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Final Moments of Missing NY Teen Examined More Than a Decade After Deadly Spring Break
In 2022, a long-time person of interest cited as "a very disturbed individual" confessed to the rape and murder of 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel, 13 years after the teen vanished from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
A mother in New York stopped at nothing to get answers after her 17-year-old daughter mysteriously disappeared some 800 miles away.
Loved ones described Rochester teen Brittanee Drexel as a doting big sister in her junior year in high school. In 2009, she’d been in a relationship with classmate John Grieco and aspired to one day leave her upstate New York town to live out her dreams in fashion design.
“Brittanee was just an awesome kid; very happy, carefree. She was very popular in school,” her mother, Dawn Pleckan, told Final Moments, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. “Everybody just loved her.”
But 2009 transpired to be a challenging year for Drexel in light of her parents’ decision to divorce. That year, her academic grades began to suffer which was why, on April 22, 2009, Drexel’s mother refused to let the teen travel to South Carolina for spring break.
Pleckan told Final Moments she wanted her daughter to catch up on her schoolwork, though Drexel repeatedly asked to go. The mother also cited a lack of parental supervision and not knowing Drexel’s potential travel companions to support her decision.
About an hour after some disagreement, Pleckan permitted Drexel to spend the night with a local friend. However, Drexel failed to tell her family members that she and two girlfriends were going to make the 800-mile drive to Myrtle Beach without Pleckan’s permission.
The group arrived safely on the morning of April 23, 2009.
“Me and my mom thought she was here [in Rochester],” said Drexel’s sister, Myrissa Drexel. “But in reality, she wasn’t.”
Brittanee Drexel’s Last Text Message
John knew about his girlfriend’s choice to sneak off for the party beach town. However, John stayed behind in Rochester for work, keeping in regular contact with Drexel via text.
On April 25, 2009, the couple messaged back and forth, with Drexel stating that her spring break wasn’t going as planned. At this point, Drexel’s family was unaware of her travels.
According to her sister, the girls Drexel traveled with were a little older, and they’d gotten into a typical teenage spat.
“She told John that she felt alienated and all alone,” Myrissa told Final Moments. “She wanted to come back home.”
Drexel also told John that she’d run into one of her classmates, Peter Brozowitz, in Myrtle Beach and planned to meet him at the Bluewater Resort, where he’d booked a room.
That night, at around 9:00 p.m., Drexel’s texts to her boyfriend suddenly stopped, prompting John to call Drexel’s mother and reveal Drexel’s gallivants.
“I was livid,” Pleckan told Final Moments.
Pleckan hit the ground running and called authorities in Myrtle Beach, but since there was no evidence that a crime had taken place, law enforcement was initially of little help, according to the mother. Taking matters into her own hands, she drove the 13-hour trek south to Myrtle Beach.
“All I knew was I had to find my daughter,” said Pleckan.
A Mother’s Search for Answers
Pleckan called on media outlets to appeal to the public about her daughter’s whereabouts, prompting local authorities — who’d initially viewed Drexel as a runaway — to be more proactive in their investigation. Soon, they interviewed Peter Brozowitz, the last known person to see Brittanee Drexel, according to Horry County Prosecutor Jimmy Richardson.
“Peter was a little bit snarky,” Richardson told Final Moments.
Brozowitz said he hung out with friends after Brittanee left the resort, and eventually, his alibi checked out.
Police also cleared the two female travel companions with whom Drexel traveled.
Investigators found security footage from the Bluewater Resort, which showed the missing teen arriving at 8:33 p.m., as seen in video obtained by Final Moments. Fifteen minutes later, Drexel left the hotel alone, marking her final moments known to authorities.
“You can tell that she’s walking at a fairly quick pace with nobody behind her,” said Richardson. “She’s comfortable, but she’s determined to get to wherever she is going.”
Drexel’s last texts were to her boyfriend at 8:58 p.m., just minutes after exiting the hotel. According to Richardson, that’s when Drexel “vanished into thin air.”
Cell phone records lead searchers to the wilderness
Detectives hoped to learn more upon receipt of Drexel’s cell phone records, which showed the teen’s phone pinging off a tower at 11:57 p.m. on the night of her disappearance. The location showed possible movement near the northern part of the Santee River in McClellanville, a small town about 60 miles south of Myrtle Beach.
Experts narrowed in on the heavily wooded area, and a massive search for Drexel began, drawing searchers by A.T.V., air, and horseback, an event Pleckan called “overwhelming.”
“It’s a forest where they were looking for her,” the mother told Final Moments. “And they told me, ‘If she was put out there, she would be probably dead within six hours because of the wild boar, the alligators, just all the wild animals.’
“But you have to have hope,” Pleckan continued. “You have to have faith.”
Hope and faith would have to sustain the mother after the search yielded no results. Though she spent the next month and a half in South Carolina, she'd wait years for the case’s first major lead to come through to detectives.
A suspect comes onto the radar
On August 1, 2011 — more than two years after Drexel vanished — a young woman called the Myrtle Beach Police Department with a tip. The tipster said she suspected her father, Raymond Moody, of having something to do with Drexel’s disappearance based on statements made by Moody’s girlfriend, Angel.
“Angel called over there one night and said that Ray was going to get all of them locked up because of what he had done to that girl,” said Prosecutor Richardson.
Angel initially refused to cooperate with authorities and defended Moody, as seen in a videotaped interview published by Final Moments. However, local and state authorities were able to obtain a search warrant for the Sunset Lodge in Pawley’s Island (about halfway between Myrtle Beach and McClellanville), where Moody and Angel rented an apartment in late April 2009.
Later, investigators paid Moody a visit at his cabinet shop, though he denied having a role in Drexel’s disappearance.
“I told them they were searching for Brittanee Drexel, and he said, ‘You’re smart, you’ll figure it out,’” said Richardson.
Ultimately, investigators found nothing to tie Moody to the case, and the investigation stalled for another few years.
A jailhouse informant comes forward
In August 2016, seven years after the mystery began, Dawn Pleckan received a call from the F.B.I. The mother met face-to-face with Feds, who’d explained that a prison inmate, Taquan Brown, had come forward, claiming to have information about her daughter’s case.
At the time, Brown was serving 25 years for a manslaughter conviction, and hoped to have time shaved from his sentence in exchange for information.
Brown told agents he’d witnessed Timothy Da’Shaun Taylor — an acquaintance then in jail facing separate robbery charges — rape Drexel at a residence in McClellanville. According to Brown, Drexel escaped through the back door but was soon recaptured and taken back indoors, where Taylor allegedly shot the victim to death.
The pair then allegedly disposed of Drexel’s body in an alligator-infested area in neighboring Berkeley County.
“I was just sitting there sobbing,” said Pleckan. “We had always kept hope alive that maybe Brittanee was still out there, and that really messed me up.”
But some were suspicious of Brown’s allegations, especially because he was keen to abbreviate his prison sentence. They also suspected he chose McClellanville due to the media attention drawn to the area during previous searches.
Ultimately, against the backdrop of Taylor’s supporters backing him in the media, Brown admitted that he lied to authorities.
Investigators were back to square one, and the case became cold once again.
A Shocking Phone Call to Horry County Prosecutors
In May 2022, 13 years following Brittanee Drexel’s disappearance, a defense attorney called Horry County prosecutors, claiming that a client had information about the case. The client said he refused to speak with police and would only work with state authorities.
The client would be Ray Moody, who first appeared on detectives’ radar in 2011.
“He wants to stay in the state system; he does not want to go in the federal system,” Prosecutor Richardson said. “He knows he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison, and he wants to be closer to family members.”
Moody voluntarily spoke with investigators, as videotaped and published by Final Moments. In his chilling confession, Moody said he and Angel were driving when they spotted the teen leaving the hotel.
The pair pulled over and asked Drexel if she wanted to smoke marijuana with them — an event refuted by many — before they all rode back to the couple’s campsite by the Santee River pole yards north of McClellanville in Georgetown County.
“We were just having a good time, smoking some pot and stuff,” Moody told authorities. “Angel left, and while she was gone, I changed the whole subject [of] what was going on.”
According to Moody, Angel had left before he raped Drexel and strangled her to death, as seen in the confession video. Angel returned to the campsite at a later time, and the following day, Moody buried the teen’s body “underneath a tree” in a nearby grove.
“Ray Moody never showed any remorse,” said Richardson. “[He] was a very disturbed individual at a deep level.”
On May 11, 2022, Moody led authorities into a wooded area where investigators found bones belonging to Drexel, along with a single eye contact lens and a nose ring.
Angel was never charged in connection with the teen’s homicide.
“I was so mad because Raymond Moody had been a person of interest back in 2011,” Dawn Pleckan told Final Moments. “He’s a Level 3 sex offender; he shouldn’t even be in Myrtle Beach with all the kids and stuff here.”
On October 19, 2022, Moody pleaded guilty to murder, kidnapping, and criminal sexual conduct. He was sentenced to life in prison plus two consecutive terms of 30 years behind bars.
Those closest to the case credit Drexel’s mother for fervently pursuing her daughter’s disappearance. However, there still exists a “missing piece” from the family, according to Myrissa Drexel.
“My sister was very kind and caring; she would never hurt a soul, and that’s something that we’re missing from the world now,” said Myrissa. “This world is [so] full of hate that I hope one day it could be peaceful for all of us.”
Watch all-new episodes of Final Moments, Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.