This case is a case that I never thought would happen to someone that I went to school with. It’s the same song and dance quote, “I never thought it would happen to someone I know…” This is the case of Brittanee Drexel.
Brittanee was born in Rochester, New York on October 7th, 1991 to her mother Dawn and a man of Turkish descent. (I don’t think that Dawn was ever married to Brittanee’s biological father.) Shortly after Brittanee was born, Dawn married Chad Drexel, who ended up adopting Brittanee. Dawn and Chad would go on to have two more children, a girl and a boy. After Chad exited from military service, the family made Chili, NY their permanent residence.
Brittanee was popular in school. Even though I never knew her personally, she was popular enough that I knew who she was when she came walking down the school hallways. She was always around her tight knit group of friends. Brittanee was involved in some extracurricular activities, while soccer was something that she excelled in. Brittanee’s friends and family recall her being particularly fast with the ball, despite her small stature. Even though she was really good at soccer, Brittanee was born with a persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous in her right eye, which required several surgeries, and she was actually pretty blind in that eye. To cover the eye’s tendency to wander, she wore contact lenses that gave her a distinctive appearance. But, she had a smile that would light up a whole room.
Brittanee dreamed of being either a nurse, or a cosmetologist. And she even thought about becoming a model for some time. From all reports, Brittanee was super goal-orientated, but knew when to let loose and have fun. She was like any normal teenager.
Brittanee’s mother, and father decided to separate in 2008- a development that was not easy for her. She was so affected by the divorce, that her academic performance began to show how stressed and overwhelmed she really was. She began to skip school. Life is hard enough when you’re just 17 years old- you’re trying to figure yourself out, what you want in life, as well as, getting good grades in school, and also soccer…. The list goes on. But life at 17, while your parents are divorcing, would probably seem like her whole world was falling apart. In the months leading up to Spring Break, Brittanee overdosed two different times on her mother’s pain medication. (Both of these times were after she had an argument and “broke up” with her boyfriend, John.) Brittanee began to see a counselor, and eventually reconciled with her boyfriend.
But, she had her whole life ahead of her, until Spring Break of 2009.
In the weeks leading up to Spring Break, a group of seniors asked Brittanee if she wanted to accompany them to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Going to Myrtle Beach during spring break while being a senior from GCHS was practically tradition at this point, but being asked as an underclassman must have felt like she was on top of the world.
Brittanee had gone home to her mother, and gave her all the details about the trip, and begged to go. However, Dawn said no, and was adamant about not changing her mind. Brittanee begged and pleaded, over and over- she was relentless in asking her mother. But, Dawn held firm and refused. Brittanee even asked her father, and he agreed with Dawn- that it wasn’t a good idea. Neither Dawn or Chad knew much about the people that were going. And what made them steadfast in their answer was that there wasn’t going to be any parental supervision. Dawn even later admitted that she had a premonition that something bad was going to happen.
Brittanee fought with both of her parents for the whole week leading up to Spring Break. April 17th, 2009 marked the last day of school for Brittanee.
After she had spent days fighting with her parents, on April 22nd, 2009, Brittanee went to a friend’s house to spend the night. She had texted her mother and asked if she could spend the rest of the week with her friend since she couldn’t go to Myrtle Beach. Dawn, thinking that maybe her daughter needed some space, agreed. All the while however, Brittanee was headed to South Carolina with friends.
Dawn and Brittanee were exchanging text messages throughout the week. Brittanee had lied to her mother about how she spent a lot of the week hanging out at a friend’s house watching movies, and that they even went to Charlotte beach for the day. Dawn thought that Brittanee was at the beach near Lake Ontario, not Myrtle Beach, SC. On April 25th, 2009, Brittanee called her mother during the day and told her that she’d be home the next day. Dawn told her daughter that she loved her and that she’d see her tomorrow.
That night however, Dawn received a phone call from John Greico. (John Greico was Brittanee’s boyfriend, and he stayed behind from the trip due to work commitments.) John nervously told Dawn that he hasn’t heard from Britt since around 9:15 p.m. When asked why that was so alarming, John admitted that Brittanee had fled to South Carolina with friends a few days ago. Dawn was infuriated. She couldn’t believe that her daughter would lie to her like that. But her anger quickly melted into nervousness because now she was feeling like her premonition was starting to come true. Dawn began to freak out when each phone call to Britt was going to voicemail.
Immediately, Dawn phoned her ex-husband Chad, and other friends of Britt’s to verify that Britt was gone. They notified Rochester police as to what was going on, but Dawn and Chad were quickly informed that they needed to get in touch with the Myrtle Beach police department, since that’s where Britt has gone missing. Dawn phoned a friend who lived near Myrtle Beach to help by beginning the process of getting authorities involved. The day after Dawn was told about Britt’s disappearance, she traveled the 14 hour car ride to Myrtle Beach with John, Britt’s grandparents, and two other friends. (Chad stayed back to take care of Brittanee’s siblings.) On the trip, John told Dawn that Britt’s disappearance doesn’t make sense because Britt was telling John how excited she was to return to Rochester.
John tells Dawn that Brittanee was not having a fun time. Her trip of relaxation and partying had turned into a trip from hell. Brittanee began to feel alienated from her friends. The people that she went down with were using drugs, and Britt felt really uncomfortable. At one point during the trip, Britt had separated from the group of friends that she made the trip with, due to some tension. Brittanee met up with another friend from Rochester, Peter Brozwitz. Peter was 20 years old, and had already graduated from High School. He was a club promoter, and knew about all the hot spots in town.
Dawn and John found out that Britt was originally staying at the Bar Harbor Hotel. Throughout the investigation, Dawn found out that around 8 p.m on April 25th, Brittanee left the Bar Harbor Hotel and walked the 1.5 miles to the Blue Water Resort where Peter and his friends were staying. The security cameras at Blue Water captured her arriving wearing a white and black tank top, flip-flops and shorts, while carrying a beige purse. At 8:45, the security cameras caught Brittanee leaving to go back to Bar Harbor. Watching Britt leaving Blue Water was the last time that she’s ever been seen.
During the investigation, authorities learned that Peter and four male friends had left Myrtle Beach at 2 a.m, the morning after Brittanee had gone missing. They took off so fast that they forgot some personal items in their hotel room, and forgot to get their deposit for the room. Investigators learned that Peter and crew had made the trip back up to Rochester, and Peter had immediately retained a lawyer. This was an obvious red flag to the authorities. Peter’s friends: Anthony, Matthew, Keith and Phillip all claim that they saw Brittanee at different times. They state that during the few days that Brittanee had been in Myrtle Beach, she spent a lot of time on the beach playing volleyball, but had partied at Club Kryptonite on April 24th, 2009. After diving deep into Peter’s story and thoroughly investigating, authorities removed him as a person of interest. But unfortunately, they were out of leads.
Police began searching Brittanee’s hotel room, in hopes of finding any evidence to point them in one way or another. They found all her clothes, but not her purse or cell phone. Investigators found out that at 9:27p.m, about 30 minutes of her last text, data revealed that Britt’s pink cell phone was heading southbound on route 17. Her phone pinged cell towers in Surfside Beach, almost 7 miles miles south of Myrtle Beach. It would take 2 hours to walk there, and about 15 minutes by car. Police aren’t sure if her cell phone battery died, or if it got destroyed, but by 11:58 p.m, just 3 hours after Britt last texted her boyfriend, her phone last pinged cell tower #332. This tower is located two counties and over 50 miles south of Myrtle Beach, near Georgetown County. The area is near the North Santee River around the Pole Yard Boat Landing.
The place where Britt’s phone ended up was super rural. The area is swampy and isolated. “It’s off the beaten path.” The people who know the area are locals and boaters. A random teenage girl from Rochester NY wouldn’t end up there on a Saturday night.
Police had searched the areas where her phone had last given a signal, along with areas around Myrtle Beach. Agencies and local volunteers began an in-depth combing of the area. They were looking for the cell phone, or any indication that Brittanee was there. Authorities knew that the treacherous wildlife gave Brittanee a slim chance of survival.
It was heartbreaking for Brittanee’s family to return to Rochester without Britt. Brittanee’s younger brother and sister couldn’t understand why no one could find their sister. Dawn came home to a house full of Brittanee’s things, and it must have been very triggering for Dawn to not have her daughter home. Brittanee’s dad pondered over and over and asked himself if Brittanee was being tortured. He questioned if his daughter was alive, and if she wasn’t; how was he able to tell his younger kids the truth, when he didn’t even know what the truth was. Chad felt as though he failed in keeping his daughter safe.
Slowly, but surely, Dawn and the rest of Britt’s family grew concerned that Brittanee might have become a victim of human trafficking. Dawn even theorized that maybe someone had convinced Britt to go with them by telling her that they had a modeling gig for her. However, the authorities weren’t buying the human trafficking theory. “We’ve got no history. We’ve had nothing prior, or since.” But, undeterred, Dawn and Chad banded together by passing out flyers and missing persons posters.
8 months later, in mid-December of 2009, an anonymous tip was phoned in to investigators. The police were reluctant to give out any of the tip’s specifics, but the anonymous tip had given the investigators enough to resume the search, just north of where Britt’s phone pinged off of the cell tower. It was during this search that a pair of sunglasses were found on, or near the bank of the Santee River. Unfortunately however, Dawn, Chad and John don’t really recognize the glasses, but they note that Britt could have bought a pair while she was vacationing. Dawn hoped that a DNA match would prove that the sunglasses were Britt’s. But they weren’t. It was another dead end for the Drexel family.
On April 9th, 2010, almost a year after Brittanee had gone missing, investigators announced that they had several persons of interest, and that they thought Brittanee’s case was no longer a missing persons case, but a homicide. Detectives refused to give out any more information, and for the Drexel family and friends, it was just another devastating blow that no arrests were being made. The who, the why, the how questions were just… not being answered. But, the authorities did release a home video taken by a college student from the Midwest that she had just met while walking on Ocean Boulevard. This video footage was captured just 24 hours before Britt’s disappearance. Detectives ended up questioning this student, and he ended up having a credible alibii during the time Brittanee went missing.
Dawn Drexel continued to believe that Brittanee was being held against her will, and was caught up in some type of human trafficking scheme. Brittanee’s friends and family claim that Britt was a trusting person, and they believe that someone approached, or enticed her in some way. But, like before, investigators didn’t think that Britt’s case was a human trafficking case, and even went so far to say that human trafficking didn’t really exist in South Carolina. (Uh, newsflash.. Human trafficking exists EVERYWHERE.)
In 2012, Raymond Moody, a South Carolina sexual offender, was announced as a person of interest in Brittanee’s disappearance. But just like before, no arrests were made and Britt’s case went back to being ice cold.
The Drexel family and friends tried to go on with their lives, while still searching for and advocating for Brittanee. Britt’s brother and sister grew up without their sister. Brittanee’s friends went into their senior year, celebrating huge milestones without her. Homecoming, no Britt. Prom, no Britt. Graduation, no Britt. It was truly heartbreaking. Eventually, over time, Dawn relocated to South Carolina to be close to the investigation, and to keep pressure on the police.
But on June 8th, 2016, everything changed. The FBI confirmed to the Drexel family that Brittanee had been killed shortly after her disappearance. A press conference was held in the area where her cell phone last pinged, and it’s where the bureau put up a $25,000 reward for information leading to the resolution of Brittanee’s case.
Two months later, The Post and Courier reported on the allegations that a man by the name of Taquan Brown had told an FBI agent that he had gone to a stash house (a house where weapons, drugs and other illicit activity takes place) in McClellanville, to give money to Shaun Taylor. As Taquan had walked through the house, he had witnessed Timothy Da’Shaun Taylor (Shaun’s son) sexually abusing Brittanee, while others watched. Taquan admits that he continued through the house to the backyard, and made his payment to Shaun. As he had a conversation with Shaun, Brittanee ran out of the house and tried to escape, but was recaptured. Taquan says that he witnessed Timothy pistol-whip Brittanee and watched as Timothy took her back inside the house. The next thing he heard were two gunshots, and he admits that he suspected that Timothy had murdered Brittanee. Next, Taquan admits that he watched as others removed Britt’s wrapped up body from the house, and then dumped into one of the various alligator ponds in the area. Taquan Brown’s statement was partially corroborated by information received from another informant, unidentified but described as incarcerated at the Georgetown County jail. According to the second inmate, Timothy Taylor had picked up Brittanee 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, Timothy decided to kill her to avoid arrest.
Now… this is where the case gets a little… convoluted. In 2011, Timothy Taylor was involved in a robbery at a McDonald’s with a group of guys and he was the getaway driver. The robbery didn’t go well, and he was caught. He was convicted at the state level for the robbery, and was sentenced and put on probation. However, Timothy was charged again for the same crime at the federal level. (Double jeopardy isn’t valid in this case because the federal government has the right to file new charges if it believes the state prosecution led to an unfair outcome.) 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 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. According to the federal government’s sentencing memorandum, 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. But when Timothy was connected to the lie detector and asked whether he had seen Brittanee 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. After reviewing the results with Taylor’s lawyer, the examiner attempted to continue but Timothy was too angry to do so. 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 Timothy’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 who had been attempting to draw national attention to what they considered to be a “witch hunt”.
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 Timothy. Six months later, Norton sentenced him to time served, 319 days, after a guilty plea forced by his similar disposition in state court.
In February 2019, Taquan 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 Brittanee four times after her disappearance. The first time Brown said he saw Britt was on April 27th, 2009, 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 Brittanee came a few days later; this was the event that he had described to the FBI with the gunshots inside the house, and the body being carried out in a rug. Brown told WHEC that he had seen Britt again five days later. This time he had driven to Jacksonboro, 80 miles 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. Brown claimed to have seen Brittanee 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. WHEC was able to corroborate some of Brown’s accounts. 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. 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. Brown has filed suit against FBI detective 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 Timothy Taylor has offered $15,000 to anyone who kills Brown and that he has already been assaulted.
But there’s more… remember Shaun Taylor, Timothy’s dad? Well, apparently Shaun had an extensive criminal history. As it turns out, about a year after Brittanee had gone missing, Shaun had been arrested, and charged for trying to kidnap another woman in the same place where Britt had vanished. Shaun’s brother, Randell was arrested in 2001 for the death and disappearance of another woman named Shannon McCaughney. She had vanished after leaving a Cracker Barrel restaurant in North Charleston on January 29th, 1998. Her car was found burned in some woods near Awendaw two weeks later, and her body was found in March of that year in some woods near McClellanville. Eventually, the charges were dismissed against both Shaun and Randell and the other men because of what defense attorneys described as a lack of evidence. Sources on the Drexel case have also raised eyebrows at the mention of a fourth woman, Crystal Gail Soles, who vanished just miles from the McClellanville area in 2005. Soles was last seen leaving Shaw’s Corner store near Andrews, and officials think she was abducted. “There are just too many young, white girls going missing (with a connection to that area),” one source close to the case said.
To this day, Timothy Taylor has never been charged in Brittanee’s case. Even though the Drexel family have waited over 11 years for answers, they’ll have to continue to wait. Authorities actually believe that Taquan Brown is holding back from being even more forward with facts about what happened to Brittanee. Is it too much of a coincidence that different family members of the same family are each linked to a missing persons case? I say… No. It’s not.
This case really does hit too close to home, because, well… she went to my school. She was only a few grades, a few years below me. And interestingly enough, Brittanee’s younger sister was good friends with my cousin, Dominique. When all of this transpired, my cousin posted on her social media, almost daily about Brittanee. Wimpy’s Burger Basket (a restaurant that I frequented while I lived at home) was filled with “Thinking of you, Britt” posters and messages of love to her family and friends. Anytime there has been an update from my local news station about Britt’s case, I’d turn up the volume and listen carefully, hoping that they found new news about her, or her body. But unfortunately for Britt’s family and friends, her body has never been found, and I fear that she’ll never be found. If you’d like to donate to the Polaris Project, or to learn more about how you can help in the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery, please check out- https://polarisproject.org/