The Murdaugh family’s former “Moselle” estate in Colleton County, South Carolina
For nearly two years, many Americans have been fascinated by the various tragedies surrounding the affluent and politically powerful Murdaugh family of South Carolina. The true-life drama began unfolding in June of 2021, when attorney Alex Murdaugh claims he arrived at his massive estate to find his wife, Maggie, and youngest son, Paul, shot to death alongside some dog kennels. On March 2, 2023, a jury convicted Murdaugh of murdering Maggie and Paul; supposedly in a perverted effort to conceal his own fiduciary shenanigans, which was amplified by his addiction to opioids.
But Murdaugh’s troubles aren’t over yet. Local police are now investigating both the 2018 death of the family’s housekeeper at the Murdaugh home and the 2015 death of a young man who supposedly had a connection to Murdaugh’s oldest son, Buster. At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was facing criminal charges for the 2019 boating death of a young woman. And now, the suspicious death of one of Alex Murdaugh’s ancestors in 1940 has come to light.
If a novice screenwriter had presented this project to a film or television producer, they’d be laughed back into obscurity.
What had once been a prominent legal dynasty now lies in the tatters of arrogance and greed. Once highly revered in South Carolina, the Murdaugh family name has become synonymous with fraud and murder. If anything, it’s testament to what happens when people grow too comfortable with their wealth and power and assume nothing and no one can undermine that status.
Alex Murdaugh admitted he lied to investigators about the events of June 7, 2021 – the night his wife and younger son were murdered. But his admission came only after savvy investigators used technology to confirm his whereabouts. People seem to keep forgetting cell phones aren’t always their best friend. And Murdaugh also apparently forgot that paper trails are equally revealing. Damn, it’s getting so hard for criminals to make a living in the 21st century!
But one curiously tragic element is that at least three strange deaths have been linked to the Murdaugh family.
Everyone who knew and loved Stephen Smith had only the best things to say about him. Openly queer in a bastion of right-wing conservatism, Stephen still maintained a bright outlook on his life. After graduating high school, he began attending nursing school with the ultimate goal of becoming a doctor. But his future came to a brutal end when he turned up dead on a remote road in Hampton County, South Carolina on July 8, 2015. Local police ultimately concluded he was the victim of a hit-and-run – despite that his body displayed no signs of blunt force trauma (although his head showed signs that he had been struck); no shards of vehicle glass or other broken items lay nearby; and Stephen’s wallet and cell phone sat in his car some distance down the road. Oddly Alex Murdaugh arrived on the scene within hours of the discovery of Stephen’s body. Understand Murdaugh wasn’t a law enforcement official; he was an attorney with a local law firm that had a long history of handling wrongful death and injury cases. Why he became involved with the Smith death wouldn’t become obvious until some time later.
Stephen Smith’s parents weren’t satisfied with the results of the investigation, so they contacted the state police agency, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED). SLED’s inquiry didn’t reveal much more, but amidst interviews with anyone and everyone who knew Stephen, one name kept coming up: Murdaugh. Stephen’s twin sister, Stephanie, states that her brother had suddenly become secretive in the weeks preceding his death and that he was involved with a member of a prominent local family. Stephen never called out anyone’s name, but Stephanie notes that Alex Murdaugh’s oldest son, Buster, might have had some connection to Stephen. They all graduated from the same high school in 2014. Stephen and Stephanie weren’t part of the “cool” crowd during those days, while Buster (mainly because of his family’s wealth) definitely was. The exact relationship between Stephen Smith and Buster Murdaugh remains unknown, but law enforcement has reopened the investigation into Smith’s death. It wouldn’t have happened, though, without the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
Gloria Satterfield was a simple, working woman. Like most people of her stature, she didn’t ask for much beside respect and consideration. Gloria worked for Alex and Maggie Murdaugh for some 20 years before her untimely death in 2018. She essentially helped raise Buster and Paul Murdaugh. It’s such a classic element of the wealthy – they seem to be too busy to raise their own progeny. In February of 2018, Gloria fell at the Murdaugh home and incurred a serious head injury. The Murdaughs later claimed she tripped over one of the family’s dogs. But upon listening to the 911 call, there are no sounds of dogs in the background. And neither Maggie nor Paul – both of whom spoke to the 911 operator – mentioned dogs during the call.
Five months later Paul was involved in a vehicle wreck, along with his girlfriend, Morgan Doughty. According to Morgan, Paul – then age 19 – had consumed an excessive amount of beer, and the truck in which they were riding was loaded with empty beer cans and even a number of firearms. They apparently got into an argument, as Paul sped along a roadway; whereupon he lost control of the vehicle, which landed on the passenger side. After they both climbed out, Morgan recounts, she attempted to call 911, but she says Paul slapped her phone out of her hand. He then called his parents who arrived with his Uncle Randy, Alex’s younger brother. As Morgan watched, the Murdaughs cleared the area and the truck of both the beer cans and the guns before calling emergency services. She says they ordered her to remain silent. And she did. She obviously had no choice.
Mallory Beach was 19 in February of 2019 and most certainly didn’t think her life would end any time soon. No one that age does. But Mallory’s life came to an especially brutal end on February 24, 2019, when the boat she was riding in slammed into a dock piling. Paul Murdaugh was driving the vessel, which belonged to his father. He was also highly intoxicated. Paul and most everyone else aboard were flung into the dark waters. Mallory was the only one who didn’t surface. Her body was discovered several days later; she was the only fatality.
After everyone in the boat was transported to a local hospital, a number of medical staff noted Paul Murdaugh’s behavior changed dramatically; he allegedly became more belligerent and refused to provide blood and urine samples. While at the hospital, Paul called his paternal grandfather who then arrived with Alex. The older Murdaugh men refused to allow hospital staff to take the requested blood and urine samples, but their interference in the fiasco didn’t end there. As the other boat crash survivors recounted later, the duo visited all of them in their respective rooms and suggested they remain quiet about the night’s events. But Alex went further and asked one of the survivors – a long-time close friend of Paul – to confess to police that he had been driving the boat at the time of the accident. The young man – who had suffered a broken jaw – refused.
One of the most egregious aspects of the boat crash is that Paul Murdaugh wasn’t brought before a court to face a variety of charges until early 2021. And, instead of being subjected to the normal protocol of mug shots and fingerprinting, Paul was allowed to stand against a wall in the hallway and have his official mug taken with a cell phone. Then a fingerprint kit was brought into the courtroom – all done obviously done to accommodate an already pampered young man. The Beach family sued the Murdaughs for wrongful death, and earlier this year a judge approved a settlement between the two families.
After the murders of Maggie and Paul, Alex Murdaugh loudly claimed it was retribution for the boat crash; that some angry local – perhaps tired of the slow pace of justice – decided to enact justice on their own. No one seems to believe him. At his sentencing, Judge Clifton Newman had an interesting response to the defendant’s claims that his opioid addiction led to his erratic behavior. “And it might not have been you,” Newman stated. “It might have been the monster you become when you take 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 opioid pills, and maybe you become another person. I have seen that before. The person standing before me was not the person who committed the crime, though it is the same individual. We’ll leave that at that.”
The drama has not ceased. Investigations into the deaths of Stephen Smith and Gloria Satterfield continue, as their respective families demand the bodies be exhumed.
Nothing can be made right about all of this, but even a cursory glance at the scope of this case proves that the Murdaugh family name has been sullied – perhaps forever. Entire empires have crumbled because of their leaders’ arrogance and greed. So have family dynasties. The Murdaughs are just the latest.