True crime meets forensic science
Nov. 23, 2022

E18 The Disappearance of Brittanee Drexel

A parent’s worst nightmare leads to a grave and an arrest


17-year-old Brittanee Drexel went against her mother’s orders and traveled from New York to Myrtle Beach for spring break 2009. She disappeared on a crowded street and was never seen again. Thirteen years later, there is a break in the case when a tipster leads investigators to a killer. In a hand-dug grave outside of town they make a gruesome discovery. In this episode, the long search for Brittanee and justice on her behalf. Complete transcript available at https://www.whatremainspodcast.com. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

Transcript

Amanda: This podcast contains frank descriptions of human remains and physical and sexual violence. Listener discretion is advised. 

Segment 1  

Amanda: When we turn on the news and hear about a kidnapping or a disappearance, there's often a deserted place involved—a place we might expect someone to go missing—not a place teeming with people and activity... 

WMBF Archive Tape: Brittanee Drexel was 17 years old when she disappeared while on spring break in Myrtle Beach back in April 2009.  

Jimmy Richardson: There was literally thousands of people out there. So there was always some sort of hope that somebody saw something. 

WMBF: ....and they conducted a massive search throughout the Grand Strand but found nothing. 

Amanda: Nothing except some cell phone pings and images of her on security cameras as she left the Bluewater Resort and Hotel. 

Jimmy: And, and that's the last time for the longest time that anybody saw Brittanee. 

Amanda: For 13 years, there were no answers for those who loved her, for those who didn’t know if she was dead, or still alive somewhere, suffering. And no real answers for those who had worked on her case for years. 

Jimmy:  One of the worst things in the world for a prosecutor is having puzzle pieces and not being able to put it all together. So it all hinged on finding the body. 

Amanda: In this episode, the search for Brittanee Drexel that led investigators to a gruesome discovery, a killer and finally to an understanding of what actually happened to her. 

Jimmy: Hindsight being 2020, Brittanee was dead within 24 hours. Brittanee was dead withinprobably four or five hours. Butt hat's hindsight. 

Amanda: From WRAL Studios, this is What Remains: stories of connecting unidentified human remains to the missing and the murdered. I’m Amanda Lamb. 

Jimmy Richardson is an elected solicitor in South Carolina. It’s what most states call a district attorney 

His position covers Georgetown County and Horry County, home of the popular resort destination Myrtle Beach, on South Carolina’s coastline, called the “Grand Strand.” 

Jimmy is quick to point out that Myrtle Beach was recently named the fastest growing city in the USi…. 

Jimmy: You add in on top of that tremendous growth, 20 million visitors a year to the Grand Strand, and that in turn puts out a ton of warrants and a ton of work for law enforcement agencies. Some of it is stolen trailers. Some of it's somebody stole a copper wire off an air conditioner. Some of it's murder. 

Amanda: Myrtle Beach is a busy place now, and it was a busy place back in 2009 when Jimmy was a deputy solicitor and Brittanee Drexel came to Myrtle beach for spring break. 

Brittanee’s mom, Dawn Drexel, thought Brittanee was staying with friends near their home in Rochester, NYii. When Brittanee had asked her mom if she could go on the trip down south, Dawn had said no. According to an exclusive interview with ABC News, Dawn says she told Brittanee quote “there’s no parental supervision and something’s going to happen.”iii  

Jimmy Richardson says teenagers coming to Myrtle Beach without parental permission isn’t all that unusual. And that when Brittanee went missing, she wasn’t doing anything unusual either. 

Jimmy: Brittanee had walked—and this happens all the time at spring break—kids will walk from one motel to the other little room parties. She left her friends from New York and walked down to meet some new friends. That was just a few blocks away from the hotel that she was staying at. She was in communication with her friends the entire time. There came an argument. I think Brittanee had worn one of her friend's shirt, and that girl said, “hey, that's the only thing I've got ironed to use tonight. So, I'm gonna need you to come back and bring me my shirt.”  

Amanda: Brittanee did head back to her hotel, but when she didn’t show up, her friends got concerned. Brittanee also wasn’t responding to her boyfriend back in home in New York. 

WMBF Archive Tape : Drexel was last seen outside the Blue Water Resort on Ocean Boulevard. After her boyfriend’s last text went unanswered he contacted her mom, Dawn who then called police. 

Amanda: NBC affiliate WMBF in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina covered this case from the beginning. You’ll hear a lot of their work throughout this episode. 

So, the police were notified. I wanted to know from Jimmy Richardson, how seriously is a case of a missing teen during spring break taken? 

Jimmy: It’s easy in hindsight to say the police should have done this, the police should have done that but this literally happens dozens of times a week. It's easy for the cops to get into an idea that hey, let's give it a little bit of time. Let's see what comes to this cause 99.9% of the time they show up and they'd stopped for an ice cream.  

Amanda: But it became clear pretty quickly that Brittanee didn’t stop for ice cream. She was missing. 

And there wasn’t a lot to go on. These days there’s cameras on almost every corner to provide a trail for investigators to follow, video evidence to lead them to the potential suspects and the victim. In 2009 there weren’t as many cameras, but as Brittanee walked she was picked up by video surveillance leaving the Blue Water Resort for a brief moment. Then she was gone... 

Jimmy: That was a really good shot of her...leaving. 

Amanda: It was a clear picture of Brittanee wearing those clothes she wore that night. In the image, she’s wearing an island themed shirt with a busy print covered in green, black and white swirls. She’s wearing black shorts and white flip flops and has a large beige purse slung casually over her shoulder. Basically, she looks like just about any teenager on spring break at the beach. 

Jimmy: That poster of Britney leaving that motel was up everywhere. 

Amanda: This photo and the sea of potential witnesses convinced Richardson that the case was solvable. But it didn’t happen quickly...And it didn’t happen without false accusations causing irreparable harm to an innocent man and his family. 

And when investigators did solve the case, it happened because of a tip from an unlikely source. That’s after the break. 

Segment 2 

Amanda: After exams in my senior year of college in North Carolina, I went to Myrtle Beach with my friends to celebrate. I remember feeling carefree and safe in the bustling seaside community that welcomed young people from colleges in the region every May like clockwork. 

My first job in television after graduate school landed me back in Myrtle Beach in 1989. At that time, it was still a somewhat sleepy seaside community in the off-season defined by snowbirds, retired people escaping the north who came for the gentler climate, and the golf. In the years after I left, the country music theater scene exploded there and so did tourism. But I will always remember it as a place where families and young people alike felt welcomed and safe,not a place where bad things happened. 

Within days of Brittanee Drexel’s 2009 disappearance, missing posters showing pictures of her smiling face were passed out on Ocean Boulevard and plastered all over Myrtle Beachiv. And that image from the surveillance video outside the hotel the night she vanished...that seemed like it was everywhere too. The disappearance quickly became national news and Brittanee’s mom, Dawn, was interviewed on CNN by Nancy Grace just a few days after Brittanee went missing. 

Nancy Grace from CNN: With us tonight is a very special guest. Brittanee Drexel’s mother is with us Dawn Drexel. Ms. Drexel thank you for being with us... 

Amanda: It was one of those cases so many parents could relate to—a seemingly innocent trip to a popular beach resort turned into a nightmare. 

Jimmy: When you have a case that hits the national consciousness, like the Drexel case, you reach out and ask for help.  And I'll just promise you when you ask for help, you get it. And you get a lot of help that you don't want, you know, you open the floodgates, and you get a lot of information and most of it ends up [with] you chasing your tail.  

Amanda: Several law enforcement agencies were involved in the investigation, including the Myrtle Beach Police, the local sheriff’s offices and even the FBI.  

There were many leads and many dead-ends. Jimmy says investigators chased them all, hundreds of them, but none of them panned out. 

Then in 2016, investigators zeroed in on a young man named Timothy Taylor. A jailhouse informant told investigators that Brittanee was kidnapped, gang raped, shot and then thrown into an alligator-infested swamp about sixty miles south of Myrtle Beach. The informant told investigators he saw Taylor “sexually abusing” Brittanee and believed Taylor was involved in her murder. It turned out, the informant had liedv. But during the investigation the FBI had publicly disclosed viTaylor’s name and the details of the accusations, and many media outlets ran stories about it.   

Joan Taylor: The years long fight against accusations, false accusations and the media frenzy that has traumatized us and affected every aspect of our lives. It has publicly questioned without reason, our family, our family’s character and has shaken us to the core. 

Amanda: Timothy’s mother, Joan Taylor, spoke for the family earlier this year at a press conference. Timothy was 16 years old when Brittanee went missing. Timothy and his family are Black. 

Joan Taylor: Our family stood by him and consistently spoke out against the false accusations that are too often are directed at people who look like us, an age old story in America. Today I stand here surrounded by family and close friends and speak on Timothy’s behalf because my son has endured enough. 

Amanda: Timothy Taylor was never charged.  

In the ongoing search for Brittanee’s killer, investigators still didn’t know where to look for Drexel’s body. 

Jimmy: In most murder cases, you have two goldmines for evidence, two places that crime scene looks where it took place and the body. In Brittanee’s case, we didn't have any DNA or any physical evidence of where it took place. It wasn't one of these shootings where the bodies left in the house. You can look there. So finding the body was critical to being able to wrap this all up, that is a crime scene. 

Amanda: Brittanee had disappeared in Horry County and investigators had cell pings that ended in neighboring Georgetown Countyvii 

Jimmy: Horry County itself is bigger than the state of Rhode Island. That's a huge land mass. Georgetown is a big long rectangular county so it’s two huge counties. 

Amanda: So how did investigators finally find the body? There was one tip that made a difference. When I spoke to Jimmy in July, they had made a long-awaited arrest in Brittanee’s murder, but it was early in the case, it was still going through the court system, and as a result, he couldn’t give me all the details, so he explained it like this... 

Jimmy: Think of an octopus with eight tentacles. This is one of those tentacles. Sometimes the police will go down one of these other arms and it'll end nowhere. When we really dug down into this one, it led us to an informant that was able to tell us exactly where the body was. 

All the details of it, which I really wanna be able to talk to you, but I like having a law license too, so some of that'll have to wait. 

Amanda: He couldn’t tell us who the informant was, but he could tell us that they pointed investigators to land in Georgetown County. It was land that was supposed to be a new township in the 2000s, but then didn’t get developed because of the 2008 financial crisis. The roads were still dirt and trees were growing across them. 

Amanda: This is not a location that somebody would've come across by chance, correct?  

Jimmy: Hell no, I mean there is no way in this world. And I told the tipster, when we got down there, I said I had four or five places in mind specific locations, but this was not on the list. This wasn't anywhere close. There's absolutely no way that we would've found that body. 

Amanda: After the break...finding Brittanee’s body, and a shocking admission... 

Segment 3  

Amanda: In May 2022, investigators in the Brittanee Drexel case were pointed to Georgetown County, South Carolina, a largely rural area between Myrtle Beach and Charleston. When they arrived at the site, they knew they had to be careful to preserve evidence. Digging up a body in a murder case can be a painstakingly slow process. 

Jimmy: they don't just jump in there with a track hoe. It takes forever, almost like anthropologists in there, there were literally, scooping away dirt and then somebody would go in with a much smaller trowel and rake away dirt. I saw the chief of police down in the hole. 

When you see 'em out there in South Dakota or finding the T-Rex, you know, they don't dig it up in no time flat they're down there with, you know, basically spoons digging out dirt piece by piece, trying to keep it all together, stopping and photographing. And in our case, we had to use sump pumps because we were below the water table. Keep pumping water out of the hole. 

Amanda: Shortly after investigators began digging in the area, the cat was out of the bag. There was no way to keep it quiet. 

Jimmy: People start to talk—neighbors, you know. It's just hard to keep that secret. So, we were up against the clock and it's not necessarily that anybody was out flapping their lips, but it doesn't take much because the...especially our local media, you know, are all over it. We literally found the bones before daybreak, and the next morning they had drones up over our area. So we may have beaten the media by three hours, four hours. 

WMBF Archive Tape: WMBF starts with breaking news, good evening to you it is 6 o’clock I'm Eric Weisfeld and I’m Rachel Bogel, we start off with breaking tonight. Multiple sources telling us new information is expected to be released soon regarding Brittanee Drexel….It’s still unclear what exactly will surface regarding this case that’s received national attention but our sources have all told us that new details are imminent. 

Amanda: But there was still more work to do before they felt comfortable revealing details of the case. Even though the tipster told them the skeletal remains belonged to Brittanee, they needed to confirm it through dental records and DNA. Thankfully, they were able to get that confirmation quickly.  

Then, Jimmy had one very important thing to do—to call Brittanee’s mom, Dawn Drexel, and give her the news—news he knew would be difficult to take, but he always felt like this would be better than not knowing. 

Jimmy: That is much tougher in many ways than death, even to the point that when you call Dawn Drexel and you talk with Dawn, even though you're saying “I have confirmed your worst nightmare. This is Brittanee.” It's still better than not having that body or any of her personal effects, and I think that gets glossed over a good bit.  

Amanda I mean, how did Dawn react when you told her? 

Jimmy: It's a weird thing, but if I had to pick one word, it would be relief, which is incredible when you think that's my daughter, you know, but you're relieved to have something, to have some answers, to not be in purgatory, knowing and not knowing. Now you know. 

Amanda: A few days after Brittanee’s body was found authorities held a press conference to announce that her remains had been positively identified. They also announced that 62-year-old Raymond Douglas Moody, was charged with murder, kidnapping and first degree criminal sexual conduct. Georgetown County Sheriff Carter Weaver said Moody had an extensive criminal history of sex offenses and had spent decades in prison. 

Amanda: Dawn spoke at the press conference. 

Dawn Drexel: This is truly a mother’s worst nightmare. I am mourning my beautiful daughter, Brittanee as I have been for 13 years, but today its bittersweet. We are much closer to the closure and the peace we have been desperately hoping for. 

Amanda: So how did the path to that resolution begin? 

WMBF Archive Tape: In April of this year Angel Vause, moody’s girlfriend, spoke to FBI agents and agreed wear a wire....On May 5th of this year, Moody confessed and pointed authorities to where they could find Drexel’s remains. 

Amanda: In the end, it was Moody who was the informant Jimmy Richardson couldn’t tell me about at first. He was the one who led investigators to the body.  

Investigators had actually looked at Moody for the crime in 2011. They even searched the motel where he was living, but they found nothingviii 

Fast forward to the spring of 2022, investigators were able to use improved GPS cell phone technology to pinpoint Brittanee’s cell phone ping to a specific location and time. The tracking technology showed that her cell phone was moving at a walking speed, but then sped up to 55 miles per hour when she got into a car.  

There was a one-minute window when one car passed through that specific area on Ocean Boulevard around 9 o’clock in the evening. That car was caught on surveillance video. The car led them to Moody who was already on their radarix. In April 2022, his girlfriend, Angel Vause, agreed to wear a wire for the FBI and to talk to Moody about the crime. Ultimately, this led to him confessing.  

Moody told investigators that Brittanee had willingly gotten into the car with him and his girlfriend that night when they invited her to come party with them. They went to a campground in Georgetown County where Moody says they smoked marijuana. Moody says Vause left. Moody says he wanted to have sex with Brittanee, but Brittanee resisted, so he raped her and then he panicked about going back to prison. That’s when he told them he strangled her, wrapped her in a blanket and hid her body in the bushes. According to Moody, Vause returned to the campsite, asked where Brittanee was, and he told her that Brittanee’s friends picked her up. Moody says he later returned in the middle of the night to move the body and bury it in the woods.  

This story of what happened to Brittanee was finally revealed in open court on October 19th, 2022, the day Moody pled guilty to kidnapping, rape and murder. Angel Vause was not charged with a crime.  

According to WMBF, Solicitor Jimmy Richardson indicated he believes Vause had more involvement in the case, but also said: “You have to make a deal with the getaway driver to get the armed robber.”x 

Brittanee’s family still disputes Moody’s version saying they don’t believe she would have gotten into the car willingly. Moody was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He apologized for what he did during the hearing. 

Raymond Douglas Moody: I don’t have the words to express how horrible I feel and how I’ve felt ever since that day. I’m very, very sorry.” 

Dawn Drexel: Brittanee wanted to get married. She loved kids and wanted to be a career woman, a wife, but you took that away from her. What gave you the right to put your hands on my daughter?  

Amanda: There are no words that can bring a 17-year-old girl back to her family and friends. As a parent myself I can’t imagine their devastation. I can’t imagine how her mother and father get up every single day and put one foot in front of the other and breathe knowing what happened to their daughter. At least they know now, and that’s something. It’s the one thing investigators can give to the heartbroken in a cold case. 

A special thanks to our affiliate WMBF for allowing us to feature their ongoing coverage of Brittanee’s case in this episode.   

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Today’s episode was written and hosted by me, Amanda Lamb. It was produced and edited by Rachel McCarthy, with final mix by Doug Miller. Zenobia Dowdy edits our episode transcripts, which can be found on our website, whatremainspodcast.com. That's also where you can find links to our social accounts where we share photos of the people from each episode. 

Our Director of Podcast Operations is Anita Normanly and our Executive Producer is Ashley Talley. Thanks for listening.