The tangled web being woven by one South Carolina family has all the makings of an award-winning mini series.
For more than eight decades, the Murdaughs have held as the Lowcountry's top prosecutors. But with great power comes great responsibility—and criticism.
The Murdaugh family's eldest, 53-year-old Alex Murdaugh, learned this the hard way when his youngest, Paul, was involved in a deadly boat crash on Feb. 24, 2019. The tragedy shined a light on the family's potential influence over law enforcement, but not even local community members could predict the next turn in this still-unfolding saga.
On June 7, 22-year-old Paul and his 55-year-old mother, Maggie Murdaugh, were found dead on the family's hunting property.
Fast forward three months later, on Sept. 4, Alex was shot, igniting a quick chain of events that caused investigations into two other deaths, the arrest of a South Carolina local and the fall of a legal dynasty.
But let's start at the beginning.
Death of Mallory Beach in February 2019:
According to a police report obtained by E! News, authorities believe Paul, then 19, was driving his father's 17-foot boat on Archer's Creek, when it crashed into a bridge, launching six individuals between the ages of 18 and 20 into the water. While five of the six passengers surfaced moments later, 19-year-old Mallory Beach was nowhere to be found.
A week later, the Beach family's worst fears came true when her remains were found nearly five miles away from the crash site. An autopsy report stated that the cause of death was drowning and blunt force trauma.
In the midst of their mourning, the Beach family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a chain of convenience stores, Alex and 25-year-old Richard Alexander "Buster" Murdaugh Jr., alleging that the defendants supplied the underage group with alcohol. E! News reached out to the Murdaugh family spokesperson and lawyer for comment, but did not hear back.
But while the Beach family moved quickly to seek justice for their daughter, authorities were slow to make an arrest, fueling speculation that the family's status may have been protecting Paul.
These claims were pure gossip, but it certainly didn't help that the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said in multiple court documents that Paul was "uncooperative" throughout the investigation and that officers did not perform alcohol breath tests on him.
Eventually, Paul was indicted on three charges in April 2020: Boating under the influence causing death and two counts of boating under the influence causing great bodily injury. According to the indictment obtained by E! News, Paul pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on a personal recognizance bond of $50,000. Following his death, the charges were dropped.
Deaths of Paul & Maggie Murdaugh in June 2021:
That was just the beginning of the Murdaughs' problems. Alex drove up to the Murdaugh's Islandton home in the late hours of June 7, 2021. According to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), Alex found his wife Maggie and son Paul dead near the dog kennels. The press release stated the mother and son died of multiple gunshot wounds.
The double murder sent shockwaves through the community and prompted even more speculation about the Murdaugh family. So much so that SLED issued a statement assuring the community they are "committed to a thorough, fair, and impartial investigation."
But it wasn't just the locals who were pointing fingers. Two of Alex's siblings, John and Randy, went on ABC's Good Morning America and revealed that their nephew Paul was threatened online following the 2019 boat crash. However, the brothers said they didn't believe the threats were "credible" enough to involve the authorities.
Additionally, they outright denied that the family's status influenced investigators. "I see words like 'dynasty' used, and 'power,'" Randy asserted. "But we're just regular people that are working hard and trying to do right. And I think when you do those things, people respect you. We had great opportunities."
And the brothers outright denied any possibility that Alex was involved in Maggie and Paul's deaths. As Randy put it, "My brother loved Maggie and loved Paul like nothing else on this earth, just like he loves Buster... So there's no possible way he could have anything to do with this, I can assure you."
Alex has denied any involvement in his wife and son's deaths. In June, 14th circuit solicitor said in a press release "there is no clear suspect in this case at this time."
Stone went on to recuse himself from the investigations on Aug. 11, citing conflicts of interest.
Shooting of Alex Murdaugh in September 2021 & Fraud Claims:
The mystery took another shocking turn when Alex was shot on Sept. 4. A Murdaugh family lawyer told NBC News that Alex had pulled over to fix a flat tire when someone pulled up beside his truck and shot him in the head, though the wound was superficial.
Three days later, Alex claimed he quit his job and was going to enter rehab, telling NBC News that he "made a lot of decisions that I truly regret."
Hours later, his law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, accused him of misappropriating funds. "This is disappointing news for all of us," the law firm said in a statement. "Rest assured that our firm will deal with this in a straightforward manner. There's no place in our firm for such behavior."
Alex Murdaugh Speaks Out & Arrests Are Made:
The plot thickened one day later, on Sept. 14, when Alex said he orchestrated his own assassination attempt in a written statement to police.
Alex's lawyer, Richard Harpootlian, explained on Today that his client was taking opioids to cope with his wife and son's death when he became depressed. Harpootlian said that Alex paid a hitman—his former legal client Curtis Edward Smith—to kill him because he believed that his $10 million life insurance policy had a suicide clause that would prevent his eldest son, Buster, from receiving the payout. Alex's lawyer explained that his client admitted to staging his own murder because he "didn't want law enforcement to spend time on this fake crime instead of on Maggie and Paul."
The written statement to police said in part, "Alex believed that ending his life was his only option. Today, he knows that's not true."
"For the last 20 years, there have been many people feeding his addiction to opioids. During that time, these individuals took advantage of his addiction and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs," the statement continued. "One of those individuals took advantage of his mental illness and agreed to take Alex's life, by shooting him in the head."
In a SLED press release, authorities confirmed Curtis Edward Smith was arrested and charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, in addition to distribution of methamphetamine and possession of marijuana. On Friday, Sept. 17, Smith stated in his arraignment that he intends to apply for representation by a public offender.
Alex's lawyer explained that his client admitted to staging his own murder because he "didn't want law enforcement to spend time on this fake crime instead of on Maggie and Paul."
By Thursday, Sept. 16, SLED announced Alex was arrested on charges of insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report. SLED Chief Mark Keel said in the press release that Alex and Curtis' arrests are the "first step" in getting justice.
But the murders of Maggie and Paul, as well as Alex's shooting, are only the tip of the iceberg.
Reinvestigating the July 2015 Death of Stephen Smith:
Shortly after Maggie and Paul were found dead, SLED revealed it was revisiting the July 2015 death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith, whose remains were found on the side of a road in Hampton County. The decision to do so, according to spokesperson Tommy Crosby, was "based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh."
According to FITSNews.com, a pathologist initially ruled the incident was a hit and run, but a coroner disputed that ruling, as Stephen's "head was bruised and misshapen by blunt force."
Stephen's mother, Sandy Smith, believed there was a more sinister explanation for her son's death. According to Bluffton Today, Sandy alleged that Stephen's classmates killed him because he was openly gay: "It doesn't matter what his sexual preferences were, he was still my son."
"These boys were coming from a baseball game and I think that they were right behind him, so when he had to pull over, they were right there," she claimed. "The worst part is that some of the individuals responsible were Stephen's classmates."
According to NBC News, Buster and Stephen reportedly graduated from the same high school in 2014, but the 25-year-old has not been named as a person of interest in the case. A family spokesperson did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment by NBC News.
Reinvestigating the 2018 Death of Gloria Satterfield:
And the Smith family aren't the only ones hoping for a second chance at justice. On Sept. 15, SLED announced it is also looking into the February 2018 death of Murdaugh family housekeeper Gloria Satterfield.
According to documents obtained by E! News, the 57-year-old housekeeper was pronounced dead at a Charleston hospital after she tripped and fell while working in the Murdaugh's Hampton County home. However, Hampton County Coroner Angie Topper sent a letter to SLED Chief Keel, indicating that an autopsy was never performed, nor was their office notified of Satterfield's passing.
"On the death certificate the manner of death was ruled 'Natural,' which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident," the coroner wrote. "In light of the inconsistencies noted above, I feel that it is prudent to pursue an investigation into Gloria Satterfield's death."
The Satterfield sons filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Alex in 2018, which was settled for $500,000. However, on Sept. 15, the Satterfields filed a second lawsuit alleging they hadn't received any money and Alex was part of a civil conspiracy to pocket the insurance payout.
NBC News reported a Murdaugh family spokesperson did not immediately respond to their request for comment.
According to the documents obtained by E! News, Alex recommended the family retain a "good friend" who "could assist the sons in filing legal claims against Murdaugh for the wrongful death of their mother," in addition to a second individual.
Alex allegedly failed to disclose that the lawyer was a close associate and the godfather of one of his two sons, Paul and Buster. Moreover, the Satterfields claimed they were not notified that Alex had received the $500,000 from his insurance.
In a public statement, Satterfield family attorney Eric Bland said in part, "Today is a sad day for their family. The news of the opening of a criminal investigation causes more questions at a time when the family just wanted answers regarding the claims that were asserted in connection with the death of their mother and any settlements reached. Today this nightmare escalated for the family with the news of the opening of the criminal investigation into the death of Gloria Satterfield. Like everyone else now, they will see how it all unfolds."
In another twist to the case, Alex was arrested on Oct. 14 by agents with SLED and Florida Department of Law Enforcement for two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses at the time of his release from a drug rehabilitation facility in Orlando.
According to a spokesman at SLED, the charges stem from the agency's investigation into misappropriated settlement funds in the death of Gloria Satterfield.
Alex will be extradited back to South Carolina to face charges.
(Originally published Monday, Sept. 20, 2021 at 3:30 a.m.)
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