COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – The shooting death of a South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh’s wife and son have launched a series of investigations, strange events and court maneuvers in the past 13 months that led to murder charges Thursday.
But Murdaugh’s life was quietly going on behind the scenes long before that. Authorities said he stole money, was addicted to painkillers and desperately trying to avoid scrutiny of his finances linked to a wrongful death lawsuit involving his son – while lying to almost everyone in his life.
Like the whiteboard of a crime show, the beams of half a dozen investigations beamed from Murdaugh after the murders of Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and her son Paul, 22, on June 7, 2021.
Suddenly a whole host of people became unwitting victims or actors in the drama – the family of a teenager killed in a boating accident determined to fight for justice, murdered wife who led a quiet life, client Murdaugh who may have been hired to stage an attempt on the life of the lawyer and housekeeper who died in a fall in the Murdaugh house.
More than a year before the murders, Mallory Beach, 19 died when she was ejected from a Murdaugh family boat after it crashed into a bridge jetty. Police say Paul Murdaugh was drunk while driving the boat in February 2019.
Beach’s family has sought justice not only criminally, but also in civil court, filing a wrongful death lawsuit that is still awaiting trial.
This lawsuit likely meant a close look at the Murdaugh family’s finances. Murdaugh fought the lawsuit at every turn as Beach’s lawyers suggested he feared finding out how he was managing to live so far beyond his current means. Prosecutors say they have since learned that Murdaugh was stealing money of his law firm and his clients.
The state Law Enforcement Division is investigating whether Murdaugh, his family or friends attempted to obstruct the boating accident investigation. Other people on the boat said Murdaugh was in the emergency room that night, searching their rooms and trying to convince them to tell investigators that his son was not driving.
Maggie Murdaugh married the lover she met at the University of South Carolina and moved to tiny Hampton Countywhere Alex Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather had been elected prosecutors.
By all accounts, she led a quiet life, supporting her husband’s work and raising two sons. Her friends don’t remember that she worked outside for a short time to run her own gift shop. They remember a devoted mother who loved her family’s coastal home about 60 miles away on Edisto Island.
Maggie Murdaugh died near her youngest son on the family’s Colleton County hunting estate. Both were shot multiple times, the coroner said. Alex Murdaugh called 911 after discovering their bodies. He said he had just returned home from visiting his sick mother and father.
Thirteen months later, Murdaugh was charged with her death and the murder of their youngest son. Police said Murdaugh used two different weapons – shooting his wife with a rifle and his son with a shotgun. But the indictments say nothing about the evidence that links Murdaugh to the murders.
CURTIS “EDDIE” SMITH
Curtis “Eddie” Smith met Alex Murdaugh when he sued the tree company he worked for after injuring his back in 2007. Or they may have already known each other. Like many things with Murdaugh, what happened is murky.
Murdaugh won a settlement for Smith, who said the two had become friends. Murdaugh’s lawyers said it was more of a business relationship, with Murdaugh buying drugs.
Days after century-old Murdaugh family law firm discovered stolen money in September 2021Murdaugh asked Smith to meet on the side of a lonely highway in Hampton County, prosecutors say. Murdaugh said he asked Smith to kill him so his surviving son could get a $10 million life insurance policy. Smith said Murdaugh threatened to kill himself and the gun fired as Smith tried to yank him out of his grasp.
The shot just grazed Murdaugh’s head. Murdaugh’s lawyers called Smith a drug dealer.
“With a friend like that, who needs enemies?” Smith told an Associated Press reporter.
Both men have been charged in connection with the roadside shooting – Smith on assisted suicide, conspiracy and other charges; Murdaugh, for insurance fraud and filing a false police report after initially saying he was shot indiscriminately while changing a tire.
In June, prosecutors suggested a much deeper relationship. They charged the two men again, saying Murdaugh wrote 437 checks worth $2.4 million that Smith had cashed over eight years in an attempt to cover up thefts and other illegal activities, including a network of drugs involving oxycodone, a painkiller.
This was the 16th indictment against Murdaugh, who prosecutors say stole more than $8 million from clients and others.
Gloria Satterfield served as housekeeper for the Murdaughs for two decades before slipping into a coma and dying days after Alex Murdaugh said she tripped and fell in their house.
Murdaugh directed Satterfield’s family to a friend to act as their lawyer, according to a lawsuit. Murdaugh then heavily armed his insurers to pay more than $4 million in wrongful death settlements, prosecutors said.
But Satterfield’s family never got a dime until their new lawyers sued him. Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter relentlessly attacked Murdaugh in court and in the media. Murdaugh eventually ended up behind bars with a $7 million bond.
Bland compared Murdaugh to a bank robber, but using a pen and corrupt friends instead of a gun.
Months later, the lawyer friend and a banker who prosecutors say secretly sent money to Murdaugh to be placed in trusts for his clients have been charged.
Bland and Richter won over $4 million in legal settlements from Murdaugh, whose assets were frozen, and from Murdaugh’s lawyer friend and the bank Murdaugh used.
The inquest into Satterfield’s death continues. State agents announced in June that they would exhume his body. South Carolina coroners are supposed to be notified of any suspicious deaths, but the Hampton County coroner was not notified of Satterfield’s fall.
Another inquest into the death has been reopened after the shooting deaths. Stephen Smith, 19, died in what investigators said was a hit-and-run, likely struck in the head by the rear-view mirror of a tractor-trailer on a Hampton County two-lane highway in 2015. But the mother Smith said there was no broken glass or plastic shards from a mirror on the road where her son’s body was found.
State agents did not say what evidence in the Murdaugh case led them to reopen the Smith case.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSColinsAP.
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