Murder investigations, embezzlement allegations, a drug addiction and hitman-for-hire: in recent months, a series of bizarre criminal incidents surrounding a prominent South Carolina family—and its patriarch, attorney Alex Murdaugh—have received national attention.
First, the deaths of Paul and Margaret Murdaugh in June received extensive coverage by the media. Alex Murdaugh reported to police that he found Paul Murdaugh’s 22-yearold son and Margaret Murdaugh’s 52-yearold wives shot in the head outside their Colleton County residence on June 7. According to a Colleton County Sheriff’s Office report, authorities arrived at the scene and found the two victims with “multiple” gunshot wounds.
“I urge the public to be patient and let the investigation take its course,” Police chief Mark Keel made the following statement in June 21, regarding their murders: “This case is complex, and we will not rush this or any investigation. Investigative decisions we make throughout this case must withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice process.”
And as developments in the weeks and months since then have made clear, Keel’s describing the situation as “complex” is perhaps an understatement. A documentary series on HBO Max, with the working title Murdaugh Family MysteriesThe work is underway for.
Alex Murdaugh, who are you?
Alex Murdaugh, 53, was most recently an attorney at the civil law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED), which was founded by his great-grandfather Randolph Murdaugh Sr. Until then a “fourth-generation lawyer” at the firm, Murdaugh resigned from PMPED on Sept. 3. Randolph Murdaugh IV, his brother still works at the firm.
Murdaugh’s family has long had considerable influence over the small South Carolina region. “You don’t cross the Murdaughs,” an unnamed source told People in a cover story for the magazine’s Sept. 16 issue. “They’ll come down on you, hard… They have a lot of influence and power, and they’ll use it against their enemies.”
“Few [locals] wanted to talk—and if they did, they didn’t share names,” CNN reported of attempts to learn more about the family’s history, and influence, in a Sept. 26 report. “Parents, children, siblings, lawyers, friends and pastors didn’t answer phones or doors. Strangers politely declined to speak or outright kept walking.”
The Murdaughs have controlled much of the legal bureaucracy in southern South Carolina for generations; a Murdaugh family member across multiple generations served as the state’s 14th Circuit Solicitor from 1920 to 2005. (The solicitor handles the prosecutions of Allendale and Beaufort county in South Carolina.
PMPED is active in many of these same countries.
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Are there any crimes being investigated?
The 2015 murder: On June 22, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), reopened the investigation into Stephen Smith’s July 2015 death. Smith was the victim in Hampton County of an apparent hit and run. The police department said they opened an investigation into the death “based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.”
In an interview after her son’s death with Augusta Chronicle, Smith’s mother said she believes her son was targeted due to his sexuality. She “[feels] strongly that she knows exactly who killed her child,” the Chronicle wrote, and alleged the involvement of “several local Hampton County youths from prestigious families” (The Chronicle did not identify any of these individuals by name, or confirm if Smith’s mother had named them.) The case has not been investigated by police and no suspect was identified.
A 2018 fatal fall: The Murdaugh family’s former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, died in Feb. 2018 after what her sons have said they were told was an accidental “trip and fall” down stairs at the Murdaugh home. (A lawyer acting for Satterfield’s sons has also claimed he was told she had tripped over Alex Murdaugh’s dogs.) On Sept. 15, the investigation into her death, which was initially described as being from “natural causes,” was also reopened by SLED. Police have not charged nor identified any suspect in this case.
An accident while boating in 2019. Mallory Beach was killed in a boating accident that occurred on February 19, 2019, and many others were injured. Alex Murdaugh had the boat and his son Paul Murdaugh drove it. This is something that court papers also claim Alex Murdaugh tried cover up. Paul Murdaugh, then 19, was indicted and charged with boating under the influence—he pled not guilty and was still awaiting trial at the time of his death.
Beach’s mother has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Alex Murdaugh and his surviving son, Richard “Buster” Murdaugh.
A 2021 shooting—in which Alex Murdaugh was both victim and orchestrator: Alex Murdaugh reported to police that he’d been shot just a few days after resigning from PMPED “Officers were informed that the victim, a 53-year-old male, had a gunshot wound to the head, and was being flown out from a landing zone on Charleston Highway for further treatment,” a Hampton County Sheriff’s Office statement said on Sept. 7.
The Sheriff’s Office has since charged a man with Murdaugh’s shooting, but also alleges Murdaugh was involved himself and had planned his death so that a $10 million life insurance policy would be paid out to his surviving son Buster. Alex Murdaugh admitted to the plan.
Interview with New York Times, Oct. 12, 2012. TimesCurtis Smith (the man accused of the shooting) claimed Murdaugh demanded him to shoot him. He refused. “When Murdaugh moved as if he was going to shoot himself in the head,” the Times reported, Smith says he “grabbed [Murdaugh’s]He twisted his arm behind his back and took the gun. The gun went off.”
Multiple money crimes: In addition to this alleged attempt to commit insurance fraud, PMPED has claimed that Alex Murdaugh’s resignation from their firm was because it was discovered that he misused funds from the law firm. “This is disappointing news for all of us. Our firm will handle this matter in an easy manner. There’s no place in our firm for such behavior,” PMPED said in a Sept. 7 statement.
And Murdaugh has also been investigated for allegedly stealing the insurance settlements he helped negotiate for Gloria Satterfield’s children.
Which crime is Alex Murdaugh accused of?
It’s charges related to these insurance settlements arising from Satterfield’s death that are the most recent to be filed against Murdaugh. He was charged with two felonies, obtaining property without authorization and a false pretense. Murdaugh, who was in Orlando for rehab at the time of the arrest, agreed to be charged back in South Carolina.
“Today is merely one more step in a long process for justice for the many victims in these investigations,” Chief Keel said in a press statement. The charges “stem from a SLED investigation into misappropriated settlement funds in the death of Gloria Satterfield” the statement read. Prosecutors claimed Murdaugh used the monies—around $3 million—”to pay off his father, personal credit card bills and checks to himself.” (Murdaugh’s father, Randolph Murdaugh III, died on June 10, after what has been described as “extended health problems.”)
Murdaugh was not allowed to be released on bail for the allegations against him, which took place Oct. 19.
Prior to the Sept. 4, staged shooting, he was arrested and charged with felony insurance fraud.
Comment has he reacted to the accusations?
Murdaugh announced Sept. 6 that they would be going to rehab. His lawyer Dick Harpootlian—who is also a South Carolina State Senator—has said Murdaugh has, for two decades, been addicted to opioids. In a statement released on Sept. 6, Murdaugh acknowledged that “battle” with drugs, and said that the murders of his wife and son had “caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret.”
Harpootlian stated, as well, that Murdaugh accepted financial misconduct and knows that he’ll likely be in prison.
Murdaugh claims his innocence about the murders in which his husband and son were killed. However, he hasn’t commented on any other instances. None of these deaths have led to arrests.