Unsolved Murdaugh Murders Expose Years of South Carolina Mysteries

HAMPTON, S.C. — Curtis Edward Smith, a handyman and former logger, had achieved his share of wierd jobs through the years for Alex Murdaugh, a lawyer and scion of some of the highly effective authorized households within the South Carolina Lowcountry.

However Mr. Smith stated he was reluctant to do the final job Mr. Murdaugh requested for when the 2 males met together with a rural street one Saturday in September.

“I would like you to shoot me behind the top,” Mr. Smith recalled Mr. Murdaugh telling him. He stated Mr. Murdaugh had a loaded gun in his hand.

The unsettling story grew stranger nonetheless when, 10 days later, state legislation enforcement brokers arrested Mr. Smith, 61, accusing him of collaborating with Mr. Murdaugh in a botched scheme to kill him. Mr. Murdaugh hatched the plan to make his dying appear to be a homicide, the police stated, within the hope that his elder son would obtain a $10 million life insurance coverage cost at a time when Mr. Murdaugh’s life was unraveling in spectacular trend.

That unraveling is now on the heart of a sprawling saga of mysterious deaths — together with the unsolved killing of Mr. Murdaugh’s spouse and youthful son — and allegations of multimillion-dollar swindles and abuses of belief and energy. The drama has despatched a shock via South Carolina, the place Alex Murdaugh and his household have dominated the authorized career in a rural swath of the state for greater than a century.

It’s uncommon for the private travails of 1 small-town lawyer to resonate so broadly. However Mr. Murdaugh, 53, was for years a well-connected participant within the clubby South Carolina authorized world; the household legislation agency, based mostly within the tiny metropolis of Hampton, has lengthy been thought-about a powerhouse on the state plaintiff’s bar.

In current weeks, a dizzying collection of legal investigations and civil lawsuits has emerged, accusing Mr. Murdaugh of betraying buddies, colleagues and purchasers. The police have opened beforehand closed instances, together with one involving the dying of a former classmate of Mr. Murdaugh’s son and one other involving a housekeeper who had lengthy been thought to have fatally tripped and fallen on the entrance steps of the Murdaugh household’s dwelling.

They’re additionally allegations that Mr. Murdaugh stole hundreds of thousands of {dollars} from his legislation agency and hundreds of thousands extra from a settlement supposed for the housekeeper’s kids.

“The place does it cease?” stated John P. Freeman, an emeritus professor of legislation and ethics on the College of South Carolina. “You possibly can’t speak to anyone in South Carolina who isn’t speaking about this case and isn’t just astonished by what’s occurring.”

Mr. Murdaugh, via his attorneys, has insisted that he had nothing to do with the deadly shootings in June of his spouse, Margaret, 52, and their youthful son, Paul, 22, whose our bodies he found on the household’s 1,700-acre looking property. Final month, nonetheless, he was arrested on expenses associated to the faked suicide try. Earlier than admitting to the scheme, Mr. Murdaugh had claimed {that a} stranger shot him as he stopped to vary a tire, with the bullet skidding via the highest of his head.

On Sept. 16, he appeared in court docket earlier than being launched to await trial. His physique was stooped, his trademark shock of crimson hair streaked with white. His lawyer, Richard A. Harpootlian, a Democratic state senator, stated Mr. Murdaugh was checking into rehab for an oxycodone dependancy.

Mr. Smith was additionally launched. He continues to insist he was not a collaborator, however a handy scapegoat — collateral injury from a robust man’s midlife skid uncontrolled.

“I don’t know if betrayed is even the phrase for it,” Mr. Smith stated not too long ago, sitting on a love seat in his modest dwelling exterior of Walterboro, S.C. “I considered him as a brother, , and liked him like a brother. And I’d’ve achieved virtually something for him. Virtually.”

Regardless of a current inflow of newcomers, South Carolina retains a few of its outdated Southern insularity and traditions. It’s a state the place outdated household names can nonetheless carry important weight.

To some, the Murdaugh identify has represented each energy and public service. For almost 90 years and throughout three generations, the put up of chief prosecutor for 5 counties round Hampton was held by a Murdaugh. And for even longer, the legislation agency related to the Murdaugh household has been one of many state’s main tort litigation companies. Its Hampton headquarters, housed in a red-brick Colonial Revival constructing, is second in grandeur solely to the close by county courthouse.

To some right here, the Murdaugh identify has come to face for a domination of the authorized system so pervasive that folks, with or with out justification, requested whether or not it had the ability to skew the trajectory of justice within the household’s favor.

That is among the questions investigators are asking now as they look at not solely the killing of Mr. Murdaugh’s spouse and son, however a minimum of three different deaths that preceded that tragedy.

How a lot, investigators have been making an attempt to be taught, did Alex Murdaugh wield his highly effective connections to guard his household and amass his personal fortune?

One of many instances now being re-examined is the dying of Stephen Smith, 19, whose physique was discovered on a rural street in 2015. He died of blunt power trauma to the top, however there have been no indicators to counsel that he had been hit by a automotive.

Mr. Smith had been a classmate of Alex Murdaugh’s older son, Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr., who goes by Buster. The Smith household informed the police that Alex Murdaugh’s brother, a accomplice within the Murdaugh legislation agency, had reached out and provided to signify the household at no cost, nevertheless it didn’t take him up on the supply. No connection to the Murdaugh household was ever recognized, although investigators say they’re now taking a recent look.

The second case underneath scrutiny occurred in 2019, when, witnesses stated, Alex Murdaugh’s son Paul drunkenly crashed the household boat right into a bridge, throwing a number of of his buddies into the water. The physique of considered one of them, Mallory Seashore, 19, was discovered per week later.

A grand jury indicted Paul Murdaugh on a cost of cruising underneath the affect inflicting dying, however he was killed earlier than he had a chance to face trial.

Ms. Seashore’s household is suing Mr. Murdaugh and the comfort retailer that bought an underage Paul the alcohol. Connor Prepare dinner, a lifelong good friend of Paul’s who had additionally been on the boat, filed one other lawsuit final month, accusing Mr. Murdaugh and others of making an attempt to border him for the boat crash. Mr. Prepare dinner stated Mr. Murdaugh had informed him to “hold his mouth shut” and to inform investigators that he didn’t know who was driving.

That lawsuit stated Mr. Murdaugh had satisfied Mr. Prepare dinner’s household to rent a lawyer named Cory Fleming, a good friend and former faculty roommate of Alex Murdaugh’s, and Paul Murdaugh’s godfather.

After the killing of Alex Murdaugh’s spouse and son, investigators started re-examining one more mysterious dying related to the household: that of Gloria Satterfield, the housekeeper and nanny who had labored for a quarter-century for the Murdaugh household.

Early one morning in February 2018, Ms. Satterfield fell on the entrance stairs of the Murdaughs’ remoted home. Maggie Murdaugh discovered her bleeding and referred to as 911, in keeping with Eric Bland, a lawyer for Ms. Satterfield’s two grownup sons. He stated the Murdaughs informed the household that she had tripped over their canine.

Ms. Satterfield had misplaced most of her means to talk, and died a number of weeks later.

Regardless of the Murdaugh household’s account, her dying was dominated “pure” on her dying certificates, the results of a mind bleed. No post-mortem was achieved and the coroner was not contacted.

Hours after Ms. Satterfield’s funeral, her sons say, Mr. Murdaugh informed them he would take accountability and referred them to a lawyer who would assist them file a lawsuit to power Mr. Murdaugh’s insurers to pay compensation.

The lawyer was once more Mr. Murdaugh’s longtime good friend, Mr. Fleming — who they later got here to imagine was not looking for his or her pursuits, however Alex Murdaugh’s.

Mr. Fleming, the sons stated in a subsequent lawsuit, suggested them to signal over the administration of their mom’s property to an government at an area financial institution the place Mr. Murdaugh had achieved enterprise.

5 months later, court docket information present, a decide permitted a settlement settlement to pay the sons $2.eight million from Mr. Murdaugh’s insurers and award greater than $1 million in attorneys’ charges. However the sons say they by no means heard concerning the deal.

It turned out that Mr. Fleming had despatched the cash to Mr. Murdaugh, in keeping with copies of the checks and different paperwork not too long ago filed in court docket by Mr. Bland.

The sons have but to see any of it, Mr. Bland stated.

Mr. Fleming stated in a press release that Mr. Murdaugh had deceived him, too, and that he thought the sons would get the cash. Final week, Mr. Fleming’s agency agreed to pay again all the attorneys’ charges obtained from the settlement and its malpractice insurers agreed to pay the total coverage limits to the sons.

However that was not the one cash that gave the impression to be lacking. Final month, Mr. Murdaugh’s colleagues on the legislation agency stated they’d found that he had siphoned hundreds of thousands of {dollars} out of the agency, they usually requested him to resign. Mr. Murdaugh’s attorneys stated he had spent huge sums of cash on his dependancy to oxycodone tablets, however they’ve provided no clarification about the place the remainder of the cash went.

“He has fallen from grace,” Mr. Harpootlian stated on the bond listening to final month. “If anybody desires to see the face of what opioid dependancy does, you’re it.”

A day after the agency introduced it was severing its relationship with Mr. Murdaugh, he and Mr. Smith ended up on the street exterior of city, haggling, Mr. Smith says, over Mr. Murdaugh’s plan to exit from the mess his life had turn into.

Mr. Smith, who’s now dealing with expenses together with assisted suicide, assault, insurance coverage fraud and sale of methamphetamine, stated he had no plans to take part in a scheme over insurance coverage cash. He stated Mr. Murdaugh, who’s a distant cousin, had referred to as that morning and requested him to drive his work truck towards Hampton, by no means discussing why.

Quickly, he stated, Mr. Murdaugh drove by and honked his horn for Mr. Smith to comply with him.

Exterior of city, Mr. Murdaugh parked on the aspect of the street and Mr. Smith stopped close by. When he obtained out of his truck, Mr. Murdaugh produced a gun and requested Mr. Smith to shoot him with it.

“It ain’t going to occur,” Mr. Smith stated he informed him. When Mr. Murdaugh moved as if he was going to shoot himself within the head, he stated, Mr. Smith grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his again. The gun went off.

Mr. Murdaugh sank to the bottom, Mr. Smith stated, his hand over his head, his legs splayed.

Mr. Smith, left holding the gun, requested if Mr. Murdaugh was OK. Mr. Murdaugh indicated that he was.

The handyman swore on the lawyer, jumped again in his truck and drove away.

Sheelagh McNeill and Kitty Bennett contributed analysis.

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