Disappearance of Brittanee Drexel

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Coordinates: 33°40′09″N 78°54′21″W / 33.6692°N 78.9057°W / 33.6692; -78.9057

Brittanee Drexel
A slightly tilted view of a young white woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, with a wrought-iron bed frame in the background
Image of Drexel distributed after her disappearance
Born(1991-10-07)October 7, 1991
DisappearedApril 25, 2009 (aged 17)
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, US
StatusMissing for 10 years, 11 months and 13 days
Home townChili, New York
Height5 ft 0 in (152 cm)

On the night of April 25, 2009, 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel of Chili, New York left the Bar Harbor Hotel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she had been staying with friends on a spring break trip that she had taken without her mother's knowledge or permission. She walked to another hotel a short distance away, and from there, texted her boyfriend to say she was going to see another friend at another hotel. She has not been seen since.

Police had no leads until 2016, when it was announced that a prison inmate had told them that Drexel had been abducted and killed.[1] The man accused by the informant denied knowledge of any alleged crime. Based on that information, the FBI considers the case a homicide, although it has not identified any suspect.

Background[edit]

Brittanee Drexel was born in the Rochester, New York, area in 1991, to her mother Dawn and a man of Turkish descent.[2] Shortly after Brittanee was born, Dawn married Chad Drexel, who adopted Brittanee at that time.[3] After Chad's military service ended, the family lived in the suburb of Chili. Drexel took an early liking to soccer. Friends and family recall her as being particularly fast with the ball despite her small stature.[4]

Drexel aspired to a career in nursing or cosmetology,[3] or even modeling. She had been born with persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous in her right eye, which required several surgeries, and was blind in that eye. To cover the eye's tendency to wander, she wore contacts that gave her a distinctive appearance.[2]

Dawn and Chad Drexel separated in 2008, a development that was not easy for Brittanee, adversely affecting her academic performance; Chad says that it also aggravated the depression from which she had long suffered.[5] She remained with her mother but kept in close contact with Chad. In April 2009, she asked Dawn if she could go to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina over spring break with her boyfriend and some girlfriends. Her mother refused, since she did not know the other teenagers and there were no accompanying adults on the trip; she also had a premonition that something bad would happen.[2] This led to arguments between the two for several days until April 22, when Brittanee asked if she could go to a friend's house for a day or two to calm down, to which Dawn agreed. That day, Brittanee left for South Carolina with the other students without telling her mother.[3]

Three days later, Brittanee called her mother once during the daytime after having arrived in Myrtle Beach, where the group stayed at the Bar Harbor Hotel, telling her mother that she was at the beach. Dawn was not alarmed, as she assumed that Brittanee had been referring to a beach along the Lake Ontario shoreline. A trip there seemed plausible to her since the temperature had reached a high of 83 °F (28 °C) in the area that day.[3][6]

Disappearance[edit]

That night, around 8 p.m., Drexel left her friends at the Bar Harbor Hotel on the beachfront to walk 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south down South Ocean Boulevard to another hotel, the Blue Water Resort, to visit a longtime friend who was staying there. Security cameras at the Blue Water Resort showed her arriving, wearing a black-and-white tank top, flip-flops and shorts, carrying a beige purse and then leaving around 8:45.[3]

Drexel continued texting her boyfriend, John Grieco, who had stayed in the Rochester area because of work commitments.[7] At around 9:15 her texts suddenly stopped, and Grieco began calling her friends in Myrtle Beach to see if they knew where she was or what had happened. When those efforts failed, he called Brittanee's mother.[3]

Dawn Drexel had not known that her daughter was in Myrtle Beach until hearing from Grieco. She called her estranged husband and then the Rochester police, hoping that they could establish communications with their counterparts in South Carolina. Repeated calls and texts to Brittanee's phone went unanswered.[3]

Investigation[edit]

The Myrtle Beach police began looking for Drexel the following morning. They located the security camera footage from the Blue Water Resort and found the friends whom she had visited. The last person who had seen Drexel before she had left was identified as Peter Brozowitz, a 20-year-old nightclub promoter whom Brittanee had known from the Rochester area and who was also vacationing in Myrtle Beach. They had apparently met at a local nightclub the night before. After police interviewed Brozowitz and the men with whom he was sharing his hotel rooms, they said that "no one has been ruled in or out," adding that they did not have any persons of interest.[2]

Police searched Drexel's hotel room, finding all of the clothes she had packed, but not her purse or cell phone. The phone's network pings were tracked on a path leading 50–60 miles (80–97 km) south of Myrtle Beach, in an area along U.S. Route 17 near the GeorgetownCharleston county line. The pings had stopped abruptly early on the morning of April 26. Areas near there and around Myrtle Beach where a body might have been disposed of were then searched for 11 days. In 2011, police searched an apartment in Georgetown County, but that effort did not yield any information that helped identify a suspect.[2]

Dawn Drexel and Brozowitz had several confrontations on the television show Dr. Phil, during which Brozowitz often expressed frustration at the damage to his reputation.[2] The Investigation Discovery show Disappeared devoted a segment to the case in October 2010.[7]

Dawn, who had driven to Myrtle Beach the day after her daughter's disappearance, eventually relocated there permanently to be close to where Brittanee had last been seen and better monitor the progress of the investigation. In a 2014 newspaper article on the case's fifth anniversary, she expressed her theory that Brittanee had defied her to go to Myrtle Beach because she had been "promised something" of interest, such as a modeling job. Dawn believes that her daughter was trafficked, but the Myrtle Beach police did not believe this was a strong possibility as little or no trafficking takes place in their jurisdiction.[2]

Taquan Brown allegations[edit]

In June 2016, the FBI, which had also been involved in the case, announced at a news conference that they believed that Drexel had been killed shortly after her disappearance. She had been abducted from Myrtle Beach to somewhere in the vicinity of Georgetown, near where the cell phone pings had ended, and killed there. The bureau put up a $25,000 reward for information leading to the resolution of the case.[1]

Two months later, The Post and Courier reported on the allegations in more detail, based on a transcript of a bond hearing for Timothy Da'Shaun Taylor, an inmate then serving time in state prison on an unrelated charge. FBI agent Gerrick Munoz testified that earlier that year, another South Carolina inmate, Taquan Brown, who had begun serving a 25-year sentence for manslaughter, told them that in 2009, shortly after Drexel disappeared, he had gone to visit a stash house in McClellanville to give money to Shaun Taylor, Timothy's father.[8]

As he walked through the house, Brown had told Munoz, he saw Timothy Taylor sexually abusing Drexel, with others present. He continued to the backyard, where he found Shaun Taylor and made his payment. As they talked, she ran from the house but was soon recaptured. Brown said he saw Timothy Taylor pistol-whip her, then take her back inside the house, where he heard two gunshots, which he assumed were the sounds of Drexel being killed. Brown claims to have seen a wrapped body being removed from the house, which was then dumped in one of many alligator ponds in the area.[8]

Brown's statement to investigators, Munoz said, was partially corroborated by information received from another informant, unidentified but described as incarcerated at the Georgetown County jail at the time he had talked to authorities. According to the second inmate, Timothy Taylor had picked up Drexel in Myrtle Beach and taken her to McClellanville, where he showed her off to friends and tried to sell her to them for trafficking purposes. But when the case drew heavy media attention, Taylor decided to kill her to avoid arrest.[8]

Federal charges[edit]

The bond hearing had been held after Timothy Taylor's arrest on a federal indictment for interfering in interstate commerce by threat or violence, stemming from a 2011 robbery of a McDonald's restaurant in Mount Pleasant in which he had been the getaway driver. Unusually, he had already been convicted for his involvement in the crime in state court and had been sentenced to probation, which he had finished by the time of the federal charges. Taylor's lawyer called the new charge a "squeeze" based on nothing more than the statement of two jailed informants; his mother called them "craziness", since she believed that her son and husband could never commit such a crime.[8]

Winston Holliday, the federal prosecutor at the hearing, admitted to the judge that the suspicions in the Drexel case were among the government's reasons for having brought the new charge for the conduct South Carolina had already sentenced Timothy Taylor for. In response to questions of whether this amounted to double jeopardy, Holliday cited a federal law that states that the federal government may bring charges for a crime if it believes the state prosecution led to an unfair outcome. In this case, Holliday noted that the other two participants in the robbery had both been sentenced to prison, with the gunman, who shot the restaurant's cashier twice, serving a 25-year minimum term.[8]

In March 2018, Myrtle Beach's WPDE-TV reported that nine months earlier, as part of his plea bargain negotiations, Timothy Taylor had agreed to take a lie detector test, which he failed.[9] According to the federal government's sentencing memorandum,[10] the only possible knowledge of the case to which he admitted involved having overheard part of an argument between two people over who had Drexel's cell phone, a discussion that he said had made him suspicious.[9] But when Taylor was connected to the lie detector and asked whether he had seen Drexel after her disappearance, or if he knew he was involved, the examiner determined he was not being truthful. Under the plea agreement he would thus face at least 10 years in prison for his role in the 2011 robbery.[10] After reviewing the results with Taylor's lawyer, the examiner attempted to continue but Timothy was too angry to do so.[9]

The government's memo therefore recommended the minimum sentence. Before the sentencing hearing was scheduled, Taylor was found to have violated the terms of his bail and was held in Charleston County Jail. But in August, presiding federal district judge David C. Norton ordered Taylor's bail reinstated on the condition that he remain on house arrest until the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Gamble v. United States, a constitutional challenge to the dual sovereignty doctrine, which allows separate state and federal prosecutions for the same criminal offense. The development pleased activists[11] who had been attempting to draw national attention to what they considered to be a "witch hunt".[12]

In June 2019, the Supreme Court decided Gamble in favor of the government, upholding dual sovereignty and allowing the federal government to proceed with its case against Taylor.[13] Six months later, Norton sentenced him to time served, 319 days, after a guilty plea forced by his similar disposition in state court.[14]

2019 interview[edit]

In February 2019, Brown gave a telephone interview to Rochester's WHEC-TV from McCormick Correctional Institution, where he is currently incarcerated. He said he had actually seen Drexel four times after her disappearance. In addition to the first encounter, Brown said he had seen her again a month later, and it was at that time she was killed.[15]

The first time Brown said he saw Drexel was April 27, two days after her disappearance. She was in the stash house, amid a group of 8 to 12 young men, and was being sexually assaulted. He also recalled that she had a visible black eye. He did not recognize her at the time but realized who she was a month later when publicity arose surrounding the case. His second encounter with Drexel came a few days later; this was the event that he had described to the FBI with the gunshots inside the building, and the body being carried out in a rug.[15]

Brown told WHEC that he had seen Drexel again five days later. This time he had driven to Jacksonboro, 80 miles (130 km) south of McClellanville, to show a cousin the car that he had just bought. At the cousin's house, on a lightly traveled dirt road with few residences, he saw her.[15]

Brown claimed to have seen Drexel for the last time in late May, once again on his cousin's property, while visiting with another friend. According to Brown, Drexel was near the rear property line, in a wooded area, with a group of men around her. As they walked by, a man whom Brown knew only as "Nate" shot her twice with a double-barreled shotgun. Brown and his friend left immediately, fearing being considered as accomplices if they had remained.[15]

WHEC was able to corroborate some of Brown's account. His description of the McClellanville stash house matched the station's own reporting from a 2016 visit. His account of the second visit, when he believed Drexel had been shot, is consistent with his original story as told to the FBI.[15] The station was unable to locate the friend whom Brown said had accompanied him on the last visit. Brown's cousin who owned the property where Drexel was purportedly killed is now dead. Another witness whom Brown had named could not be found.[15]

Brown has filed suit against Munoz, Holliday and other federal officials whom he says had identified him publicly or played a role in doing so. By doing so, he alleges, they gave him a reputation as a "snitch", and put his life in danger. Brown says that Taylor has offered $15,000 to anyone who kills Brown and that he has already been assaulted.[16]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Walsh, Patrice (June 8, 2016). "FBI: Brittanee Drexel held against her will, killed in South Carolina". WHAM-TV. Rochester, New York. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Newlands, Ettie (June 30, 2014). "Waiting for Brittanee Drexel: mother thinks missing daughter was trafficked". MyHorryNews.Com. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Baker, K.C. (June 10, 2016). "Father of Teen Missing Since 2009 Whom FBI Has Declared Was Held Captive and Murdered: 'I'm Begging Anyone To Help Us Bring Her Home'". People. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  4. ^ "Family, friends remember Brittanee as soccer star". WMBF-TV. October 27, 2010. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  5. ^ Martinez, Edecio (September 24, 2009). "Brittanee Drexel Vanished During Spring Break, Will She Ever Be Found?". CBS News. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  6. ^ "Area Almanac". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. April 26, 2009. p. 8B.
  7. ^ a b "The Secret Journey". Investigation Discovery. October 14, 2010. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e Pardue, Doug; Smith, Glenn (August 26, 2016). "FBI agent: Missing teen Brittanee Drexel was kidnapped, shot and dumped in alligator pit". The Post and Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. Archived from the original on October 15, 2016. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c "Documents show questions man was asked during failed polygraph in Brittanee Drexel's case". WPDE-TV. March 15, 2018. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  10. ^ a b "Sentencing Memo for Timothy Taylor". scribd.com. March 14, 2018. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  11. ^ Jackson, Angie (August 17, 2018). "Man named in Brittanee Drexel investigation to be released on house arrest". The Post and Courier. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  12. ^ Jackson, Angie (January 17, 2018). "Activist calls on feds to 'stop the witch hunt' against man named in Brittanee Drexel probe". The Post and Courier. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  13. ^ "Supreme Court decision impacts case of man accused of being connected to Brittanee Drexel". WCSC-TV. June 27, 2019. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  14. ^ "Man once suspected in Drexel disappearance to receive no additional prison time on separate charge". WCSC-TV. December 9, 2019. Retrieved December 9, 2019.
  15. ^ a b c d e f "Exclusive: FBI informant speaks with News10NBC; says he witnessed Brittanee Drexel's murder". WHEC-TV. February 26, 2019. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  16. ^ Lahman, Sean (February 28, 2019). "Jailhouse informant in Brittanee Drexel disappearance files lawsuit". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. Retrieved April 13, 2019.

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