Brittanee Drexel traveled to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for spring break in April 2009, despite being forbidden by her parents.
In a sad turn of events, the little girl disappeared without a trace, and police later found evidence that she had been brutally killed. ABC News’ 20/20: The Darkest Night chronicles the years-long search for justice in Brittanee’s case and how the police found a suspect. So if you want to know what happened, we’ll tell you.
How did Brittanee Drexel die?
At the time of the incident, Brittanee Drexel was living with her family in Chili, New York, a suburb of Rochester. The 17-year-old was a junior at Gates Chili High School, where he played football and was an important part of the team. Brittanee wanted to be a nurse or beautician and her mother, Dawn, said she was a lively, fit and pretty teenager. Brittanee had her own spring break plans, but unfortunately things didn’t go as planned.
Brittanee and some of her friends took a short trip to Myrtle Beach on April 22, 2009. She didn’t tell her parents about it. Brittanee was last seen at 8:45pm on April 25, when a security camera caught her leaving a friend’s hotel she was staying at. But the teenager seemed to have disappeared without a trace. Brittanee’s body was not found until May 2022 in Georgetown, South Carolina. Police said she was raped, killed and buried in a wooded area. The preliminary cause of death was hand strangulation.
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Who Killed Brittanee Drexel?
Brittanee went to Myrtle Beach with three of her friends on April 22, even though her parents didn’t want her to. She told them she was staying at a friend’s house in Rochester for a few days. There she met her boyfriend Peter Brozowitz on April 24, 2009 at the resort where he was staying. That evening Brittanee, Peter and four of Peter’s friends met at a club and she visited them the next morning and that evening.
Brittanee always spoke to her friend John Greico, who was still in Rochester. But between 9pm and 9:15pm on April 25, 2009, she suddenly stopped texting and calling. Then John told Dawn that Brittanee had gone to Myrtle Beach, prompting her family to call the police and look for her. At first, police didn’t say much about the case, and Brittanee’s phone led them to a swampy area about 50 miles from Myrtle Beach.
But the search turned up no further leads, and the case was not advanced for a number of years until 2016. At the time, police said Brittanee had been kidnapped, gang raped, killed and thrown into a jail in a swamp near McClellanville, South Carolina, which was infested with alligators. The information came from a prisoner named Taquan Brown. He said he saw Brittanee in hiding and that Timothy Taylor and his father Shaun killed her.
Although Timothy failed a lie detector test, the inquest revealed that Brittanee’s murder was committed by someone else. In May 2022, her body was found in a wooded area. Raymond Moody, who has long been a suspect in the case, admitted killing her and showed police where the body was buried. When Brittanee disappeared on or around April 25, 2009, police thought she had been killed, so Taquan’s claims were not true.
Raymond served 21 years in prison for kidnapping and raping a nine-year-old girl in 1983. After serving his sentence, the convicted sex offender moved back to Georgetown. As of April 2009, he was living in a motel less than three miles from where the remains were found. In 2011, Raymond’s room was searched, but nothing was found connecting him to the case. But he was also pulled over for speeding the day after Brittanee disappeared.
Raymond had cuts on his face at the time. Ernest Merchant, who previously worked with him, confirmed this information. He said Raymond had scratches on his neck and head when Brittanee went missing. Both Raymond and the teenager were said to have been in the same place at the same time, based on information from their cellphones. Surveillance footage also helped with the arrest.
Police thought Brittanee might have gotten into Raymond’s car alone, but it quickly turned into a kidnapping. He was accused of taking her to a boat yard docked on the Santee River in South Carolina, where he sexually abused her and then killed her. Police then thought Raymond had taken Brittanee’s body to a wooded area in Georgetown and buried her there. He has been charged with murder, kidnapping and other crimes and is scheduled to stand trial in the second half of October 2022.
Brittanee Drexel was born on October 7, 1991 in Rochester, New York. Her father, John Kahyaoglu, is from Turkey and her mother, Dawn, is from England. Teenagers, they weren’t married. Dawn married Chad Drexel shortly after Brittanee was born. It was at this time that Brittanee became his daughter. After Chad’s military service was over, the family moved to Chili, near Rochester.
Drexel was born with a condition referred to as persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous in her right eye. This condition led to blindness of the eye and required multiple surgeries. She wore contact lenses that gave her a unique look to hide the fact that her gaze was wandering.
Brittanee asked her mother in April 2009 if she could spend spring break with her boyfriend and some friends in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Her mother said no because she didn’t know the other teenagers and no adults went with them. She also had a feeling that something bad was about to happen. This led to them fighting for a few days. On April 22, Brittanee asked Dawn if she could go to a friend’s house for a day or two to calm down, and Dawn agreed. Brittanee and the other students went to South Carolina without telling her mother.
After she and her group arrived at the Bar Harbor Hotel in Myrtle Beach three days later, Brittanee called her mother once during the day to let her know she was at the beach. Her mother wasn’t worried because she thought Brittanee was talking about a beach on the shores of Lake Ontario. She figured it might be possible to go there because the temperature in Rochester that day hit an unusually high of 28C for the time of year.
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That night, around 8 p.m., Drexel left her friends on the beach at the Bar Harbor Hotel and walked 1.5 miles south on South Ocean Boulevard to visit a longtime friend who was staying at the Blue Water Resort. Blue Water Resort security cameras caught them entering. She wore a black and white tank top, flip flops and shorts. Her handbag was beige. Around 8:45 a.m., cameras caught them walking.
Drexel texted her boyfriend, John Grieco, who had to stay in the Rochester area for work.
They had texted back and forth, but around 9:15 a.m. their messages stopped. Grieco started calling her friends in Myrtle Beach to find out where she was and what had happened.
When that didn’t work, he called Brittanee’s mother, Dawn. Dawn didn’t know her daughter was in Myrtle Beach until she got a call from him. Dawn called Chad and then the Rochester Police Department hoping they could get in touch with their South Carolina counterparts. Brittanee’s phone was called and texted many times but she never answered.
The next morning, Myrtle Beach police began searching for Drexel. They found the footage from the Blue Water Resort’s security cameras and found the friends who had visited them. Peter Brozowitz, a 20-year-old nightclub promoter whom Brittanee knew from the Rochester area and who was also vacationing in Myrtle Beach, was the last person Drexel saw before she left. Maybe they met at a local nightclub the night before. After speaking to Brozowitz and the other men staying in his hotel room, police said that “no one was included or excluded” and that they had no persons of interest.
Police searched Drexel’s hotel room and found all of the clothing she had brought with her, but not her purse or cell phone. The phone’s network pings were traced along a path that ran 80–97 km (50–60 miles) south of Myrtle Beach along US Route 17 near the Georgetown-Charleston county line. In the early morning of April 26, the pings suddenly stopped. Then, for 11 days, locations near and around Myrtle Beach were searched where a body may have been dumped. In 2011, police searched a Georgetown County apartment but found nothing that helped them determine who was responsible.
Dawn and Brozowitz got together on the TV show Dr. Phil in multiple fights. During these fights, Brozowitz often complained about how bad it was for his reputation. Dawn drove to Myrtle Beach the day after her daughter’s disappearance. She eventually moved there permanently so she could be near where Brittanee was last seen and follow the progress of the investigation. In a 2014 newspaper article on the fifth anniversary of the case, she said she thought Brittanee went to Myrtle Beach against her orders because she was “promised something,” like a modeling job. Dawn thought her daughter was a victim of human trafficking, but the Myrtle Beach Police Department did not consider this likely because they said human trafficking is not common or non-existent in their area. The South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force produced a 2019 report stating Horry County had the most reported human trafficking victims in the state.
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