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April 28, 2011

Cold Cases: Missing on the Grand Strand

This week marks the two-year anniversary of 17-year-old vacationer Brittanee Drexel's disappearance from Myrtle Beach.

This week marks the two-year anniversary of 17-year-old vacationer Brittanee Drexel's disappearance from Myrtle Beach. Her disappearance has been picked up by national media outlets and has frequently been profiled by cable news lawyer-turned-talking-head Nancy Grace and was also featured in the Season 2 premier of "Disappeared" a program on the digital cable network Investigation Discovery.

Yet, if you listen to the news coverage you would think that this was the first person to ever disappear without a trace on the Grand Strand. This is not the case. Myrtle Beach is a pretty easy place to disappear from. We have a transient population, a beach that attracts many tourists, and a high number of homeless people that are difficult to track. There are plenty of cracks to fall into, whether you want to disappear or if someone makes you disappear. Presently, there are eight open, unsolved missing persons cases in Myrtle Beach and Horry County police jurisdictions.

The most famous case right now, of course, is the one of Drexel who went missing on April 25, 2009 from the Blue Water Motel in Myrtle Beach. Drexel, form Rochester, N.Y., came to the beach with her friends without the permission of her mother. They had a hotel room at the Bar Harbor resort in Myrtle Beach. The last known contact anyone had with her was a friend that she met at approximately 8 p.m. April 25, 2009. There is security footage of her walking out of the Blue Water Motel when she was supposed to be returning to the Bar Harbor. She never made it there and no one has heard from her since.

When your cellular phone runs out of battery power it gives off one last ping to help emergency services locate you. Drexel's cellular phone gave off its last ping in the area of the Santee River near the borders of Georgetown and Charleston counties. A pair of female sunglasses consistent with the type that Drexel had was also located in the area. Subsequently a massive hunt was launched in that area with cadaver-hunting dogs, but no substantial leads were found. Searches are still launched in that area to this day to look for leads but nothing has materialized.

The City of Myrtle Beach Police's Public Information Officer Captain David Knipes recently issued a press release in response to the media frenzy surrounding the two year anniversary of Drexel's disappearance:

"This case has been active since day one and we are still receiving tips and information on a routine basis. All tips are investigated to resolution. The latest tip came in this morning around 2:30 a.m., and is being followed up, as are all others. There is another search planned in the Myrtle Beach area this week. This location is not being released at this time. This search has been planned for a week and is not related to the tip that came in this morning, or any other tip. At this time we have nothing further to report and we appreciate your assistance in working with us on this case."

At press time, this case seems to have gone cold.

But as mentioned, Drexel is not the only unsolved missing person case in the Myrtle Beach area.

Rebecca Slavinsky, missing since 1979

The coldest case of all is that of Rebecca Slavinsky. She was last seen on July 28, 1979 in the area of 64th Avenue N. In Myrtle Beach. According to reports, Slavinsky met up with a friend at the Driftwood Motel. She wanted the friend to take her swimming so they proceeded from there to 64th Avenue N. Slavinsky took her friend's surfboard and went to the water. She did not know how to swim but it was a calm day and she used the surfboard to float herself in shallow water. Her friend told police that he went to his sister's house on 65th Avenue N. but he was tired and he fell asleep. That was the last time anyone heard from Slavinsky. Her friend awoke the next morning and was unable to find her. All of her clothes, her beach towel, and the surfboard were found but she was not. Witnesses reported seeing Slavinsky in the area but no foul play was reported. No further leads were ever found and the case remains open.

Shanta Marie Johnson, missing since 1992

If Shanta Marie Johnson is still alive, she would have turned 22 this year. On July 19, 1992 she was just three-years-old. That was the last day that Shanta was ever seen. According to reports she and her adoptive mother went to the Briarcliffe Mall (now Myrtle Beach Mall) and were in K-Mart when Shanta disappeared near the toy section. Police reviewed the surveillance tapes and Shanta was not seen on the surveillance footage. Shanta's adoptive mother is on the videos, and she is seen entering K-Mart alone. Shanta tested positive for cocaine at birth and she was identified as a special needs child. Her biological mother was in prison at the time for drug charges. Her biological family was having a family reunion in Myrtle Beach at the time of her disappearence but they were all ruled out as suspects. Three years after Shanta went missing her adoptive mother was charged with child abuse. A nurse at Duke University Medical Center filed a police report stating that she believed that Shanta was being abused because of fearful behavior and injuries consistent with abuse. Shanta's babysitter reported Shanta having severe burns on her buttocks. Shanta told her babysitter that her adoptive mother was burning her with hot grease. Police believed that her adoptive mother was the prime suspect in a homicide. But to date her case remains open and unsolved.

Andrea Lynn Hayslette, missing since 1993

On April 24,1993 Andrea Lynn Hayslette, a devoted mother, disappeared without a trace. According to reports, she was last seen at her apartment at Deer Track Villas in Surfside Beach. Her van was found out in front of her apartment. Items from her apartment that she shared with her husband and two children were missing, such as her purse, a suitcase, toothbrush, and some personal items. But none of her clothing was determined to be missing from the apartment. Her parents reported her missing because she never got in touch with them after a vacation to Florida. Hayslette's credit card or bank card were never used after her disappearance. She was a straight A student at Coastal Carolina University and she missed her final exams. She also worked part time there and never picked up her final pay check. In 1995, Hayslette's husband was charged with the forging of his wife's signature on a vehicle title and he was sentenced to jail time for that. In 1996 Hayslette's husband was charged in the disappearance of his wife and with her murder. The murder charge was dropped due to lack of evidence. Her body has never been found. The case is still considered open and unsolved.

Woodrow Taylor, missing since 1997

On Dec. 13, 1997 Woodrow Taylor walked away from his Conway home off of Hucks Road and was never seen again. According to reports he left his house with a friend. Taylor is reported to have been carrying $1,100 at the time of his disappearance. His friend stated that he left Taylor at the intersection of U.S. 701 and S.C. 410 in Conway and that he never saw him again. His friends began to get worried after he missed church, which is something he would never do. Taylor's friend from church paged him repeatedly. After the friend's repeated pages the call was returned by the person who Taylor was last seen with. Police suspected foul play but no charges were ever filed. Taylor is still considered a missing person and the case is open and unsolved.

Lisa Neugent, missing since 1999

On Sept. 8, 1999 Lisa Neugent, from Rockingham County, N.C., called her parents on the way to Cherry Grove Beach to help her boyfriend with a construction project he was working on. She was never heard from again. According to reports, Neugent was looking to escape an abusive marriage she was in with another man. She married her first husband in 1997. Two years later she met a new boyfriend and moved with him almost immediately to his home in Conway. She found work as a courier in her new town. According to her friends, her new boyfriend was very possessive of her, but in spite of this they were very happy together for the next two years. In September of 1999 Neugent's parents came to visit. On the last night of her parents' visit Neugent's boyfriend did not return home. Neugent confided in her parents that he was using drugs and they persuaded her to come to Rockingham County with them and she agreed. Her boyfriend began calling her the next day. Then he came there looking for her. He told her parents that he had rented a nearby hotel room so that Lisa and he could discuss their relationship and that he would return her the next day. Instead he took her to Cherry Grove to work on a home improvement project. On Sept. 12, he phoned one of Neugent's friends and claimed that Lisa left the Sea Mist Resort in Cherry Grove where they were staying and took their dog and $1,200 out of his pockets while he was asleep. There was no sign of Neugent at their home in Conway. Management for the home stated that Neugent's boyfriend had moved out weeks before and there was no sign of Neugent at the home. Neugent's boyfriend was arrested one month later on narcotics and burglary charges in Georgia but he never appeared on his charges. He also is wanted in South Carolina for child support. Neugent is still considered a missing person as no evidence of foul play was ever uncovered. Her case remains unsolved and open.

Mae Cynthia Bullock, missing since 2009

On May 15, 2009 Mae Bullock, a homeless woman in Myrtle Beach, contacted her son in Hickory, N.C. telling her son that she was coming to visit him. She was never heard from again. According to reports, her son grew concerned that he had not heard from his mother in four months. The cellular phone that she had was also not reachable. Bullock's son did not know where to find her but he did know that she frequented the community kitchen for meals and the First Baptist Church in Myrtle Beach. On the same day she last contacted her son, May 15, 2009, Bullock filed a police report in regards to being a victim of credit card fraud but she did not leave any contact information to follow up on. None of the people that knew her in the area had seen her or knew her whereabouts. The case remains open and unsolved.

Glenn Howlett, missing since 2009

On June 23, 2009 Glenn Howlett, from Greensboro, N.C., made his last phone call to his family and he was never heard from again. According to reports, his last phone call was made from a McDonald's in Myrtle Beach. They became worried because Howlett phoned home on a consistent basis and they had not heard from him in five weeks. Howlett reportedly had trouble with alcohol and the law. And according to reports, he was also in a troubled marriage and his wife had made threats against him in the past. Searches for Howlett revealed nothing and his body was never found and he was never heard from again. The case remains open and unsolved.

Myrtle Beach is an easy place to disappear in/from. Every time Drexel is in the news there is the possiblity that one magic tip will come in that will break the case wide open. So far that tip has not come in. But for every Brittanee Drexel there is a Rebecca Slavinsky, a Shanta Johnson, an Andrea Hayslette, a Woodrow Taylor, a Lisa Neugent, a Mae Bullock, and a Glenn Howlett. They did not receive the national attention that Drexel's case has, but their families' pain is no less real. Their families want closure too. Maybe with some exposure that magic tip will come in that will lead to these cases being closed.

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