The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has opened an investigation into the death of Stephen Smith, SLED spokesperson Tommy Crosby told FITSNews Tuesday.
Sandy Smith told FITSNews that SLED agents visited her home Tuesday to tell her the big news — her son’s case was finally going to be looked at with fresh eyes. She said that the SLED Midlands team will be conducting the investigation.
“I’ve been waiting on this day for 2174 days,” Sandy told FITSNews. “Thank you, God!”
Crosby said SLED opened the investigation “based on information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.”
Days after the shocking double homicide of Paul Murdaugh and his mother Maggie Murdaugh on June 7, FITSNews published an exclusive report about three other deaths that have connections to the powerful South Carolina family.
One of those cases was Stephen Smith — a 19-year-old man from Hampton, S.C. who was found dead in the middle of Sandy Run Road on July 8, 2015. Investigators with the S.C. Highway Patrol (SCHP) received multiple tips in the aftermath of Smith’s death linking his untimely demise to the Murdaugh family.
SLED officials did not say if they were investigating Stephen’s case as a homicide. Officials did not provide any details about what information in the double homicide investigation led them to open Smith’s case.
SLED is the same agency in charge of the high-profile Murdaugh murders investigation.
Officially, Smith’s death was classified as a hit and run, which is why it was being handled by SCHP. Now, law enforcement officials are questioning that decision as SLED takes over the case.
Last week, FITSNews exclusively reported that SLED asked Sandy Smith to be interviewed in the Murdaugh Murders investigation. Sandy told FITSNews she was devastated to hear that she and her family were being viewed as possible persons of interest in the Murdaugh murders June 7.
SLED is continuing to cast a wide net as it looks to exclude individuals in connection with the double homicide that took place at the Murdaugh’s 1,700-acre hunting property located near Islandton, S.C. on the evening of June 7, 2021.
SLED’s inquiry into the Smith family does not mean its agents believe they had anything to do with the deaths of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh. SLED is simply looking at anyone who may have had a possible motive in the case.
For years, Sandy has been begging law enforcement officials to open an investigation into her son’s unsolved death.
Now, she’s hopeful that this new investigation will shed light on what really happened to her son.
Unfortunately, today’s news still leaves us with so many questions.
How are the two cases related?
Why did the case go cold?
Why did SCHP have the case for so long?
Who killed Stephen Smith?
What Happened to Stephen Smith?
Like the probe of the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach, the 2015 investigation into Smith’s death was chaotic from the beginning — clouded by jurisdictional confusion and suspicions of investigative interference.
Smith was found dead just before 4:00 a.m. EDT on July 8, 2015.
Crime scene photos obtained by FITSNews are horrific — Stephen’s entire face was covered in blood that cascaded from a 7.25-inch gaping hole on the right side of his forehead. His head was misshapen by blunt force.
Someone just left him in the middle of the road to die …
Stephen’s massive head wound — along with the lack of other significant injuries on his body — stumped investigators on scene. His right shoulder was partially dislocated. Cuts and bruises dotted his right hand. His loosely tied shoes were still on and his clothes appeared untouched. His phone and keys were still in his pocket.
Investigators found Smith’s car three miles away on the side of Bamberg Highway. His wallet was inside his car. SCHP detectives noted the car’s gas cap was unscrewed and hanging outside of the gas cap door.
Law enforcement officers believed Smith ran out of gas and started walking home before he was killed.
Officials couldn’t nail down a cause or manner of death. At first, they thought it was a hit and run. Then, the coroner ruled the death a shooting homicide — forcing investigators to search the rural road carved between a tree line and a corn field.
In their search, investigators from SCHP, the Hampton County sheriff’s office, and SLED found virtually no evidence — no bullets, no gunshot residue, no tire marks, no debris from a vehicle.
Hours later, a pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) — Dr. Erin Presnell — ruled that Stephen was killed in a hit-and-run accident, a decision which was met with confusion and skepticism by investigators and those who knew Stephen.
Investigators theorized that the mirror of a semi-truck hit Stephen’s head.
Stephen’s friends and family also disputed the autopsy report. Stephen was sharp and hyper-aware of his surroundings.A toxicology report showed that Stephen was completely sober at the time of his death.
“Stephen was not stupid,” Stephen’s friend told FITSNews. “There is no way that would happen to him. He would not let a car, let alone a truck, get close enough to hit him. That did not happen to my friend. He doesn’t deserve that. He doesn’t deserve people to think that.”
In his hometown of Hampton, Stephen was beloved. He was an openly gay young man a small town, which wasn’t easy, but he made the best of it, his friends told FITSNews. He was bright and determined to make a better life for himself. He was in school for nursing at the time of his death.
According to SCHP documents, detectives were pursuing Paul Murdaugh and his brother Buster Murdaugh as possible persons of interest in the case.
To be fair, police appeared to be pursuing other persons of interest as well and never named anyone as a suspect.
According to the investigation file, Buster was rumored to have been linked to Stephen — intimately — but detectives never proved this connection. It’s also unclear if the MAIT team ever examined Stephen’s phone, which was tossed between agencies before it was finally unlocked by the FBI several years after his death.
The Murdaugh name was mentioned at least 40 times throughout the course of the investigation.
In the file, SCHP detective Todd Proctor was clear in his reports that he didn’t believe Stephen’s death was a hit-and-run.
“We’re not classifying this as anything other than a murder,” Proctor said in an audio recording.
But months after Proctor made that statement in the investigation, Stephen’s case went cold — until now.
SLED did not say what took so long for them to get the case from SCHP.
Sandy Smith is just glad they’re finally doing the right thing.
“I just can’t believe it,” she told FITSNews.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning 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 story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].
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