What to know about Buster Murdaugh, Alex Murdaugh's only surviving son
The stunning downfall of Alex Murdaugh, the disgraced former South Carolina lawyer and convicted killer, was capped Friday, March 3, when he was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of his wife and youngest son.
His oldest son, Buster Murdaugh, sat silently behind his father every day for weeks as dozens of witnesses gave their testimonies, and put his head in his hands when the jury's verdict was read on March 2.
Buster not only made an appearance on the witness stand, but he is mentioned several times in the Netflix documentary, "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal," which charts his father's fall from grace as the scion of a multi-generational South Carolina legal dynasty to a man facing nearly 100 criminal charges.
Before Alex Murdaugh was disbarred by the South Carolina Supreme Court in July 2022, he was a personal injury attorney. The South Carolina Attorney General's Office alleges Alex Murdaugh stole nearly $8.5 million from his clients at his law firm over 11 years, accounting for 99 charges across more than a dozen indictments. He acknowledged fraud in during his testimony.
Alex Murdaugh's father, grandfather and great-grandfather all held positions as top prosecutors in the southern part of the state, giving the family large power over several counties in South Carolina for almost a century.
While Buster Murdaugh doesn’t appear in the documentary and declined to comment for the series, viewers of the show and the trial may be curious to know about Alex Murdaugh’s only surviving son.
Buster was in law school
Buster Murdaugh graduated from Wofford College in 2018, according to his Instagram bio, and appeared to be following in his family's footsteps by enrolling at the University of South Carolina School of Law.
However, by spring 2021, he had been kicked out of law school for plagiarizing, according to court documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
The Post and Courier, a local South Carolina newspaper, obtained jailhouse phone calls from Alex Murdaugh, in which he said the Murdaugh family had paid a well-connected lawyer about $60,000 to secure Buster Murdaugh's re-admittance to the school.
In a phone call published by The State, Buster Murdaugh speaks to his father about the efforts the lawyer, Butch Bowers, had gone to: “He was supposed to be getting in touch with (William) Hubbard (Dean of the University of South Carolina School of Law), and Hubbard had to run it by admissions to be able to set the record clean.”
“You need to get ready for this law school, now OK,” Alex Murdaugh told his son in a later phone call recorded from the prison, and published by the Post and Courier. “I mean, you’ve got to really buckle down. You’ve got to treat it like a job. You’re going to have to read these cases two and three times if you don’t fully understand them.”
He added: “Because you know there’s not going to be another chance.”
But Jim Griffin, an attorney for Alex Murdaugh, told the Post and Courier in September 2022 the university and Buster Murdaugh had come to an agreement that he wouldn't yet return to school.
"He has put his desire to go to law school on hold for now," Griffin said. "There is no plan for him to start school in the fall or in the spring."
His connection to 2019 boat crash
As depicted in "Murdaugh Murders," Buster Murdaugh's younger brother Paul Murdaugh was facing three felony counts of boating under the influence at the time of his death stemming from a boat crash on Feb. 23, 2019.
On the night of the crash, then 19-year-old Paul Murdaugh took his family’s boat out for a night of partying on the Beaufort River. Before getting into the boat, Paul Murdaugh used his older's ID to purchase alcohol for the night, as shown in footage played during the first episode of "Murdaugh Murders."
Survivors of the boat crash said in the documentary Paul Murdaugh was steering the boat when it crashed into a bridge, ejecting 19-year-old Mallory Beach from the vessel.
It took investigators eight days to find Beach's body, NBC reported in a 2022 "Dateline" episode.
The charges against Paul Murdaugh were dropped in August 2021 after the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office received his death certificate, NBC affiliate WSAV reported, and a settlement was reached between Beach’s parents, other survivors of the crash and two of Murdaugh’s family members in January 2023, according to court documents published by NBC affiliate WTOC.
"Murdaugh Murders" also mentions the mysterious 2015 death of Buster Murdaugh's friend from high school, Stephen Smith, which remains unsolved. Investigators reopened the case into Smith's death after the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, S.C. Law Enforcement Division spokesperson Tommy Crosby said in a June 2021 statement.
His connection to Alex Murdaugh's botched murder-for-hire plot
Alex Murdaugh made national headlines on Sept. 4, 2021, just months after the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, when he was found with a gunshot wound to the head in Hampton County, South Carolina, NBC News reported.
Murdaugh's attorney Jim Griffin told news outlets at the time Murdaugh had pulled over after his vehicle got a flat tire, and then a person inside a pickup truck passed by and opened fire.
Authorities described Murdaugh‘s injury as a "superficial" head wound on Sept. 5, and said he was expected to recover, NBC News reported.
But by Sept. 14, authorities had different version of events: Murdaugh allegedly arranged for his former client, Curtis Edward Smith, to kill him so that Buster Murdaugh could collect on his $10 million life insurance policy, NBC News reported.
Dick Harpootlian, one of Murdaugh’s attorneys, said on TODAY on Sept. 15 his client’s addiction to opioids led him to create the plot to have a Curtis kill him so Buster Murdaugh could make a claim his life insurance policy.
Murdaugh turned himself in to authorities on Sept. 16 after he was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report, NBC News reported.
Buster testified in his father's defense
Buster Murdaugh was the first witness the defense called to the stand, and he testified on Feb. 21 his father was barely able to speak the first time he saw him after the killings.
"He was destroyed, heartbroken," Buster Murdaugh told jurors.
He also spoke of their loving, "close-knit" family, which caused Alex Murdaugh to break down in tears several times during the testimony.
Alex Murdaugh was convicted of killing Maggie and Paul Murdaugh on March 2, and was sentenced to two life terms to be served consecutively — the maximum penalty — on March 3.
Buster Murdaugh put his head in his hands after the jury's verdict was read, and was seen hugging people in the courtroom after Judge Clifton Newman announced his father's sentence of life in prison.
Days after his father's sentence, Buster Murdaugh filed a police report after he saw a photo of himself inside of his home published in the New York Post.
He contacted police on March 5 after he was "made aware" of the photo, which appears to have been taken through the blinds of his home in Hilton Head, South Carolina, according to a copy of the police report obtained by NBC News.
Officers told him the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department would add extra patrols around his home, and to contact authorities if he noticed anything suspicious, the report said.
Less than an hour later, his girlfriend contacted police to report she and Murdaugh were being followed by a member of "the media" in a gray Chevrolet SUV, according to the report.
Officers made a traffic stop on the vehicle and noticed a bag in the front seat that was similar to a camera bag, according to the report, but let the driver go after a warning.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com