Brittanee Drexel, teen who vanished in 2009, was raped, shot, eaten by alligators, FBI says
A teenager who vanished from Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 2009 was repeatedly raped in a gang “stash house” for several days – then she was shot dead and fed to alligators when her disappearance generated too much media attention, the FBI said last week.
The shocking new details about the mysterious disappearance of 17-year-old Rochester, N.Y., native Brittanee Drexel came largely from a “jailhouse confession” that was subsequently substantiated by others with “tidbits” and “secondhand information,” FBI Agent Gerrick Munoz testified in a federal court transcript obtained by The Post and Courier. The inmate who gave the alleged bombshell confession, Taquan Brown, is serving a 25-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter in a different case. Brown told authorities he was present during the final agonizing moments of Drexel’s life, Munoz said.
Brown claimed to have seen Drexel when he visited a “stash house” – typically a place used to keep guns, drugs or money – in the McClellanville area, the general location where Drexel’s cellphone last pinged.
Munoz said Brown told officials he saw Da’Shaun Taylor, then 16 years old, and several other men “sexually abusing Brittanee Drexel.” Brown then said he walked to the backyard of the house to give money to Taylor’s father, Shaun Taylor. But as Brown and Shaun Taylor talked, Drexel tried to make a break for it. Her escape attempt was in vain, however, and one of the captors “pistol-whipped” Drexel and carried her back inside the house. Brown said he then heard two gunshots. The next time Brown said he saw Drexel, her body was being wrapped up and removed from the house.
Drexel’s body has never been found, but Munoz said “several witnesses” have told investigators she was dumped in an unspecified McClellanville pond teeming with alligators. Drexel was last captured on video on April 25, 2009, leaving the Blue Water Hotel in Myrtle Beach, where she was staying against her parents’ permission. A different inmate serving time at Georgetown County Jail told officials he was informed Da’Shaun Taylor picked Drexel up in Myrtle Beach and transported her to McClellanville.
Munoz said the FBI believes Taylor “showed her off, introduced her to some other friend that were there…they ended up tricking her out with some of their friends, offering her to them and getting a human trafficking situation.” As the media spotlight grew ever brighter on the desperate efforts to find Drexel, the girl was “murdered and disposed of,” Munoz said.
Munoz’s testimony was part of a bond hearing for a federal charge against Da’Shaun Taylor, now 25, stemming from a 2011 robbery of a McDonald’s. Taylor had previously confessed to being the getaway driver for the holdup, cooperated with South Carolina authorities and completed probation. But prosecutors are now trying to bring federal charges and, if convicted of the new charges, Taylor could face a life sentence.
Taylor’s attorney contended the federal charges are a naked attempt to “squeeze” Taylor for information on the Drexel case. Asked by Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker about “the real reason” for the charges and if they had to do with Drexel’s disappearance, Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday said “that would be one” reason. Taylor was released after posting $10,000 bail. The FBI declined to discuss Munoz’s testimony or any aspect of the Drexel case with The Post and Courier.
The squeeze is on
The FBI agent’s testimony came out during a bond hearing on an unusual charge against Da’Shaun Taylor that his attorney, David Aylor, characterized in the transcript as “clearly nothing but a squeeze-job” designed to pressure him into confessing and helping the government.
Aylor argued that despite the jailhouse confession, investigators have not been able to generate any hard evidence or cooperation from others who reportedly saw the girl. As a result, he said, federal prosecutors pulled out an unusual legal tactic in an effort to force Taylor’s cooperation.
Federal prosecutors obtained indictments in June charging Da’Shaun Taylor, 25, with interference of interstate commerce by threat or violence for his involvement in a 2011 robbery of a Mount Pleasant McDonald’s restaurant. Taylor was the getaway driver while two others held up the restaurant, one wounding the store manager with two non-life threatening gunshots. Taylor confessed, cooperated with authorities and was sentenced to probation, which he has successfully completed. The gunman got a 25-year sentence and the other robber got six years, suspended after serving 10 months.
Under federal law, prosecutors have the authority to bring parallel charges when federal laws are violated along with state laws. They often did so during the civil rights movement, bringing rights violation charges against people freed from or not charged with state law violations. What makes this case unusual is that the federal charges against Taylor involve virtually the same evidence as in the McDonald’s robbery for which he confessed and that he has long since completed his state sentence. The federal charges, which include use of a deadly weapon, carry a potential life sentence. In his argument at the federal bond hearing for Da’Shaun Taylor, Aylor said he shouldn’t be punished for something he’s already done his time for just because the government wants “to squeeze him” for something they can use to solve the Drexel case other than the testimony of a jailhouse rat and another guy in jail who heard a story.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday conceded as much during Taylor’s bond hearing. U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker questioned him about “the real reason” the government brought the interstate commerce charges against Taylor so long after he was convicted in state court. She asked Holliday if the reason was because he is a suspect in the Drexel case. “That would be one,” Holliday replied. But Holliday said a federal provision also gives the government the ability to lodge federal charges when it believes the outcome in a state court has been fundamentally unfair. In Taylor’s case, Holliday said, the government brought the new charges because he got off so lightly for the McDonald’s robbery while the other two suspects got substantial sentences.
The judge ordered Taylor released on $10,000 bail, which he posted later in the day after the bond hearing.Neither Aylor nor co-defense attorney Mark Peper, both of Charleston, would discuss Taylor’s case after the hearing. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, whose office handled the original state prosecution of Taylor, said Friday that federal prosecutors did not consult with her or her staff about their plans to bring new charges against him in connection with the 2011 holdup. She declined to comment further.
It’s just craziness
Taylor’s mother, Joan Taylor, 44, of McClellanville, told The Post and Courier on Thursday that she’s talking out about the accusations because she believes the government is unjustly trying to “pin something else on him” based on a bogus jailhouse confession.
She was stunned during the bond hearing when she heard the FBI agent’s testimony that implicated both her son and husband in Drexel’s abduction, rape and murder. “I wanted to just scream and yell.” She called the inmate’s story and the fact that the government is running with it “craziness.” The crimes her husband and son have been implicated in are “not in our nature,” she said. Neither her son nor her husband responded to requests for them to comment on the allegations, but Joan Taylor said her husband, a former merchant seaman who now works as a tow truck driver and mechanic, is “fed up with it and he thinks it’s crazy.”
She described her son as a hard-working young man who has matured into a good, caring person. She said he lost an arm in a childhood accident, works as a mechanic and takes care of a son, a daughter and his grandmother. He just wants to know why he’s been singled out this way, she said.