The State v Angelika Graswald – The Death of Vincent Viafore. What To Know in 2024

Background

  • Personal History: Angelika Graswald was born in Latvia and moved to the United States in 2000. Her father was a police officer, and her mother was a housemaid. She was an aspiring singer and worked various jobs, including as a nanny and a bartender. 
  • Vincent Viafore was a project manager from Poughkeepsie, New York. His friends and family described him as fun-loving, outgoing, and the life of the party. 

The Incident

  • Date: April 19, 2015.
  • Location: The couple went kayaking on the Hudson River near Bannerman Island in New York.
  • Events
  • The day began with both Graswald and Viafore hungover from the previous night. They had fought about how long to stay out, she later told police, and whether he was okay to drive home. By morning, the couple had made up and were determined to sneak in a kayaking trip—the first of the season—before the weekend was out. It was unseasonably warm on April 19, 2015, but bad weather was forecast for that evening. Viafore packed the car while Graswald showered. They stopped at a Wendy’s on their way to Plum Point, ate, and bought cigarettes. 

 

  • Their destination was Bannerman Island, home to the red-brick carapace of Bannerman Castle. A former military-surplus arsenal built at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Scottish-style castle is now mostly destroyed, the result of a fire in 1969. The island is off-limits to visitors outside of scheduled tours, but Graswald was a volunteer gardener with the Bannerman Castle Trust and was friends with its caretakers. She and Viafore wanted to take their wedding photos on the island.

 

  • By the time they pushed off, it was about 4:30 p.m. Graswald had a life jacket and her purse, while Viafore had his phone, a camera, and a dry bag. They brought some beers. Graswald texted her friend Barbara Gottlock, a caretaker, telling her that they were headed to the island.

 

  • The couple had planned on staging a sexy photo shoot. Graswald had brought fishnets and heels but had decided it was too cold. Graswald and Viafore arrived on the island a half hour later. They walked around, drank beers, and took pictures anyway, both wearing sweatshirts. At around 7 p.m., Gottlock texted to say she and her husband thought they had seen Graswald and Viafore on the island through the telescope on their deck. Her husband thought he made out Graswald on the dock, dancing while Viafore took her photo. Graswald replied that they were leaving and said they waved in the direction of her house.
  • The couple paddled toward the other side of the island, intending to make a stop there, but quickly called it off. The sun was setting, the wind was picking up, and the waves were getting bigger. Plus, the tide was heading out, which meant the return trip would be more strenuous. As Viafore pulled ahead of Graswald in his kayak, riding the three-foot waves, he said, “Baby, this is an adventure of a lifetime.”

 

  • At approximately 7:40 p.m., Graswald called 911. She tells the dispatcher their location and asks to “please call anybody.” She explains that she and her fiance were kayaking and that his kayak flipped over and that he is in the water with the current dragging him south while the waves are carrying her north. “I can’t get him. It’s very windy and the waves are coming in and I can’t paddle to him.” Five minutes into the call, Graswald says she can’t see Viafore anymore and she begins to wail. The dispatcher urges her to stay calm and paddle in the direction of the lights of the emergency vehicle that is arriving. 

The river was cold that day, roughly 48 degrees with a chance of rain, which would mean unpredictable and dangerous waves.  

 

Investigation and Arrest

  • Initial Reports: Graswald claimed Viafore’s death was accidental, stating that he wasn’t wearing a life jacket and his kayak was missing a drain plug. 
  • Suspicion and Arrest: Authorities became suspicious due to inconsistencies in Graswald’s story and her behavior following the incident, such as her being seen gleefully dancing in a bar and doing cartwheels just after the incident. On April 29, 2015, ten days after the incident, she was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

 

Key Evidence:

    • Confession: Graswald allegedly confessed during police interviews that she felt “relief” and “happiness” at Viafore’s death and admitted to tampering with his kayak.
    • Life Insurance: Graswald stood to collect on Viafore’s life insurance policies, totaling approximately $550,000, which prosecutors argued was a motive for murder.

Legal Proceedings

  • Trial Preparation: Graswald initially pleaded not guilty to the charges. The case garnered significant media attention, often being referred to as the “Kayak Killer” case. The prosecution alleged that Graswald tampered with the kayak’s drain plug and his paddle, causing him to capsize.

 

  • Viafore’s estate sued Graswald for wrongful death and moved for partial summary judgment on liability. The estate alleged that partial summary judgment was warranted. Graswald, by her own admission, acknowledged and admitted under oath to causing the wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering of Viafore. Graswald was made aware that her plea of guilty had the same legal significance as a verdict of guilty after trial. 

 

  • Graswald’s guilty plea to Criminally Negligent Homicide was sufficient to collaterally estop her from re-litigating the issue of whether her negligence was a proximate cause of the incident on April 19, 2015. However, the estate’s submissions failed to establish as a matter of law that Viafore was free from culpable conduct with regard to the causation of his injuries and ultimate death. The estate’s submissions, including the affirmation of counsel, plea transcript and the pleadings, failed to establish as a matter of law that Viafore was free from culpable conduct with regard to the causation.

 

  • Plea Deal: In July 2017, Graswald accepted a plea deal, pleading guilty to the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide. She admitted that she should have perceived the risks involved in the kayaking trip. Graswald’s plea allocution included her acknowledgment of blameworthy conduct so serious that it contributed to a substantial and unjustifiable risk that Viafore’s death would occur. She admitted that she failed to perceive the substantial and unjustifiable risk of death of her conduct. Additionally, throughout the transcript, the dangers of both the river and the unpreparedness of the parties were emphasized. Particularly, Graswald indicated that she knew, as Viafore presumably did, that it was cold and windy with water temperatures in the 40’s. Viafore was neither wearing a life jacket nor wet suit.
  • Sentence: In November 2017, she was sentenced to 1⅓ to 4 years in prison. Having already spent over two and a half years in jail awaiting trial, she was released on parole in December 2017.

Aftermath

  • Public Reaction: The case remained controversial, with some believing Graswald was wrongfully accused and others convinced of her guilt.
  • Settlement: In 2018, a legal settlement was reached between both parties when Viafore’s family sued to prevent Graswald from obtaining the money from the life insurance policy. As all legal settlements, the terms remain confidential. 
  • Post-Release: After her release on December 2018, Graswald has maintained a low profile except to discuss and share her story. She maintains her innocence and discusses the emotional and psychological toll the case has taken on her. 

 

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July 6, 2024

Background

  • Personal History: Angelika Graswald was born in Latvia and moved to the United States in 2000. Her father was a police officer, and her mother was a housemaid. She was an aspiring singer and worked various jobs, including as a nanny and a bartender. 
  • Vincent Viafore was a project manager from Poughkeepsie, New York. His friends and family described him as fun-loving, outgoing, and the life of the party. 

The Incident

  • Date: April 19, 2015.
  • Location: The couple went kayaking on the Hudson River near Bannerman Island in New York.
  • Events
  • The day began with both Graswald and Viafore hungover from the previous night. They had fought about how long to stay out, she later told police, and whether he was okay to drive home. By morning, the couple had made up and were determined to sneak in a kayaking trip—the first of the season—before the weekend was out. It was unseasonably warm on April 19, 2015, but bad weather was forecast for that evening. Viafore packed the car while Graswald showered. They stopped at a Wendy’s on their way to Plum Point, ate, and bought cigarettes. 
 
  • Their destination was Bannerman Island, home to the red-brick carapace of Bannerman Castle. A former military-surplus arsenal built at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Scottish-style castle is now mostly destroyed, the result of a fire in 1969. The island is off-limits to visitors outside of scheduled tours, but Graswald was a volunteer gardener with the Bannerman Castle Trust and was friends with its caretakers. She and Viafore wanted to take their wedding photos on the island.
 
  • By the time they pushed off, it was about 4:30 p.m. Graswald had a life jacket and her purse, while Viafore had his phone, a camera, and a dry bag. They brought some beers. Graswald texted her friend Barbara Gottlock, a caretaker, telling her that they were headed to the island.
 
  • The couple had planned on staging a sexy photo shoot. Graswald had brought fishnets and heels but had decided it was too cold. Graswald and Viafore arrived on the island a half hour later. They walked around, drank beers, and took pictures anyway, both wearing sweatshirts. At around 7 p.m., Gottlock texted to say she and her husband thought they had seen Graswald and Viafore on the island through the telescope on their deck. Her husband thought he made out Graswald on the dock, dancing while Viafore took her photo. Graswald replied that they were leaving and said they waved in the direction of her house.
  • The couple paddled toward the other side of the island, intending to make a stop there, but quickly called it off. The sun was setting, the wind was picking up, and the waves were getting bigger. Plus, the tide was heading out, which meant the return trip would be more strenuous. As Viafore pulled ahead of Graswald in his kayak, riding the three-foot waves, he said, “Baby, this is an adventure of a lifetime.”
 
  • At approximately 7:40 p.m., Graswald called 911. She tells the dispatcher their location and asks to “please call anybody.” She explains that she and her fiance were kayaking and that his kayak flipped over and that he is in the water with the current dragging him south while the waves are carrying her north. “I can’t get him. It’s very windy and the waves are coming in and I can’t paddle to him.” Five minutes into the call, Graswald says she can’t see Viafore anymore and she begins to wail. The dispatcher urges her to stay calm and paddle in the direction of the lights of the emergency vehicle that is arriving. 
  The river was cold that day, roughly 48 degrees with a chance of rain, which would mean unpredictable and dangerous waves.  

Investigation and Arrest

  • Initial Reports: Graswald claimed Viafore’s death was accidental, stating that he wasn’t wearing a life jacket and his kayak was missing a drain plug. 
  • Suspicion and Arrest: Authorities became suspicious due to inconsistencies in Graswald’s story and her behavior following the incident, such as her being seen gleefully dancing in a bar and doing cartwheels just after the incident. On April 29, 2015, ten days after the incident, she was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Key Evidence:

    • Confession: Graswald allegedly confessed during police interviews that she felt “relief” and “happiness” at Viafore’s death and admitted to tampering with his kayak.
    • Life Insurance: Graswald stood to collect on Viafore’s life insurance policies, totaling approximately $550,000, which prosecutors argued was a motive for murder.

Legal Proceedings

  • Trial Preparation: Graswald initially pleaded not guilty to the charges. The case garnered significant media attention, often being referred to as the “Kayak Killer” case. The prosecution alleged that Graswald tampered with the kayak’s drain plug and his paddle, causing him to capsize.
 
  • Viafore’s estate sued Graswald for wrongful death and moved for partial summary judgment on liability. The estate alleged that partial summary judgment was warranted. Graswald, by her own admission, acknowledged and admitted under oath to causing the wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering of Viafore. Graswald was made aware that her plea of guilty had the same legal significance as a verdict of guilty after trial. 
 
  • Graswald’s guilty plea to Criminally Negligent Homicide was sufficient to collaterally estop her from re-litigating the issue of whether her negligence was a proximate cause of the incident on April 19, 2015. However, the estate’s submissions failed to establish as a matter of law that Viafore was free from culpable conduct with regard to the causation of his injuries and ultimate death. The estate’s submissions, including the affirmation of counsel, plea transcript and the pleadings, failed to establish as a matter of law that Viafore was free from culpable conduct with regard to the causation.
 
  • Plea Deal: In July 2017, Graswald accepted a plea deal, pleading guilty to the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide. She admitted that she should have perceived the risks involved in the kayaking trip. Graswald’s plea allocution included her acknowledgment of blameworthy conduct so serious that it contributed to a substantial and unjustifiable risk that Viafore’s death would occur. She admitted that she failed to perceive the substantial and unjustifiable risk of death of her conduct. Additionally, throughout the transcript, the dangers of both the river and the unpreparedness of the parties were emphasized. Particularly, Graswald indicated that she knew, as Viafore presumably did, that it was cold and windy with water temperatures in the 40’s. Viafore was neither wearing a life jacket nor wet suit.
  • Sentence: In November 2017, she was sentenced to 1⅓ to 4 years in prison. Having already spent over two and a half years in jail awaiting trial, she was released on parole in December 2017.

Aftermath

  • Public Reaction: The case remained controversial, with some believing Graswald was wrongfully accused and others convinced of her guilt.
  • Settlement: In 2018, a legal settlement was reached between both parties when Viafore’s family sued to prevent Graswald from obtaining the money from the life insurance policy. As all legal settlements, the terms remain confidential. 
  • Post-Release: After her release on December 2018, Graswald has maintained a low profile except to discuss and share her story. She maintains her innocence and discusses the emotional and psychological toll the case has taken on her. 
July 6, 2024
Brittanee Drexel was a 17-year-old girl from Chili, New York, who disappeared in April 2009 during a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Brittanee Drexel was born in Rochester, New York, on October 7, 1991 to parents John Kahyaoglu, and mother Dawn. Shortly after, the couple split, and Dawn married Chad Drexel, who adopted Brittanee and raised her in the suburb of Chili. Brittanee was born with persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous in her right eye, which required several surgeries and rendered the eye blind, as a result, she wore contact lenses that gave her a very distinctive appearance of bright blue eyes. Brittanee was heavily involved in sports, being on both the soccer team and track team was known for her speed and fiery personality.  On April 2009, Brittanee asked her mother to go to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for spring break with some girlfriends. Her mother refused due to an absence of accompanying adults and would later say she had a premonition that something bad would happen on this trip. This led to intense arguments that lasted several days until April 22nd, when Brittanee asked if she could go to a friend’s house for a day or two to calm down, to which her mother agreed. That day, Brittanee left for South Carolina with her friends. Three days later, Brittanee and her friends arrived at the Bar Harbor Hotel in Myrtle Beach, where she called her mother during the daytime and informed her that she was hanging out at the beach. This satisfied her mother as she assumed she was referring to the beach along the Lake Ontario shoreline, and the weather in the Rochester area was at an unseasonable high of 83 degrees F.

The Incident

  • Date: April 25, 2009.
  • Location: Blue Water Resort, Myrtle Beach
  • Events
  The night of April 25th, 2009, around 8 pm, Brittanee left their room at the Bar Harbor Hotel beachfront to walk 1.5 miles down South Ocean Boulevard to visit a longtime friend who was staying at the Blue Water Resort. Security cameras at the resort showed her arriving, carrying a beige purse and wearing a black-and-white tank top, flip-flops, and shorts. The cameras then captured her leaving at 8:45 p.m. Brittanee was texting her boyfriend, John Grieco, back and forth throughout the day, but around 9:15 p.m., her texts suddenly stopped, and a worried Grieco began calling her friends in Myrtle Beach. When no one could reach her, Grieco finally contacted Brittanee’s mother, Dawn, who was still under the impression that her daughter was still in the Rochester area. Frantic, she attempted to get the police involved, but seeing as she was 14 hours away, local police couldn’t help her. Finally, she asked one of Brittanee’s friends in the area to drive to South Carolina PD and file a missing person report. 

Investigation

The search for Brittanee began the following morning as Myrtle Beach police located camera footage from the Bar Harbor Hotel along the route to the Blue Water Resort. The footage revealed the last person Brittanee had been reported with as Peter Brozowitz, a 20-year-old nightclub promoter that Brtittanee had known from the Rochester area and was in the same friend’s group as herself. Brozowitz drew suspicion as he quickly left the Myrtle Beach area after Brittanee’s disappearance and lawyered up immediately upon returning to Rochester. However, as the investigation progressed, the police dropped him as a suspect upon combing through substantial communications between Brittanee and Peter and he did co-operate fully with the investigation.  Police searched her hotel room, finding all of the clothes she had packed but not her purse or cell phone. The phone’s network pings were tracked on a path leading 50–60 miles south of Myrtle Beach, in an area along US Route 17 near Georgetown-Charleston. The pings had stopped abruptly early on the morning of April 26. Investigators searched the areas near there and around Myrtle Beach where a body might have been disposed of for around eleven days, but with no leads and no suspects, the case grew cold for 7 years. In 2011, police searched an apartment in Georgetown County, but that effort did not yield any information that helped identify a suspect.

Person of Interest

Timothy Taylor

In June 2016 the FBI held a press conference where they stated that they believed that Brittanee had been abducted from Myrtle Beach and taken somewhere in the vicinity of Georgetown and been killed there. They posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to the resolution of the case. As a result, two months later, Taquan Brown, a South Carolina inmate serving a 25-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter, told FBI agents that he had seen Brittanee at a “stash house” in 2009. Brown claimed he witnessed Timothy Da’Shaun Taylor pistol-whipping and sexually assaulting Brittanee. As Brown carried on with his business, he said that Brittanee had escaped from the house but was recaptured before Brown heard two gunshots. He claims he saw the wrapped body being removed from the house and dumped in an alligator pond in the area. His statements were partially corroborated by information received from another informant at the jail who claimed that Taylor had picked up Birttanee in Myrtle Beach, taken her to McClellanville, and tried to sell her for trafficking purposes. When the case drew heavy media attention, Taylor had decided to kill Brittanee to avoid arrest.  The bond hearing had been held after Taylor’s arrest on a federal indictment for interfering in interstate commerce by threat or violence, a charge stemming from his role as the getaway driver in a 2011 robbery of a McDonald’s restaurant in Mount Pleasant. Unusually, Taylor had already been convicted for his involvement in the crime in state court and had been sentenced to probation, which he had finished by the time of the federal charges. Taylor’s lawyer called the new charge a “squeeze” based on nothing more than the statement of two jailed informants; his mother called them “craziness” since she believed that her son and husband could never commit such a crime. Winston Holliday, the federal prosecutor at the hearing, admitted to the judge that the suspicions in the Drexel case were among the government’s reasons for having brought the new charge for the conduct South Carolina had already sentenced Taylor for. For months after, Taylor was subjected to multiple polygraph tests and interrogation sessions in an effort to make him confess to his role in the murder of Brittanee Drexel.  Before the sentencing hearing was scheduled, Taylor was found to have violated the terms of his bail and was held in Charleston County jail. In August, presiding federal district judge David C. Norton ordered his bail reinstated on the condition that he remain on house arrest until the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Gamble v. United States, a constitutional challenge to the dual sovereignty doctrine, which allows separate state and federal prosecutions for the same criminal offense. The development pleased activists who had been attempting to draw national attention to what they considered to be a “witch hunt.” In June 2019, the Supreme Court decided Gamble in favor of the government, upholding dual sovereignty and allowing the federal government to proceed with its case against Taylor. Six months later, Norton sentenced Taylor to time served, 319 days, after a guilty plea forced by his similar disposition in state court.

Public Perception

Brittanee’s parents have appeared multiple times on the television show Dr. Phil and has asked for violent retribution against the Taylor family. As a result, the Taylor family underwent brutal societal ostracization as Taylor’s mother lost her job, his father’s business fell apart, and rumors followed the family wherever they went. Taylor considered confessing just for the public outrage against his family to dissipate.  The FBI combed alligator ponds in the area and searched for this mysterious stash house, but found nothing. 

Unsolved until 2022

Although Taylor did plead guilty, the case remained ultimately unsolved for 13 years until 2022 when:

Killer

Raymond Moody

In May 2022, Raymond Moody, a 62-year-old registered sex offender, turned himself into the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office on an obstruction of justice charge. Police had first considered Moody to be a person of interest in Brittanee’s disappearance as early as 2012. Moody confessed to the crime and provided the location of potential remains.  Moody told law enforcement that he and his girlfriend had driven up to Myrtle Beach to party when they saw Drexel walking down the street and asked if she wanted to party and smoke marijuana. According to Moody, Drexel voluntarily got into the vehicle, and he didn’t attempt to hurt her in Horry County. Moody said the three ended up at a campsite that Moody had in Georgetown County. At some point in the night, his girlfriend left the campsite to attend to a family member, and that’s when Moody came onto Drexel, and she resisted his sexual advances, according to Moody. He told law enforcement that’s when he essentially kidnapped her and sexually assaulted her. Moody said once he realized what he had done, he realized he was going to go back to prison, and that’s when he strangled her.

Cause of Death

  • Strangulation

Location of remains

The FBI excavated the site that Moody had provided and discovered the remains of Brittanee Drexel, buried in the woods off a gated private drive outside Georgetown, four feet into the ground. 

Sentence

Moody was then arrested and charged with murder, kidnapping, and criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. On October 19th, Moody pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to life in prison with an additional two consecutive terms of 30 years. 

Aftermath – Whats New in 2024 

  • On March 27, 2024, the longtime girlfriend of Moody, Angel Voss has been arrested on 3 counts of making false statements to the FBI and her legal proceedings are still ongoing for her role in the kidnapping and involvement of Brittanee’s murder.  
 
  • Timothy Da’Shaun Taylor filed suit against the FBI on March 25, 2024, seeking an apology and damages caused by his wrongful arrest and yearlong effort to compel his confession to a crime he did not commit. 
 
  • As of November 2024, Brittanee’s mother has filed two separate wrongful death suits. One against Moody for the mental anguish that he has caused her and another towards the chain of hotels that housed her daughter. She hopes that her lawsuit will hold hotels responsible for the protection of unaccompanied minors so that no family has to undergo what she went through.
January 3, 2024
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