The Murdaugh murders: a Southern gothic horror of epic proportions

The twisted tale of a South Carolina legal dynasty dying nastily has captured America’s imagination.


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The Murdaugh family
Alex and Maggie Murdaugh with their two sons Paul and Buster

Bungling hit men, road-side shootings, and insurance scams.

There would be more than enough there for a movie plot. Yet, that is just the latest instalment in the increasingly bizarre tale of a once lauded Southern family and the web of murderous mayhem that surrounds them.

This week, the saga of the Murdaugh family took another strange turn when Alex Murdaugh turned himself into authorities having admitted to his role in a life insurance scam.

Murdaugh, a 53-year-old South Carolina lawyer, surrendered to police on Thursday after acknowledging that he hired a former legal client to kill him so that his son could receive a $10 million life insurance payout.

The former client is said to have shot at Murdaugh on a roadside on September 4. However, the lawyer somehow survived with relatively minor injuries, even though his attorney has claimed that he suffered a skull fracture.  

Murdaugh was in fact discharged from the hospital after only two days and said in a statement issued that day, September 6, that he was going to rehab for an oxycodone addiction.

At that point, authorities (and an increasing number of avid followers of the Murdaugh’s troubles) ostensibly believed that the shooting had been a random act of violence – although they were no doubt wondering if it was connected to the many other acts of violence that have surrounded the family over recent years.

They didn’t need to wait long for something of an answer.

Just days later it emerged that the man who shot Murdaugh had in fact been his former client, Curtis Edward Smith.  

Smith, 61, was charged Wednesday with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Murdaugh decided to end his own life but believed his life insurance policy had a suicide exclusion, his attorney Dick Harpootlian said.  Harpootlian added that the scheme “was an attempt on his (Murdaugh’s) part to do something to protect” his eldest and only living child, Buster Murdaugh.

Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and his other son, Paul, were found dead on June 7 this year with gunshot wounds at one of the family’s properties.

Alex Murdaugh has not been officially named as a suspect in those slayings. However, he has gone as far as to deny responsibility for the murders in a statement issued by his attorneys.

Additionally, state investigators have this week announced the opening of two other investigations regarding the 2015 unsolved death of a teen as well as the 2018 death of the Murdaugh family’s housekeeper.

Oh, and then there is another matter of the now deceased Murdaugh son Paul facing criminal charges in relation to a woman’s death prior to his being killed.

So where do we start to explain all that has been happening to the Murdaugh family?

First, let’s put the story of this family into some historical context.

In 1910 Alex Murdaugh’s great-grandfather became “solicitor,” or prosecutor, for South Carolina’s 14th Judicial Circuit, which covers five counties in the state’s southeastern corner. That’s the so-called low country that includes well-known leisure destinations like Hilton Head.

Alex Murdaugh’s grandfather and father also served as solicitor, making for an 86-year stretch, ending in 2006, in which the family ran the office. Alex Murdaugh’s great-grandfather also founded a still-extant private law firm in which Alex Murdaugh was until recently a partner. The firm specializes in personal and vehicular injury cases. Alex Murdaugh had also worked part time at the prosecutor’s office his father once led.

So, by the time 2015 came around you could say that the Murdaughs had deep roots in the legal ecosystem of this part of the state. What is more, Alex Murdaugh was by then doing very well – both financially and professionally.

But in the summer of 2015, strange things started happening. And, frankly speaking, they haven’t stopped since then.

On July 8, 2015, the body of a 19-year-old named Stephen Smith was found with a fatal head wound on a road in Hampton County, South Carolina, which is part of the jurisdiction that had been run by the Murdaughs until 2006 and is where their law firm is based.

Smith was a homosexual, and his family said in a local news report that they believe he was killed in a hate crime “by several local Hampton County youths from prestigious families.” State highway police files include research into rumors that Alex Murdaugh’s son Buster was part of a group that may have killed Smith, and the files suggest investigators were worried that the Murdaughs’ prominence in the area was making individuals who may have had relevant information reluctant to talk. But they were unable to find solid evidence that Smith was killed in an attack committed by now–25-year-old Buster Murdaugh or anyone else, and no arrests have been made in the case.

But with local authorities now opening a new investigation into Smith’s death, his family will hope that this cold case can come back to life. And, who knows, we may find out that a certain Murdaugh family had more involvement than police could prove at the time.

Fast forward to 2018 and there is another suspicious death. This time the deceased was a housekeeper fortunate enough to be in the employ of the Murdaughs.

At the time, the death was explained as an “accident”. However, that theory may soon have to be revised too.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) announced on Wednesday that it was opening a criminal investigation into the February 2018 death of the housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, and the handling of her estate.

Satterfield worked for the Murdaughs for more than twenty years before her death, which was described as a “trip and fall accident” at the Murdaugh home, according to attorney Eric Bland, who is representing her estate.

SLED said it is opening an investigation based upon a request from the Hampton County coroner that highlights inconsistencies in the ruling of Satterfield’s manner of death, as well as information gathered during SLED’s other ongoing investigations involving Murdaugh.

“The decedent’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’s request to SLED said.

Bland filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Satterfield’s estate against Alex Murdaugh, the estate’s former attorney Cory Fleming, as well as Palmetto State Bank.

But the body count around the Murdaughs was a long way from being done with Smith and Satterfield. Let’s move onto 2019 and the next high-profile incident the Murdaughs were allegedly involved with.

On Feb. 24, 2019, Alex Murdaugh’s son, Paul—19 at the time—allegedly drove the family’s 17-foot boat into a bridge piling at high speed while drunk at 2 a.m. The collision killed a young woman named Mallory Beach who was thrown from the vessel. Paul Murdaugh was charged two months later with operating the boat while intoxicated, but a lawsuit filed by another man who’d been on board, Connor Cook, alleges that investigators (some with social and professional ties to the Murdaugh family) initially ignored evidence that Murdaugh had been driving in order to focus on Cook’s potential culpability.

Alex Murdaugh —and his father (Paul’s grandfather) – were both present at the hospital where the crash survivors were treated, and Cook’s suit includes testimony from staffers there who say that Alex made efforts to enter other survivors’ rooms and speak with their family members. Court documents also include testimony about how drunk, obnoxious, and aggressive Paul Murdaugh was even after arriving at the hospital.

A number of media outlets have speculated that Alex Murdaugh is being investigated by a grand jury for potential obstruction of justice charges related to his activities after the boat accident. However, such an investigation has not been officially confirmed.

And so, we move to this summer and the killing spree finally hit at the heart of the family itself with the shootings of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.

Plenty of folks, and media outlets, have speculated about what role Alex Murdaugh may have had in the murders of his wife and son. Yet, he has not been charged in relation to the killings and, as we noted above, has issued a denial of any involvement, as well as reportedly providing police with an alibi about his whereabouts at the time the crime is supposed to have been committed.

So, after all that has happened, we get to the present day with Alex Murdaugh copping to life insurance fraud!

Murdaugh may not be an official mobster but there are shades here of the demise of one Alfonso Capone, who after having countless people murdered, went to jail for not declaring his full income on his tax return.

Will we ever find out what ties this strange web of murder, mayhem and mystery together?

Informed sources with whom Crazy America has spoken believe that Alex Murdaugh is almost certainly right at the center of these extraordinary events.

And, if he has truly lost the will to live, who knows: he may finally be ready to spill his guts.

You have been warned!

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