What we know, and don’t know, about the Alex Murdaugh crime saga

Michael M. DeWitt, Jr.

In the months following the 2021 shooting deaths of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, and the death of his father, former 14th Circuit Solicitor Randolph Murdaugh III, South Carolina attorney Richard “Alex” Murdaugh has been repeatedly struck with financial crime indictments, drug charges and civil suits, as he sits jailed in the state capital on a $7 million bond.

Now, the fourth generation legal legacy is an attorney no more, and the Colleton County Grand Jury has charged Alex Murdaugh with 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.

On July 12, Murdaugh was officially disbarred from the practice of law in the Palmetto State by order of the state Supreme Court. The same day, his family members and one of his attorneys said that SLED agents met with them “as a courtesy” to inform them that they intended to charge Alex Murdaugh in connection with the double homicide.

As the public wonders what’s next, here is what we know and don’t know about the Alex Murdaugh case.

Who are the Murdaughs?

For over a century, the Murdaugh name was synonymous with civil law and criminal justice in and around Hampton County. Alex’s great-grandfather, Randolph Murdaugh Sr., founded a personal injury firm that grew into a Lowcountry legal giant, and Alex’s father was the third Randolph Murdaugh to hold the office of 14th Circuit Solicitor in a family tenure that spanned more than 85 years.

Like the generations before him, Alex Murdaugh attended the University of South Carolina law school, played Gamecock football while enjoying hunting, fishing and boating in the scenic Lowcountry, practiced civil law at the family firm, and even worked as a volunteer assistant solicitor under his father. Murdaugh lived a seemingly perfect life of wealth and luxury, dividing his time between the family’s primary estate and its Edisto beach house.

Despite their power, wealth and connections, the Murdaughs were largely unknown outside the realm of their five-county circuit — until Alex’s son, Paul, allegedly crashed his father’s boat in Beaufort County, leaving Mallory Beach, 19, of Hampton dead.

 

A fatal crash involving this boat, owned by Richard "Alex" Murdaugh and allegedly driven by his son, Paul, would spark a series of events that would bring the Murdaugh family into the national spotlight.

Then, as Paul Murdaugh awaited trial on felony boating under the influence charges, the family was propelled into the national spotlight on the night of June 7, 2021, when Alex Murdaugh called 911 to report that Paul and his mother had been shot and killed.

A mother and son of a prominent family lay dead, and for more than a year, no arrests or suspects were officially announced.

What we know about the double homicide

State officials are set to announce criminal charges in the shooting deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, say family members.

  • Maggie, 52, at the time, and Paul, 22, were shot and killed outside their Colleton County estate, commonly called “Moselle” by the family, near Islandton.
  • Alex Murdaugh called 911 at 10:07 p.m. and told operators that he wasn’t home at the time of the killings and came home to find both victims unresponsive and that nothing else looked out of place.
  • The Colleton County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene and immediately notified the State Law Enforcement Division, which took the lead in the investigation.
  • Colleton County Coroner Richard Harvey reported that the victims were found on the ground near the family dog kennels, and both died of multiple gunshot wounds. Harvey placed the time of death between 9 and 9:30 p.m.  Soon after the killings, SLED issues a statement saying that there is no danger to the public.
  • On June 16, eyewitnesses reported to The Hampton County Guardian that SLED agents with SCUBA diving gear were searching the Salkehatchie River roughly two miles from the crime scene. SLED would not confirm if this was related to the homicides.
  • On June 10, a day before the Murdaugh family was set to hold funerals for Paul and Maggie, Randolph III, 81, died of apparent natural causes at his home in Hampton County. In less than a week, the Murdaughs held funerals for three of their own.
  • Members of the Murdaugh family, vilified by some in the public following Beach’s death, appeared on Good Morning America on June 17 pleading for help, stating that Paul had received death threats. “The person who did this is out there,” said Randolph “Randy” Murdaugh IV. “We need help finding who did this… We’re just regular people, and we are hurting just like they would be hurting  if it had happened to them.”
  • The killings prompted international media coverage and a true crime, social media following — as well as numerous rumors and conspiracy theories.
  • On June 25, Alex and his surviving son, “Buster,” offered a $100,000 reward for the killer or killers.
  • On June 23, SLED spokesperson Tommy Crosby released the following statement: “SLED has opened an investigation into the death of Stephen Smith based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.” Smith’s death had controversially been ruled a hit and run in 2015.
  • For more than a year, SLED remained tight-lipped about the case and released little information, which was heavily redacted, as public speculation and interest grew.
  • On July 12, 2022, Alex’s brother, John Marvin Murdaugh, told The Guardian that SLED met with family members that morning as a “courtesy” to announce pending homicide-related charges against Alex, but did not discuss details.
  • On July 14, 2022, the Colleton County Grand Jury charged Alex Murdaugh with 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.

What we don’t know

SLED investigators have released little information and few public records in this high-profile homicide case, so there is much that the public doesn’t know. The USA TODAY Network will continue digging deeper and share more official information as it becomes available.

Did Murdaugh have an accomplice?

While multiple S.C. media outlets have reported two weapons were used in the killings, state police did not discuss additional suspects with the Murdaugh family members or Maggie’s family, the Branstetters. However, it is possible that additional suspects could be indicted later.

What is the motive in these killings?

SLED has announced no motive or suspects, but there are theories abound on social media.

Where will the murder trial be held?

According to a spokesperson for the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, murder trials are generally held in the county where the crime happened unless a judge grants a change of venue. Colleton is one of five counties in the 14th Circuit where Murdaugh’s family were chief prosecutors for more than 85 years. In other high-profile cases, jury pools have been selected from outside of the jurisdiction.

How serious are Murdaugh’s other charges?

Murdaugh is already facing a total of 84 criminal charges, as well as 10 lawsuits in state court and one in federal court. At last tally by the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, if convicted on all charges and sentenced consecutively, those charges add up, in theory, to more than 734 years of prison time. It is unclear, however, what Murdaugh’s actual punishment will be if convicted or if additional charges are to be added.

Will others be charged in connection to Murdaugh’s financial and narcotics cases?

Currently charged along with Murdaugh for financial crimes are suspended attorney Cory Fleming, former banker Russell Laffitte, and a Colleton County man, Curtis Edward Smith. Smith is also charged with Murdaugh in connection with narcotics charges. It is possible that other attorneys and bankers may be charged, and it is even more likely that other drug offenders will be indicted, considering the fact that Murdaugh and Smith are charged with distributing Oxycodone in a “multi-county area.”

What has taken SLED so long to file murder charges?

This isn’t just an isolated criminal case. Murdaugh is connected in some way to two other ongoing homicide investigations by SLED – the 2015 death of Stephen Smith and the 2018 death of Gloria Satterfield – as well as an alleged financial crime spree spanning multiple victims in several counties for more than a decade. SLED is also tasked with investigating serious crimes all around the state, which compounds matters.

I have more questions about Alex Murdaugh

If you have additional questions that our journalists can help answer, please share them with us using the form below. We will continue to update the story with answers to your  questions.

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