Whereas essentially the most gripping true crime tales take us into the darkest elements 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” appears like one that would solely occur in America — a story of generational energy and corruption. It is 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.
What one article aptly referred to as “quite a lot of useless folks 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 because of a protracted record of monetary 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 which 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 expenses he’s dealing with to over 80.
Murdaugh pleaded not responsible to the homicide expenses on July 20, 2022, setting the stage for a bombshell trial and media circus that finally resulted in a responsible verdict and two consecutive life sentences. The lead-up to the double murder arguably happened partly because of 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 1000’s of livestream courtroom viewers day by day.
Able to dive into the main points? You may want an oxygen tank for this one; as you may anticipate from simply this abstract, these are darkish waters.
Meet the Murdaughs
The Murdaughs have wielded energy over South Carolina’s “Lowcountry,” the plush, 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 ultimately 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 beneath the circuit’s jurisdiction.
Randolph IV and Alex, two of Randolph III’s sons, adopted of their father’s footsteps and have become legal professionals. As a result of South Carolina ultimately prohibited legal professionals from serving within the conflicting twin roles of public prosecutor and personal lawyer, the boys didn’t function solicitors — however nonetheless served as “volunteer” prosecutors helping their father whereas persevering with the household’s legislation follow. The solicitor’s workplace finally fired Alex, and the household legislation agency modified its identify from Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick, normally shortened to PMPED, to Parker Regulation 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 little one who sired golden youngsters. 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 a large 1,772-acre property referred to 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 habit and wild, out-of-control conduct within the lead-up to the collection of crimes. Specifically, 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 status.
2015: The loss of life of Stephen Smith
On July 8, 2015, 19-year-old Hampton pupil Stephen Smith phoned his mom to inform her he’d run out of fuel. Later that evening he was discovered mendacity in the course of the highway miles away from his truck. He’d died of blunt pressure trauma, and his physique had been “laid out in the course of the highway like a snow angel,” in line 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 advised Smith’s loss of life was a murder. However police additionally later famous that the scene seemed staged, and city gossip started to swirl that Smith, who was rumored to be relationship Buster Murdaugh on the time, had been the sufferer of a hate crime or that the Murdaugh brothers had a job in his loss of life.
In June 2021, whereas the South Carolina Regulation 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 someway linked. Thus far no expenses or indictments have been issued, however the investigation continues to be open, and Smith’s mom has said that the most recent indictments into the opposite murders give her “hope that we’ll 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 damage 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 line with a number of legal indictments and a number of lawsuits, Alex Murdaugh and two different males, banker Chad Westendorf and fellow lawyer 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 via 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’d be capable to obtain a hefty legal responsibility settlement. However he then stored all the cash for himself.
The Satterfield insurance coverage rip-off was simply one in every of a laundry record of cases the place Alex embezzled and defrauded cash from purchasers at his legislation agency, normally by settling their circumstances for giant 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 university 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 induced her fall, contradicting her personal assertion later that she had no thought what induced it.
Satterfield’s sons have been finally in a position to get well greater than $6.5 million from subsequent lawsuits; in the meantime, authorities obtained permission to exhume Satterfield’s physique in June 2022 to be able to proceed the legal 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 concerning the Murdaughs at this time.
That night, 19-year-old Paul Murdaugh and a gaggle of buddies have been returning to the Murdaugh property by boat after an evening of partying. In line 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. In some unspecified time in the future throughout 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 well Seaside’s physique.
Regardless of the clear indicators of intoxication, nevertheless, authorities didn’t document his intoxication ranges on the scene; on the hospital later that evening, a number of witnesses confirmed that Paul was nonetheless drunk and uncooperative. In addition 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 ambiance as “a bizarre, corny teen drama.”
Mallory Seaside’s loss of life led to a flurry of lawsuits and a legal 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 an alternative, in 2019, Paul was charged with three legal counts of felony boating beneath the affect; he ultimately pleaded not responsible.
Seaside’s household sued all the 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, at least 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 season of 2021, an increasing number of 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 habit.
On June 7, 2021, Alex Murdaugh reportedly lured Maggie to Moselle, prompting her to textual content a pal that Alex was performing “fishy”; “he’s as much as one thing,” she allegedly wrote to her pal. 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 induced Alex Murdaugh’s home of playing cards to break down. He instantly fell beneath 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 legal investigation into the alleged fraud.
The next day, on September 4, 2021, Alex referred to as 911 to report a wierd roadside incident during which he claimed to have blown a tire. When a stranger stopped to assist him, Alex reported, they shot him within the head as an alternative. Although somebody clearly shot and grazed Alex within the head, even witnesses on the scene didn’t consider his story; “it type of appears 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 pal shoot and kill him in order that his surviving son, Buster, may 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 expenses 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 at least one 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 may 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 high podcasts in 2021; it’s presently being developed as a real crime drama collection for a division of Common. HBO Max and Netflix every produced true crime documentary collection concerning 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, nevertheless, Alex Murdaugh was indicted for the double murder of his spouse and son. “At this time is yet another step in a protracted course of for justice for Maggie and Paul,” mentioned Mark Keel, head of South Carolina’s State Regulation 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 following six weeks gave onlookers a glimpse into what that century of amassed energy has actually achieved: Decide Newman needed to order the elimination of a portrait of Murdaugh’s grandfather from the courthouse to be able to guarantee a good trial. Would Murdaugh, along with his high-powered state senator lawyer, 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 usually dramatic and compelling. And it kicked off with a game-changing reveal from the prosecution: A never-before-seen cellphone video from Paul’s cellphone 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’ll be able to clearly hear two extra voices — one in every of them seems to be Maggie saying, “He’s bought a chook 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 cellphone at 8:44 pm, happened roughly 5 minutes earlier than the shootings, primarily based on when Paul and Maggie stopped their telephones and replying to texts. That might 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 an alternative, 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 via it: On March 2, 2023, after barely two hours of deliberation, they discovered Murdaugh responsible. Circuit courtroom Decide 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 bizarre day,” he mentioned, referring to the day of the murders, when all the things in Murdaugh’s life was collapsing. “Not credible. Not plausible.”
“You’ll be able to persuade your self about it,” Newman continued, “however clearly you could have the shortcoming to persuade anybody else. Should 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 individual, as you sit within the Division of Corrections.”
Decide 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 therefore lengthy, the Murdaughs have been allowed to rule their nook of the world as a result of they knew that system in a method most individuals don’t, whilst their train of these privileges drove them and people round them to wreck. Questions nonetheless stay concerning the deaths of Stephen Smith and Gloria Satterfield, together with the extent and full nature of Alex Murdaugh’s lengthy record 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 which will by no means be absolutely resolved.
Replace, March 3, 2023, 12 pm ET: This story was initially revealed on August 2, 2022, and has been up to date a number of occasions with new particulars concerning the trial.