Alex Murdaugh, an attorney and member of one of the most influential family dynasties in coastal South Carolina, was arrested by state authorities this week after investigators alleged he planned for a man to kill him so that Murdaugh’s only surviving son would collect a $10 million life insurance payout.
The stunning arrest comes about three months after Murdaugh called police to report he had found his wife and youngest son shot dead at their home.
But the killings weren’t the only ones to which names of the Murdaugh family were tied.
As years-long mysteries surrounding the family are now getting renewed attention, so are several other deaths.
Margaret and Paul Murdaugh
Alex Murdaugh called 911 on June 7, 2021, to report he found his wife Margaret, 52, and son Paul, 22, shot dead outside their Islandton home about an hour from Hilton Head Island, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) said.
Colleton County Sheriff’s deputies said both victims had multiple gunshot wounds.
SLED took over the investigation, but the case remains unsolved. Alex Murdaugh has denied responsibility in the killings.
“My brother loved Maggie and loved Paul like nothing else on this earth, just like he loves (his other son) Buster,” Alex Murdaugh’s brother, Randolph “Randy” Murdaugh IV, told “Good Morning America” following the killings. “So there’s no possible way he could have anything to do with this, I can assure you.”
Dick Harpootlian, an attorney for Alex Murdaugh, said on NBC’s “Today” show this week that the killings took a “tremendous toll” on Murdaugh, as did the death of his father in the same week.
His wife’s and son’s death were followed by an announcement from his law firm that he had misappropriated funds. A self-initiated detox around the same time sent Murdaugh into a “massive depression,” Harpootlian said.
On June 22, SLED announced it was reopening an investigation into the death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith, whose body was found in the middle of a Hampton County road on July 8, 2015.
Though authorities have not announced a connection between Smith’s death and the Murdaugh family, SLED said it was reopening an investigation into the killing based on information gathered while investigating the double homicide of Margaret and Paul Murdaugh.
SLED has not specified what that information was.
According to an incident report from the South Carolina Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT), Smith’s body was found in the road with blunt force trauma to the head.
While a pathologist cited in a SLED report states that Smith appeared to have been hit by a vehicle, the responding officer referenced in MAIT’s report cited “no vehicle debris, skid marks, or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle.”
Smith’s shoes were also both on and loosely tied, the report added, and investigators saw no evidence suggesting he was struck by a vehicle.
Notes from investigators in the case file say that “according to family, Stephen would never have been walking in the middle of the roadway” and that he was “very skittish.”
According to notes taken by a SLED investigator at the scene, Smith had injuries to his left arm, hand and head.
His vehicle was found about three miles away, that report said, and added the gas tank door was open and the gas cap was hanging out on the side of the car. The vehicle’s battery was functional but the car wouldn’t start, it added.
Smith’s death remains unsolved.
Mallory Beach was a 19-year-old woman killed in a February 24, 2019, boat crash.
Beach was ejected from the boat — along with a male — when the boat struck a bridge, according to an affidavit from an officer who was supervising the scene.
According to a report from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), a doctor who treated Paul Murdaugh after the boat crash reported that Murdaugh was “clearly intoxicated” and slurring his speech.
Beach’s body was found about a week after the crash by volunteer searchers, according to a DNR accident report.
Three people who were on the boat told investigators that Paul Murdaugh was driving, but another passenger named a different person who was also aboard that night as the driver, according to the affidavit.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was facing charges including boating under the influence (BUI), causing great bodily harm, and causing death in connection to the boat crash.
On September 15, SLED announced it was also opening a criminal investigation into the February 26, 2018, death of Gloria Satterfield, 57, and the handling of her estate.
Satterfield was the Murdaugh family housekeeper for more than two decades before dying after what was described as a “trip and fall accident” at the Murdaugh home, according to attorney Eric Bland, who is representing her estate.
SLED said it is opening an investigation based on a request from the Hampton County coroner that highlighted inconsistencies in the ruling of Satterfield’s manner of death, as well as information gathered during SLED’s other ongoing investigations involving Alex Murdaugh.
Satterfield’s death was “not reported to the coroner at the time, nor was an autopsy performed,” the coroner’s request to SLED said. Additionally, her manner of death was ruled “natural,” which was “inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident,” the coroner said.
In the aftermath of Satterfield’s death, a $500,000 wrongful death claim was filed against Alex Murdaugh on behalf of her estate, Bland said. But the estate has not received any of the $500,000 owed as the result of a wrongful death settlement in 2018, Bland added. The attorney has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Satterfield’s estate against Alex Murdaugh, the estate’s former attorney Cory Fleming, as well as Palmetto State Bank.
“We’re talking about an extremely small rural town where this family presides over any number of different capacities and people see the power this family has had,” Bland said. “So you normally … question authority, but sometimes you just don’t question authority because you’re afraid to or you are told things are being handled and you just trust it.”
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