Episode 036: Vladek Hasel

April 18, 2022

When a young Marine veteran goes missing in November of 2021, his family launches a campaign to bring him back. What happened to Vladek Hasel?

Episode Media
Bryan “Vladek” Hasel
Surveillance image of Vladek at Foxtail Coffee on 11/6/2021
Wooded area behind Vladek’s apartment complex
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you the story of a young man who went missing under mysterious circumstances, and the family who is desperate to bring him home. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

Bryan “Vladek” Hasel was born in Pushkin, Russia, in December of 1998. Little is known about his early childhood, but by the age of 5, Vladek and his older sister Irena were living in an orphanage outside of Moscow. In 2004, Vladek and Irena were adopted by an American couple, Steve and Cheryl Hasel. Vladek was now the youngest of 8 siblings. The Hasels were a big, happy family, and Vladek and Irena were welcomed immediately.

After high school, Vladek enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He graduated from boot camp and was assigned a desk job in California. However, it wasn’t a good fit for him, and in the summer of 2019, he was honorably discharged. Vladek told his family that it was due to the trauma from his early life in Russia. According to the discharge paperwork, the official reason was “failure to adapt”.

By this time, Steve and Cheryl had divorced, so after leaving the Marines, Vladek lived with his dad for a few months. In January of 2020, Vladek moved to Michigan to live with his sister Cari. He found a job as an environmental services technician at St. John Providence Hospital Southfield. Vladek thrived in this new position, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit a few months later, things began to fall apart. Cari was forced to leave her job so she could care for her young daughter when daycares started closing. Vladek worked to support all three of them until they moved to New Hampshire; there, he was fired from his job and ended up moving back to Florida to live with his dad in the summer of 2020.

The now 21-year-old Vladek struggled with his new situation. He didn’t have a job, and there was tension between him and his stepmom, mainly due to the fact that Vladek wasn’t contributing to the household finances. Steve could see that his son was having a hard time; Vladek seemed to be growing more depressed as time went by, and it worried him. Eventually Steve and his wife divorced, and he and Vladek stayed in a hotel until they found an apartment in East Orlando near the campus of the University of Central Florida.

As 2020 turned into 2021, there was a gradual shift in Vladek’s personality. Growing up, he had always been very into material things, always wanting the nicest clothes and shoes. But now he was suddenly giving up all of his possessions, claiming that he wanted to live a simpler life devoted to religion. He told his dad that material things were just a distraction and that he wanted to focus more on heaven. The Hasel family had always been religious, but this new behavior from Vladek was different, almost cult-like in its obsession. Vladek would also make comments about someday going off to live in the woods, but that he would only do it after Steve passed away – he didn’t want to leave his dad alone or have anyone blame him for Vladek leaving.

Although he seemed to lack motivation in his personal and professional life, Vladek became increasingly generous with his time and money. He began to spend more and more time with those experiencing homelessness around Orlando, buying things for those in need, and handing out cash to people on the street. On one occasion, he let a homeless couple borrow his credit card. He seemed to enjoy making others feel important and showing them love.

According to his family, Vladek really began to change around September of 2021. His new beliefs were starting to take a firm hold, and he began giving away more and more of his personal belongings. He gave his tablet to his sister Bethany, and he told his dad that he broke his iPhone on purpose because it was too much of a distraction. Steve was worried and insisted that Vladek at least get a flip phone for his own safety.

On November 3, 2021, Vladek was out driving his dad‘s car, when suddenly it broke down at the Waterford Lakes Town Center. Vladek walked the three miles back to his apartment, convinced that his dad would be mad about the car. But Steve understood; the car was old and probably needed a new engine. The next morning, Steve had the car towed to the mechanic, and he thought the issue was settled. But Vladek still seemed rattled that evening. He started making odd comments, telling Steve about archangels and demons. At one point, he mentioned that you have to be dark to kill the dark. Steve didn’t know what his son was talking about – Vladek seemed to just be rattling off nonsense.

However, there wasn’t much time to dwell on it. The next day, November 5th, Steve was leaving for a ten-day trip to Tennessee with Vladek’s mom Cheryl to celebrate Bethany’s birthday. Vladek had been invited to go, but he said he preferred to stay home; his family says it wasn’t uncommon for him to back out of plans at the last minute in favor of being by himself. Before he left, Steve made sure that Vladek had money for food, leaving him $100 in cash and a credit card just in case. He offered to buy more groceries, but Vladek said he had enough food to get by and not to worry about it. Steve made one final request – he was expecting a package to be delivered while he was gone and asked his son to make sure to take it inside. Vladek promised he would, and the two said their goodbyes.

But when Steve returned from Tennessee ten days later, Vladek was gone.

Steve arrived home around 4pm on November 15th after picking up the car from the mechanic. Expecting to see signs of Vladek living the bachelor life for ten days, Steve was surprised to find that the apartment looked pretty much the same as he had left it on the 5th. The same food was still in the refrigerator, there were no dirty dishes in the sink, and the package that he had been expecting was still sitting on the porch. When Steve looked into his son’s room, he saw that all of Vladek’s clothes and other belongings were in their usual spots, as was his cell phone. Steve thought it was odd that Vladek’s phone was dead, especially since the charger was right there next to it, but he wasn’t overly alarmed at first. He had told Vladek that he would be home on the 16th; perhaps Vladek had gone out since he wasn’t expecting his dad until the next day. Steve decided to wait and see if his son returned.

But Vladek didn’t return. On Wednesday, November 17th, the family officially reported him missing and immediately began posting flyers around East Orlando, hoping that someone had seen Vladek and would call Steve with a tip.

The Hasel family began collaborating with law enforcement to retrace Vladek’s steps in the days leading up to his disappearance. Because this is still a very active and ongoing investigation, I’m going to lay out the timeline as we know it to be so far. Much of this comes from witness statements and surveillance footage, plus information that the Orange County Sheriff’s Office has provided to the family.

On the evening of Friday, November 5th, shortly after Steve left for his trip, Vladek walked to Foxtail Coffee on Collegiate Way, about a mile from his apartment. Foxtail was one of his favorite hangouts, and he was well-known to the employees there. Vladek arrived around 8pm and purchased a coffee. According to the staff working that night, Vladek had his headphones in and was pacing the shop while listening to music. This was normal for Vladek; the Foxtail manager told the family that Vladek would sometimes pace for hours, blasting his music and singing out loud. But whenever he was asked to quiet down, he would always comply. They had never had any real issues with Vladek, although sometimes customers would report his odd behavior to the staff.

But on November 5th, Vladek did something out of the ordinary for him – he pulled out a pocket knife and set it on the table next to his coffee. A customer spotted it and told a Foxtail employee that Vladek was making him feel uncomfortable and that he was leaving. The customer apparently didn’t tell the employee about the pocket knife at the time. Eventually, Vladek left and presumably returned to his apartment.

A few hours later, around 2am on the morning of November 6th, Vladek called his sister Irena. According to her, this was a normal time for them to talk on the phone due to her schedule. They chatted for a few minutes, but Irena said that everything seemed fine – Vladek didn’t give any indication that something was wrong or that he was planning to go anywhere. However, this was the last time he used his phone.

A little after 7 that morning, Vladek returned to Foxtail Coffee. It’s a bit odd that Vladek was there so early, considering he usually slept late, but whatever his reason, he purchased a coffee with his credit card and sat at a table in the corner. According to the manager, the customer who had witnessed Vladek with the pocket knife the night before was also there that morning. This time the customer alerted the employees about the knife, although it doesn’t seem that Vladek had it with him that morning. However, because Foxtail Coffee has a zero tolerance policy in regards to weapons, the manager called the police.

When the deputy from the Orange County Sheriff‘s Office arrived, they issued a trespass warning and asked Vladek to leave the premises, which he did without complaint. Vladek then walked west towards the Wawa convenience store, the opposite direction of his apartment. The trespass warning was time stamped at 8:26am on the 6th, so we can assume that Vladek left Foxtail shortly after. This is the last verified sighting of Vladek Hasel. When he walked away, he was wearing a black hoodie, khaki shorts, and red slide sandals with black socks.

The timeline gets a bit muddy after this. The package that Steve was expecting was delivered on Monday, November 8th, around 2pm according to the tracking number. If Vladek had returned home any time after that, surely he would have brought the package inside like he promised.

The next reported sighting of Vladek was on November 12th. A maintenance worker at the apartment complex said he saw Vladek sitting at the basketball court and stopped to chat with him for a few minutes before Vladek headed back inside. The basketball court is right by Vladek’s apartment, so if he did go back inside, why would he have ignored the package – the one that had been sitting there since the 8th? The maintenance worker was familiar with Vladek, so the family suspects that he may have just gotten the day mixed up, that maybe it wasn’t November 12th after all. But there is really no way to confirm this.

There is only one other person who claims to have seen Vladek after November 6th. During a police canvass of the apartment complex, a resident stated that Vladek stopped by his place around 3am on November 15th and was talking about going off the grid. This sighting has not been verified.

According to the official timeline released by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Vladek was last seen on November 12th walking into the woods behind the apartment complex. However, the maintenance worker who spoke with Vladek said that he walked back into his apartment, not into the woods, so it’s unclear where investigators got this detail.

After Vladek was reported missing by his family, multiple air and ground searches were conducted in the area, including helicopters, infrared drones, and K9 units.

In late November, investigators told Steve that they had found a red slide sandal during a search of the woods. Based on the surveillance footage from the trespassing incident at Foxtail, the family believes that the shoe did indeed belong to Vladek and was from the same pair he was wearing on November 6th.

Unfortunately, there has been little information since. As it stands, we know that Vladek disappeared sometime between the last verified sighting at Foxtail Coffee on November 6th and the day his dad came home on November 15th. He did not have access to a car, and he did not use his cell phone or his credit card after the morning of November 6th. He left all of his belongings in his apartment, including the pocket knife he had with him at Foxtail Coffee on the night of November 5th.

There are several theories about what could have happened to Vladek. Based on his erratic behavior in the days and weeks leading up to his disappearance, Vladek’s family is concerned that he may have had some sort of manic episode and wandered into the woods unprepared. The family doesn’t believe that Vladek was suicidal, but they acknowledge that he was going through a difficult time emotionally and mentally, and they worry that he may have gotten caught up in something unsafe. There is also the possibility that Vladek really did decide to go off the grid, or that he may have joined a religious group. He was becoming increasingly fixated on heaven and the afterlife, and his family wonders if he could have been getting some of his more extreme ideas from a particular group or sect.

Whether Vladek walked away of his own accord or was the victim of an accident or foul play, his family just wants to know what happened. Steve told local news outlet Fox35, “If he could have possibly told me he was okay – he would have. He would have reassured me. But he hasn’t. It’s like he vanished, and someday we’ll know what happened. I hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

In the early months of 2022, the Hasel family teamed up with Night Owl Reconnaissance and the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons to organize searches and analyze Vladek’s technology in the hopes of yielding new information. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has sent the red slide sandal for DNA testing, but the family is still awaiting the results.

Vladek’s family has worked hard to get his story out to the public, not just in central Florida but across the country. They have given interviews to news outlets and podcasts, and have leveraged the power of social media to spread the word about Vladek’s case. Earlier this month, two billboards with Vladek’s picture and information were put up in Orlando, and the family is hopeful that this will generate new leads.

Bryan “Vladek” Hasel has been missing since November of 2021. He was last known to be wearing a black hoodie, khaki shorts, and red slide sandals with black socks. He is now 23 years old, 5’8″ tall, and weighs approximately 220 lbs. He has blue eyes and short blondish brown hair. If you have any information about Vladek’s whereabouts or his movements before he disappeared, please contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Office at 407-254-7000. And please share Vladek’s story on social media. You never know who might have the missing piece.