Whereas probably the most gripping true crime tales take us into the darkest components of the soul, hardly ever does a case open the ugly coronary heart of the nation itself. The labyrinthine case that’s come to be dubbed “the Murdaugh murders” looks like one that might solely occur in America — a story of generational energy and corruption. This can be a Southern Gothic morality play a few rich however fading Southern household whose large quantities of wealth and affect fueled a jaw-dropping spree of recklessness, greed, and homicide.
The trial that gripped a nation — and resulted, March 3, within the conviction of Alex Murdaugh for the double murder of his spouse and son — is about a lot a couple of household tragedy. Even months later, with Murdaugh pleading responsible to 101 prices of cash laundering and different monetary crimes, myriad questions stay about how huge his internet of deceit actually was.
What one article aptly referred to as “a whole lot of lifeless individuals and crime” includes the Murdaugh (pronounced “Murdock”) household, which has amassed energy and wealth in South Carolina for over 100 years. However that century of energy has crumbled in simply half a decade resulting from a protracted checklist of economic crimes and 5 suspicious deaths starting in 2015: an alleged homophobic hate crime; a lethal boating accident; a mysterious fall and insurance coverage rip-off; the double homicide of the household matriarch and favourite son; and a weird roadside incident that will have been one other insurance coverage rip-off. The entire tangled internet culminated within the indictment in a South Carolina county courtroom of the floundering patriarch, Alex Murdaugh, for the 2021 murders of his spouse and son — bringing the overall variety of prices he’s dealing with to over 80.
Murdaugh pleaded not responsible to the homicide prices on July 20, 2022, setting the stage for a bombshell trial and media circus that in the end resulted in a responsible verdict and two consecutive life sentences. The lead-up to the double murder arguably happened partly resulting from a hit podcast that started as one native journalist’s try to carry consideration to the case. En path to the trial, the Murdaugh murders grew to become a nationwide true crime obsession, spawning documentaries on HBO and Netflix and riveting tens of hundreds of livestream courtroom viewers every day.
Able to dive into the main points? You may want an oxygen tank for this one; as you would possibly count on from simply this abstract, these are darkish waters.
Meet the Murdaughs
The Murdaughs have wielded energy over South Carolina’s “Lowcountry,” the luxurious, mossy wedge on the backside of the state, for over 100 years — ever since Randolph Murdaugh Sr. based his legislation workplace in Hampton County in 1910.
The agency finally grew into a big, highly effective follow continued by his son, Randolph Jr., and his grandson, Randolph III. From 1920 to 2006, all three males additionally successively held the publish of solicitor (a.ok.a. prosecutor) for South Carolina’s 14th Circuit Courtroom. The Murdaughs’ 86-year stretch serving as circuit solicitors was the longest such household legacy in US historical past. As you may think, it additionally gave the household an unprecedented quantity of energy and affect, not simply over Hampton County however over the opposite 4 counties underneath the circuit’s jurisdiction.
Randolph IV and Alex, two of Randolph III’s sons, adopted of their father’s footsteps and have become attorneys. As a result of South Carolina finally prohibited attorneys from serving within the conflicting twin roles of public prosecutor and personal legal professional, the lads didn’t function solicitors — however nonetheless served as “volunteer” prosecutors aiding their father whereas persevering with the household’s legislation follow. The solicitor’s workplace in the end fired Alex, and the household legislation agency modified its identify from Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick, normally shortened to PMPED, to Parker Legislation Group earlier this 12 months, prone to escape the rising stigma of the Murdaugh identify — particularly its affiliation with Alex Murdaugh.
Alex, pronounced “Alec,” was a golden baby who sired golden kids. Born in 1967, he adopted in his household’s footsteps and studied legislation on the College of South Carolina, the place he met athlete-turned-sorority-sister Margaret “Maggie” Branstetter. They married in 1993 and subsequently had two sons, Buster, born in 1996, and Paul, born in 1999. The household lived in opulence, dividing their time amongst a seaside home, a few non-public islands, and an enormous 1,772-acre property often known as Moselle — which, just like the legislation agency, was renamed to flee its connections with the Murdaughs.
However the household additionally lived lives of hedonism; Alex and each of his sons would face accusations of drug and alcohol dependancy and wild, out-of-control conduct within the lead-up to the sequence of crimes. Particularly, Alex’s years of extravagant residing led to a litany of alleged monetary crimes together with fraud, embezzlement, and a number of tried insurance coverage scams — all of it including as much as an alleged $8.5 million in theft and resulting in a number of homicides.
The Murdaughs’ energy arguably hindered the preliminary and follow-up investigations into these deaths, resulting in accusations of cover-ups and corruption. Finally, what started as separate investigations into separate crimes would knot themselves into an interconnected internet of tragedy. These deaths — all dramatically totally different however all doubtlessly linked by the Murdaughs — mirrored one thing of the chaos the Murdaughs introduced with them, regardless of their stature and fame.
2015: The loss of life of Stephen Smith
On July 8, 2015, 19-year-old Hampton scholar Stephen Smith phoned his mom to inform her he’d run out of fuel. Later that night time he was discovered mendacity in the course of the highway miles away from his truck. He’d died of blunt power trauma, and his physique had been “laid out in the course of the highway like a snow angel,” in keeping with his mom.
Authorities with the South Carolina Freeway Patrol initially assumed Stephen was the sufferer of a hit-and-run after leaving his truck and strolling to get fuel, and closed the case accordingly, regardless of quite a few observations by police that prompt Smith’s loss of life was a murder. However police additionally later famous that the scene regarded staged, and city gossip started to swirl that Smith, who was rumored to be courting Buster Murdaugh on the time, had been the sufferer of a hate crime or that the Murdaugh brothers had a task in his loss of life.
In June 2021, whereas the South Carolina Legislation Enforcement Division, or SLED, was investigating the opposite murders associated to the Murdaugh household, authorities reopened the investigation into Smith’s loss of life, issuing an announcement implying they have been one way or the other related. To this point no prices or indictments have been issued, however the investigation remains to be open, and Smith’s mom has said that the most recent indictments into the opposite murders give her “hope that we are going to get justice.”
2018: The loss of life of Gloria Satterfield — and an entire lot of fraud
On February 2, 2018, the Murdaughs’ longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, suffered a extreme head harm on the Moselle property and died on February 26 of issues together with a stroke. The reason for her loss of life is unclear, because the coroner was by no means notified and Satterfield’s physique was by no means autopsied; authorities later paradoxically described her loss of life as each “pure” and ensuing from an unintended journey and fall.
Nonetheless, Satterfield’s loss of life won’t be precisely suspicious had it not been for what got here subsequent: In keeping with a number of felony indictments and a number of lawsuits, Alex Murdaugh and two different males, banker Chad Westendorf and fellow legal professional Cory Fleming, then conspired to steal Satterfield’s $4.3 million insurance coverage coverage by deceptive Satterfield’s sons and diverting all of the funds to Alex himself by way of a phony enterprise Alex created referred to as “Forge” — an irony, since Murdaugh would later be charged with a number of counts of forgery. As a part of the rip-off, Alex satisfied Satterfield’s sons to sue him for legal responsibility in order that they might be capable to obtain a hefty legal responsibility settlement. However he then saved all the cash for himself.
The Satterfield insurance coverage rip-off was simply one in all a laundry checklist of situations the place Alex embezzled and defrauded cash from shoppers at his legislation agency, normally by settling their circumstances for big sums of cash after which failing to inform them about it whereas he spent the consumer’s settlement payout on himself. He repeated the identical sample with, amongst others, Hakeem Pinckney, a school soccer participant who grew to become quadriplegic following an auto accident. Pinckney died in 2011, and his household by no means noticed the greater than $750,000 payout.
In Satterfield’s case, Alex evinced extra suspicious conduct round her loss of life, together with arriving on the scene earlier than the EMTs and insisting he heard Satterfield say his canine triggered her fall, contradicting her personal assertion later that she had no thought what triggered it.
Satterfield’s sons have been in the end in a position to get better greater than $6.5 million from subsequent lawsuits; in the meantime, authorities obtained permission to exhume Satterfield’s physique in June 2022 with the intention to proceed the felony investigation into her loss of life.
2019: The loss of life of Mallory Seaside
Thriller nonetheless surrounds the loss of life of Mallory Seaside, however one factor is obvious: With out the occasions of February 24, 2019, we would not even be speaking in regards to the Murdaughs at present.
That night, 19-year-old Paul Murdaugh and a gaggle of mates have been returning to the Murdaugh property by boat after an evening of partying. In keeping with almost all witnesses current, Paul insisted on piloting the boat himself regardless of being extraordinarily intoxicated. He was reportedly in a belligerent, indignant state and refused to surrender the wheel, driving erratically and too quick alongside one of many space’s many twisting waterways. Sooner or later in the course of the early morning hours, Paul crashed the boat into Archers Creek Bridge, ejecting a number of passengers from the boat, together with 19-year-old Mallory Seaside. It took per week for authorities to get better Seaside’s physique.
Regardless of the clear indicators of intoxication, nonetheless, authorities did not file his intoxication ranges on the scene; on the hospital later that night time, a number of witnesses confirmed that Paul was nonetheless drunk and uncooperative. Additionally they noticed that Alex Murdaugh arrived on the hospital and started to threaten and try to coerce witnesses there, encouraging them to stay to a model of occasions that cleared Paul of wrongdoing; one witness described the environment as “a bizarre, corny teen drama.”
Mallory Seaside’s loss of life led to a flurry of lawsuits and a felony investigation specializing in Paul Murdaugh. The Seaside case additionally coincided with rising monetary troubles for Alex Murdaugh and suspicion about his many fraudulent actions, and later courtroom paperwork revealed a person who appeared determined to shift blame away from his son. As a substitute, in 2019, Paul was charged with three felony counts of felony boating underneath the affect; he finally pleaded not responsible.
Seaside’s household sued the complete Murdaugh household, roughly, for her wrongful loss of life, alleging that Alex Murdaugh and his brother Randolph, and Paul Murdaugh and his brother Buster, had conspired to cowl up the reason for her loss of life. Group members additionally accused the Murdaughs of utilizing their energy and affect to delay the trial. Within the lead-up to the trial, a minimum of three totally different legislation officers recused themselves due to their shut ties to the Murdaugh household.
In June 2021, Paul Murdaugh was simply days away from what would have been a pricey and costly trial for Seaside’s loss of life. He would by no means make it to the courtroom date.
2021: The deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh — and a bottomless fallout
Through the summer time of 2021, increasingly more public curiosity grew round Paul Murdaugh’s upcoming trial. After 30 years, Maggie Murdaugh was estranged from her husband Alex, residing on the household’s seaside home and reportedly wanting into divorce. Alex was neck-deep in fraud schemes whose payouts have been dwindling, dealing with a pricey divorce and doubtlessly steep authorized charges for his son. He additionally claimed to be battling what he later described as a 20-year opioid dependancy.
On June 7, 2021, Alex Murdaugh reportedly lured Maggie to Moselle, prompting her to textual content a good friend that Alex was performing “fishy”; “he’s as much as one thing,” she allegedly wrote to her good friend. Upon arriving on the property, Maggie met her son Paul on the household’s canine kennels. Whereas they have been there, mom and son have been gunned down with two totally different weapons — Maggie with an assault-style rifle, Paul with a shotgun. Alex appeared on the scene shortly afterward and referred to as 911 to report the deaths. An post-mortem later confirmed each died of a number of gunshot wounds.
The double murder of the Murdaughs triggered Alex Murdaugh’s home of playing cards to break down. He instantly fell underneath suspicion for the murders, and the case made nationwide headlines. Three days after the murders, his father, Randolph III, died. On September 3, 2021, Murdaugh resigned from the household’s legislation agency after the agency confronted him over his years of suspected embezzlement. The agency later sued him, and legislation enforcement opened its personal felony investigation into the alleged fraud.
The next day, on September 4, 2021, Alex referred to as 911 to report an odd roadside incident wherein he claimed to have blown a tire. When a stranger stopped to assist him, Alex reported, they shot him within the head as a substitute. Although somebody clearly shot and grazed Alex within the head, even witnesses on the scene didn’t imagine his story; “it sort of seems to be like a setup, so we didn’t cease,” one 911 caller reported.
On September 14, Alex gave up the actual plot: He’d supposed to have a good friend shoot and kill him in order that his surviving son, Buster, might obtain Alex’s $10 million life insurance coverage payout. Authorities promptly arrested Murdaugh and his confederate, Alex’s alleged drug provider and former consumer Curtis Smith, charging Smith with assisted suicide and each males with conspiracy to commit insurance coverage fraud. Alex’s legislation license was instantly suspended, and he was later disbarred.
Alex posted bond and checked himself into a drug rehab middle, solely to be arrested for felony fraud prices within the Satterfield case when he emerged. This time, his bail was denied and his belongings have been frozen.
By now, the case was a nationwide sensation making common mainstream headlines — largely thanks to 1 native journalist. Mandy Matney had allegedly alienated her former information outlet by pursuing the Murdaugh case in additional depth than her editors wished. In 2020, she joined the South Carolina web site FITSNews.com simply so she might cowl the Murdaughs. Days after the murders of Maggie and Paul, Matney and FITS launched the Murdaugh Murders podcast, which broke down the voluminous case piece by piece — beginning with what she dubbed “South Carolina’s Chappaquiddick.”
The podcast was so profitable it reportedly ranked among the many world’s prime podcasts in 2021; it’s at the moment being developed as a real crime drama sequence for a division of Common. HBO Max and Netflix every produced true crime documentary sequence in regards to the case. The extra consideration Matney drew to the case, the extra investigators appeared to ramp up their very own work. Between November 2021 and July 2022, dozens of indictments have been doled out in opposition to Alex Murdaugh and his co-conspirators. Group accusations leveled in opposition to the household for abusing its affect continued too, as yet one more solicitor recused himself from the case, and proof allegedly connecting Alex to the double murders was suppressed from the general public. “You’ll know a Murdaugh did it if nobody is arrested,” ran one apocryphal Fb remark.
On July 14, 2022, nonetheless, Alex Murdaugh was indicted for the double murder of his spouse and son. “As we speak is yet one more step in a protracted course of for justice for Maggie and Paul,” stated Mark Keel, head of South Carolina’s State Legislation Enforcement Division.
However Alex Murdaugh apparently didn’t intend to make the method simple. On July 20, 2022, he pleaded not responsible, within the first of many controversial courtroom proceedings earlier than the trial, which lastly started on January 23, 2023. With the nationwide media wanting on, the courtroom spectacle that unfolded over the subsequent six weeks gave onlookers a glimpse into what that century of amassed energy has actually achieved: Choose Newman needed to order the removing of a portrait of Murdaugh’s grandfather from the courthouse with the intention to guarantee a good trial. Would Murdaugh, along with his high-powered state senator legal professional, be capable to persuade a jury of his innocence? What would that say about South Carolina’s small-town political panorama?
A lot of the proof the prosecution offered at trial was circumstantial, but it surely was typically dramatic and compelling. And it kicked off with a game-changing reveal from the prosecution: A never-before-seen cellphone video from Paul’s telephone shortly earlier than the murders. Whereas on the kennels, Paul took a video of himself taking part in with one of many canine. Within the background, you possibly can clearly hear two extra voices — one in all them seems to be Maggie saying, “He’s obtained a chicken in his mouth!” referring to Paul’s canine, Bubba. The opposite voice, calling, “C’mere, Bubba!” within the background, is clearly that of Alex Murdaugh.
Prosecutors alleged that this video, which was filmed on Paul’s telephone at 8:44 pm, occurred roughly 5 minutes earlier than the shootings, based mostly on when Paul and Maggie stopped taking a look at their telephones and replying to texts. That may place Alex firmly on the scene earlier than the murders, contradicting his model of the timeline. In one other dramatic second, Alex Murdaugh unexpectedly took the stand in his personal protection and admitted that his earlier longstanding declare he hadn’t been on the kennels was a lie. As a substitute, he claimed, he had solely been down on the kennels for a couple of moments earlier than returning to the home simply earlier than Maggie and Paul have been murdered.
It was a flimsy, clear try to justify an online of lies, and the jury noticed by way of it: On March 2, 2023, after barely two hours of deliberation, they discovered Murdaugh responsible. Circuit courtroom Choose Clifton Newman dressed down Murdaugh for his fall from grace, calling out his ongoing “duplicitous conduct.”
“Amazingly, to have you ever come and testify that it was simply one other unusual day,” he stated, referring to the day of the murders, when every thing in Murdaugh’s life was collapsing. “Not credible. Not plausible.”
“You may persuade your self about it,” Newman continued, “however clearly you could have the shortcoming to persuade anybody else. In case you made any such arguments as a lawyer, you’ll lose each case like that — circumstances you’ll by no means have a possibility to argue anymore, besides maybe your personal, as you sit within the Division of Corrections.”
Choose Newman then sentenced Murdaugh to 2 consecutive life sentences. Murdaugh’s sentence begins instantly on the Kirkland Correctional Establishment, a maximum-security jail in Columbia, South Carolina.
The murders surrounding the Murdaugh household appear to have revealed a justice system that turned a blind eye whereas Alex Murdaugh dedicated felonies for years — to say nothing of homicide. For thus lengthy, the Murdaughs have been allowed to rule their nook of the world as a result of they knew that system in a approach most individuals don’t, whilst their train of these privileges drove them and people round them to destroy. Questions nonetheless stay concerning the deaths of Stephen Smith and Gloria Satterfield, together with the extent and full nature of Alex Murdaugh’s lengthy checklist of fraudulent actions. Although the murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh have lastly seen a grim decision, they’re only one side of a case that will by no means be totally resolved. Murdaugh was scheduled to start trial on November 27 for his many monetary crimes; his last-minute responsible plea avoids that, but in addition seemingly signifies that most of the sordid particulars of his actions previous to the murders might by no means be broadly recognized.
Replace, November 17, 2023, 2:25 pm ET: This story was initially printed on August 2, 2022, and has been up to date a number of instances with new particulars in regards to the trial and Murdaugh’s most up-to-date responsible plea.