The double murder of a mother and son hit the headlines in June this year, not just because of the heinous crime itself but because the victims were part of a prominent legal family, The Murdaughs. Bizarre twists in the case ever since have caused more questions and speculation than given any answers. The double homicide has now evolved into six separate criminal investigations that involve five deaths.
The Murdaughs were well-known in South Carolina low country way before the deaths of two family member's pushed them into the national spotlight. Randolph Murdaugh Sr. started a one-man law firm in Hampton in 1910, which eventually grew into a multimillion-dollar business with offices in three counties. As a result of his success, Randolph Sr. held the position of solicitor in the 14th Judicial Circuit from 1920 until his accidental death in 1940.
Generations of Murdaughs followed Randolph Sr.'s footsteps. The first three successors, all named Randolph, run the solicitor's office and Randolph III's son, Richard "Alex" Alexander, volunteered in the office. Many who were in contact with the family, one way or another, said that the Murdaughs did lots of good and helped many people. Others say they were a family that you did not want to cross. The Murdaughs had a lot of influence and power in the community, and it seemed that they were not shy to use those advantages.
It is not a surprise many were left to wonder if the family used its influence when Alex Murdaugh's son, Paul Murdaugh, was involved in a fatal boat accident in February 2019. At the time of the crash, six people were on board the boat, including 19-year-old Paul, his friend Anthony Cook and Anthony's girlfriend Mallory Beach. Paul was driving the boat when it crashed near Parris Island in Beaufort County. While all on board were ejected, only 19-year-old Mallory was taken by the tides. Her body was found one week later. Beaufort County Sheriff's Office eventually released dashcam footage of the moments after the accident, where Anthony can be heard yelling to other passengers about Paul:
"That motherf--- – needs to rot in f---ing prison. He ain't gonna get in no f---ing trouble."
It indeed seems that Alex used his family's power after the crash, initially preventing police from interviewing Paul for several days. Also, Paul was not taken to jail, nor was he ever handcuffed. He was not given a field sobriety test, but his blood-alcohol level was .286 — three times the legal limit. Several 14th Circuit officials close to the Murdaugh family recused themselves from the case, as they felt too close to Paul.
Nevertheless, on April 18, 2019, Paul was charged with boating under the influence, causing great bodily harm and causing death in connection to the crash. He pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial free on bail. For two years, as police investigated the fatal boat crash, the outraged public was waiting to get answers and justice for Mallory, but Paul's trial date would never come.
On June 7, 2021, Alex had been visiting his sick father, Randolph III, in the hospital in Savannah. As he returned to his family's 1,770-acre hunting lodge in Islandton shortly after 10 p.m, Alex found his wife Maggie and Paul dead on the ground in front of the dog kennels. Paul had suffered wounds to his upper body and head from what appeared to have been a shotgun, while Maggie had been killed with a rifle.
Everything else is a mystery. Police have not made any arrests, nor have they named any suspects or persons of interest in the case. It is known that Paul received online threats after the boat accident, but nobody knows if somebody truly wanted to harm him or his mother. Naturally, speculations of Alex's involvement in the murders revolved around the state and the nation. Alex's brother tried to calm the rumors in "Good Morning America," saying:
"My brother loved Maggie and loved Paul like nothing else on this earth, just like he loves Buster (his other son)."
Then, just a couple of days after Paul's and Maggie's death, on Thursday, June 10, Randolph III, 81, died of natural causes at his home in Hampton County. Within one week, the remaining Murdaugh family had to bury three of their members.
On June 21, SLED acknowledged its interest in the case and asked the public to be patient and not to hurry to judge before they would complete their investigation. Since then, SLED has released little information about the case. However, police have stated that the public is not in danger, and yet, there is a killer at large.
Even though SLED has been pretty quiet, there was a really interesting development on the case on June 22. SLED suddenly reopened an investigation of the unsolved death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith. Stephen had been a high school classmate of Buster Murdaugh, Paul's brother, until he was found dead at 4:00 a.m on July 8, 2015, on a rural road in Hampton County. At the time, investigators said Stephen had died because of being hit by a vehicle while standing outside of his car. However, this statement is not consistent with other findings, for example, no tire marks or debris from a vehicle were found, and the coroner said he didn't believe Stephen's death was a hit and run. Still, as no other evidence was found, Stephen's death eventually got cold, until now as it was reopened because of information found while investigating the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. As to what that information is and how Stephen's case is connected to the double murder, we don't know yet.
As there have not yet been enough twists and turns, on Saturday, September 4, Alex called 911 and reported he had been shot. According to Alex, his tire went flat, and as he was stopped on the side of the road, a truck drove by, and someone fired shots at him. Alex was taken to a hospital in Savannah, where he was treated for a "superficial gunshot wound to the head." The public was left even more baffled. Who is targeting the Murdaugh family and why?
Just a couple of days later, Alex released a statement saying he was resigning from the family law firm and "entering rehab after a long battle that has been exacerbated by these murders." However, that wasn't the whole truth. Alex had actually been pushed to resign after "being accused of diverting lawyer fees from the firm." Basically, Alex had been misusing millions of dollars. His attorney later stated that Alex has an opioid addiction, to which he is now seeking treatment. This case definitely has all the possible elements, murder mystery, money and drugs. And once again, another startling twist was right behind the corner.
The shooting where Alex was wounded in the head had actually nothing to do with somebody's resentment towards the Murdaugh family. To everybody's surprise, on September 14, authorities stated they charged a 61-year-old man named Curtis Edward Smith, a former client of Alex, with conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. You see, the shooting had actually been a failed suicide attempt that Alex had orchestrated himself. The reasoning behind the plan was that his surviving son, Buster, could collect on a $10 million insurance policy as Alex had wrongly believed that his son would not be able to receive any life insurance payout if he died of suicide.
Alex himself was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, and filing a false police report, while Curtis was charged with assisted suicide, aggravated assault and battery, and insurance fraud. Both are currently awaiting trial.
We have gone through four deaths involving the Murdaugh family. The fifth and last one is that of Gloria Satterfield. She was a housekeeper for the Murdaugh family for over two decades before she died in 2018 after a "trip and fall accident" at the family home. SLED stated they are opening the investigation based on findings during the double murder investigation and a request from the Hampton County coroner. At the time, Gloria's death "was not reported to the coroner, nor was an autopsy performed." However, her injuries were "inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident." A $500,000 wrongful death claim was filed against Alex on behalf of Gloria's two sons, but they never received the money.
The Murdaugh saga is still ongoing, and throughout the last three months, theories have abounded not just who shot and killed Alex's wife and son, Maggie and Paul, but what really happened to Stephen and Gloria. As the police investigation is still going on, we can only speculate. Some say Alex was behind it all, either so that he pulled the trigger himself or hired somebody else to kill Maggie and Paul. Maybe Alex's alleged addiction and soon exposed money issues at the firm drove him to the desperate act. Could the failed suicide attempt just be a failed cover-up to make Alex look like a target too? Of course, it is entirely possible that the killings were an act of revenge or completely random. However, what we know about the case definitely does not point that way.
For now, we will have to wait and hope that new information comes to light and helps to close one of the most bizarre cases of this year.
So far, SC's Murdaugh story has grisly murders, untimely deaths, falls from grace, stolen millions, drugs, an inept hit man, "cunning corridors" of power, lawsuits, investigations.... but dear readers, there's more to come .... much, much more
— John Monk (@jmonkatthestate) September 15, 2021