The latest development in the Murdaugh family murder mystery, a plot to helping patriarch Alex Murdaugh attempt suicide to collect life insurance money, was certainly a shocker.
It added yet another wrinkle to the case involving the powerful Murdaugh family in South Carolina. It's a story that involves a boat crash, a double-murder and stolen money. Each time investigators move forward, they find a new wrinkle they have to reexamine.
In June, Alex Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, were found shot and killed at the family’s hunting property in South Carolina, according to Part 1 of a look at the case by FrontPageDetectives.com.
There have been no arrests but plenty of questions in the Murdaughs’ murder. The investigation has also had connections to a fatal 2019 boat crash and a 2015 cold case. Both that are now earning a fresh look from investigators. Are they tied to the double murder?
The entire saga involves one of the state’s most powerful
legal families and features plenty of surprise developments as Part 2 of FrontPageDetective’s recap into the case showed.
DOWN THE RIVER
The saga of the Murdaugh family reads like something out of an HBO mini-series. In fact, The New York Post reports that the murders have already “sparked a Hollywood frenzy” in telling the tale of the wealthy South Carolina clan.
In total, five individuals died under suspicious circumstances, either on Murdaugh property or tied to Paul Murdaugh. The first incident occurred in 2015 and is now being investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division as a suspicious death. Stephen Smith was killed in 2015 in what first appeared to be a hit-and-run, but his injuries suggested another cause and his family is certain he was murdered.
In 2018, one of the Murdaugh housekeepers, 50-year-old Gloria Satterfield, died on their estate from a “slip and fall.” Her family sued the Murdaugh’s in civil court and were awarded a $500,000 settlement for wrongful death.
SLED announced on Sept. 15, 2021, that agents are now looking again at Satterfield’s death.
In 2019, teenager Mallory Beach was thrown from a boat that Paul Murdaugh was allegedly driving drunk. He was facing three felony charges of boating while intoxicated, but before he could face a courtroom, he was murdered.
In June 2021, Paul and his mother, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, were found by Paul’s father, Alex, on the grounds of the family estate.
Three days after Paul and Maggie were found shot to death, Alex’s father — the 81-year-old Randolph Murdaugh III — died after a battle with cancer.
Alex Murdaugh had taken his father to the hospital on the day his wife and son were killed, his ‘iron-clad alibi’, according to FitsNews.
When Alex Murdaugh was shot four months later, rumors circulated that his gunshot wound might be self-inflicted. Questions about Alex Murdaugh’s possible involvement in the deaths of his wife and son go unanswered as SLED continues its investigation.
In August, before Alex Murdaugh was shot, Duffie Stone, the area’s version of a district attorney, recused himself from any investigation into Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s death. Stone was Alex Murdaugh’s boss and an old family friend, but it took three months for him to remove himself from the legal proceedings.
Perhaps the Murdaugh family mystery answers lie in the Chechessee River, which seems to have as many twists, turns, and dark corners as the unfolding Lowcountry drama.
When the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources first arrived on the scene on the 2019 boat crash to interview a drunken, half-naked Paul Murdaugh, several of the officers knew the family. At least one was a golf buddy.
THE OYSTER ROAST
Mallory Beach’s tragic death, as court transcripts and eyewitness reports reveal, wasn’t going to disappear. Paul Murdaugh was behind the wheel, and drunk, according to the reports.
The boating crash seems to be the beginning of the family’s public troubles. Paul Murdaugh was a junior at the University of South Carolina and, by several accounts, struggled with alcohol and anger problems.
He knew the Chechessee River well, as one family property abutted the river at the end of Waters Avenue. The Chechessee leads into much the much larger Broad River, then the Port Royal Sound, before spilling into the Atlantic Ocean.
Evidence recovered indicated Paul was driving on a dark, foggy night along winding Archer’s Creek at 29 mph when he crashed his family’s boat on Feb. 24, 2019.
In a civil action against Paul, a witness stated under oath that Paul told him he wanted to take his family’s 17-foot fishing boat instead of driving on the roads because he knew there were DUI checkpoints in the area.
The witness, Paul Murdaugh’s peer and a member of his extended family, stated the plan was for all five boat passengers, including Mallory Beach, to party together after cruising upriver to meet up with family on Paukie Island. They brought Corona beer and White Claws with a fake ID and packed it all in coolers, then met up around 7 p.m. and took off in the fishing boat.
An hour later, they arrived on the Island, where an oyster roast with friends and family was getting going.
ICED DRINKS IN CUPHOLDERS
They tied up at a neighbor’s dock, chatting with their parents and other guests but returning to the fishing boat periodically to drink more alcohol. The oyster roast was attended by family and friends, some of whom tried to talk the young adults into coming home by car rather by boat. The night was too cold and foggy to be out on the river.
Paul Murdaugh grew steadily inebriated, and after a conflict over where to go next and a side trip he instigated to get more alcohol, the young people regrouped and were ready to head down the last leg of the river toward home.
But Paul Murdaugh drove the boat in circles while several of the group tried to get him to give up the steering to someone else. As usual, his personality changed drastically while drunk and he’d become belligerent, according to lawsuits and reports.
As the night slid into the early morning hours, the group tried increasingly to get Paul Murdaugh to calm down and hand the boat piloting to someone else.
Paul Murdaugh got angry with Morgan, his girlfriend, and slapped her. One witness said he might also have spit on her. He began undressing, a habit he had when he drank. He was down to only his pants, still arguing with Morgan. Connor, a male friend, would take control of the wheel periodically, according to the reports such as WTOC.
When the boat crashed into the bridge piling, Paul was still behind the wheel, in his boxer shorts. It was 2:25 a.m. The young people, in various states of intoxication, survived the jolt and whiplash when the fishing boat collided with the piling— except for one. Mallory Beach was thrown far into the dark waters and disappeared.
Her boyfriend jumped into the icy waters to save her, but he immediately realized it was impossible and climbed back on board.
The group of young people radioed for help and reached a dispatcher. Their first words heard were from Connor Cook, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources transcript, saying: “Paul, what bridge is this?”
The 911 Dispatcher came on: “911, what’s your emergency?”
“We’re in a boat crash on Archer’s Creek. We have someone missing,” said Cook.
The dispatcher promised to send help, and Cook responded with: “There’s six of us, and one is missing.”
Beaufort County Dispatch also received a distress call, according to WTOC11 News, and concluded their assessment with a summary of the accident. “They were driving at a high rate of speed, in the water, in the boat. Female was sitting on her boyfriend’s lap. They hit the bridge. She is now missing.”
A few miles away and a week later, Mallory Beach’s body was discovered by a boater several miles downstream at Broad River Boat Landing. Her death was ruled to be the result of blunt force trauma and drowning.
At 4 a.m., the SCDNR drew Paul Murdaugh’s blood. Under a Freedom of Information Act request, they later revealed his blood alcohol content to be .286, more than three times the legal driving limit.
But he wasn’t charged that night. Or the next day. Or even the week after Mallory Beach was found. It took months, leading some to claim preferential treatment for the powerful family. It wasn’t until April, when the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office charged Paul Murdaugh in connection to the crash.
The charges were still pending when Paul Murdaugh was gunned down.
FRIEND, ENEMIES AND WRONGFUL DEATHS
The Murdaugh family is well-liked by many in the “Low Country” but also feared. Whatever the opinion is, everyone knows who they are.
Their power and access within the legal system began with Alex Murdagh’s great-grandfather, Randolph Murdaugh, Sr., who started his own law firm in 1910. By the time his son, Randolph Jr., took over in 1940, Randolph Sr. had attained the title of prosecutor, which he passed down to Randolph Jr.
Randolph III was also elected prosecutor and remained in office till 2005 when he was unseated by another local on the good ‘ole boy legal circuit, a family friend. By then, he was nearing retirement age and ready to hand over the reins. But his sons would take up positions in the legal system and wield as much influence in the socially tight-knit area around Hilton Head Island.
The Murdaugh influence grew as the generations passed, and their prominence was virtually unrivaled as a local political dynasty. Everyone in the county legal system knows a Murdaugh and each generation of Murdaugh lawyers has put away dozens of criminals, creating a large pool of enemies and potential suspects in Maggie and Paul’s murders.
But their influence hasn’t always been benign, and some say it was beginning to wane by the time the fifth generation of males, Paul and his brother Buster Murdaugh, came along.
The last Murdaugh with any power is Alex Murdaugh. Speaking to The New York Post, one Hampton resident described Alex Murdaugh as a “Boss Hogg” even though he doesn’t look like one.
Following the boating accident, Alex Murdaugh involved his insurance company in helping pay for a second wrongful death suit (following a 2008 incident with his housekeeper) with the family of Mallory Beach. The New York Post reports that Murdaugh’s insurance company is currently suing him because they have had to pay out two wrongful death settlements.
EVEN MORE TWISTS
Those in Hampton County who’ve agreed to interviews report that when the Murdaugh family wants something done, it gets done. When it comes to protecting themselves and their family, they leave nothing to chance.
Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s death certificates, according to FITSNews, indicate both victims received a gunshot to the head and chest. One was killed with a semi-automatic weapon, the other with a shotgun.
At least one of the weapons belonged to the family. There has been speculation that because two weapons were used, more than one shooter was present.
SLED has not released any other information about the investigation into the Murdaugh double-homicides, but on Sept. 6, news sources updated developments on Alex Murdaugh. The New York Times confirmed that Murdaugh resigned under duress from his law firm. A day later, the disgraced attorney reported himself a victim of a shooting and entered rehab.
On Sept. 13, The State reported it had confirmed through legal sources that the drug in question is oxycodone.
The day after, a man was accused of helping Alex Murdaugh try to kill himself for a $10 million insurance policy.
In the “Low Country,” a land forgotten by time, where one family has held power for generations, locals are abuzz with theories. The bizarre story of the Murdaugh family, with Alex at its center, appears far from over.
It’s a story that has become a real-life murder mystery. There are plenty of twists and just as many unanswered questions.