A teenage girl who disappeared from Myrtle Beach seven years ago was abducted, gang-raped, shot to death and thrown into an alligator-infested swamp in the dense forests near McClellanville, according to the FBI.
FBI agent Gerrick Munoz this week gave the first detailed account of what investigators think happened to 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel after she disappeared in 2009. His account, contained in a federal court transcript obtained by The Post and Courier, is based on a statement from a prison inmate who claims he was present when she was killed.
But a McClellanville woman whose husband and son have been implicated by the inmate says the story is just a bunch of “craziness” adopted by federal authorities desperate to solve a vexing case.
For years, tips repeatedly have sent state and local investigators on wild goose chases from Myrtle Beach to McClellanville searching in vain for clues to the young woman’s disappearance or her remains.
A major break came earlier this year when an inmate who had recently been imprisoned to serve a 25-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter gave a “jailhouse confession,” telling authorities that he witnessed what happened to the girl.
In the transcript, Munoz testifies that the inmate, Taquan Brown of Walterboro, told investigators he went to a “stash house” in the McClellanville area in the days after Drexel was abducted. As he entered the house with a couple of other men, he saw Timothy Da’Shaun Taylor, then 16, “sexually abusing Brittanee Drexel,” the agent said.
The FBI agent gave the following account of what the inmate said happened next:
He spotted others also in the room with the girl and Da’Shaun Taylor, and he kept walking through the house to the backyard to give some money to Da’Shaun Taylor’s father, Shaun Taylor.
As the two talked, Drexel ran from the house. She was “pistol-whipped” and taken back inside.
Two shots rang out and the inmate assumed Shaun Taylor shot the girl. Then the girl’s body was wrapped up and taken away.
Asked what happened to the girl’s body, the FBI agent testified that it has not been found but that “several witnesses have told us Miss Drexel’s body was placed in a pit, or gator pit, to have her body disposed of. Eaten by the gators.”
Munoz told the court that investigators have searched several alligator ponds to no avail. He said investigators have been told that the area is peppered with as many as 40 of these ponds. Investigators also have searched the stash house, the agent testified.
‘Showed her off’
Since June when authorities held a news conference revealing their belief that the teen was held captive in McClellanville for days until she was killed, tips from people with “tidbits” and “secondhand information” have been coming in, the FBI agent testified.
Some of those tips corroborate the jailhouse confession, including secondhand information from an inmate in the Georgetown County jail, the agent said.
That prisoner provided authorities with details of what he was told happened to Drexel in the days after April 25, 2009, when a video camera recorded her leaving the beach-side Blue Water Hotel in Myrtle Beach. She had gone there against her parents’ permission from their home in Rochester, N.Y., earlier that month because she wanted to spend time in the warmth of the Grand Strand during spring break. But she vanished during the trip, her last cellphone signal pinging from the McClellanville area.
The Georgetown prisoner told authorities that Da’Shaun Taylor picked Drexel up in Myrtle Beach and took her to McClellanville. There he “showed her off, introduced her to some other friends that were there … they ended up tricking her out with some of their friends, offering her to them and getting a human trafficking situation,” the FBI agent testified.
By that point, the prisoner said, searches for the missing teen had generated massive media publicity. That created a problem for her abductors and she was “murdered and disposed of,” the agent told the court.
Both the FBI and federal prosecutors declined this week to discuss the jailhouse confession, Munoz’s testimony or the hunt for Drexel.
The young woman’s family could not be reached for comment Friday.
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.
Reach Doug Pardue at (843) 937-5558. Reach Glenn Smith at (843) 937-5556.
Timothy Da’Shaun Taylor×
Volunteers ride along the shoulder of U.S. Highway 17 near the Georgetown-Charleston County line as part of the search effort for Brittanee Drexel in 2009.×
Joan Taylor discusses the case against her son Wednesday.×