The Disappearance of Brittanee Drexel

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EARLY LIFE:

Brittanee Drexel was born on October 7, 1991 to parents Dawn and John. The pair had Brittanee when they were teenagers and while they tried to make their relationship work, the pair eventually split, with John moving to Florida. He wouldn’t reunite with his daughter until she was 16 years old.

Growing up in Rochester, New York, Brittanee was described as being energetic and carefree, with a strong sense of independence. She attended Gates Chili High School, where she was a star player on the school’s soccer team. She was also studying cosmetology, with an interest in fashion.

While in high school, Brittanee met her on-again, off-again boyfriend, John Greco. The pair had been together for two years and had experienced two breakups, after which Brittanee overdosed on her mother’s medication. However, after seeing a councillor, she was able to reconcile with John and the pair resumed dating.

While Brittanee was growing up, her mother married Chad Drexel, and the young girl became an older sibling to a younger brother and sister. By the time she was 17 years old, it was learnt that Dawn and Chad would be separating, news the three siblings had a hard time taking in.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

On April 22, 2009, Brittanee was in the midst of her spring break when she asked her mother if she could go to Myrtle Beach with some friends. It was a tradition for seniors in the Rochester area to spend spring break there, as the bars and clubs would often allow admittance to teenagers. Dawn told her no, as did her stepfather, which upset Brittanee, who stormed out of the house.

Upon leaving her house, Brittanee visited John, whom she vented to. After she had calmed down, he dropped her off at a friend’s house.

Later in the day, Brittanee called her mother to apologize for her outburst and once again asked if she could go down to South Carolina. Her request was denied, so she asked instead if she could spend the rest of spring break at her friend’s house. Dawn agreed, as long as her daughter kept in contact via cellphone.

Unbeknownst to Dawn, Brittanee had other plans.

That evening, Brittanee visited John at work and told him she would be heading down to Myrtle Beach and asked if he wanted to come as well. As he had to work, he denied her invitation, but promised to keep in touch with her throughout the remainder of the week.

At 6:30pm, Brittanee, along with four friends, left Rochester in the hopes of arriving in Myrtle Beach by the next morning.

Once in Myrtle Beach, Brittanee started to feel alienated from her friends, who were using drugs. She texted John and told him she was feeling uncomfortable, so he suggested she venture out on her own.

On April 24, Brittanee ran into a friend from Rochester named Peter Brozowitz. The pair made plans to meet up at Peter’s hotel room the next day.

At 2:00pm on April 25, Brittanee received a call from her mother and sister, who informed her they’d bought the young soccer star a pair of cleats. They also asked her plans for the day, with Brittanee telling her sister she was at the beach. As Rochester was experiencing nice weather at the time, her sister believed the beach to be one in the local area. Before ending the phone call, Brittanee told Dawn she would be home the next day.

At 8:00pm, Brittanee began texting John while on her way to visit Peter at the Blue Water Resort. She told him she was having a miserable time and was looking forward to returning home the next day. Once in Peter’s hotel room, she received a text from a friend, from whom she had borrowed a pair of shorts. The friend needed her shorts back, so Brittanee begrudgingly left for the Bar Harbour Hotel, where she was staying.

She continued to text John on her way back to her hotel.

DISAPPEARANCE:

At 9:00pm, John noticed Brittanee had stopped responding to his texts, which was unusual. After 30 minutes had gone by, he began to worry, so he threatened to tell her mother she was in Myrtle Beach if she didn’t text him back. She never responded to his further calls or texts.

Worried, John called Dawn, who also tried to get in contact with Brittanee. Her first few calls rang before going to voicemail. However, her later attempts would go straight to voicemail.

Upon finishing work at 11:00pm, John drove straight to Brittanee’s house. Dawn called the Rochester Police, who informed her they couldn’t get involved, since Myrtle Beach was out of their jurisdiction. John then reached out to a friend in North Carolina, who drove to Myrtle Beach to file a missing persons report with local police.

SEARCH:

On April 26, 2009, Dawn, John, Brittanee’s grandparents and two of her friends drove down to Myrtle Beach to look for the missing girl, while Chad stayed home to look after the children.

Local police launched an intensive search around the area where she was last seen, canvassing local hotels and beaches. They eventually located Brittanee’s friends, who told them they hadn’t seen her since the day before. A look through her room showed she’d left all her clothes behind. Her purse and cellphone were missing.

Once Dawn arrived in Myrtle Beach, police began asking about Brittanee’s home life. They were initially working on the theory she had runaway, but Dawn refuted this, claiming Brittanee had no reason to run away. Not only was she close to finishing high school, she had been looking forward to college and loved her younger siblings.

On April 27, a lead was called into police regarding Peter and his friends, who had left the area abruptly around 2:00am the night Brittanee went missing. They had left behind some clothing and had forgotten to pick up a deposit. Upon returning to Rochester, Peter immediately obtained a lawyer, which piqued police interest.

When asked about his interaction with Brittanee on April 25, Peter explained that she’d left his hotel room shortly after arriving, as she had to return a pair of shorts to her friend. This was corroborated by surveillance footage from the Blue Water Resort, which showed Brittanee coming and going from the hotel in the same approximate timeframe. As for why he and his friends had left during the middle of the night, Peter said that one friend had been pressured by their parents to return to Rochester.

After speaking with Peter, police took a look at the traffic cameras in the area, where one showed Brittanee walking to the Blue Water Resort around 8:15pm on the night she went missing. She was seen on her phone, asking Peter for directions. The camera never caught her on her way back to her hotel.

Police then obtained Brittanee’s cellphone records, where they learnt it last pinged in McClellanville, South Carolina, approximately 50 miles from Myrtle Beach. The area was near the north Santee River, which struck investigators as odd, as only fishermen and locals knew the area. Because of this, it was unknown whether the missing girl had become separated from her phone or if she had been abducted and driven to the area.

Based on the cellphone pings, a search was launched around the area of the Santee River. Given the wild animals in the area, which include alligators, snakes and wild hogs, this was done with a sense of urgency. After the initial search, other agencies were brought in to widen the search area and obtain more resources. This included volunteer searchers, as well as the use of helicopters, sonar, ATVs and search dogs. After a week of searching, nothing was found.

The CUE Center for Missing Persons were called in to help and they searched probable areas where someone could have pulled off the highway if they had abducted the missing girl.

Brittanee’s friends and family eventually returned to Rochester, while police continued to look for leads in the case.

In December 2009, police received a tip that led to a search of the area just north of where the initial search had been conducted. A pair of sunglasses was found in a desolate area, which were at first believed to possibly belong to Brittanee. However, suspicions arose due to the lack of mud and wear on them, and upon being sent away for testing, no DNA was found.

On April 9, 2010, police announced they had three to four persons of interest in the case. They also revealed they believed Brittanee to be deceased. They wouldn’t elaborate further, other than to say they needed more evidence before proceeding with charges.

In order to bring in more leads, a video was released featuring Brittanee on the night of April 24, 2009, just a day before she went missing. It had been taken by a college student who had befriended her while in Myrtle Beach, and he handed over the footage upon learning of her disappearance. However, no tips were called in upon its release.

In 2012, a group of fishermen discovered remains near the Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex boat landing, near where Brittanee had disappeared. However, upon forensic examination, they were deemed to have come from an animal.

December 2013 brought the discovery of more remains, about 10 miles from Myrtle Beach. They appeared to have been in the area for many years and had been scattered by animals. They were sent to Texas for DNA testing, but proved not to be Brittanee’s.

In 2016, an inmate in jail for voluntary manslaughter in a separate case informed investigators he had been present when Brittanee was murdered. He claimed she had been kidnapped, gang raped, pistol whipped and shot dead by a group of men, who then dumped her body in a swampy area in McClellanville that was known to be inhabited by alligators. According to him, Brittanee had been held against her will for four days at a stash house before being killed, and had attempted to escape once. The plan had been to force her into prostitution, but that changed upon her disappearance receiving media coverage.

The inmate named Timothy Da’Shaun Taylor and Taylor’s father as those who had been present at the murder and who had been involved in abducting Brittanee. Both denied being involved when brought in for questioning, with Taylor denying knowing either Brittanee or the inmate.

At the time he was implicated in the abduction and murder, Timothy was on probation in regards to a robbery he had committed. In the hopes of getting him to share what he knew about Brittanee’s disappearance, prosecutors decided to indict him on federal charges for the robbery and were given permission to do so by a judge, who said the decision didn’t violate the Constitution’s double jeopardy clause, as the federal government and individual states were sovereign powers.

A year after being brought to the attention of investigators, Taylor’s father was arrested for attempting to kidnap a woman in the same area where Brittanee had gone missing. However, he was able to provide an alibi for the time of the attempted abduction.

In March 2017, a renewed search was done in the Foxfire Court neighbourhood in Green Town, South Carolina. It was concentrated on a wooded area and a nearby field, and an excavator was brought in. Police haven’t stated if anything of relevance was found.

In July 2017, Taylor pleaded guilty to the federal charges against him. During his prison sentence, he was interviewed by investigators about Brittanee’s disappearance and given a polygraph, which he failed. Upon learning about the polygraph results, he ended the interrogation.

It was announced in February 2018 that Dawn had hired a private investigator, as she claimed investigators had stopped taking her calls.

In 2018, Taylor was released on bail for the robbery conviction, pending the outcome of a US Supreme Court decision about the previous ruling to allow the dual prosecution of Taylor for the same crime. His bail conditions required him to be placed under house arrest at his parents’ house and he was forced to wear a GPS monitoring device. A decision by the judge is not expected until 2019.

The FBI has offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in Brittanee’s disappearance.

THEORIES:

1) Early on in the investigation, Dawn believed Brittanee to have been abducted and forced into human trafficking. At the time, police were skeptical of this, given the area wasn’t known for prostitution. However, the story given by the inmate in 2016 suggests she was indeed abducted, with the plan being to force her into prostitution.

At this point in the investigation, Dawn no longer believes her daughter to have been targeted. Instead, she feels she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

2) Investigators are currently working on the theory that Brittanee was abducted and murdered. They currently hold Timothy Da’Shaun Taylor as their main suspect. However, they do not have enough evidence to convict or charge him in relation to the case.

AFTERMATH:

Candlelight vigils have been held in Brittanee’s honour, in the hopes of keeping the case in the public eye.

Dawn set up Brittanee’s Little Angels, a non-profit organization that looks to shine a light on missing persons cases and those who have been forced into human trafficking. It provides long-term advocacy services, as well as support for families of missing children and trafficking victims. Dawn hopes to raise enough money through the organization, so that it can fund families in their searches for their loved ones.

In 2017, a memorial was set up in Rochester’s David Park, where the missing girl used to play soccer. It  was funded through donations from the public and features a plaque underneath a cherry tree.

In October 2018, Dawn held a weekend retreat in Myrtle Beach for mothers who have either lost children or having missing children. Its aim was to encourage healing and growth by finding strength in numbers.

Dawn’s goal is to fight for legislation that will help families to keep their jobs while searching for missing children, and she aims to raise awareness and spread education by visiting schools and sharing Brittanee’s story.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Brittanee Drexel went missing from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on April 25, 2009. She was 17 years old and was last seen wearing a white, teal and grey spaghetti-strap shirt; black shorts; and silver or white flip-flops. At the time of her disappearance, she was 5’0″ and 103 pounds. She has brown hair and is known to wear blue-tinted contact lenses. Her ears and nose are pierced.

Currently, her case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, she would be 27 years old.

If you have any information regarding the case, you can contact the Myrtle Beach Police Department at 843-918-1000 or the case’s tipline at 585-420-8472.

Image Credit: Democrat & Chronicle

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