THE BRONX — The California man who went missing in 2004 and was discovered murdered in a Throgs Neck marina Monday may have been in a wooden crate under a dry-docked boat for up to a decade, his brother said.
James Michael Brannon, 60, was fatally shot in the head and packed into a black trash bag sealed by Styrofoam in a wooden crate at the Locust Point Marina at 140 Reynolds Ave., near Harding Avenue, NYPD officials said.
"I'm not surprised he died, but the bizarre way he died and how he got to New York, I can't figure out," said James' older brother, Thomas Brannon, 80, a retired Navy investigator who'd tried to track down his missing brother for more than a decade.
"He’s been in that box for 8 or 10 years, which is weird. It doesn't make any sense to me," said Thomas, who lives in California.
There weren't any arrests as of Friday afternoon, police said.
By his brother's account, James Brannon lived a meandering life that began in California and ended in The Bronx.
They and two other brothers grew up in Glendale, California. Little Jimmy, the youngest of the quartet, endeared himself to his mother.
"He was a good kid. He graduated from Catholic school and so forth. He was a smart kid and wasn’t a dumbbell," Thomas Brannon said.
"He was mama's little boy," the brother said.
The boys grew older. The eldest became a Marine. Another joined the Army and fought in Vietnam. Thomas became a police officer and then joined the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, where he worked for 31 years.
Jimmy had done some stockroom work, and Thomas had tried to get him a job at Hewlett Packard, but it never panned out.
The long-lost brother had some run-ins with the law, getting busted for driving while intoxicated in the Los Angeles area and again in Bozeman, Montana, his brother said.
"He was a good kid and all that, but that generation got into a lot of drugs," Thomas said.
The last time Thomas saw his brother was in 1984 when their middle brother, the Army veteran, died and Jimmy came for the funeral.
The next year, their mother died, but before she did, she left everything she had to her youngest son.
"I said, 'Ma, I don't care if you leave everything to him. Just don't leave it to him all at once. The way he's living, he's going to piss it all away.' And he did," Thomas Brannon said.
James Brannon "bummed around" after that, his brother said. He went to Australia and Hawaii. He fell in with a woman and spent some time in Bozeman in 1997, according to the brother and officials from Bozeman's police and sheriff's department.
But then James disappeared. Thomas Brannon started trying to track him down in 2004.
"You have no idea how hard I tried to find this guy. I traced him all over the United States," said Thomas, who's retired from NCIS and written books about his time as a naval investigator and notable cold cases.
He even called the Bozeman police and sheriff's offices, so they could be on the lookout for his brother.
"He may have crossed through this city at some time in his past," said Deputy Chief Rich McLane.
But all the former Navy special agent's searching turned up nothing and he eventually gave up hope.
"I suspected he had to be dead because I got into the Social Security records and there was no showing of any use. When your Social Security isn't being used, something's wrong," Thomas said.
Then, last week, an NYPD detective emailed Thomas. He ignored the email at first, thinking it was just another of the many law enforcement messages he's inundated with. His wife saw it though and prodded him to call the detective, who let him know what they found.
The boat was previously owned by Michael Scewczyk, 58, who worked for a construction company, sources said.
When Scewczyk died he left the boat to his girlfriend, sources said, who enlisted the construction company's owner to help sell it. When the boat was hauled away by the new owner, who wasn't immediately identified, the crate was discovered.
Marina staffers working nearby noticed the crate and opened it — only to discover Brannon's legs poking through the black plastic bag he'd been swaddled in.
"It was scary. I've never seen anything like that. We saw the legs and everything," said one worker, who refused to give his name or age.
"We found it and called the police," the worker said.
Investigators said they were still trying to figure out how James Brannon ended up in that box with a gunshot wound to his head, but his brother has some theories.
He said detectives told him the boat's owner died in the past couple years and his girlfriend, who's James Brannon's age, is in the wind.
He doesn't think James Brannon was killed in a robbery because he still had money on him when investigators found him, he said.
While mysteries remain about Brannon's death, Thomas Brannon said at least he's glad to have found where he ended up, especially since all his other brothers are dead now.
"It's bringing closure to it," Thomas said.
With reporting by Trevor Kapp.