Teen’s Body to Be Exhumed After Murdaugh Conviction


The family of a South Carolina teenager whose mysterious roadside death has been linked with the once-prominent Murdaugh family says his body will be exhumed.

The decision to exhume Stephen Smith for an independent autopsy comes seven years after the 19-year-old was found dead on a backcountry road in Hampton, South Carolina—just miles away from the Murdaugh’s family hunting estate. While his July 8, 2015, death was deemed suspicious, a medical examiner ultimately concluded he died from a hit-and-run and no one was ever charged in the case.

In June 2021, however, state authorities announced they would open an investigation into Smith’s death “based upon information gathered during the course of the double-murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.”

Now, after Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife and son, Smith’s family is taking matters into their own hands to figure out what happened to the aspiring nurse. After Murdaugh’s conviction, the Smith family started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the independent autopsy—and as of Friday morning have amassed $43,000.

“Our family is so very grateful to all of you who came together to help us in our fight for justice for Stephen. I could not have imagined when we began this fundraiser that it would take off the way that it did,” Sandy Smith, the teenager’s mother, wrote in a Thursday post on the campaign site. “Thank you for not allowing Stephen’s story to be swept under [the] rug.”

“We will pursue the exhumation immediately and provide updates along the way. Thank you for the kind words, prayers, and donations,” she added. “You have made this possible, and it means the world to us. This is Stephen’s year.”

Smith’s family and their lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The decision to pursue an independent autopsy marks the most significant update into the case that has been tied to the Murdaugh family. A spokesperson for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) told The Daily Beast that investigators have “made progress in the death investigation of Stephen Smith, however, this investigation remains active and ongoing.”

The spokesperson, however, declined to comment about what information gathered from Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s murder prompted a new look into Smith’s death—or how the Murdaughs might have been connected to the teenager.

South Carolina Highway Patrol records obtained by the Island Packet detail how investigators probing Smith’s death in 2015 unsuccessfully chased several tips about the Murdaugh family’s possible connection to the case. Several witnesses, according to the records, suggested that Murdaugh’s elder son, Buster, now 26, could have been somehow involved in Smith’s death.

Buster Murdaugh Calls Cops on Photogs Following Him

Authorities, however, could never corroborate the claims. Buster Murdaugh—who went to the same high school as Smith—has never been charged in connection with the case.

“The Murdaughs know that,” then-SCHP Lance Cpl. Todd Proctor said in a Sept. 2, 2015, interview with a tipster, according to the Packet. “They know that [Buster’s] on our radar.”

Smith’s sister also revealed in a July 2015 interview to authorities that Alex Murdaugh’s older brother called her family shortly after they learned the news about the teenager’s death.

“The day that Stephen passed away, Randy Murdaugh was the second person to call my dad after the coroner,” Stephanie Smith said, according to the records obtained by the Packet. “And he said he wanted to take the case, and it would be free of charge and everything.”

Now Smith’s family is focused on finding out answers themselves—and are leaning on the support of the community.

“We need a new, unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts. There was no debris in the road, and his injuries were not consistent with a hit-and-run,” Smith’s mother said on the GoFundMe campaign site. “We are hoping that with your support we can make this happen and finally get the answers we need.”

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