Alex Murdaugh, the disgraced former South Carolina attorney, was sentenced to life in prison earlier this month after he was found guilty of murdering his wife and son – the most serious and grisliest of the allegations faced by the scion of what was once one of the state’s most influential dynasties.
The murder convictions, which Murdaugh has appealed, came almost two years after he called police to report he had found his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and his grown son, Paul Murdaugh, shot dead at their rural estate. Murdaugh said he found the bodies after returning from a visit to his mother.
But the deaths weren’t the only ones to which the Murdaugh family name was tied. And as yearslong mysteries surrounding the family are garnering fresh attention, so are several other deaths.
Margaret and Paul Murdaugh
Alex Murdaugh called 911 on June 7, 2021, to report he found his wife Margaret, 52, and son Paul, 22, shot dead outside their Islandton home about an hour from Hilton Head Island, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, said.
Murdaugh denied involvement in their killings, even as he was buried under an avalanche of charges related to alleged financial crimes. But he was eventually indicted in July 2022 with two counts of murder and two weapons charges – to which he pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors argued during the trial that Murdaugh killed his wife and son to distract from and delay investigations into his alleged misdeeds, which included stealing millions of dollars from his clients and his law firm – crimes Murdaugh generally admitted to when he took the stand to testify in his own defense.
The defense team, in the meantime, argued Murdaugh was a loving father and husband and painted a picture of a sloppy investigation.
In the end, it did not convince the jury, which was shown a video in which Murdaugh’s voice could be heard at the scene of the killings minutes before they happened – an indication, the state said, that he had lied about his whereabouts when they were shot.
He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Murdaugh has since appealed the convictions.
No connection between the Murdaugh family and the death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old nursing student whose body was found in the middle of a Hampton County road on July 8, 2015, has been announced by authorities.
But on June 22, 2021, SLED said it was opening an investigation into Smith’s death based on information gathered while probing the double homicide of Margaret and Paul Murdaugh. SLED has not specified what that information was.
In March 2023, a SLED spokesperson confirmed to CNN the agency was investigating Smith’s death as a homicide and that there was no indication his death was a hit-and-run – as it was deemed in an initial incident report.
That news came on the heels of an announcement by Smith’s family, who said it would petition a court to have his body exhumed for a private autopsy as part of an effort to reexamine his death.
“We think that he did not die on that road that fateful night,” Eric Bland, an attorney for Smith’s family, told reporters in a news conference. “We think that there was other reasons and other causes that caused his death.”
“Our job is not to find out who did it,” he added. “That’s not what we do, we’re not law enforcement, we’re not doing a criminal case. … What we’re really trying to do is give a mother answers.”
According to an incident report from the South Carolina Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team, or MAIT, Smith’s body was found in the road with blunt force trauma to the head.
While a pathologist cited in a SLED report states that Smith appeared to have been hit by a vehicle, the responding officer referenced in MAIT’s report cited “no vehicle debris, skid marks, or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle.”
Smith’s shoes were also both on and loosely tied, the report added, and investigators saw no evidence suggesting he was struck by a vehicle.
Notes from investigators in the case file say that “according to family, Stephen would never have been walking in the middle of the roadway” and that he was “very skittish.”
Smith had injuries to his left arm, hand and head, according to notes taken by a SLED investigator at the scene.
His vehicle was found about three miles away, that report said, and added the gas tank door was open and the gas cap was hanging out on the side of the car. The vehicle’s battery was functional, but the car wouldn’t start, it added.
Smith’s death remains unsolved, but his family hopes a private autopsy will provide them a “new, unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts,” according to a GoFundMe page that raised more than $87,000.
Mallory Beach was a 19-year-old woman killed in a February 24, 2019, boat crash.
Beach was ejected from the boat – along with a male – when the boat struck a bridge, according to an affidavit from an officer who was supervising the scene.
According to a report from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, a doctor who treated Paul Murdaugh after the boat crash reported that Murdaugh was “clearly intoxicated” and slurring his speech.
Beach’s body was found about a week after the crash by volunteer searchers, according to a Department of Natural Resources accident report.
Three people who were on the boat told investigators that Paul Murdaugh was driving, but another passenger named a different person who was also aboard that night as the driver, according to the affidavit.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was facing charges including boating under the influence, causing great bodily harm, and causing death in connection to the boat crash.
SLED has also announced it was opening a criminal investigation into the February 26, 2018, death of the Murdaughs’ longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, 57, and the handling of her estate.
Satterfield was the Murdaugh family housekeeper for more than two decades before dying after what was described as a “trip and fall accident” at the Murdaugh home, according to Bland, the attorney, who is also representing her estate.
Investigators open criminal investigation into 2018 death of Murdaugh family’s housekeeper
SLED opened its investigation based on a request from the Hampton County coroner that highlighted inconsistencies in the ruling of Satterfield’s manner of death, the agency said in September 2021, as well as information gathered during SLED’s other ongoing investigations involving Alex Murdaugh.
Satterfield’s death was “not reported to the coroner at the time, nor was an autopsy performed,” the coroner’s request to SLED said. Additionally, her manner of death was ruled “natural,” which was “inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident,” the coroner said.
SLED announced in December 2022 it would seek to exhume Satterfield’s remains, saying it had sought and received the permission of the housekeeper’s family.
In December 2021, Murdaugh agreed to a $4.3 million settlement with Satterfield’s family, stemming from the alleged misappropriation of funds they should have received after, according to affidavits released by SLED, Murdaugh coordinated with the family to sue himself and seek an insurance settlement.
In the aftermath of Satterfield’s death, a $500,000 wrongful death claim was filed against Alex Murdaugh on behalf of her estate, Bland said. But the estate did not receive any of the $500,000 owed as the result of a wrongful death settlement in 2018, Bland added.
Bland has told CNN he does not believe Satterfield was murdered, but he does not want to rule anything out.