Missing UT Austin student: Family continues search for Brian Vargo who disappeared in 1976

A UT Austin student who vanished 46 years ago would have, or may have, turned 67 this month. 

Brian Vargo disappeared the second semester of his sophomore year in 1976. The 20-year-old engineering major had withdrawn from university that semester. 

His niece Amanda Vargo Wattecamps recovered a draft copy of the withdrawal form. It indicates Vargo planned to return. Wattecamps said Vargo appears to have kept the leave of absence a secret from close family and friends. 

Records show Vargo’s grades dropped prior to his disappearance.  

"It wasn't like a significant drop, as in went from A's to F's. It was, went from A's and B's to C's. And then spring semester he stopped attending classes," said Wattecamps. 

Vargo was arrested in Harris County with marijuana. Letters he wrote indicate he may have been "addicted" to drugs. 

"He makes it sound like he may be addicted to drugs. But when you talk to his friends, they're like, ‘No way,’" said Wattecamps. 

In other correspondence, Vargo talked about "finding himself." 

During spring break of 1976, Vargo told his family he was headed to Colorado to work on a dude ranch. Wattecamps and detectives with the Austin Police Department have been unable to confirm that Vargo was employed, or had a job lined up at a Colorado ranch. 

Detectives state he also told family and friends he was going to Colorado to "visit a friend." Somewhere along the way, his vehicle broke down. He promised to sell the car to a mechanic and left it at their shop. He returned home to Houston to retrieve the vehicle’s title. Then his mother and aunt dropped him off at a bus station in Katy.

That was the last time he was seen by anyone in the Vargo family. 

"I have not been able to find any indication of whether he made it back to Colorado," an Austin police detective wrote to FOX 7 Austin in an email. 

Wattecamps said she hasn’t found any evidence Vargo made it to Colorado either. 

"When spring break was over and classes resumed, his roommates call my grandmother, my grandfather and say ‘Brian’s not here,’" Wattecamps said 

"Around the same time" Wattecamps said her grandfather received a call from the mechanic. 

"[The mechanic] says, ‘Hey, I have your son's car here. He hasn't come back for it. He was supposed to come back with the title and sell me the car. It's been broken into. You know, I need to. I need to get rid of it,’" she explained. 

Vargo’s father, Wattecamps’ grandfather, like many people tied to the case, is now deceased. It remains unclear where the body shop was. 

Wattecamps, who never met her uncle, spends her time poring over his records. She said his disappearance has especially impacted her life as a parent.  

"I have two boys. So it's kind of a reminder that even if you feel like you're close to them, there can always be another side," she explained. "I think that there were a lot of emotions and expression that [Vargo] didn't put out there." 

Recently, she called several law enforcement agencies in Austin and Vargo’s native Houston to check on the case. She discovered a missing persons report had never been filed. 

"No one was looking for him," she said. 

Last winter, Vargo was declared missing. The Austin Police Department's Cold Case Unit has taken over the case. Wattecamps and detectives admit there are many roadblocks given the lag in reporting. 

In February 2023, Vargo’s mother will turn 100. 

"I debate about that sometimes because once you find out that something horrible happened to somebody, sometimes you wish that maybe you would have rather not known. But at the same time, not knowing now leaves you open to all the what-if possibilities," said Wattecamps about closure for her grandmother.

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Austin Police Department’s Cold Case Unit