Last week, FITSNews filed a bombshell report related to the ongoing saga surrounding the influential Murdaugh family of South Carolina – the existence of an open investigation into the fatal 2019 boat crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, S.C.
Specifically, law enforcement and prosecutorial sources familiar with the situation tell us investigators are actively probing obstruction of justice allegations in the aftermath of the crash — including allegations that could involve R. Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh and possibly other members of his powerful family.
Last week, Alex Murdaugh’s son — 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh — and Alex’s wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh were found shot to death.
Alex Murdaugh called 911 at around 10:07 p.m. EDT to report that he had just discovered the bodies. Police believe Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were killed sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. EDT on June 7 at the family’s 1,700-acre hunting property near Islandton, S.C. (known locally as “Moselle”).
For the latest on that investigation, click here …
Not long thereafter, law enforcement sources who spoke with FITSNews identified Alex Murdaugh as a person of interest in the double homicide. Yesterday, our founding editor Will Folks reported that the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) — the lead investigative agency — was “poring through a variety of digital records and other information” tied to Alex Murdaugh.
Alex Murdaugh was also called in for questioning by SLED agents last Thursday (June 10, 2021).
Attorneys close to the Murdaugh family have said that Alex Murdaugh provided police with an “ironclad” alibi — and insisted he is not a suspect in the murder case.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was facing three felony boating under the influence (BUI) charges in connection with the 2019 crash that killed Beach. Alex Murdaugh and his son Buster Murdaugh — among another defendant — were also staring down a wrongful death suit in connection with their alleged roles in facilitating the tragedy.
News of potential obstruction of justice allegations tied to the boat crash probe broke shortly after the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson declined to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from this news outlet for the case file. In refusing to release the file, Wilson’s office cited an “ongoing investigation.”
Yesterday, The (Hilton Head Island S.C.) Island Packet newspaper — quoting one of Paul Murdaugh’s former criminal attorneys — speculated that the boat crash investigation is still open because it could possibly be related to the recently launched murder inquiry.
After that story was published, though, Mallory Beach’s family lawyer Mark Tinsley — the lead attorney in the civil case — issued a statement related to the ongoing investigation into the boat crash.
“The Beaches have every confidence and are hopeful that the attorney general’s office will continue to investigate and prosecute any improprieties related to any attempts by any member of law enforcement to influence the original criminal investigation related to the boat crash,” Tinsley said. “As such, they support the attorney general’s decision in how they determine to move forward.”
Joseph M. McCulloch — an attorney representing Connor Cook, a boat crash survivor who was badly injured in the crash —also issued a statement on the S.C. Attorney General’s Investigation. He mentioned “the inexplicable disappearance of important evidence” in the investigation.
On February 24, 2019, Paul Murdaugh allegedly crashed a 17-foot center console fishing boat into a piling near the Archer’s Creek bridge just north of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) at Parris Island. He was allegedly “grossly intoxicated” at the time of the crash, according to a police report. Beach’s body was found one week later.
In the aftermath of the Moselle murders, the Beaches have been the subject of some baseless rumors floating around the Lowcountry. In fact, The Island Packet story fueled speculation that Paul Murdaugh may have been a target for murder because of his alleged starring role in the boat crash — a theory the paper advanced last week, which has gained traction with national media outlets.
As of this writing, there is nothing to suggest there is any credence to this theory. In fact, law enforcement and prosecutorial sources familiar with the murder inquiry told FITSNews that the agency has been working overtime this weekend to exclude multiple people in the case — including the four survivors of the 2019 boat crash (as well as Mallory Beach’s family).
According to our sources, all of the boat crash survivors — and Beach’s family members — voluntarily submitted to questioning and volunteered to provide their DNA as a part of the double homicide investigation. A source close to the family also told FITSNews that the Beaches have not been questioned again since providing their statements and DNA.
The Island Packet also incorrectly reported that days before the murders, there was a “lengthy, court-ordered mediation session (that) failed to resolve a civil suit stemming from the boat crash.” That inaccurate reporting landed on a headline in a British tabloid.
So … what was really going on with the civil case at the time of the murders?
As FITSNews first reported last week, a hearing had been set for 9:00 a.m. EDT last Thursday in the civil lawsuit. This week, we found out more on what that hearing was about and how it relates to the investigation.
The Lawsuit …
While Paul Murdaugh was indicted on three felony BUI charges in the aftermath of the boat crash, he was never named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit. Instead, the lawsuit blamed a chain of convenience stores and members of Murdaugh’s influential family – including his father Alex Murdaugh, and brother Richard Alexander (Buster) Murdaugh Jr. – for Beach’s wrongful death. Paul’s grandfather Randolph Murdaugh III — who died last week of cancer — was originally a defendant in the suit then later dropped in 2019.
Mallory Beach’s mother Renee Beach is seeking damages from Parker’s #55 gas station – where the underage Paul Murdaugh allegedly purchased alcohol prior to the crash – as well as from Murdaugh’s brother and father, who facilitated Murdaugh’s drinking, according to the lawsuit.
The focus of the civil suit isn’t simply who is at fault for Mallory’s death, it’s who is at fault for Paul Murdaugh’s alleged intoxication prior to the crash. Was it his father and brother, both of whom are accused of allowing Paul to purchase and drink alcohol illegally on multiple occasions in the past? Or is it Parker’s, a nearly billion-dollar gas station and convenience store company — which is allegedly responsible for selling the underage boaters most of the booze they drank that fateful evening, and whose employees are reportedly pressured to make fast turnarounds at the cash register?
Tinsley said that Thursday’s hearing — which was set to take place in Orangeburg, S.C. — included a number of motions, including:
- Requiring Alex and Buster Murdaugh to fully respond to previous requests for financial documents
- Requiring Parker’s to produce evidence in the case
- Asking a judge to have the case moved to Beaufort County
What does all of that mean for the case — and will there ever be any justice?
Murdaugh’s Financial Documents …
As noted in our previous coverage, the Murdaugh family is an influential institution in the Lowcountry.
Paul Murdaugh’s grandfather, great grandfather, and great-great grandfather all served as solicitors of the 14th judicial circuit from 1920-2006. In addition to their government jobs, the family has owned their well-known law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Elzroth & Detrick (PMPED) for more than 100 years in Hampton County.
In the lawsuit, Beach’s attorney has asked for the following financial documents:
- A list of checking, savings and 401( K) accounts
- A list of all investments
- Net worth statements
- Tax returns
Arguing that the interrogatory is too broad, the Murdaughs have refused to provide these documents after multiple requests from Beach’s attorney.
While the Murdaughs have released very little information in the discovery process, they did release some information about their insurance policies. The Murdaughs have a $500,000 insurance policy for their boat, according to court documents accompanying Tinsley’s motion. In addition, they have two other insurance policies with Philadelphia Indemnity that cap out at $6 million.
In a separate lawsuit, Philadelphia Indemnity is suing Richard Alexander (Alex) Murdaugh and Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr. in federal court. The insurance company filed the suit in 2019 formally denying coverage associated with the boat crash lawsuit.
This request for insurance was the second time in less than two years that Alex Murdaugh has asked an insurance company to cover a death claim.
In December 2018, just a few months before the fatal boat crash, Paul’s father Alex Murdaugh settled a separate wrongful death claim. In that case, 57-year-old Gloria Satterfield died after a “trip and fall” in Hampton county on February 26, 2018, according to a court documents (.pdf).
The documents do not say where the woman fell – or how she knew the Murdaughs – but several sources familiar with the case have said that she was the Murdaughs’ family maid/ housekeeper.
Alex Murdaugh was the only defendant listed in the settlement. In that case, Murdaugh’s insurance provider paid $500,000 for personal liability in a wrongful death and $5,000 for medical payment from the accident, according to court documents.
Fleming’s law firm – where Alex Murdaugh previously worked – received $177,500 of the total sum from Murdaugh’s insurance company, according to the settlement.
‘Judicial Hell Hole’ Hampton County…
In another motion in the case that was supposed to be decided at last week’s hearing, Parker’s attorneys requested a change of venue in the case from from Hampton County – a place that has been called “a judicial hell hole” — back to where it was originally filed in Beaufort County.
A 2004 report by the American Tort Reform Foundation named Hampton County the No. 3 Judicial Hell Hole in the U.S. While this report is dated, many of the problems and the names in the report still exist in Hampton County today and play relevant in the case. Specifically, the report named both the Murdaugh Law Firm and Beach’s lawyer, Mark Tinsley.
For years, South Carolina law allowed plaintiffs to file civil lawsuits against businesses “virtually in any county in the state” – specifically wherever the corporate defendant does business or owns property.
Because of Hampton County’s longtime reputation of siding with plaintiffs and rewarding unusually high for damages, a large amount of plaintiffs went to Hampton County to file their lawsuits, the report said.
In one year, more than 67 percent of the county’s lawsuits were filed by residents from other counties and 41 percent of the cases involved incidents that didn’t occur in Hampton County, the report said.
SIGN UP TODAY …
According to the report, one law firm “brings a majority of the major suits in Hampton County,” – PMPED.
The report also claimed the “litigation climate” hurt the economy in Hampton county by scaring away businesses. In the early 2000s, Walmart considered opening a store in Hampton county but decided against it after “a lawyer reportedly warned company executives that locating a store there could place the retailer’s entire South Carolina operation at risk.”
Hampton remains one of the few counties in South Carolina without a Walmart. It is also one of the poorest counties in the Palmetto State with a medium household income of just $32,147 per year – and is home to a declining population.
Multiple other pending motions in the case involve Parker’s – a billion-dollar gas station company that has refused to settle in the case.
According to court documents, Paul Murdaugh used his older brother’s ID at a Parker’s gas station a few miles away to buy $48 worth of booze, which he drank in the hours leading up to Mallory Beach’s death.
In depositions, other boaters described Paul as an aggressive drunk who refused to allow anyone else to drive the boat that night, despite his increasing levels of intoxication.
Parker’s recent filings — including depositions that paint Paul Murdaugh as a violent drunk on the night of the tragedy — appear intended to deflect the public’s attention away from Parker’s culpability.
Parker’s lawyers have argued that they are being targeted because of the company’s deep pockets.
In another motion that was supposed to be decided by a judge Thursday, Mitchell Griffith, Kelly Dean and Paul Gibson asked to allow the Beach case to be tried using the standards of maritime law.
Why does that matter?
In a filing last fall, Parker’s indicated it wished for a jury to be able to apportion fault to Paul Murdaugh without him being an actual defendant. According to the filing, Mallory Beach’s fatal injuries were caused by other “tortfeasors” (a.k.a. people who committed wrongdoing) — individuals who were not named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Thursday’s hearing could have meant that Paul and Maggie would be added to the lawsuit.
In another pending motion, Beach’s attorney has accused Parker’s of withholding evidence in the discovery process, thus stalling the case.
Meanwhile, Parker’s has claimed in court documents that Mallory Beach was negligent in her own death and should share some responsibility.
“(Mallory Beach) with knowledge of the risk, voluntarily exposed herself to and assumed the risk of injury,” Parker’s attorneys argued.
DON’T MISS A STORY …
In contrast to that assertion, several boaters have said in depositions that Mallory Beach was scared before the crash — and that she and others tried to get Paul to allow her boyfriend Anthony Cook to drive the boat instead.
“Anthony and Paul were fighting because Mallory was telling Anthony that she was scared and Paul said something to Mallory, like, ‘shut up’ and Anthony didn’t like that,” one of the boaters said.
In another pending motion, a judge will decide on a motion from Beach’s attorney asking to depose Greg Parker, chief executive officer of Parker’s. Parker, incidentally, was scheduled to speak at a tort reform summit with state lawmakers in Columbia, South Carolina this week.
The lawsuit will move forward, despite the double-homicide. Tinsley said that the court canceled Thursday’s hearing, but has not yet rescheduled it.
Boat Crash Investigation …
In the hours after Paul Murdaugh crashed his father’s boat near the Archer’s Creek bridge just outside of Parris Island, S.C. on February 24, 2019, there was already speculation that the investigation into the crash was being bungled and detectives on the scene — and influenced by Paul’s powerful family.
“In the day following the crash, the investigation was not properly handled,” Tinsley told FITSNews.
Sources told FITSNews last week that there is “credible evidence” that obstruction of justice occurred in the investigation.
Officials at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the lead investigating agency in the crash, have repeatedly said that confusion in determining who was driving delayed the investigation from the get-go. As a result, it took prosecutors almost two months to charge Paul with three felony boating under the influence (BUI) charges in connection with the fatal crash.
Last year, FITSNews obtained documents showing that two of the responding deputies on the night of the crash had ties to the Murdaugh family’s law firm. Adding to the speculation, the only Beaufort county sheriff’s deputy who identified Paul as the driver of the boat that crashed – Steven Domino – was later fired from his job for drug use.
Paul Murdaugh was not administered a field sobriety test at the scene — a move that was highly criticized by the public. Murdaugh — who was 19 years old at the time of the crash — was charged on April 18, 2019, which would have been Mallory Beach’s 20th birthday.
Paul pleaded not guilty to all three charges. At his hearing in July 2019, he was released on bond — which was later modified to allow him to move across the state of South Carolina without an alcohol or GPS monitor. He never served any time in jail for the crash.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].