When last we left South Carolina’s Murdaugh family, matriarch Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and golden boy Paul, 22, had been shot execution-style outside the dogs kennels of their hunting lodge, “Moselle,” a rambling 1700 acre property just north of Varnville in Colleton County, South Carolina. Their bodies were discovered by now-bereaved patriarch Richard Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh, 53, of Hampton County law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick.
This firm employs three Murdaughs; Murdaughs have served as solicitors for South Carolina’s 14th Judicial Circuit (excluding Charleston itself, much of the Lowcountry) for three generations: from 1920 to 2006. Current 14th Judicial Circuit solicitor Duffie Stone was allegedly handpicked by the Murdaugh family to served out Randolph Murdaugh III’s unexpired term.
Please imagine every offensive stereotype of ruddy, sneering, seersuckered Southern noblessed oblige. Give it that accent that begs the question of gay, or Charlestonian? Conjure the cronyism involved in running a quarter of South Carolina, from sixty years after the Confederacy, when it was little more than institutional racism and pellagra, to 2006, when it was little more than institutional racism and type 2 diabetes. Imagine an unbroken legacy of unjustified privilege and heart disease.
You have conjured Alex Murdaugh.
“Paul’s daddy don’t look like Boss Hogg,” one Hampton County resident told The New York Post. “But that’s who he is.”
So this was no average man. And this was no average murder.
In 2019, now-deceased Paul Murdaugh was charged with killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach in a felony boating accident. Eventually blowing a blood alcohol level of three times the legal limit at age 19, he crashed his daddy’s boat into the pylons of Archer’s Creek Bridge near Parris Island following a night of bar-hopping down Charleston’s riverfront. Speculation says that his father’s influence kept charges at bay for two months after Beach’s death — and when he appeared in court, his attorneys included well-known state senator Dick Harpootlian. He pled not guilty, but Paul faced 55 years in jail.
His uncle John Marvin Murdaugh told Good Morning, America in the family’s first interview after the murders that Paul had received death threats over the incident. “I didn’t think it was a credible threat—if it was, I would have tried to do something or notify someone,” he said. “But I guess maybe I made a mistake.”
Maggie might have loved furs when the weather was right (translation: she sweated in them during South Carolina’s frostless winters), but Alex was her college sweetheart, and the former Gamecock sorority sister seems to have been beloved by the community. But Paul was another story. Gabby Thomas, 62, whose own hunting lodge abuts Moselle, told The New York Post, “Mrs. Maggie don’t deserve this… She’d give you the shirt off her back, that one. Wonderful woman. Them others? I don’t know. But she sure spoiled Paul. I heard him talk back to her once so bad in the beauty parlor once that I made him apologize.”
Paul, friends joked, had a dangerous alter ego when he drank, one they called “Timmy,” who was known for stripping to his boxer shorts. Anthony Cook, who was on the boat, testified that, “It started one night at Mr. Alex’s house in Moselle… I don’t remember who came up with the name but it’s … because he turns into a completely different person. So somebody will say, when they can tell he’s drunk, ‘All right, here comes Timmy. We got to go.'”
Paul had stripped to his boxers on the boat before Mallory’s death, though it was only forty degrees.
Charges in the boating accident were dropped August 12th, 2021, more than two months after Paul’s June 7th murder. A civil case remains pending.
The Case Went Cold. But The Details Got Wild…
No one, it seemed, knew who killed Paul and Maggie Murdaugh. Their bodies had been discovered some distance from one another, and they’d been killed with different firearms. Alex Murdaugh said he’d been taking his father to the hospital when Paul and Maggie were killed — Randolph Murdaugh III died three days after the shooting. After that, Alex says he visited his mother. Only then did he make a sobbing 911 call reporting the deaths (during which he angrily snaps, when asked if he lives in a house or mobile home, “It’s a house!”).
Then shit got downright Faulknerian.
First, old rumors came back to haunt the family — as the ghost of Stephen Smith, killed in 2015 at age 19 on a lonesome road in Hampton County. S.C. Law Enforcement Division spokesperson Tommy Crosby announced on Tuesday, June 23rd that “SLED has opened an investigation into the death of Stephen Smith based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.”
Officially, his death was ruled a hit-and-run. Strangely, he’d run out of gas on that back road after driving home from night classes at Orangeburg-Calhoun Tech, where he was studying to be a nurse. His death certificate says only that he died from blunt-force trauma to the head, but investigators said it was consistent with a gunshot wound.
His mother claims Smith, who was gay, was forced to pull over instead. His death, she says, was a hate crime committed “by several Hampton County youths from prestigious families,” reports Bluffton Today. Sandy Smith says, “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 … The worst part is that some of the individuals responsible were Stephen’s classmates.”
Originally, investigators had received tips that Smith was involved with Paul’s older brother, Richard “Buster” Murdaugh.
Then enter the maid.
On February 26, 2018, Murdaugh maid Gloria Satterfield, age 57, was killed due to a “trip and fall” in Hampton County, according to court documents. Alex Murdaugh’s insurance company paid out $500,000 for “personal liability in the wrongful death” and $5,000 in medical costs. Court documents do not specify either where that accident happened nor why Murdaugh is named, and speculation abounded.
And on August 27th, South Carolina rumors ran rampant after solicitor Duffie Stone manned up and recused himself from Paul and Maggie’s murder investigation.
Tell About The South: Lawyers, Guns, And Money
Hold on tight, because John Grisham just fucked Pat Conroy.
The Friday before Labor Day, Alex Murdaugh’s law partners confronted him. He was accused of embezzling “millions,” according to The New York Times, so much that the firm had hired a forensic accounting service. He agreed to resign from the law firm founded by his own great-grandfather.
On Saturday, Hampton County sheriff’s department received a 911 call from Salkehatchie Road near Varnville, South Carolina. Alex Murdaugh had been shot in the head.
Well, not shot so badly that he couldn’t call 911.
Allegedly, Murdaugh’s black Mercedes SUV had suffered a flat tire. When he got out to change it, he claimed, a truck drove by. It drove back and asked if he was having car trouble, according to The New York Times. Then Murdaugh says he heard a gunshot. Police say they found at least seven shell casings at the scene; either the would-be murderer was a terrible shot, or… something? Two people then found Murdaugh injured and helped him; inside their car, he was able to call 911. They met up with an ambulance, where Murdaugh’s attorney says that due to the extent of his wounds — “a skull fracture, minor brain bleeding in two places, and a wound that has an entry and exit point” — he was life-flighted.
He was held for two days, then released.
His attorney Jim Griffin insisted the shooting “was not self-inflicted.” No gun had been found at the scene. But his tire had been “slashed.” Murdaugh was transported not to Charleston’s nearby MUSC, but to Savannah, then fled to rehab. News of the embezzlement broke. It remains unclear, or his firm’s staying zip-lipped, on how much money was taken and how it was used.
“It’s a lot of money, that’s all I know,” one source said to The Daily Beast.
On September 8th, South Carolina suspended Murdaugh’s law license.
That knife traced back to Murdaugh.
And in magnificent Nancy Grace exclusive, a reporter revealed that Maggie Murdaugh had ordered a forensic financial accounting of the Murdaugh personal family finances before her death.
Things stayed quiet. For a week.
The Wound Wasn’t Quite Self-Inflicted…
On Sept. 14, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division arrested Curtis Smith of Walterboro, who a law enforcement source called Murdaugh’s “personal drug dealer,” for assisted suicide, aggravated assault and battery, and insurance fraud. Murdaugh confessed that he had hired Smith to gun him down in the road so his son Buster could inherit a ten million dollar life insurance policy. After Smith shot at Murdaugh (several times), failing to kill him, he drove down Salkehatchie Road and ditched the gun, which Murdaugh had provided.
Smith was also charged with meth distribution and possession of marijuana; it’s unclear if this relates to Murdaugh. Murdaugh has been named as a co-defendant in Smith’s case, which will be prosecuted by the South Carolina attorney general, and he’s expected to be charged.
Murdaugh’s lawyers, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, issued the following statement: “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. One of those individuals took advantage of his mental illness and agreed to take Alex’s life, by shooting him in the head… Alex is not without fault but he is just one of many whose life has been devastated by opioid addiction.”
And there we leave the Murdaughs: a once-prominent Lowcountry family plagued by unexplained deaths, rumors, and now national media attention. HBO Max has embedded reporters in Hampton County for a docuseries, tentatively titled, “Murdaugh Family Mysteries” and produced by Campfire Studios.
This [saga] has been a lightning bolt through the Lowcountry,” one Hampton County resident, “who wished to remain anonymous for fear of professional retribution,” told The Daily Beast. “It’s fascinating… This is a classic South Carolina tale… of the white privilege and wealth and power protecting the Murdaughs.”
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