Alex Murdaugh case: 2018 death of South Carolina woman sparks investigation, lawsuit

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BLUFFTON, S.C. – A new twist came to light Wednesday in the complex and deadly saga surrounding prominent South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh after the family of his former housekeeper, who died at his home in 2018, sued the attorney.

The developments in Gloria Satterfield's death comes as Murdaugh, a fourth generation Hampton, South Carolina, lawyer, is tied to multiple state investigations, including the killings of his wife and son; allegations Murdaugh stole money from his family's law firm; drug addictions; and a suicide-for-hire plot for a $10 million life insurance policy.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced Wednesday that it had opened a new investigation into Satterfield's death. SLED is already investigating several other criminal cases involving Murdaugh or his family in some way, including the unsolved June 7 killings of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, at the family's hunting estate.

"Based upon a request from the Hampton County Coroner earlier today, as well as information gathered during the course of our other ongoing investigations involving Alex Murdaugh, SLED is opening a criminal investigation into the death of Gloria Satterfield and the handling of her estate," the agency said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, the county coroner sent a letter to SLED Chief Mark Keel indicating Satterfield's death at Murdaugh's home was never reported to the coroner's office, nor was an autopsy conducted despite her manner of death being listed as "natural" from injuries she sustained from tripping and falling.

The latest: Alex Murdaugh to turn himself in amid botched murder, insurance fraud plot

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Coroner Angie Topper noted that "the manner of death was ruled 'natural,' which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident." Satterfield, of Furman, South Carolina, was the Murdaugh family housekeeper for more than two decades before her death, according to WYFF-4.

Along with the investigation, a new lawsuit was also filed in Satterfield's death. Chad Westendorf, a banker at Palmetto State Bank, originally filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2018, and court documents show a settlement was reached for $500,000.

Gloria Satterfield
Gloria Satterfield

But on Wednesday, the heirs of Satterfield's estate filed a second civil lawsuit against Murdaugh, Westendorf and other attorneys indicating they had not received any money from the settlement.

The suit alleges civil conspiracy and claims "the children of Gloria Satterfield have not received the first dollar" and that "Tony and Brian (Satterfield) first learned that money had been recovered from the death of their mother when it was reported in the press."

The suit says that, following Satterfield's death on Feb. 26, Murdaugh acknowledged that he was at fault and introduced her family to his "good friend, Corey Fleming, so that Fleming could assist the sons in filing legal claims against Murdaugh for the wrongful death of their mother, with the assistance of a banker friend, Chad Westendorf."

The suit also says Murdaugh assured the family he was "going to take care of the boys," but alleges they were duped. The legal filing says the attorneys who were working for them in the wrongful death lawsuit were close friends of Murdaugh, and that one was even the godfather of one of his sons.

The Satterfield heirs say they are seeking their rightful settlement, along with any associated damages or costs.

What we know: Murders, money and mystery swirl around prominent Murdaugh family in South Carolina

$10M life insurance scheme, family's murder, other criminal cases

Murdaugh's legal and potential criminal troubles extend well past the death of his housekeeper.

Murdaugh is accused of an elaborate suicide-for-hire scheme that aimed to release a $10 million life insurance policy to his only living son. Authorities and his attorney say Murdaugh hired another man to fatally shoot him, believing a suicide would not allow his life insurance policy to be released.

Murdaugh was listed as a co-defendant as the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced charges Monday against Curtis Edward Smith, 61, who faces counts of assisted suicide; assault and battery of a high aggravated nature; pointing and presenting a firearm; insurance fraud; and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

Murdaugh "arranged to have this guy shoot him" in efforts to have the insurance payout to his son, Dick Harpootlian, an attorney for Murdaugh, told the "Today" show on Wednesday. He said he expected Murdaugh to be charged in the coming days.

Murdaugh was shot in the head Sept. 4 on the side of a rural road and was taken to the hospital with superficial injuries. The news came days before he checked himself into rehab, and his law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, & Detrick, accused him of misappropriating funds.

State police said Monday that they were investigating the missing money.

Harpootlian told the "Today" show that Murdaugh had used opioids and was trying to get off the drugs the day he arranged the shooting. Murdaugh was depressed, "realized that things were going to get very, very, very bad" after taking money from his law firm, but believed that if he died by suicide, the life insurance payout would not go to his son, Harpootlian said.

Murdaugh used the majority of the money from the firm to pay for opioids, his lawyer said.

Missing funds: South Carolina police now investigating allegations that Alex Murdaugh took money from law firm

Alex Murdaugh injured in separate shooting: South Carolina attorney shot months after wife, son found dead at hunting estate

'Didn't want law enforcement spending more time on this fake crime'

Murdaugh has since admitted giving Smith a firearm and telling him to kill Murdaugh in order for his life insurance policy to be paid out, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said in affidavits released Monday.

Smith followed Murdaugh to a rural country road where he then shot Murdaugh, police said in an affidavit. Smith drove away and got rid of the gun, while Murdaugh survived the shooting, the affidavit says.

Murdaugh called 911 after being shot in the head and was taken to an area hospital, state and local police previously said. Harpootlian said Murdaugh was temporarily blinded in the shooting.

State police said in the affidavit that Murdaugh admitted the scheme on Monday and that his life insurance policy, valued around $10 million, was to go to his surviving son. On Tuesday, Smith also admitted being present and disposing of the firearm, according to the affidavit.

Richard Alexander Murdaugh
Richard Alexander Murdaugh

Harpootlian said Murdaugh and his legal team approached state police with his confession.

"He didn't want law enforcement spending more time on this fake crime instead of focusing on solving the murders of Maggie and Paul (Murdaugh)," Harpootlian told the "Today" show.

Alex Murdaugh's wife, Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, were shot multiple times and found dead June 7 at the family's Colleton County hunting estate. Alex Murdaugh called 911 reporting their deaths, which remain under investigation by state police.

Harpootlian told the "Today" show that Murdaugh did not kill his wife and son, and that Harpootlian and another attorney representing Murdaugh were investigating "an individual or individuals we believe may, may, have some culpability or had done it."

Alex Murdaugh and his surviving son, Buster, had offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or arrests and convictions.

Murdaugh's son tied to other open criminal investigations

Paul Murdaugh was also facing charges tied to a 2019 fatal boat crash. Mallory Beach, 19, of Hampton County, was killed and several others injured in the wreck near Parris Island. Paul Murdaugh faced three charges tied to boating under the influence.

The case remains open, and Beach's family has also filed a civil lawsuit and other legal actions against the Murdaugh family. Harpootlian said he had represented Paul Murdaugh in the case.

Paul and Maggie Murdaugh's death also prompted the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to open a homicide investigation into the unsolved death of Stephen Smith, 19. State police said it was opening the investigation "based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh."

Smith died on a rural road in Hampton County in 2015, in what was ruled a hit-and-run. However, his mother, Sandy, told The Hampton County Guardian, part of the USA TODAY Network, in 2015 that she believed her son's death was the result of foul play and a possible hate crime because her son was gay.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Alex Murdaugh case: Death of Gloria Satterfield under investigation

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