An unsolved double murder of a mother and son from a prominent legal family in rural South Carolina has gripped the nation since June, and the bizarre twists in the investigation have fueled questions, speculation and intrigue in a great “whodunnit” case.
The Murdaughs, who for nearly a century were the law in the rural Lowcountry — three generations served as top prosecutor for the 14th judicial circuit — are now the focus of six criminal investigations that involve five deaths.
This story has all the elements: murder, stolen money, secrets coming to light, corruption, and a Southern dynasty falling from grace.
Here’s everything you need to know:
Double homicide of Paul, Maggie Murdaugh
Paul Murdaugh, a 22-year-old University of South Carolina student, and his mother Maggie, 52, were found shot to death at their expansive estate in Colleton County on June 7. Alex Murdaugh, their father and husband, called 911 to say he had found the bodies.
Law enforcement has released very little information about the case, but it’s known two guns were used and that the bodies of the two Murdaughs were found outside the home separate from each other.
No suspects have been publicly named, although one of the family’s lawyers recently said the killing was likely “personal.”
Fatal boat crash involving Murdaugh family
The deadly crash, which spurred multiple lawsuits, was the first time in recent history that the Murdaugh family was thrust into the national spotlight, their prestige and power witnessed by a larger public audience.
The state Attorney General’s office has opened its own investigation into possible obstruction of justice in the boat crash investigation.
Suicide attempt, insurance payout, arrest
Alex Murdaugh took after his father, his grandfather and great-grandfather, working as a partner at their family-founded law firm in Hampton that was established in 1910. He also volunteered at the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, which prosecutes criminal cases in five counties. Three Murdaughs held the solicitor position for 86 years straight.
On June 7, Alex Murdaugh called 911 to report that his younger son, Paul, and wife, Maggie, had been shot at their home in Islandton.
Three months later, he was shot in the head on the side of a Hampton road in what he’d later confess to police was a failed suicide attempt he’d orchestrated so his surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, could collect on a $10 million insurance policy. He faces charges of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and falsifying a police report.
His lawyers say he’s been at an out-of-state rehab facility for drug addiction, but he returned to Hampton County Thursday morning for his arrest at the Hampton County police station. A bond hearing was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Curtis Edward Smith, a former client of Alex Murdaugh’s, was also charged in that shooting — with one count each of assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.
The Stephen Smith SC cold case
Two weeks after Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were murdered, SLED announced that information it had obtained during the double murder investigation led them to reopen the death investigation of 19-year-old Stephen Smith, whose body was found in the middle of a Hampton road in 2015.
Smith’s case went cold after investigators and medical experts couldn’t agree on whether his death was a hit-and-run incident or he was killed elsewhere and his body placed in the road. His mother, Sandy Smith, has always contended that her son was murdered.
Rumors have swirled around town that the Murdaugh family was involved in Smith’s death, but investigators never officially made that connection. However, the Murdaugh name appears nine times in the S.C. Highway Patrol’s case notes.
No arrest has been made in the case, and no suspects have been named.
Death of Murdaugh family nanny
After a request from the local coroner, SLED opened a separate death investigation on Sept. 15 into the February 2018 death of the Murdaughs’ former housekeeper and nanny.
Gloria Satterfield, 57, worked for Alex and Maggie Murdaugh for about 20 years before she was injured in a fall in their house. She later died in a local hospital.
Her obituary said she loved the Murdaughs as family. According to current Hampton County Coroner Angela Topper, a death like that should have been reported to the coroner’s office but it wasn’t, and an autopsy was never completed.
A new lawsuit by Satterfield’s sons, which lists Alex Murdaugh as a co-defendant, says the more than half-million dollars in insurance money from their mother’s death has been withheld.
Who are Alex Murdaugh’s attorneys?
Since the killings of his wife and son, Alex Murdaugh has only been communicating with the public only through a PR firm and through his attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin.
Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator, appeared on the Today Show Wednesday and said his client was going to be arrested in the suicide-for-hire plot even before charges were announced against Alex Murdaugh.
The attorneys also said recently that they are investigating suspects of their own in the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.