Police say Raymond Moody is a “person of interest” in the disappearance of Brittanee Drexel, the 17-year-old from upstate New York who vanished in South Carolina exactly three years ago today.
But to Kerri Harding, Moody is the monster who abducted and raped her in 1983, when she was just 8, and she’s convinced he should be the prime suspect in the Drexel case.
Harding survived the attack in California, but the terrifying memory of her ordeal has never left her. Drexel disappeared from South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach on April 25, 2009, and is presumed dead. Police told FoxNews.com there are similarities between the two cases, and said they confirmed Moody was in the area near where Drexel was last seen. But authorities don’t have enough evidence to declare him a suspect, and to Harding’s horror, he refuses to speak to them.
“My biggest fear is that he’ll do it again,” said Harding, now 38. “You should never get a second chance to hurt a child.”
Moody, 52, served 21 years of a 40-year prison sentence after admitting to sexually assaulting Harding and six other girls. He relocated to Georgetown, S.C., after his release from the California State Prison in Solano in 2004. The ex-con, who police say works in a woodworking shop, could not be reached for comment.
Harding has monitored Moody’s whereabouts since his release, and knew he had resurfaced in South Carolina. When she came upon a February article on FoxNews.com reporting that Moody is a person of interest in Drexel’s disappearance, she said she had no doubt that her tormentor had struck again.
“That was my very first thought,” she said. “That he’s at it again. It was a gut feeling.”
Harding was walking alone to meet a friend at her elementary school in Vallejo, Calif., when she encountered Moody on Jan. 20, 1983. He forced the young girl into his car, saying he intended to drop her off at a police station because “‘You’re too little to be out here by yourself,’” Harding recalled.
Moody drove to an empty cul-de-sac, where he raped the child repeatedly before she managed to escape after pleading with her assailant to use a bathroom. The young girl was able to tell police she saw a green sticker on Moody’s car, which police determined was needed to gain entry onto a U.S. Navy base in Vallejo. That ultimately led them to Moody, who confessed to the rape and to assaulting six other children. He served slightly more than half of his prison sentence.
“He should have never been released,” she told FoxNews.com. “Why would the courts even take a chance with our children?”
Drexel, a high school junior from the Rochester, N.Y., area, went with friends and without her mom's permission to Myrtle Beach on April 23, 2009. She left a group of male friends from Rochester at the Blue Water Resort to walk back to the Bar Harbor Hotel, where she was staying with other girls, at around 9 p.m. on April 25. But security video confirmed she never made it to her hotel, police said.
Law enforcement sources in South Carolina told FoxNews.com there are striking similarities between the Harding and Drexel cases, though they declined to elaborate on many details. But Moody, a registered Level 3 sex offender, has long been a focus of their investigation. The last signal from Drexel’s cellphone came that same night about 50 miles south of Myrtle Beach and 8 miles from where Moody was living at the time. A traffic ticket also put him in the Myrtle Beach area the same weekend the teen disappeared. Yet most alarming to police was Moody’s refusal to speak with them.
Police suspect Drexel was kidnapped as she walked along Ocean Boulevard and driven to Georgetown County, some 50 miles away. Her cell phone signal was last detected in a remote boat landing area near the South Santee River and roughly 8 miles from the Sunset Lodge apartments in Georgetown County, where Moody had been living at the time, according to Investigator Phillip Hanna of the Georgetown County Sheriff's Office.
On Wednesday – the third anniversary of Drexel’s disappearance – her mother, Dawn, said her determination to find her oldest child will never waver.
“I won’t stop until I have answers,” Drexel told FoxNews.com. “And I will always be hopeful until I know the worst.”
Harding, meanwhile, said she “won’t rest until the laws are changed.”
“If justice were served correctly, this girl would be alive today,” she said. “That’s hard to swallow.”
Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.