A lawyer representing the two heirs of Alex Murdaugh’s dead housekeeper and nanny said Tuesday he’s located the missing judge’s order that approved a $4.3 million settlement in a case where the heirs were to get $2.76 million but got nothing.
“I will be turning this order over to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division,” Columbia attorney Eric Bland said., “Given the fact that SLED is not only investigating the housekeeper’s death, but also what happened to the money in the subsequent insurance settlement.”
The judge’s order showing that the two heirs of the late Gloria Satterfield were to get $2.76 million is important because those heirs — Satterfield’s sons — in fact never got any money, Bland said.
A SLED spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
But last week, SLED Chief Mark Keel told The State that his agency is looking not only at how Satterfield died, but what happened to the money supposedly paid out in insurance proceeds.
“We are going to follow the facts, wherever they are,” Keel said.
A lawyer for Alex Murdaugh declined to comment.
Satterfield, 57, died in February 2018 after a fall at the Murdaugh house, where she had worked for the Murdaugh family more than 20 years.
After her death, Murdaugh and two friends — one a lawyer and the other a banker — helped Satterfield’s two sons press a wrongful death claim against Murdaugh with insurance companies that provided coverage for his home, according to a lawsuit Bland filed last week against Murdaugh and his two friends.
Bland’s lawsuit said that Satterfield’s two sons — Michael Satterfield and Brian Harriott — want an accounting of all the money paid out in the settlement of their mother’s death. They also assert they had never received any money from the $4.3 million in insurance proceeds resulting from their mother’s death.
“A disbursement signed by the judge says my clients were supposed to get $2.76 million of this,” Bland told The State. “Somebody else got that money.”
Bland said Tuesday he received a copy of the judge’s order from a lawyer representing Chad Westendorf, the Hampton banker and Murdaugh’s friend who served as the personal representative, or administrator, of the Satterfield estate.
Westendorf, along with Murdaugh, is a defendant in the lawsuit Bland filed last week. Another defendant is Corey Fleming, a Beaufort attorney and longtime friend of Murdaugh’s, who handled legal aspects of the insurance settlement.
The order, dated May 13, 2019, was apparently signed by South Carolina Judge Carmen Mullen, Bland said.
Underneath the signature are the words, “Presiding Judge.”
However, the signature is scrawled and not immediately recognizable as Mullen’s. Mullen resides in the Lowcountry 14th Judicial Circuit that includes Hampton County, as well as Beaufort County.
Mullen could not be immediately reached for comment.
The order and other documents pressing a legal claim — what is called a “wrongful death” and “survival” action — were apparently never filed in state court, so there is no public record of how the case was finally settled, said Bland.
“Nothing is on the court record,” Bland said, who said the judge’s order does not have a case file number.
“It is highly unorthodox for a judge to have had some type of approval hearing because there apparently was no pending petition seek approval of $4.3 million,” Bland.
Bland said he had no idea why the judge’s order was never filed and never became a public record.
State law sets out a series of public steps that judges and lawyers are supposed to follow in wrongful death cases. Under state law, settlement documents are supposed to be a matter of public record filed in state court.
Bland’s lawsuit and assertions about the judge’s order approving $2.76 million for Satterfield’s heirs are only the most recent events in an expanding tale of unsolved alleged crimes and puzzling events involving Murdaugh.
In recent months, events involving Murdaugh, a prominent well-to-do South Carolina lawyer, include the unsolved June murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul; his alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars from his former Hampton County law firm; his acknowledgment of an expensive oxycodone addiction; and his hiring a hit man to stage his suicide so Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster, could collect a $10 million life insurance policy.
Last week, the the same day that Bland filed the heirs’ lawsuit against Murdaugh and Westendorf, Hampton County Coroner Angela Topper wrote Keel requesting an investigation of Satterfield’s death.
“According to a ‘petition for approval of a wrongful death settlement’ in the Court of Common Pleas (state civil court) in Hampton County ... the decedent Gloria Satterfield died as a ‘result of injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident,” Tooper wrote. “The defendant in this case was Richard A. (Alex) Murdaugh.”
Satterfield’s death “was not reported to the coroner at the time, nor was an autopsy performed. 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.
This is a developing story. It will be updated.