Maggie Murdaugh and her youngest son, Paul, were shot to death, according to police, at the Murdaugh family's compound in June 2021 in a mysterious double homicide, but as investigators began to dig deeper into the family's past, the story grew more complex.
It all began with a frantic call to 911.
South Carolina legal scion Alex Murdaugh called police at around 10 p.m. on June 7, 2021 to report that he had arrived home at his family's sprawling Colleton County hunting compound to find his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, dead. They'd been fatally shot.
“I need the police and an ambulance immediately,” Alex said. “My wife and child were just shot badly.”
The subsequent investigation into the deaths of Maggie and Paul resulted in several other probes, producing a story that has captivated the nation.
Alex himself was arrested in September 2021 after, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), he conspired with another individual “to assist him in committing suicide for the explicit purpose of allowing a beneficiary to collect life insurance.” He was arrested again the following month after investigators alleged he secretly diverted funds from a wrongful death settlement meant for the family of his long-time housekeeper Gloria Satterfield.
His attorneys have said in a statement to Oxygen.com that his “life has been devastated” and admitted the prominent attorney had been struggling with a secret addiction to opioids for two decades.
Alex was facing a litany of criminal charges connected to the alleged suicide plot and misappropriated settlement funds relating to multiple clients of his law firm. Then, on July 14, 2022, authorities dropped a bombshell: Alex Murdaugh was also being charged with the murders of his wife and son. In all, he is facing more than 90 criminal charges and 11 lawsuits, according to NBC News.
In July 2022, he pleaded not guilty to the murders of his Maggie and Paul and was ordered held without bond pending his trial.
The “Murdaugh Murders”
The Murdaugh family first began to receive national attention after the double homicide of Maggie and Paul.
Alex called 911 at 10:07 p.m. on June 7, 2021 to report that he had returned to his home in Islandton, a rural hamlet about 65 miles from Charleston, and discovered the bodies of his wife and son “out at my kennel,” according to SLED and The New York Times.
“I’ve been up to it now, it’s bad,” he told the dispatcher, adding that neither were breathing as he begged the ambulance to arrive quickly.
Indictments released by authorities confirmed previous reports that Paul was shot several times with a shotgun, while Maggie was killed with an AR-15-type assault rifle.
In July 2022, a grand jury indicted Alex on two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in the deaths of his wife and son. He pleaded not guilty, claiming that he wasn't even at the property at the time of the killings – he had been visiting his ailing mother, who lived approximately 15-20 minutes away.
“Alex wants his family, friends and everyone to know that he did not have anything to do with the murders of Maggie and Paul,” Alex’s attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, told Oxygen.com in a joint statement. “He loved them more than anything in the world.”
At trial, however, prosecutors produced evidence, taken from a social media video posted by Paul shortly before the murders, indicating that Alex Two sources with knowledge of the investigation told NBC News that authorities have cell phone video placing Alex at the scene shortly before the shooting took place and contradicting a timeline of events previously provided for the day of the murders.
The murder trial is set to begin in January 2023.
Who Were Maggie and Paul Murdaugh?
Maggie, a one-time member of the Kappa Delta Sorority and graduate of the University of South Carolina, has been remembered by her friends as a fun, upbeat, and devoted mother, who loved spending summers at the family’s beach house in Edisto.
“She was a good friend, and is definitely missed,” friend Debbie Bishop-Phillips told Bluffton Today.
Maggie and Alex, who met while she was in college, shared two sons together, Buster and Paul. According to her obituary, the 52-year-old had loved to entertain and had a “heart of pure generosity.”
“She adored her family, and cherished spending time on the boat with her two sons,” it said. “She will be remembered as a ‘second mom’ to her sons’ many friends. She made the most out of every situation and lived each and every day to the fullest.”
While there has been some speculation that the couple’s marriage may have been in trouble, a spokesperson for Alex told Oxygen.com in September that the pair had “a very loving relationship.”
Paul was a junior at the University of South Carolina, but at the time of his death, the 22-year-old was facing his own set of legal troubles.
Fatal Boat Crash That Killed Mallory Beach
Two years before he was shot to death, Paul Murdaugh was indicted on three felony counts of boating under the influence after his boat crashed into Archers Creek Bridge around 2:20 a.m. on Feb. 24, 2019, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach and seriously injuring two others on board that morning.
The night before, Paul, his girlfriend, Morgan Doughty, Connor Cook, Miley Altman, Anthony Cook, and Beach all met at Paul’s home around 6:30 p.m. before taking the boat to an oyster roast, local station WCBD reports.
Investigators in the criminal case against Paul claimed that there was a cooler of alcohol on the boat and that those on the boat had been drinking, according to CBS News.
Altman later told investigators that once they were back on the boat, Paul insisted on driving to a bar in Beaufort, where he and Connor went inside and ordered two rounds of shots.
Paul seemed drunk and “everybody” had tried to stop him from driving the boat after leaving the bar, according to Altman’s deposition filed in connection with a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Renee Beach, Mallory’s mother.
“I yelled at him once and he just told me, he was, like, sit, shut the eff up and sit the eff down,” Altman said in the deposition. “Nobody else is driving my boat.”
Paul began to take his clothes off, stripping all the way down to his boxers despite the cold 40-degree weather, according to Anthony Cook’s deposition.
Doughty would later testify in her deposition, according to WSAV, that Beach had been “scared” and wanted them to leave the boat or let someone else drive it, but just moments later someone “slammed” the throttle and the boat crashed into the bridge, sending Beach flying overboard. Her body was found eight days later about five miles from the crash site.
Although the friends couldn’t be sure who had pushed the throttle, Anthony Cook said in his deposition that he imagined it was Paul. “I mean, he was the one behind the steering wheel when it happened,” Cook said.
As David Lucas, a spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, told Oxygen.com, Paul’s blood alcohol content was not taken at the crash site. Paul’s blood was drawn at the hospital around 4 a.m. The results from the hospital indicated the BAC was .286%, according to records obtained by the SCDNR, more than three times the state’s legal limit of .08%.
Although Paul pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges against him, he’d never see his day in court and was shot to death before a trial could ever begin. The wrongful death suit filed by Mallory’s mother is set for trial in January 2023.
The Death Of Stephen Smith
Shortly after investigators discovered the bodies of Maggie and Paul, SLED announced it had opened an investigation into the 2015 death of 19-year-old nursing student Stephen Smith.
SLED spokesperson Tommy Crosby told FITSNews that investigators decided to open the case “based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.”
Smith was found dead in the middle of Sandy Run Road on July 8, 2015, about 10 miles from the Murdaughs’ property, according to investigators.
Investigators found the teenager’s car miles away with its gas cap open.
The coroner initially ruled his death a homicide, but after investigators were unable to find any evidence at the scene a local pathologist determined he had likely died from a hit-and-run.
Police have not accused any member of the Murdaugh family of wrongdoing in connection with Smith’s death, according to The New York Times.
Renee Wunderlich, SLED director of public information, confirmed to Oxygen.com that the investigation is active and ongoing as of November 2022.
Alex Murdaugh’s Own Brush With Death
Months after Alex frantically called 911 to report his wife and son had been shot to death, he placed another call to 911 on Sept. 4, 2021, this time reporting he had been the one shot.
“I got a flat tire and I stopped and somebody stopped to help me and when I turned my back, they tried to shoot me,” he told the emergency dispatcher, according to a recording obtained by Oxygen.com, adding that he had been shot “somewhere on my head.”
Alex was airlifted to the hospital where he was treated for what authorities have described as a superficial wound, but investigators quickly began to question his story and soon turned their attention to Alex himself.
SLED has accused Alex of trying to concoct his own suicide, enlisting the help of his distant cousin Curtis Edward Smith, 61.
Investigators have alleged that Alex “conspired with” Smith by providing him with a firearm and instructing Smith to shoot him in the head as he stood along Old Salkehatchie Road “for the purpose of defrauding an insurer,” according to indictments in the case obtained by Oxygen.com.
Investigators believe Alex wanted the death to appear like a homicide so that his surviving son, Buster, could cash in on a $10 million life insurance policy.
“On September 13, 2021, Mr. Murdaugh provided a statement to SLED admitting to the scheme of having Mr. Smith murder him for the purpose of his son collecting a life insurance policy valued at approximately ten million dollars,” SLED senior special agent Jeff Croft wrote in an affidavit filed in connection with the criminal case against Smith.
Alex’s attorneys, Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian, said in a statement obtained by Oxygen.com that their client had “believed that ending his life was the only option” and revealed that Alex had been struggling with a significant drug problem.
“For the last 20 years, there have been many people feeding his addiction to opioids,” they wrote. “During that time, these individuals took advantage of his addiction and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs.”
In November 2021, a Hampton County Grand Jury indicted Alex for conspiracy, false insurance claim for payment of $10,000 or more, and filing a false police report.
Smith was indicted for pointing and presenting a firearm, conspiracy, assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, and false insurance claim for payment of $10,000 or more.
Smith has denied wrongdoing. He told The New York Post he had gone to the location because he thought Alex needed a ride, then saw him waving a gun and had tried to wrestle it away from him when the gun went off. “I’ve never hurt anyone. It’s that simple,” Smith said.
Smith is currently detained the Lexington County Detention Center, his bond being revoked on previous charges in August, according to FITSNews.
The Fall of Alex’s Legal Legacy
In early September, Alex announced through his attorneys that he had resigned from his law firm, Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED), and was entering a drug treatment program.
“The murders of my wife and son have caused an incredibly difficult time in my life,” Alex said in a statement to The Island Packet. “I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret.”
The law firm, which was started by Alex’s great grandfather in 1910, would later say that Alex agreed to resign on Sept. 3 — just one day before his own shooting.
In a civil suit filed by PMPED against Alex on Oct. 6, 2021, the firm alleged Alex had been secretly stealing money from the firm and its clients and depositing the money into a bank account in his own name.
Alex “was able to covertly steal these funds by disguising disbursements from settlements as payments to an annuity company, trust account or structured settlement for clients or as structured attorney’s fees that he earned when in fact they were deposited into a fictitious account” he created at Bank of America under the name “Alexander Murdaugh d/b/a Forge,” according to the lawsuit, obtained by Oxygen.com.
“He lied and he stole from us,” the firm wrote on its website. “No member of PMPED was aware of Alex’s scheme. When we learned he betrayed our trust, we requested his resignation immediately.”
In a statement to Oxygen.com, Griffin called the lawsuit against his client a “very sad development.”
On Nov. 12, 2021, Alex filed an answer to the firm’s lawsuit, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refusing to answer the allegations.
As a result of the controversy, Alex has also been barred from working at the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, where he had been an authorized volunteer prosecutor. He was formally disbarred by the South Carolina Supreme Court in July 2022.
Death Of The Murdaugh Family Housekeeper
After being arrested in September, Alex was released on bond and headed to Florida to enter a drug rehabilitation program, but the legal scion was arrested by SLED for a second time in October 2021 for charges stemming from an investigation into misappropriated settlement funds in connection with the death of his housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield.
Satterfield died after a trip and fall accident at the Murdaughs’ Colleton County home in February 2018, according to a statement from the Satterfield family’s attorneys Eric S. Bland and Ronnie Richter.
As reported in The New York Times, according to Murdaugh family accounts, Satterfield hit her head after tripping over the Murdaugh family’s dogs. She was hospitalized for several weeks but eventually died on Feb. 26, 2018 after suffering a stroke and going into cardiac arrest, wrote the Greenville News.
After her death, Alex encouraged Satterfield’s sons, Brian Harriott and Michael “Tony” Satterfield, to bring a wrongful death suit against him, according to a civil complaint the sons filed on Sept. 15, 2021. He pointed the two brothers toward attorney Cory Fleming, who had been one of Alex’s close friends, the complaint alleges.
Fleming reached a $4.3 million settlement with Alex and his insurers, The New York Times reported, but the brothers’ attorneys say they were never notified of the settlement and never received any of the money.
The son’s civil suit, filed over the handling of the Satterfield settlement, named as defendants Alex, Fleming, Fleming’s law firm, and others.
“Murdaugh is the only defendant left in the civil case, as the other named parties have all settled or agreed to pay, more than $6 million in total,” wrote on Nov. 23, 2021.
Fleming acknowledged he made material mistakes but maintained “he was not a willing participant in Mr. Murdaugh’s scheme but was used,” according to a joint press release announcing his settlement in the case.
But in an interview with NBC’s “Dateline,” Satterfield’s brother Eric Harriott, Jr. insisted that its “not about the money.” He said the family decided to take legal action to find justice for a woman who had faithfully served the Murdaugh family for more than 20 years.
“It’s like she was a nobody, as much as she’s done for him,” he said.
On Nov. 17, Alex’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the claims brought against him by Satterfield’s sons, arguing that the sons had already received compensation for their injuries from the other parties. “South Carolina law prohibits Plaintiffs from obtaining a double recovery for the same injury,” the lawyers wrote. The attorneys for Satterfield’s sons opposed the motion, describing it as “fatally flawed” and writing that “Murdaugh cannot argue that because others paid for the money he stole, he is entitled to a get out of jail free card.”
Alex’s role in the Satterfield settlement also caught the eye of investigators. For his alleged role, a South Carolina Grand Jury on Nov. 19 charged Alex with obtaining signature or property by false pretenses, value $10,000 or more (three counts); money laundering, value $100,000 or more (three counts); and computer crime, value $10,000 or more (three counts).
Despite repeated attempts by Alex’s attorneys to have him released on bond, the 53-year-old remains behind bars in South Carolina as the investigation into the death of his wife and son continues.
Alex has since signed a confession of judgement in favor of the Satterfield family, which was rewarded more than $4.3 million, including attorneys' fees, according to ABC affiliate WJCL.
In June, SLED spokesperson Renee Wunderlich confirmed the agency had received permission to exhume Satterfield’s remains, though they didn’t confirm when the exhumation would take place, according to CBS affiliate WLTX. They did not share further details citing the ongoing investigation.
Did Alex Murdaugh Kill His Wife And Son?
On Jan. 25, 2023, Alex Murdaugh's trial for the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul began at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina. Prosecutors argued that Alex killed both family members as a means of deflecting attention away from his law firm's internal investigation into his alleged financial misdeeds. While Alex had claimed in the 20 months since his wife and son were gunned down that he wasn't even at the scene when the shootings took place, prosecutors presented evidence taken from a social media video posted by Paul shortly before he was murdered showing Alex was, indeed, at the compound's dog kennels with both victims shortly before 9 p.m., around the time authorities believe they were killed.
Alex, himself, admitted to the lie when he surprisingly took the stand toward the end of the trial. Seeking to explain the discrepancy between his original story and the evidence presented by prosecutors, Alex said was paranoid when first questioned by South Carolina investigators – a byproduct of his opioid addiction, which he said had fogged up his mind, and his distrust for the state's law enforcement division.
Alex's defense team argued that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division's investigation was highly flawed – that the crime scene was improperly maintained and that any forensic evidence taken from the scene was dubious, as well as their belief that investigators had zeroed in on Alex as a suspect so quickly that they didn't adequately investigate other potential suspects. They notably argued that the killings, because they were committed with two separate firearms, likely involved more than one shooter.
Those arguments were evidently unconvincing. After a roughly month-long trial, jurors began deliberating on March 2. It took them less than three hours before finding Alex Murdaugh guilty of murdering Maggie and Paul. He was sentenced to life in prison with parole.
How Many Other Charges Is Alex Murdaugh Facing?
On Dec. 9, 2021, Alex was additionally charged with nine counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent; seven counts of computer crimes; four counts of money laundering and one count of forgery in an alleged scheme to defraud victims of $1,365,440.24, according to the Attorney General’s office.
Investigators said the alleged victims included family friends, an undocumented immigrant and a car wreck victim.
The disgraced lawyer spoke out at a bond hearing in December 2021, telling the court that he was going through withdrawals around the time he allegedly hired Smith to kill him.
“My head is on straighter, I’m thinking clearer than I have in a long, long time,” Murdaugh said, according to NBC News. “I want to deal with these charges appropriately and head-on. I want to repair as much of the damage that I’ve done as I can. I want to repair as many of the relationships as I can.”
In January 2022, Alex was indicted on an additional 23 charges of financial crimes, followed by another four in March and another four in May. Additionally, Murdaugh was indicted on criminal conspiracy and narcotics offenses in June.
In total, Alex is facing almost 90 additional criminal charges, according to NBC News.