wounds or broken bones. The report also said there were no signs of a struggle that would indicate an assailant.

McNelis was wearing sweat pants beneath his jeans.

Police do not yet know how or where McNelis entered the water. And they have been unable to explain how McNelis got from the frat party to the river. Until someone comes forward to explain how he got there, police say whey will not be able to say why he died.

About Brendan McNelis

Brendan McNelis enjoyed writing, music and cooking. He always made sure to call his mother, and she told the Times-Ledger that "he was a very happy, sweet person, always singing." He was expected to graduate in May from Queensborough Community College and was considering enrolling at New York City Technical College in Brooklyn. He was also considering resuming his relationship with Ramirez.

However, Brendan had also been suffering through some hard times. He had recently broken up with his girlfriend and in January had lost a good friend to a heroin overdose. He had also found out another of his friends was given 6 months to a year to live. According to the Times-Ledger, "Ramirez told the Binghamton police that McNelis seemed depressed." It is not known whether McNelis was upset enough to take his own life.

Facts of Interest
Name/age: Brendan McNelis, 20
College: Queensborough Community College, Queens
Hometown: Flushing, NY
Physical Description: 5'8", 130 lbs, short brown hair, blue eyes.
Last seen: 3/3/02, 1 a.m. on Robinson and Louisa Street, Binghamton, NY. He was wearing a light- and dark-blue patchwork jean jacket, blue jeans, white shirt, white Ralph Lauren "Polo" baseball cap and white Nike sneakers with an orange logo.


Posted 9/1/09.


Devin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Devin said...

Lisa just wanted to say how much I appreciate your hard work with this blog-and I am sure many many others do!! I study these cases when I am able but seem unable to contribute anything new. The only thing that got "confirmed" for me in the past year-although I had long suspected it-is that many of these cases are homicides-and I am sure this is hardly a revelation for most studying the oddities of some of these cases.Again my thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims! It was me who erased the above comment because of a stupid misspelling-normally i will let those stay-but this just looked too stupid! best to you as always!!

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Lisa said...


Thank you for your encouraging comments--I am glad that you find my site to be helpful! I hope it helps to draw more attention to these cases!


Joni Odongo said...

Lisa, I thank you for this article. Brendan was my first cousin, best friend (3 months apart in age) and we grew up in the same apartment building in Queens. We all know as a family that he did not swim, wore sweats under jeans to keep warm and was extremely Street smart. He gave his money to be held by his ex. Which makes us suspect someone was messing with him or he felt in danger. The girl proceeded to “go to after party” after her guest Brendan disappeared but phone records show she was on phone with guys at the party (another ex who was working the door) for 8 plus hours straight rather than looking for him or going to after party. I dream that we will get justice one day. Are you still in that area?
Joni Odongo