Even though her parents forbade her to go on the trip, Brittanee Drexel went anyway — and three days later, she vanished outside her friend’s hotel.
The maddening disappearance of 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel in 2009 left her friends, family, and investigators in shock. In April of that year, the Rochester native had secretly left New York for a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she vanished.
A cheerful teen who excelled at soccer, Drexel had reportedly grown increasingly depressed in the months leading up to her disappearance. At home with two parents embroiled in a divorce, Drexel was eager to get out of the house.
Though her parents permitted her to spring break at Lake Ontario with a friend, she instead drove to Myrtle Beach where, in a macabre turn of events, Drexel vanished outside of her friend’s hotel on April 25.
Then in 2016, Drexel’s case took an even more disturbing turn when an inmate asserted that she had been abducted and brutally killed that night — and investigators now consider her case a harrowing homicide.
The Disappearance Of Brittanee Drexel
Born on October 7, 1991, in Rochester, New York, Brittanee Marie Drexel had a pleasant childhood. Despite her biological father leaving the family in her infancy, her mother Dawn married a man named Chad Drexel who adopted and raised her as his own.
Though Drexel had been born with a rare eye disorder that required several surgeries and left her blind in one eye, she wore a contact lens to keep the right pupil from wandering and aspired to become a cosmetologist and model as a result. She also become proficient in soccer.
“She was full of life,” said her mother. “Brittanee’s heart was soccer; she was small, but boy, she could run fast, at lightning speed right down the field.”
The 17-year-old junior at Gates Chili High School was in a slump that year, however. After her parents separated in 2008, Drexel’s passion notably lessened while her grades began to slip. This only compounded when her parents initiated divorce proceedings in 2009.
Drexel proposed she spend Spring Break with her friends and boyfriend John Grieco in Myrtle Beach, which her mother swiftly forbade. Feigning acceptance, Drexel asked if she could spend her vacation at a friend’s on Lake Ontario, instead. With a green light for this, she drove off on April 22.
Drexel arrived at Myrtle Beach on April 23 and subsequently called her mom from the Bar Harbor Hotel where she and friends were staying. The following night, she went out clubbing with fellow Rochester friend Peter Brozowitz.
Dawn Drexel didn’t even know that her daughter’s boyfriend hadn’t even gone with her and was spending his break at home in Monroe County.
Around 8:00 p.m. on the night of the 25, Drexel made a mile-long walk to the BlueWater Resort where Brozowitz was staying. She had made this walk at least once before on the trip and had been in constant communication with her boyfriend back home throughout the day.
While BlueWater Resort security cameras showed Drexel arriving there safely, she then left the premises 10 minutes later. Brozowitz was the last person to see her alive.
While still replying to her boyfriend’s text messages after departing Brozowitz’s hotel, all communications from Drexel’s phone then suddenly stopped at 9:15 p.m.
The Frantic Investigations Begins
Concerned by her silence, Grieco texted Drexel that he would tell her mother about the Myrtle Beach trip if she didn’t reply. He did just that before asking a friend, a U.S. Marine stationed in LeJeune, North Carolina, to drive south and file a missing person’s report with the Myrtle Beach Police Department. It was now April 26.
“I think somebody saw her walking and offered her a ride and she got in the car with the wrong person,” Grieco later theorized.
In the immediate aftermath of Drexel’s disappearance, some of her friends stayed behind for an extra day to help find her before returning to Rochester. Local police combed Myrtle Beach, followed up leads that she was spotted at a bus stop and convenience store, but came up empty-handed.
Though her phone records showed that her last signal came from Georgetown County about 35 miles south, Drexel’s trail went cold for seven years after dozens of fruitless investigations.
While the FBI joined the search and offered a $25,000 reward for information, the first real lead only arrived in June 2016 when an inmate in the McCormick Correctional Institution in South Carolina made a startling confession.
His name was Taquan Brown, and he claimed to have witnessed Drexel being gang-raped at an abandoned “stash house” he frequented in McClellanville on April 27, 2009. “She had a black eye,” said Brown. “Like eight to 12 guys were in there, and they were having sex with her.”
He claimed that he was bringing money to a man named Shaun Taylor when he saw Drexel and claimed he then heard her killed. “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 added that Drexel’s body was likely left in an alligator pit.
Promising Suspects Meet Dead Ends
Investigators can partly corroborate this story of abduction and homicide. “What we’ve come to discover through the course of this investigation is that Brittanee Drexel did leave the Myrtle Beach area,” said David Thomas, special agent in charge of the FBI in South Carolina. “We believe she traveled to the area around McClellanville and we believe she was killed after that.”
But beyond Brown’s confession, investigators have little more evidence to make any arrests.
Serving 25 years for unrelated manslaughter, Brown’s description of the stash house was also corroborated by investigators. It was 50 miles south of Myrtle Beach and near where Drexel’s phone gave off its last ping. Brown said Taylor’s 16-year-old son Timothy Da’Shaun was present that day.
Investigators believe Da’Shaun likely lured her to McClellanville to be trafficked, but the disappearance garnered too much media attention to keep Drexel alive. Convicted of robbery in 2011, he failed a polygraph when asked about Drexel in March 2018 — but has never been charged with her murder.
While authorities brought federal charges against him in hopes of spurring a confession, it never came. Instead, Da’Shaun allegedly put a $15,000 bounty on Brown’s head for cooperating with police. In June 2019, Da’Shaun was sentenced to 319 days of time served for the 2011 robbery.
As of now, Brittanee Drexel’s disappearance is considered a homicide, and the FBI are still offering a reward for any information leading to the arrest of her killers.
After learning about the disturbing murder and disappearance of Brittanee Drexel, read about the mysterious disappearance of Brian Shaffer from an Ohio bar. Then, learn about how nine-year-old Asha Degree vanished after leaving home on Valentine’s Day in 2000.