GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Prosecutors laid out in court Wednesday how investigators were able to link now-62-year-old Raymond Moody to the death of Brittanee Drexel before a judge sentenced him to life in prison.
Drexel, who was from Rochester, New York, disappeared on April 25, 2009, while she was on spring break with friends in the Myrtle Beach area.
Moody was investigated a decade ago but was cleared when nothing of evidentiary value came from the search at his place inside the nearby Sunset Lodge. It wasn’t until this spring with the help of improved cell tracking technology that investigators nailed down their entry point into the case.
Investigators built a case against Moody’s girlfriend, Angel Vause, and then got Moody to take responsibility.
Prosecutors said there was enough to charge Vause with being an accessory, but they chose to focus on Moody instead.
“A lot of times as law enforcement…you have to make a deal with the getaway driver to get the armed robber,” 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said at a news conference following the sentencing. “I don’t mean to minimize this. She’s got more to do. She would’ve been an accessory, but we had to proffer Angel.”
Prosecutors don’t believe Vause was there for the murder, but said she was in the car on the way to Georgetown County from Myrtle Beach.
The focus turned back on Moody because of improved cell phone tracking technology, allowing investigators to narrow down Drexel’s whereabouts that night, matching surveillance video with texts and cell tower pings.
“Between walking speed and driving, something had to happen in a very narrow window that was probative to solving the crime,” Chief Deputy Solicitor Scott Hixson said. “Just to continue this point, phone records through the constant text usages sends information to a tower which comes back down which puts a framework the CAS unit was able to exploit.”
Investigators pinpointed a one-minute window based on phone records where Drexel got in Moody’s car at about 9 p.m. on the night of her disappearance.
Moody told investigators Drexel got in willingly and they drove together to a campsite in Georgetown County. Prosecutors were not able to verify if that was true, but took his word for the conviction.
There, Moody said they engaged in a consensual sex act when Moody wanted to elevate the sex act, and that’s when prosecutors said the kidnapping started.
Moody admitted to raping Drexel, and once it was over, realized he’d go back to jail, and that’s when he strangled her before taking her body to another site in the county to bury it in the woods.
“I don’t believe everything that [Moody] said, but after 13 years, you’ve got to take what he said, corroborate what you can,” Richardson said. “It was enough to get rape, murder and kidnapping because we could corroborate a lot of his story.”
Moody led investigators to both locations after a May 5 interview where he admitted to what he did. The remains were found May 11.
“We may never know exactly what happened that day because Brittanee Drexel can’t tell us what happened,” Hixson said. “She would be incredibly reliable about the events that happened to her. Much of the forensic details of exactly what happened has been lost to the ages by now no matter how much law enforcement’s worked to find it. To some degree, we were compelled to listen to the versions provided by Mr. Moody and then it’s incumbent to determine the credibility or not on certain points.”
Moody pleaded guilty to murder, kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was given a life sentence on the murder charge and 30 years each on the remaining charges, which the judge ordered to be served consecutively.
“I was a monster, and I took Brittanee Drexel’s life,” Moody said after several of Drexel’s family members spoke in court. “And I don’t have the words to express how horrible I feel and how I’ve felt ever since that day, and I’m very sorry.”
“Today, no one wins,” said Dawn Pleckan, Brittanee Drexel’s mother. “The criminal justice system has failed my daughter, as it continues to fail so many other victims. And frankly, Mr. Moody, it failed you. Because you never should have been released from prison. You should’ve served the full 40-year sentence, but you walked after only serving 20 years and returned to your wicked ways and my daughter paid for that with her own life.”