Hit-and-run to homicide: A timeline of the Stephen Smith investigation

Posted at 12:11 PM, March 28, 2023 and last updated 3:51 PM, May 2, 2023


HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (Court TV) — The investigation into Stephen Smith‘s death has spanned nearly eight years. Documents newly released by the Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation (MAIT) as well as the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) are giving a clearer idea of the timeline of events in the investigation.

Stephen Smith selfie

This undated photo provided by Sandy Smith shows Stephen Smith, a South Carolina teen whose body was found on a road in 2015. (Sandy Smith)

July 8, 2015

  • 3:59 a.m. First 911 call is placed to dispatchers saying there is a body on Sandy Run Road.
  • 4:40 a.m. First officers arrive on the scene and find a body.
  • 5:15 a.m. South Carolina Highway Patrol officers arrive at the scene. The body is identified as Stephen Smith.
  • 6 a.m. SCHP corporal calls from the scene to report that the victim appeared to have a gunshot wound to the head. SLED was called to assist in the investigation.
  • 8:25 a.m. SLED officers arrive at the scene.
  • 9:18 a.m. SLED agents release and clear scene.
  • 9:20 a.m. SLED officers respond to Smith’s car, approximately three miles away from where his body was found. Officers described the car as having its gas cap hanging on the side, and though the battery was functional, the vehicle would not start. Smith’s wallet was found inside the car.
  • 111:29 a.m. Autopsy is performed on Smith’s body, including a gunshot residue test.
  • 6:14 p.m. SCHP detectives are notified that there was no bullet wound, according to the autopsy of Stephen Smith’s body.
  • Police create and distribute a flyer soliciting information on the incident.
  • SLED informs SCHP and the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office that their personnel are not needed at the autopsy.

July 9, 2015

  • Detectives view Smith’s body at Rhoden Funeral Home, where they take photos.
  • Officers who inspect Smith’s body note that he had “no visible injuries…other than his head wound and a small amount of road rash on both arms. He had no broken bones and no injuries whatsoever on his torso or lower extremities.”
  • Officers attempt to reach the 911 caller.
  • Officers return to the scene and document their findings.
  • SCHP officers meet with deputies from the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office to share information and receive Smith’s phone.
  • Detectives interview Smith’s family, who say Stephen would not have been walking in the road.
diagram shows body's position in a road

A diagram from the investigation into Stephen Smith’s death shows how the victim was found in the road. (MAIT)

July 10, 2015

  • Smith’s clothes and iPhone are sent to SLED

July 13, 2015

  • Detectives interview 911 caller via phone. He tells investigators that he initially believed there was an animal in the road, but as he got closer he saw it was “a white guy” laying in the road.

July 14, 2015

  • SCHP detectives photograph Smith’s car at the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office impound. The gas cap was unscrewed and hanging outside of the car.
  • Detectives contact Smith’s then-boyfriend and interview him. He tells investigators that he believes foul play is involved.
  • SCHP officers request and receive Smith’s laptop and iPad from his family.
  • Smith’s family tell police he had been using at least one alias, “Noah Rivers,” in chatrooms.

July 17, 2015

  • Detectives interview Smith’s sister, who described her brother as becoming “very secretive,” approximately two weeks before his death.
  • Detectives interview Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, who confirmed Stephen had been “more secretive lately.”

July 21, 2015

  • SLED detectives report they are still unable to unlock Smith’s iPhone.

July 22, 2015

  • Detectives meet with a pathologist who ruled Smith’s death was the result of being struck by a motor vehicle. The doctor, when pressed by detectives about how she made the ruling, said that she did so because he had been found in the road.
  • In his notes, a detective who met with the pathologist said that as he was leaving the doctor told him that her report was preliminary and that it was the detective’s job to figure out what had hit Smith, not the pathologist’s.

July 28, 2015

  • Officers review data retrieved from Smith’s iPad.

August 3, 2015

  • SCHP officers make arrangements to take Smith’s iPhone from SLED, because Sandy Smith believed her fingerprint may be authorized to unlock the device.

August 4, 2015

  • Officers meet with Sandy Smith, who was unable to unlock her son’s iPhone.
Google map shows distance from Stephen Smith's car to his body

A map in the investigative file shows the proximity of Stephen Smith’s body to where his car was found. (MAIT)

August 5, 2015

  • Stephen’s iPad is returned to Sandy Smith.

August 6, 2015

  • Sandy Smith contacts police to say she visited the scene and found a footprint approximately 200 feet down from where her son’s body was found.

August 7, 2015

  • Smith’s mother gave detectives the name of a person who claimed to have heard rumors about a potential relationship between Stephen Smith and Buster Murdaugh.

August 18, 2015

  • The coroner told detectives he did not agree with the pathologist’s finding that Smith’s death was caused by a motor vehicle, and that the pathologist who made the ruling had since been fired from the office.

August 26, 2015

  • Detectives speak with a person referred by Sandy Smith, who claims that a green Jeep had been following Stephen on or before the day he died.

September 2, 2015

  • SLED report references gunshot residue test performed on Stephen Smith’s body

    Evidence sheet detailing receipt of clothing and GSR kit

    A document from MAIT’s investigative report shows a gun shot residue test was performed on Smith’s body. (MAIT)

December 7, 2015

  • SCHP receives an anonymous email that says Buster Murdaugh and two others were involved in Smith’s death.

June 7, 2021

June 22, 2021

July 14, 2022

March 2, 2023

  • Alex Murdaugh is convicted of murdering Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.

March 3, 2023

March 9, 2023

March 20, 2023

March 22, 2023