By Katie McLaughlin
Alex Murdaugh is on trial for the murders of his wife and son. For one man to stand accused of something so heinous is shocking in and of itself. However, the once-prominent and now disbarred attorney and his family have been implicated in a mountain of suspicious activity. Because of the sheer volume of the incidents and the complexity of the crimes, the prosecution in Murdaugh’s trial is making arguments before the judge ahead of most witnesses to determine whether the court will allow each so-called “prior bad act” to be heard by the jury.
Here’s a chronological look back at the long chain of misdeeds, the scope of which is nothing short of breathtaking.
The death of Stephen Smith: July 8, 2015
During the ensuing investigation, various witnesses told authorities that Buster Murdaugh was somehow involved in Smith’s death. Smith, who was openly gay, was a high school classmate of Buster. There was speculation among locals that Smith and Buster had been in a relationship.
In the HBO docuseries “Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty,” Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, said her husband, Joel Smith, (Stephen’s father) received a call from Alex’s brother, Randy Murdaugh, not long after Stephen’s death. He was offering to help investigate, but he said he needed certain electronic information, such as Facebook passwords. This was unexpected, as Randy was a personal injury attorney.
Smith was ruled to have died from blunt force trauma. At the time, the incident was ruled a hit-and-run, and no suspects were arrested. The death was listed as a pedestrian v. vehicle crash. In other words, investigators said Stephen was walking along the road and was struck by a vehicle.
Smith’s twin sister, Stephanie, said authorities told her Stephen had probably run out of gas and attempted to walk to his father’s house. Stephanie didn’t believe that version of events, because Stephen’s cell phone was on him, and he would have called her had he truly been stranded.
When Stephen’s body was found, his cell phone was still in his pocket, unscathed — something unlikely to have happened had he been hit by a car while on foot. He also had his shoes on — another indication that he didn’t land violently in the road after being struck by a vehicle.
Smith’s family believes he was dumped in the road and that his body was staged to look like he was hit by a car.
Any leads in the case eventually went cold, but in June 2021, Smith’s case was re-opened after SLED investigators found evidence linked to the case on the Murdaughs’ Moselle property. Further details have yet to be revealed, and no charges or indictments have been issued in Smith’s death to date.
Longtime housekeeper’s mysterious death: February 2, 2018
On February 2, 2018, the Murdaughs longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, suffered a severe head injury when she fell from the brick front steps of the Moselle estate. Just over three weeks later, on February 26, she died of complications from the fall, including a stroke.
No autopsy was performed, the incident was reported as simply a “trip and fall” accident, and Satterfield’s death certificate stated she died of “natural causes.” She was 57-years-old, and had worked for the Murdaughs for over 20 years.
Reports of the events leading up to Satterfield’s accident are varied. Satterfield said she did not recall how she fell, while the Murdaughs said the family dogs tripped her while she was on the steps. During Maggie’s 911 call, Paul can be heard getting increasingly agitated, asking the 911 dispatcher to “stop asking all these questions.”
Exactly what happened to Satterfield remains a mystery. There were rumors in Hampton County that the dog narrative was made up, and that Paul had perhaps pushed or tripped Satterfield, as stated in the HBO docuseries.
Alex approached Satterfield’s two sons not long after her death and told them he’d make sure they were taken care of. He said not to worry because he was insured.
Alex, who had a $500K liability policy and a multimillion dollar umbrella policy on his home, told Satterfield’s sons to visit attorney Cory Fleming. Fleming brought claims against the insurance company, which issued a $4.3 million dollar payout — but neither Fleming nor Alex told their clients about that money.
The payout money went through Fleming’s firm. According to Fleming’s records, the money then went to FORGE. For clarification, there is a legitimate consulting company by the name of Forge Consulting. However, this money didn’t go there — it went to FORGE. FORGE was a company Alex Murdaugh created to misappropriate funds.
The Satterfield’s settlement checks were written to FORGE and delivered to Alex, who had conveniently created an account with Bank of America by the name of: R. Alexander Murdaugh d.b.a FORGE.
On paper, it appeared legit, as if Satterfirld’s sons’ settlement money went to Forge Consulting — when in reality it went to Alex.
Alex’s connections allowed him to pull off such wanton embezzlement. He was part of a network of people — an exclusive club encompassing members of law enforcement, lawyers, bankers and others — who helped each other, returned favors, and were willing to look the other way.
Satterfield’s sons eventually sued Alex, who, along with Fleming and an associate, was indicted on charges of conspiring to steal their $4.3 million settlement. The elaborate scheme in which the funds were funneled into Alex’s account involved multiple forged signatures, Murdaugh’s law firm, and Palmetto State Bank.
In subsequent lawsuits, however, Satterfield’s sons recovered $6.5 million. Additionally, investigators announced on September 15, 2021 that a criminal investigation had been opened into Satterfield’s death. Satterfield’s body was exhumed in June 2022, and the investigation into her death is ongoing.
In a May 22, 2022 Confession of Judgment, Alex admitted stealing $4.5M from Satterfield’s family. He maintains he is innocent of all other charges against him.
Paul Murdaugh’s fatal boating accident: February 24, 2019
Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial on criminal charges at the time of his death. On February 24, 2019, Paul crashed his father’s boat near Parris Island in Beaufort, South Carolina, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach, who was a passenger on the boat. Paul, who was also 19 years-old at the time, was indicted on charges of boating under the influence, causing great bodily harm, and causing death in connection to the accident.
Paul had allegedly used his older brother Buster’s ID, along with a credit card belonging to his mother Maggie, to illegally purchase alcohol from a convenience store.
Paul had been boating while drinking with five of his friends — Mallory Beach, Morgan Doughty, Connor Cook, Miley Altman, and Anthony Cook — when they hit a bridge. The friends told authorities they tried to stop Paul from driving, and that they were genuinely frightened out on the water because he was driving the boat so erratically.
The first person Paul called after the accident was his grandfather, Randolph Murdaugh III. Randolph had served as 14th Circuit Solicitor, a role akin to a district attorney, from 1986-2006. He had succeeded his father, Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh Jr., who held the role from 1940-1986. In other words, the family had a lot of pull in Hampton County.
READ MORE: SC v. Alex Murdaugh: Murdaugh Family Murders
Alex and Randolph quickly arrived at the hospital. According to interviews in the HBO docuseries with some of the boat passengers and their parents, Alex and Randolph tried to prohibit Paul from being interviewed by law enforcement at the hospital.
Boat passenger Connor Cook’s parents said Alex called them and tried to convince them that Connor was the one driving the boat. In an effort to create doubt, Alex reportedly told the other passengers not to say who was driving and tried to convince Connor to tell police that he, himself, was driving the boat. Connor eventually told police he couldn’t remember who was driving.
Alex went so far as to recommend an attorney to Connor Cook’s family. Guess who? Cory Fleming. Once the Cooks found out he was a good friend of the Murdaughs, he was fired, but the Cooks said they had a hard time finding an attorney willing to represent them.
Meanwhile, rescue teams searched the water for Mallory for seven days before her body was recovered.
People questioned whether Paul was getting special treatment because of his family’s clout. At his arraignment, Paul pleaded not guilty. He was never cuffed. He did not set foot in a jail cell. His mugshot was taken in the courthouse hall. All unheard of circumstances in a case so serious. Paul was released on $50,000 bond that same day.
Mallory Beach’s family filed a wrongful death suit in March 2019, the month after the accident.
Paul Murdaugh was killed on June 7, 2021, three days before a hearing was scheduled to take place regarding the boat crash civil suit. The criminal charges against Paul that were still pending were formally dropped in August 2021.
Earlier this year, Mallory Beach’s estate reached a settlement agreement with the estate of Maggie Murdaugh and her surviving son, Buster Murdaugh. The Beach family expressed their wishes to put the matter behind them, releasing a statement through their attorney, Mark Brandon Tinsley, who said:
“The Beach family feels very strongly that whatever their faults were, Paul and Maggie didn’t deserve what happened to them. They also feel Buster has suffered enough, so it was important to them to try and get him out of the case.”
A mountain of financial crimes culminates in confrontation: June 7, 2021
The Satterfield settlement money represents just a fraction of the financial crimes Murdaugh stands accused of. Multiple former clients have come forward with claims that Murdaugh stole money from them.
In one instance, Murdaugh and one of his best friends, Chris Wilson, represented a man named Andral Faris in 2021. Faris had been in a car crash in 2015, and Murdaugh and Wilson won a $5.5 million settlement, with $792,000 in attorney fees due to Murdaugh.
The chief financial officer at Murdaugh’s law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED) confronted Alex about the Faris case on June 7, 2021 — the same night Maggie and Paul were gunned down. Prosecutors believe he killed them to deflect attention away from the missing money, give him more time, and gain sympathy.
Alleged botched suicide attempt: September 4, 2021
On September 3, 2021, a check written to Alex by Wilson was found on Alex’s desk, leading to questions about misappropriated legal fees and ultimately Alex’s forced resignation.
The next day, September 4, Alex was shot in the head. Curtis “Eddie” Smith is alleged to have shot Murdaugh in the head in a botched murder-for-hire scheme. In statement to SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division), Murdaugh eventually admitted arranging to have Smith kill him on a rural roadside so that his surviving son, Buster, could collect a $10 million payout on a life insurance policy.
After the shooting, Alex announced he suffered from an opioid addiction and entered rehab.
Alex had once represented Smith in a worker’s compensation case, and Smith is believed to have helped Murdaugh launder money over the years. In addition to the roadside shooting, Smith faces drug trafficking and money laundering charges. At one point, the defense tried to pin the murders of Maggie and Paul on Smith. Smith was subpoenaed to testify as a witness for the prosecution at Alex’s murder trial.
Several of Alex’s past clients have stated that he stole from trust accounts that were set up for them at Palmetto State Bank. The bank’s former president, Russell Laffitte, is an old friend of Alex’s who was convicted late last year of six counts in federal court related to business dealings with Alex.
There are stories of multiple other alleged financial crime victims, all of whom Alex is believed to have zeroed in on because they were either weak, poor, or minorities. He’s accused of preying on injured people who were particularly vulnerable.
Alex is believed to have breached trust by lying not only to his clients but to his co-counsel, his law firm, and clients. According to the indictments, he convinced clients and/or their family members to sign their settlement checks over to him or to write him checks for settlement money that was never delivered. In some cases, Alex is accused of forging clients’ signatures.
Alex is believed to have stolen approximately $10 million from clients both living and dead. To date, Alex is charged with over 90 counts of criminal activity, including the murders of Paul and Maggie. In fact, prior to the murders, Alex was looking at more than 150 years behind bars for the financial crimes alone.
Olympus has fallen
As of today, Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial — a case taking place in the very courthouse where his ancestors prosecuted cases for nearly 100 years — is in full swing.
Speaking in the HBO docuseries, South Carolina South Carolina State Representative Justin Bamberg summed up the circumstances perfectly:
“What was once a bustling dynasty is literally reduced to rubble because of greed, ego, power tripping. Olympus has fallen.”
For more coverage of SC v. Alex Murdaugh, check here: https://www.courttv.com/trending/alex-murdaugh-family-murders/
Field producer Tiffany Smith, documentary producer Emily Kean, and Crime & Justice Correspondent Matt Johnson contributed to this report.