MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – There is new information on a headline-grabbing case out of South Carolina that started in 2009, and was brought back to the spotlight in August of this year.
The missing persons case for Brittanee Drexel is the stuff of horror movies, according to Crime Watch Daily: A 17-year-old high school soccer star goes missing, and the FBI later learns she was gang-raped at a stash house, shot after trying to escape and then her body was fed to alligators.
The Grand Strand in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is a popular and relatively safe place for families and spring-breakers.
On the night of April 25, 2009, everything changed when 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel walked out of a hotel and was never seen or heard from again. Now, seven years later, the FBI has new information.
For weeks before her disappearance, Brittanee had been bugging her mother about going to Myrtle Beach with some friends for spring break.
“And I told her, I said ‘No, Brittanee,'” said Dawn Drexel. “She goes, ‘Why? Nothing’s gonna happen to me, mom.’ I said, ‘Brittanee, there’s no parental supervision. I don’t know these kids you’re going with,’ and I said, ‘Something’s going to happen to you.'”
So Brittanee asked mom if she could spend a few days at a friend’s home nearby in Rochester, New York.
“They had put this person on the phone and I thought I was talking to a parent and I told her she could stay since, you know, it was her spring break,” said Dawn.
But it wasn’t a parent. Brittanee hopped in a car with three girlfriends and sneaked off to Myrtle Beach. And Brittanee would maintain the charade by phone right up to the day of her disappearance.
“I said ‘What are you doing later on?’ She said ‘We’re just gonna watch a movie, and we’re just gonna hang out,'” said Dawn. “She says, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you.’ And I told her I love her too and that was the last time I talked to her.”
Then “tomorrow” came, and Dawn would learn the truth in the worst way imaginable: by getting a call from Brittanee’s boyfriend, who had stayed behind in Rochester.
“He’s like, ‘She’s in Myrtle Beach and they can’t find her,'” said Dawn. “And I’m like, ‘What? What do you mean they can’t find her?’ And my heart just sank. I thought she was here the whole time and I felt in my heart she had made this decision that may have cost her her life.”
Brittanee’s boyfriend told Dawn that Brittanee had suddenly stopped returning his texts and that none of her friends in Myrtle Beach had seen her since the previous night.
“And that’s when I was like ‘We gotta go down there, I have to leave. I have to go down there and try to find her,'” said Dawn.
“I said ‘Well, I’m packing, I’m on the way as well,'” said John Kahyaohlu, Brittanee’s father.
As investigators start piecing together Brittanee Drexel’s final moments, a troubling timeline starts to emerge.
Myrtle beach, South Carolina, was alive with partying spring-breakers when Brittanee’s parents got into town. But their 17-year-old daughter was no longer among the young revelers after mysteriously vanishing just a day earlier. Brittanee’s mom and dad and friends from Rochester, New York were searching frantically for her.
They learn Brittanee had arrived in Myrtle Beach with her three friends from Rochester two days before she disappeared, hanging on the beach through the day, going to bars at night and doing a little partying.
The last time Brittanee was seen was on security video showing her walking into a hotel where a male friend was staying, then leaving about 15 minutes later and walking toward the main road.
“To pick up her flip-flops,” Dawn said. “Supposedly she left flip-flops in his car.”
As the last known person to see her, police first interviewed him, then Brittanee’s three girlfriends.
Cellphone records showed Brittanee’s phone pinged seven miles south of Myrtle Beach just half an hour after her disappearance. Then two and a half hours later, at 11:58 p.m., her cellphone pings again. This time it’s 50 miles south of Myrtle Beach, in a town called McClellanville, S.C. The phone then goes dead and the case goes cold after massive searches of the area fail to find any trace of Brittanee.
Now more than seven years after Brittanee disappeared, a dramatic break in the case: Taquan Brown, a prison inmate serving 25 years for manslaughter in an unrelated case, told investigators he personally witnessed what happened to Brittanee, saying she was kidnapped, gang-raped, pistol-whipped and shot dead by several men led by Da’Shaun Taylor of McClellanville.
And what Britanee’s abductors are said to have done with her body after killing her is gruesome beyond belief: Investigators believe her body was dumped in a swampy area teeming with alligators.
But Da’Shaun Taylor, 25, denied in an interview with Crime Watch Daily that he had anything to do with Brittanee’s disappearance. He says the same of Taquan Brown, the inmate who accuses him of killing her.
“I don’t even know the guy,” said Taylor.
It so happens that just a year after Brittanee vanished, Taylor’s father Shaun was actually arrested for allegedly trying to abduct another young woman in the same location Brittanee vanished. But the charges were dismissed because he had an alibi, and his son also claims to have an alibi the day Brittanee disappeared.
The FBI has charged Da’Shaun Taylor in an unrelated armed robbery, and his attorney says he has an incentive to tell all he knows about Brittanee’s case.
FBI Special Agent Mike Connelly concedes there is not enough evidence to charge Taylor in Brittanee’s disappearance. He says he can’t disclose details of the case.
“There’s so much I can’t say about this investigation, and the reason being it’s really at a sensitive point right now,” said Connelly.
Connelly believes he will eventually bring Brittanee’s family the closure they want.
“There are people out there who know what happened to Brittanee,” said Connelly. “We’re going to work as long as it takes until we can solve this case.”
The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for Brittanee Drexel’s disappearance. If you have information, call (800) CALL-FBI.
Dawn Drexel has started a nonprofit organization called Brittanee’s Little Angels to help families of missing children and children believed to be trafficked.
Learn more about this case and others like it on the Crime Watch Daily website.