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The Murdaugh murders: How one tragedy-prone family came to dominate US headlines with shootings, an assisted suicide attempt, and other bizarre mishaps

·5 min read
Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of arranging his own murder, has been arrested and charged with insurance fraud  (Hampton County Detention Center)
Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of arranging his own murder, has been arrested and charged with insurance fraud (Hampton County Detention Center)

In recent weeks, the name Alex Murdaugh has appeared in one gruesome headline after another, each one more bizarre than the last.

First, Mr Murdaugh’s wife and son were shot dead. Then Mr Murdaugh himself was shot, but survived. Now Mr Murdaugh has admitted to arranging his own shooting as part of a $10 million insurance fraud scheme. Meanwhile, based on information they uncovered in relation to the first two shootings, police have opened investigations into the deaths of his housekeeper and a seemingly unrelated teenager who died under mysterious circumstances.

The story is as confusing as it is complicated. As Mr Murdaugh’s lawyer, Jim Griffin, put it, “It makes us all wonder what the hell’s going on.”

Here’s a breakdown of what we know so far.

Who is Alex Murdaugh?

Alex Murdaugh, 53, is a former attorney and the heir to a powerful family of lawyers in the 14th Judicial Circuit of South Carolina, which includes Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper counties. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather all held the office of solicitor in that circuit, and other family members were prominent civil attorneys in the region.

Murder of wife and son

On 7 June, Mr Murdaugh called 911 to report that he’d found the bodies of his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, near some dog kennels on their hunting property in Colleton County. Both were dead of gunshot wounds. Their murders remain unsolved.

“He is totally distraught,” Mr Murdaugh’s attorney, Richard Harpootlian, later told NBC News. “He did not murder them.”

Assisted suicide attempt

On 4 September, Mr Murdaugh himself was shot while changing a tire on the side of a road in Hampton County. He survived, and was treated at a hospital for what police called a “superficial gunshot wound to the head”.

On 13 September, Mr Murdaugh admitted to police that he had arranged the shooting. A former client of his, Curtis Edward Smith, 61, was charged two days later with shooting him at Mr Murdaugh’s behest.

Police say the plan was for Mr Murdaugh to die so his surviving son, Buster, could inherit $10 million in life insurance money.

On Thursday morning, according to CNN, Mr Murdaugh arrived at Hampton County Law Enforcement Center to turn himself in. He has been arrested and charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, and filing a false police report.

Curtis Edward Smith, 61, has been charged with shooting Alex Murdaugh at Mr Murdaugh’s own request (Colleton County sheriffs office)
Curtis Edward Smith, 61, has been charged with shooting Alex Murdaugh at Mr Murdaugh’s own request (Colleton County sheriffs office)

Death of housekeeper

On 15 September, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) announced that it was investigating the death of Gloria Satterfield, a longtime housekeeper and nanny for the Murdaugh family.

Ms Satterfield died in 2018 after more than two decades working for the Murdaughs. Mr Murdaugh told her family that she tripped and fell down some stairs at his home. She sustained a traumatic brain injury, went into a coma, and died three weeks later.

But the Hampton County coroner, Angela Topper, thought Mr Murdaugh’s story didn’t add up, and wrote a letter to SLED asking them to investigate.

“The decedent’s death was not reported to the Coroner at the time, nor was an autopsy performed,” Ms Topper wrote. “On the death certificate the manner of death was ruled ‘Natural,’ which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident.”

Based on this letter and new information uncovered during the investigation of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh’s deaths, SLED has agreed to open a criminal investigation.

Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of arranging his own murder, has been arrested and charged with insurance fraud (Hampton County Detention Center)
Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of arranging his own murder, has been arrested and charged with insurance fraud (Hampton County Detention Center)

Alleged embezzlement

A lawyer for Ms Satterfield’s sons, Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriott, says his clients successfully sued Mr Murdaugh for a large settlement after her death – but never received a penny of it.

That settlement was for $505,000. On 15 September, Mr Satterfield and Mr Harriott filed a lawsuit demanding that Mr Murdaugh finally pay it. But according to the sons’ lawyer, Eric Bland, new information shows they’re owed much more than that.

“We’ve learned since the lawsuit was filed that the amount that has been unaccounted for and misappropriated is $4 million,” Mr Bland told Fox Carolina News. “And we’re told that those monies were misappropriated either in whole or in part by Alex Murdaugh.”

According to Mr Bland, Mr Murdaugh advised Ms Satterfield’s sons to sue him after her death, and arranged for a lawyer friend of his to represent them. Then he admitted liability, Mr Bland says, which forced his insurance companies to pay out “large amounts of money”.

But according to Mr Bland, none of that money made its way to his clients.

“The $4 million was paid, and my clients got none of it,” the lawyer said.

Mr Murdaugh’s lawyers have said he had nothing to do with Ms Satterfield’s death, and that an insurance company determined it was an accident.

Death of teenager

On 8 July, 2015, a 19-year-old man named Stephen Smith was found dead on a road in Hampton County. No arrests were made, and the case remains unsolved.

As with Ms Satterfield, SLED has said it is reopening an investigation into Mr Smith’s death based on information it obtained after the Murdaugh killings.

Drug use

Mr Murdaugh’s attorney, Richard Harpootlian, says Mr Murdaugh has struggled with a decades-long addiction to drugs, and this played a role in his attempted suicide.

“For the last 20 years, there have been many people feeding his addiction to opioids. During that time, these individuals took advantage of his addiction and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs,” Mr Harpootlian said in a statement. “One of those individuals took advantage of his mental illness and agreed to take Alex’s life, by shooting him in the head.”

The lawyer maintains that the botched suicide attempt was unrelated to the murders of Maggie and Paul, and that Mr Murdaugh does not know who killed them.

The Independent has reached out to Mr Harpootlian for additional comment, but has not heard back yet.

Read More

Alex Murdaugh: South Carolina lawyer at heart of mystery shootings turns himself in as alleged gunman appears in court

Alex Murdaugh: Police open new investigation into falling death of South Carolina lawyer’s housekeeper

Lawyer says Murdaugh to turn himself in on insurance fraud

Alex Murdaugh: South Carolina lawyer planned his own murder for $10m insurance after wife and son were killed

Police: Lawyer Murdaugh arranged own death but shot grazed

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