In 2009, Brittanee Drexel was 17 when she went to Myrtle Beach with some friends for spring break and would never make it home again. Her case was treated as a missing persons case, but in 2016 a prison inmate made claims about her being abducted, gang-raped, shot to death, and then thrown into an alligator infested swamp. Now people make claims like this all the time and while they could be true, let’s be honest – more often than not these kinds of statements are made because the individual is bored and looking for something to break the monotony, maybe they are trying to get something in return for information, or sometimes they’re just a sicko getting some twisted pleasure out of how what they say affects people close to the case. (I do think there is definitely a culture of inmates who are willing to say just about anything to reduce their time, or maybe get transferred to a closer prison to their families.)
So, who was Brittanee and how did we get here? Brittanee was born October 7, 1991 in Rochester, New York. Her biological father, John Kahyaohlu, left her and her mother Dawn shortly after she was born. Not long after, Dawn married Chad Drexel who adopted Brittanee and the two raised her as their own. (That was nice of him to do) She was born with something called persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous (PHPV). This is a rare congenital developmental anomaly of the eye that happens when embryological, primary vitreous, and hyaloid vasculature fail to regress. In case I lost you in that technical mumbo-jumbo, it basically means the vasculature or veins grew too much and then didn’t naturally pull back like they normally would which causes the eye to be hazy and scarred because there’s all this extra gunk covering it. Anywho, this led to her having several surgeries and left her blind in her right eye so she wore a contact lens to keep the pupil from wandering. Because of this she has very distinctive eyes and it’s one of if not the first thing you notice when looking at pictures of her.
The family settled down in Rochester, New York after Chad finished his military service and Brittanee took up soccer. She was a great player and everyone said that she was small, but she was fast. She was a hard worker and aspired to be a nurse, cosmetologist, or maybe a model. She started to struggle in 2008 though, when Dawn and Chad separated. Her grades started to slip and she wasn’t as passionate as she had once been. Things continued downhill when they officially decided to divorce in 2009.
She’d been having a rough time and wanted a break from everything so she asked her mom if she could spend spring break at Myrtle Beach with her boyfriend John and a few of their friends. Dawn immediately said no because she didn’t know the other teenagers well enough and there weren’t any parents going with them. She also had a gut feeling that if she went something was going to happen. Brittanee, being your regular teenager, didn’t understand why she couldn’t go and they spent the whole day arguing about this.
Now, I know you’re thinking back to the beginning of the episode when I said she disappeared from Myrtle Beach, so Dawn must have caved, right? Well, not exactly. After all this arguing, on Wednesday April 22, Brittanee asked if she could go to a friend’s house for a couple of days to calm down. She had never done anything to lose her parent’s trust, so Dawn agreed, believing that’s all she was doing. Brittanee called her that night and apologized for the rough day and things seemed to be on the up and up. What she didn’t realize is that same night, Brittanee had left Rochester and gone to Myrtle Beach with her friends.
They talked on the phone a few times over the next couple of days and when she made a comment that she was at the beach, Dawn interpreted it to mean she was at the lake. I initially thought this was strange because to me the beach and the lake are two very different things, but I guess it was pretty common to refer to the lake as the beach there and since it was a pretty warm day in Rochester it didn’t set off any alarm bells for Dawn.
Sunday rolled around and Dawn was at a barbecue with her two other kids when Brittanee’s boyfriend, who had actually stayed in Rochester, called. He told her that Brittanee had gone to Myrtle Beach and said that he couldn’t reach her and her friends that she was with couldn’t find her. He said that they had been texting, but she suddenly stopped responding. So Dawn tried calling her, but wasn’t getting any response either. She didn’t know what to do, so she called Chad and they decided to call the Rochester police. Now, they did this rather than call the Myrtle Beach police because they didn’t know who to call out there, so they thought starting with Rochester was their best bet.
Of course, because she had technically ‘run away’ by going to Myrtle Beach with her friends, it could make things more difficult. Dawn said that she had never done anything like this before, but that she had been struggling since the separation. She knows she went to Myrtle Beach and that was out of character, but she had left all her clothes so she didn’t think it was possible she had run away. Fortunately, by the next morning, Myrtle Beach police were involved and the search was on.
Here’s what we know – on Friday around 8 pm, Brittanee left the hotel (Bar Harbor Hotel) she and her friends were staying at and walked about 1.5 miles to another hotel (Blue Water Resort) where a longtime friend named Peter Brozowitz was staying. She definitely made it there because there is security camera footage showing her arriving. She was wearing a black and white tank top, shorts, and flip flops with a beige purse. She left about 10 minutes later at approx. 8:45.
Throughout the day she had been texting with John (boyfriend) and continued texting with him while she was at the hotel. Her texts to him stopped at about 9:15, so she was presumably okay for half an hour after she left the hotel. If she were walking straight back to her hotel, she probably would have been pretty much there by then. When she stopped texting John it was very sudden and abrupt and not like her, so his alarm bells were going off immediately. He tried everything he could to get her to answer, even telling her over text that if she didn’t respond he was going to call her mom and tell her what she had done.
Obviously, she still didn’t answer and as we know, he called Dawn on Sunday. He also reached out to a friend of his that lived in North Carolina about 2-2.5 hours from Myrtle Beach and asked him if he could go down and file a missing persons report. So now we have multiple police departments involved and still no response from Brittanee. According to some sources, the group of friends she had gone with were supposed to be heading home, but some stayed an extra day to help look for her. However, in an interview with Dawn, she says that no one from the group ever contacted her, asked if they could help, or made an effort to look for her. Local police also combed the area looking for her. They received reports of sightings at a bus stop and a convenience store, but those leads turned out to be dead ends and didn’t turn up anything.
Police also searched her room at the hotel and found all of her clothes and things were still there other than her purse and phone. They were able to track her phone and followed the pings from the night before on a path leading 50-60 miles (80-97 km) south of Myrtle Beach. The pings then stopped abruptly early in the morning Sunday the 26. This area, along with areas around Myrtle Beach where a body could have been disposed of were searched for 11 days. They found nothing and were running out of leads.
Also, Dawn drove down to Myrtle Beach the day after she disappeared and ended up permanently moving there to be close to where Brittanee had last been seen and to be able to more easily keep track of the investigation. She was pretty suspicious of Brozowitz, the friend she had visited in the second hotel. He was a nightclub promoter and she felt like while it wasn’t like Brittanee to run off to Myrtle Beach without permission, that maybe she was so set on going because she had been ‘promised something’ like a modeling job. She thinks that this could have been a ploy to get her there and that she could have been trafficked. Which – side note – Myrtle Beach police said that they didn’t consider this a strong possibility because they had little to no trafficking in their jurisdiction, but according to a 2019 report conducted by the SC Human Trafficking task force, Horry County, which is the county Myrtle Beach is in, is the number one county in SC for reported human trafficking victims. She also says it was super unlike her to walk back and forth between the hotels because she was the type of person who wanted to be driven even if she was just going 8 houses down the street.
Anywho, police did interview Brozowitz and the men he was sharing the hotel room with. Afterwards they said that they hadn’t ruled anyone in or out and that there weren’t any persons of interest, but they did have some new information. Dawn has expressed her suspicion towards Brozowitz, but he insists he has no idea what happened and responds with frustration at his reputation being damaged by the accusations.
In 2011, police searched an apartment in Georgetown County, the area where her phone stopped pinging but nothing ended up coming of it. When asked about the search, police wouldn’t provide any information about what had led them there or if they found anything. They said they couldn’t say more because of the ‘ongoing investigation.’
Over the next months and years, people continued to search for her. The first six months there were large scale searches almost every day with 200-500 people looking for her, with one weekend bringing in 800 searchers. While the daily searches couldn’t go on forever, there continued to be air, ground, water, and sonar searches. They still haven’t found anything though, and this could mean that she is in fact out there alive somewhere, or it could mean they just aren’t looking in the right places.
Now, at the start of the episode I mentioned an inmate provided information that involved an alligator pit. This was in June of 2016 after the FBI joined the search and offered a reward of $25,000. This individual was Taquan Brown who was an inmate in the McCormick Correctional Institution in South Carolina serving 25 years for manslaughter. He claimed to have witnessed Brittanee being gang-raped at a stash house he frequented in McClellanville on April 27, 2009. He said that there were 8-12 “guys” involved in this and that she had a black eye. He claimed that he was bringing money to one of the men there and that while he was there he saw her and then heard her get killed. He said, “As I see it, the guy in the front yard told me, ‘hold on a second,’ he had to go inside … and after he goes inside, I hear … Two gunshots. At this time I’m trying to get the hell out of there because I’m thinking someone has been shot.” He then added that she was likely left in an alligator pit.
The house he described was corroborated by police and was about 50 miles south of Myrtle Beach. It was also very close to where Brittanee’s phone last pinged. Police believed the man Taquan was bringing money to, we’ll call him George, had likely lured Brittanee there to be trafficked, but when her disappearance got all the media attention decided to kill her. ‘George’ was convicted of robbery in 2011 and even failed a polygraph about Brittanee in March of 2018, but he hasn’t been officially charged with anything related to her disappearance, only having been listed as a person of interest. *feel free to explain the difference between person of interest and suspect*
When George was charged for the robbery, it was on the state level and he was just given probation. So with these accusations going around, he was charged federally for the robbery and when his lawyer said this was being done in an attempt to ‘squeeze’ information out of him to which they basically admitted. They said that the accusations were in fact ‘among the government’s reasons’ for having brought the new charges. After failing that polygraph I mentioned in 2018 about whether he had seen Brittanee after her disappearance or if he knew who was involved, it seemed like maybe we were getting somewhere, but it never went further than that.
Note: If you google this case, you will be able to see ‘George’s’ real name as it’s all over this case, I am just leaving it out because he hasn’t actually been charged with anything and the only proof against him is Taquan and another inmate. His mother has also publicly asked that his name stop being tied to Brittanee’s case as he was never charged and nothing has been proven.
There have been loads of other persons of interest, but none of them have been upgraded to an official suspect as far as I could find. Coincidentally though, just earlier this week (you are hearing this on Tuesday, but we’re recording on Saturday) there was a possible break in the case. I finished writing up the episode on I think Tuesday and you know when you Google certain things you then get suggested articles from Google on what to read next? Well, on Thursday night I was laying in bed, scrolling on my phone and noticed a whole bunch of the suggested articles were talking about a body found in Georgetown County, SC (the same county her phone had stopped pinging). Obviously I was going to read it, but I didn’t expect for it to be connected to Brittanee in any way. But boy was I wrong.
According to the article, on Wednesday and Thursday a search in a wooded area uncovered human remains. There hasn’t been any identification of the remains yet, so we don’t even know if it’s Brittanee, but the search was started just days after one of the many persons of interest, Raymond Moody, was arrested on a charge of obstruction of justice. The area that is being searched right now is only 2.5 miles away from a hotel Moody was living in at the time of Brittanee’s disappearance. When he was living there, the property where they have been searching was largely undeveloped and the adjacent subdivision was only in its early stages, so it would have been a very reasonable place to get rid of a body and go unnoticed. There isn’t much about why Moody was added to the POI list in 2012, but he served 21 years in prison for sexually assaulting seven girls ages 5-17 in California, including kidnapping and raping one of them. So I’m assuming it has something to do with his record in conjunction with his proximity to her disappearance. Law enforcement has previously said that they didn’t have enough evidence to make him a definitive suspect, but if they have in fact found Brittanee, I imagine he will be soon. ABC News also spoke with a Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson and tried to get more information about the charges against them, but they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) share if he was facing any other charges as of now.
At this point police are treating the case as a homicide, but her family still has hope that she could be alive somewhere since they haven’t found any proof of her death. If you have any information you can call the FBI tipline at 1800callfbi and FYI there is a $25000 reward for information.
Accessed May, 2022. https://people.com/crime/murdered-teen-brittanee-drexels-father-come-forward-if-you-have-information/
Accessed May, 2022. https://www.myhorrynews.com/news/crime/waiting-for-brittanee-drexel-mother-thinks-missing-daughter-was-trafficked/article_1fcd7134-0055-11e4-b157-0017a43b2370.html
Accessed May, 2022. https://allthatsinteresting.com/brittanee-drexel
Accessed May, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Brittanee_Drexel#Federal_charges
Accessed May, 2022. https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2016/08/26/brittanee-drexel-chili-kidnapped-killed-alligator-pit/89434824/
Accessed May, 2022. https://www.wmbfnews.com/story/33777167/biological-father-of-brittanee-drexel-speaks-about-case/
Accessed May, 2022. https://abcnews4.com/news/local/timothy-taylors-mom-stop-associating-him-with-missing-teen-brittanee-drexel
Accessed May, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persistent_hyperplastic_primary_vitreous
Accessed May, 2022. ABC15News “Human remains found after search in Georgetown County”
Accessed May, 2022. Heavy “Raymond Moody: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know”
Accessed May, 2022. https://heavy.com/news/raymond-moody/
Accessed May, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Lanier