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The mystery surrounding the June 7 murders of a mother and son from a prominent and influential South Carolina family has deepened as authorities announced this week that an investigation into a 2015 death near the family’s Hampton county property has been reopened.
The bodies of Margaret Murdaugh, 52, and her son Paul Murdaugh, 22, were discovered at the family’s home by her husband, Alex Murdaugh, shortly after 10 p.m on the night of June 7, lying on the ground on their massive hunting property. They had been shot to death multiple times at their home in Islandton, a remote town an hour’s drive west of Charleston. The family’s deep connections to the region, with multiple Murdaugh family members working as prosecutors in the 14th judicial circuit over generations, along with the fact that Paul was facing charges for the 2019 death of a young woman, has fueled speculation around the possible motive and potential suspects in the killings.
On Tuesday, the mystery deepened as investigators with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced it has opened an investigation into the 2015 death of teenager Stephen Smith, who was found dead on the side of the road in 2015 about 10 miles from the Murdaugh compound. South Carolina Law Enforcement Division spokesperson Tommy Crosby said the case opening was “based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh." Crosby told local online outlet FITSNews that SLED had received several tips in the aftermath of Smith’s death linking him to the Murdaugh family.
Smith, a 19-year-old nursing student, was found dead in the middle of Sandy Run Road on July 8, 2015, with a 7.25-inch wound in his head; his car was found miles away with its gas cap out, FITSNews reported. Given the nature of his death, the investigation crossed several local agencies. The coroner had ruled the death a homicide, but when investigators failed to turn up any evidence from the scene of his death, a local pathologist ruled Smith’s death the result of a hit-and-run.
Sandy Smith, the teen’s mother, called into question the investigation at the time and suggested the Murdaugh family’s influence had played a role in the ruling, as was reported by FITS, which says it received the entire case file in Smith’s death. In a 2016 letter to authorities, Smith wrote that she believes that two of the Murdaugh brothers were involved in her son’s death.
“It has been apparent from the first week of the investigation that authorities are covering up critical evidence and we no longer know who to trust,” she wrote. “The case was mysteriously bounced from investigator to investigator without reasons or notification. It would repeatedly get to a certain point, then the assigned investigator would bow out, perhaps not wanting to take on Solicitor Murdaugh.”
This week, Smith told the local outlet that she has “been waiting on this day for 2,174 days.”
Meanwhile, speculation over the death of 57-year-old Gloria Satterfield, who died after a “trip and fall” in Hampton county on February 26, 2018, has also been renewed in the aftermath of the Murdaugh murders. Later that year, Alex Murdaugh settled a wrongful death claim in Satterfield’s death; his insurer paid out a sum of $500,000 for personal liability and $5,000 in a medical payment, according to the settlement document. Satterfield’s relationship with the family is unclear, but her obituary names several Murdaughs as “those she loved as her family.”
The following year, Paul Murdaugh, then a student at the University of South Carolina, found himself facing three felony counts including boating under the influence after a February 2019 incident in which 19-year-old Mallory Beach was thrown from a boat he was operating; others on board were injured as well. Robert Kittle, the communications director for the South Carolina Attorney General's Office, told Oxygen.com earlier this month that in light of Paul's death the charges against him will likely be dismissed.
On a June 17 appearance on "Good Morning America", Paul’s uncles, John Marvin Murdaugh and Randolph Murdaugh IV said that the young man had been receiving threats ahead of his death.
This week, SLED also released 18 heavily redacted pages of documents from the investigation into the deaths of the Murdaughs, which show that the coroner found that the mother and son were shot multiple times and that shell casings were found at the crime scene, but little else was revealed.
Prosecutor Duffie Stone, who took over the office in 2006 after the 86-year Murdaugh dynasty ended, said in a statement this week that as far as he knows “there is no clear suspect” in the double homicide case. Stone is facing pressure to recuse himself from the case given his past professional relationship with the Murdaugh family.
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