McCLELLANVILLE - The news of a local young man’s federal charges on a five-year-old case in an effort to solve a seven-year-old mystery rippled through the small seaside village of McClellanville like the wake behind a speedboat this week.
Timothy Da’Shaun Taylor, 24, was arrested on federal charges for a 2011 armed robbery, but an FBI agent said investigators also suspect he was involved in the kidnapping, trafficking and murder of a missing teen in 2009.
Theories of what really happened to 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel, who went missing on a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, were rampant in the town where police said she was held against her will and killed. But residents of the quiet fishing village were adamant Tuesday that whatever happened to Drexel, it didn’t happen in McClellanville.
“We’re obviously very concerned that it happened anywhere near us,” said McClellanville Mayor Rutledge B. Leland III.
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The 2.2-square-mile village, rich in agricultural history and known for its famous Bull’s Bay oysters, clams and shrimp, sees very little violent crimes. News of this suspected crime sickened residents, who expressed concerns and support for Drexel’s family.
“It’s one of the most brutal crimes, I think, ever committed. It just makes me weep for that young girl,” Ted Dawson said, sitting inside the eleven-45 coffee shop in McClellanville.
The last signal from Drexel’s cellphone pinged just north of the town in an area known as South Santee. Taylor lives in South Santee and residents suspect the “stash house” where Drexel was allegedly held against her will was also north of town.
Investigators have said the Rochester, N.Y., teen was abducted from Myrtle Beach a day after she came to the city for a spring break trip without her parents’ permission in 2009. Jailhouse informants told police Drexel was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, trafficked, killed and dumped in an alligator pit in McClellanville, according to FBI Agent Gerrick Munoz, who testified at Taylor’s recent bond hearing.
Taylor faces two charges of interfering with commerce by threat or violence and committing a violent crime with a firearm stemming from a 2011 armed robbery of a McDonald’s in Mt. Pleasant. The store’s manager was shot during the robbery, but survived. Taylor was the getaway driver, according to Munoz.
He was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to probation. His accomplices Joseph B. Whiteside Jr. and Deron Moultrie, who were inside the McDonald’s during the robbery, were sentenced to 25 years and probation, respectively.
Munoz testified at a bond hearing Aug. 19 that they sought federal charges against Taylor for the robbery he was already convicted of in the state, in part, because a jailhouse confession tied him to Drexel’s case.
The agent said the inmate told authorities he saw Taylor and others sexually assaulting Drexel in a “stash house.” The inmate said she was pistol-whipped when she tried to escape and was taken back inside the house where two shots rang out.
“Brittanee Drexel was then wrapped up and taken away from the house,” Munoz told a federal judge, citing testimony from a witness now serving more than 25 years in prison for manslaughter.
But what raised the eyebrows around town this week was how investigators were resurrecting a case Taylor already served time on to now pressure him to tell them what he knew about Drexel.
Neither of his co-conspirators from the robbery have been charged, Munoz told the court. And the 18-year FBI veteran admitted he hasn’t worked any other cases in which investigators pressed for federal charges on old state convictions.
The FBI took over the Drexel case this summer, according to court records.
“It’s clearly nothing but a squeeze job,” David Aylor, Taylor’s attorney, told the court.
Newspapers heralding the latest Drexel case revelation flew off the shelves at the BP gas station over the weekend, said Dee Crosby, who works at the store. She, too, questioned why prosecutors would go after Taylor on other charges.
According to Munoz’s testimony, more charges in the Drexel case may be coming, but many folks around town appeared frustrated with the slow progression of the cold case.
Taylor’s family could not be reached for comment.