Let’s Talk About It: Tiffany Papesh

This week’s “Let’s Talk About It” is Tiffany Jennifer Papesh, an eight-year-old girl who disappeared from Maple Heights, Ohio, in the Cleveland metro area, on June 13, 1980. She’d be 46 today if she is still alive, which is unlikely.

Tiffany’s case is one of the few murder-without-a-body cases where I believe the suspect, Brandon Flagner, may very well be innocent. He was convicted of murder but I really can’t see why. The only thing I can think of is his defense must have been very inadequate.

Flagner confessed to Tiffany’s kidnapping and murder something like 30 times, and he is definitely a serial child molester who had a history of threatening his victims — all young girls — with violence if they didn’t do what he said. Those confessions and his criminal history were, as far as I can tell, pretty much the entire case against him.


Flagner also had an excellent alibi for the time of Tiffany’s abduction: he claims he was at work up until half an hour before Tiffany disappeared. Tiffany’s Charley Project casefile says Flagner’s workplace was 40 miles from where she disappeared; this source says 58 miles. It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other: at either distance he wouldn’t have had the time to race over to Maple Heights and abduct the little girl.

Now, it’s true that by the time the police got around to asking, no one specifically remembered seeing Flagner at work that day. But his time card WAS stamped, and furthermore, he worked in a factory production line that needed a certain number of people — him included — to function properly. Since the factory was functioning just fine that day, that seems like a pretty strong indication that Flagner was exactly where he said he was.

The police investigating Tiffany’s disappearance, as well as Tiffany’s own family, think the way that I do, that Flagner is innocent (of this crime anyway) and someone else abducted her. The case is still open. You can see a lot of articles and stuff about Tiffany’s disappearance and Flagner’s conviction here. He made headlines again about ten years ago when he claimed the Ohio Department of Corrections violated his religious rights by forcibly cutting off his beard (he had converted to Orthodox Judaism while in prison).

Flagner comes up for parole in 2019. Given his background as a serial child molester and his insistence that he’s innocent of Tiffany’s murder, I highly doubt he’ll get released then.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the man himself. I think he’s a danger to the community and belongs behind bars, but not for this reason. And as long as he sits in prison convicted of abducting and killing Tiffany Papesh, that means whoever DID abduct Tiffany is still out there.

So what happened here? Does anyone think Flagner is guilty? How did he get convicted in the first place, and how can this problem be fixed? If Flagner didn’t do this, who did? Let’s talk about it.

22 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About It: Tiffany Papesh

  1. Marcy September 7, 2017 / 11:59 pm

    What about him joining the search? Seems pretty consistent with killers who end up gawking at the traffic surrounding the search. Any info on who’s clothes were in the box or what happened to them?

    • Meaghan September 8, 2017 / 4:41 pm

      I’ve seen crazy people attach themselves to missing persons cases, become obsessed with the cases, joining in searches and pestering families etc., where it turns out said crazy people were definitely not involved in the case. Timothy Bindner is a prime example of that.

      All the info I have on Tiffany’s disappearance is in her casefile — no idea about the details of that box of clothes. It could have been incriminating evidence in an unrelated instance of child molestation.

      I’m not saying it’s IMPOSSIBLE that Flagner could have killed Tiffany, I just think it’s unlikely, given the strength of his alibi.

    • Nancy Turner July 12, 2022 / 1:27 pm

      I think her uncle Johnny Papish did it. I was 10 years old in 1962 when he molested me and he tried to get me alone every time our families visited.

  2. libraryjobber September 8, 2017 / 3:55 pm

    How did Flagner know about the scar on her knee? Why did he confess in the first place? Is it possible that Flagner was involved, but not as the actual abductor?

    I wonder how well the police looked at his known associates?

    • Bill August 29, 2018 / 1:22 pm

      Wasn’t he involved in the searches? He could have heard about the scar from family or friends. If he was the killer, what did he do with her body? If he wasn’t the killer, someone out there got away with murder… Or worse. This case should be re-examined by investigators.

  3. Neighborhood person September 23, 2017 / 5:40 pm

    At that time I used to go to a local bar that was ran by an old lady. She seemed to have connections to things. Things you really wouldn’t want to ask too much about. She told me Tiffany’s dad was in debt to the wrong people and this was his punishment. Of course I doubt this is true and why would she reveal this to me? Still I’ve never forgot her telling me this.

    • Papesh Mom February 7, 2019 / 3:01 am

      I heard something similar… I heard Tiffany’s dad stole drug runner money….
      So…that would make him in debt to the wrong people….
      Tiffany’s dad was mean…
      He would beat up his son Ricky terribly… Ricky came to school with bruises and a black eye…
      We went to Ricky’s house to pick him up to go to the movies one day… His dad was nasty and mouthy….
      Must run in the family because my ex husband was very mouthy and very mean… Even to our daughter he was mean and perverted…. I got complete custody of my daughter and he got no visitation…..NONE….

      • Tom November 12, 2019 / 2:47 pm

        I do believe it was a neighborhood person somebody that lived in the apartment complex new Tiffany lived

  4. Virginia Carano DiBlasi September 23, 2017 / 6:00 pm

    Wasn’t the step- mother under some suspicion for a while??

    • Janet February 28, 2019 / 2:59 am

      No she was not and she was a very beautiful person. I am Ricks wife. That was a very broken family due to that situation. Frank was a wonderful man when I met him. Yes a few mistakes were made but nobody was born with a book. But anyways Debbi is a wonderful person and I seen a good mom and a good friend.

  5. Timothy M Lowrie Jr September 24, 2017 / 8:05 pm

    I grew up in Maple Hts and remember this like it was yesterday.

  6. Kathleen September 28, 2017 / 1:35 am

    I went to school with Tiffany and still think of her often. She is the reason I hold my daughters so tight. I was a child myself, but remember all the talk and accusations people made against her family. Was so sad to hear people attacking this family after something so devistating. I do believe the right man is in prison, not because of facts just a feeling. RIP sweet Tiffany

  7. LH January 8, 2018 / 1:24 am

    On June 3rd 1980, Asenath Dukat was raped and murdered in Upper Arlington, Ohio. Her murder was never solved. I have seen Tiffany’s name linked to this case, as one of the prime suspects, Brent Strutner, left the area shortly after her murder and went up north towards Cleveland. He was later arrested in Willoughby and eventually committed suicide. I wonder if there is a connection…..

    • Asenath’s Friend May 20, 2020 / 4:00 pm

      Wondering the same thing.

  8. Jennifer December 20, 2018 / 6:55 pm

    My father worked with her father and we were playmates as children. I am several years younger than her but I remember the events vividly. Brandon Flagner is most likely not responsible for this crime. He was a sex offender about to be released from prison who wanted to get treatment rather than be released which has been cited by other sources as his motivation for making up the story. Our local prosecutor, Carmen Marino really had no choice but to prosecute him for the crime because he was loudly and publicly confessing and the community wanted action. The FBI considers the case open and does not believe he did it.

    I’ve always believed she is dead and was killed quickly after her abduction. In light of the Jaycee Dugard case and the women discovered being held in Ariel Castro’s home here in Cleveland, I now wonder if there is any possibility she survived held captive but it is unlikely given the publicity surrounding the case, it would have been too much of a risk to keep her hidden somewhere.

    It’s never made any sense that there were never any viable clues or suspects in the case, and no body was ever found. She went to the corner store to buy buns for her family camping trip. She bought the buns and left the store, then the trail is cold. The store was very close to her home, only a few houses away. No one saw anything, on a main street in the middle of the afternoon. Her family did not do this, that is for sure. Her father was inconsolable and never recovered from this. My father left the business a year or less after her abduction. The city and all who knew her and her family still hope for some answer all these years later.

  9. Papesh Mom February 7, 2019 / 2:42 am

    I was married to Ed Papesh jr…
    I don’t think Flagner did it…
    When our daughter was about a year and a half old we went grocery store and my ex husband looked down and on a shelf was an old newspaper with the Tiffany Papesh murder trial on the front page…
    It was 1997 then and the old newspaper was from the early 1980’s…
    Someone was following my ex husband and I and our daughter around…
    I wonder why…
    I still have the newspaper that my ex husband found sitting on the the shelf in the grocery store that day…..

    • Jennifer March 21, 2019 / 11:01 pm

      Wow Papesh Mom. I believe you wholeheartedly. That is absolutely terrifying. Sounds like the real killer gloating about it all these years later. You need to take that newspaper to the police or FBI immediately.

    • Lynda Welks May 31, 2019 / 4:55 pm

      Hi! Just curious. I am new to this disappearance and am trying to catch up. Who is Ed Papesh Jr. ? Was he Tiffany’s brother? I’m just wondering if her parents and siblings are still around and in the area.

  10. Someone from the past September 25, 2019 / 4:27 am

    I remember Tiffany’s story before I ever knew the family. So sad for any child to be missing. Heartbreaking for so many. In my opinion, this Flagner person didn’t do it. I don’t claim to know who did. What I will say is the Frank I knew was not nice, he was intimidating and abusive. I know personally and from what I observed during the time I spent with the family. I don’t know that this case will ever be truly solved. I pray for the whole family that they find comfort in faith. They have suffered much loss.

  11. Nick Piekarski November 19, 2019 / 9:24 am

    I still look up Tiffany every so often to see if anything else was ever found. I grew up on East Glenn Dr., a few houses from rockside rd. Tiffany lived next door to one of my childhood best friends and I remember my mom not letting us do much outside for the longest time. My mom, not at the time of this incident, worked at the Convenience store some years after and always wondered what happened. I was only around 5 at the time so sadly I don’t remember much.

    From everything I have read over the years, I don’t really buy the story that prosecutors are trying to make fit on the loser that’s in jail. I hate the excuse when departments are getting “pressure” and then just blame / arrest the wrong person to say it’s over with. How many more kids have suffered at this losers hands since?

    I get it, they literally had nothing to go on, no one saw or knew anything supposedly… not much you can do honestly. All I can hope for is that the real killer / abductor slips up or says something to someone with a conscience that turns that info in to authorities at some point. But someone out there knows something.

  12. Melissa April 21, 2020 / 11:51 pm

    I am one of his victims. He killed Tiffany. Her family (parents) believed he did it (so you are wrong thinking her family didn’t believe he did it) – her dad was not allowed anywhere near the courtroom for fear he would kill Flagner. He is better behind bars – pure evil.

  13. Carl Swartz Jr. May 10, 2021 / 7:44 am

    I was going to school in Sheffield Lake at the same time as Chico Tenorio alias Brandon Lee Flagner.. In Junior High School, he gave me the creeps. He was a loner and seemed fascinated with the younger grade school girls. I can’t say for sure that he committed the crime that he confessed to but would not be shocked to learn that he had.

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