It’s been more than two months since the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) opened its investigation into the death of Stephen Smith “based on information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.”
In the weeks following that announcement, Stephen Smith‘s case caught the attention of reporters across the country. National media parachuted into Hampton to try to interview Stephen’s mother Sandy Smith.
“The media just wants a story,” Sandy Smith told FITSNews, referring to invasive national news outlets. “I just want justice.”
SLED has not updated the public on their investigation into Stephen Smith’s death.
While we wait for SLED to release more information on the investigation, FITSNews has taken a deep dive into the 2015 investigation files.
Like the probe of the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach, the 2015 investigation into Smith’s death was chaotic from the beginning — derailed by jurisdictional obscurity and suspicions of investigative interference.
Before SLED opened its case, the South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) was the agency assigned to investigate Stephen’s death.
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Evidence from the scene
- Smith was found dead just before 4:00 a.m. on July 8, 2015 in the middle of Sandy Run Road in Hampton County, South Carolina.
- No tire marks or no debris from a vehicle found on scene after several searches.
- Stephen’s loosely tied shoes were on his feet when he was found dead in the middle of the road.
- His car was found three miles away on Bamberg Highway with the gas cap off
- Chain of custody apparently was broken when Stephen’s clothes were left unattended at the funeral home.
- Stephen’s head was bruised and misshapen by blunt force. His shoulder was partially dislocated, and had no other major injuries.
Dispute about the hit-and-run theory
- Investigators on scene July 8, 2015 went back and forth between a gunshot homicide and hit and run accident
- South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) officers were told it wasn’t a vehicular accident they didn’t have to be at the autopsy
- At the autopsy, MUSC pathologist Dr. Erin Presnell ruled that Stephen was killed in a hit-and-run crash.
- Two SCHP investigators who spoke with Presnell described hostile experiences with the pathologist and couldn’t get a direct answer for why she ruled Stephen’s death a vehicle accident.
- The coroner said he didn’t believe Stephen’s death was a hit and run.
- The case was given to SCHP (until 2021, when SLED opened an investigation)
In part three, we look into the interviews conducted in the investigation between September and December 2015. The Murdaugh name is mentioned more than 40 times in the investigation. In part 4, we’ll show you what happened before the case went cold.
Editor’s Note: The timeline below is an outline of an investigation shared for the purpose of full disclosure as the case is getting attention from sleuths across the country. The grammar, spelling, etc. is not perfect, but the information is straight from the 100+ page case file (unless mentioned otherwise). Many of the names have been changed due to the sensitivity of this case. Some of the quotes have been paraphrased. You’ll be able to listen to the interviews below during episode 8 of the Murdaugh Murders Podcast.
SCHP: After investigator Todd Proctor ended his interview with ‘Kevin,’ he calls ‘Jack.’ Jack was facing two separate lawsuits from the Murdaugh law firm at the time of this interview. Jack was previously interviewed in August 2015. He is the only person to be interviewed twice in this investigation.
- Proctor: I met with (Kevin) this morning, I’m sure you’re aware, he kinda told me his side of it, and I gotta keep working this rumor backwards if its rumors or truth whatever it may be. Tell me the version of the story you heard.
- Jack: I was with friends one night and out of the blue with my friend (“Monica”) said that — we already knew he got hit or whatever but we didn’t know who did it. We just heard Buster did it. Everybody knows who Buster is and his family and all that.. and it was kinda shocking and all that. And I guess we kept talking about it and spreading it around.
- Jack: (Monica) told me this. She’s my classmate. She was like ‘you won’t believe who did it. And she said his name and I was like really?’
- She heard it from ‘Kayla,” whose father works in law enforcement.
- Proctor: The story I got is that Buster and one or two other people were driving around and saw Stephen’s car. Loooped around. Saw him in the road. Struck something outside of the vehicle and it hit him. Is that the story you heard?
- Jack: Yes.
- Proctor: Like I told (Kevin) this morning, Buster Murdaugh was on our radar long before we ever got this information I’m calling you about now. It’s not like somebody is going to say (Kevin) or (Jack) are the ones that put it on Buster. My office is out of Charleston. I don’t work around Hampton. I know the Murdaughs are high falooting and some people say have a lot of power. That name doesn’t mean anything to me. My job is to find out… you don’t have to agree with Stephen’s lifestyle, but that don’t mean he gets to be killed and nobody gets to find out that happened.
- Jack: He was a cool person, honestly. We were all in class with him. It was shocking.
- Proctor: He didn’t get hit by no car. I’m not saying someone murdered him. But if it was somebody playing around and it got out of control, the problem is when you lie and cover it up. You know Stephen’s story deserves to be told.
- If you want to call (Monica) and give her a head’s up
Proctor calls Monica. She doesn’t answer.
1:15 p.m. SCHOP: Proctor calls Kayla.
- When asked what she heard about the Stephen Smith’s death, she said she heard “one of my classmates did it.”
- Proctor: Who is that?
- Kayla: Buster Murdaugh.
- Proctor: I’ll be honest with you, Buster Murdaugh has been on our radar long before this.
- Proctor then asks if she heard this rumor from her father who is in law enforcement.
- Kayla: No sir.
- Proctor: “I’ve talked with quite a few people down there and you have less to worry about since your daddy is a (law enforcement officer). A lot of people seem nervous to say the name Murdaugh. I understand they’re pretty big down in Hampton but I’m in Charleston and that name doesn’t mean anything to me so I want you to understand that.
- Kayla said she heard the rumor from another guy “Issac”
- Kayla tells him she doesn’t know how Isaac knows about this, but he said that they beat Stephen up and threw him out of a truck.
- Kayla tells Proctor that she didn’t know of any enemies.
- Proctor: Everybody knew Stephen’s lifestyle, but nobody really had issue with it. It doesn’t sound like Buster had issues with him. It doesn’t make sense.”
- Proctor: Regardless if you liked Stephen or agreed to his lifestyle, somebody killed him. His story deserves to be told. That’s what I’m trying to get to the bottom of.
- Proctor then asked Kayla about Buster’s friend “Cameron”
- Kayla says she’s hung out with Cameron from time to time.
- Proctor: My understanding is that Buster is really good friends with Cameron. Any knowledge of why his name keeps coming up?
- Kayla: No sir.
- Proctor then asked Kayla to tell him where she can find Issac. He said that he worked at (specific) fast food restaurant in Hampton County.
- Proctor: “You’re the 9th person I’ve talked to about this, so hopefully people start talking.
- Kayla then gave him “Mia’s” number.
- He tells her that he was down in Hampton yesterday. “I tried to stir up some dust yesterday and get some people talking … hopefully some people are going to start talking”
- Interview ends at 2:22 p.m
4:15 p.m. SCHP: Proctor Calls Mia
- The beginning of the interview is hard to hear. It sounds like she heard of another rumor involving a man stalking another man at a fast food restaurant. Proctor does not ask follow up questions about this rumor.
- Proctor: ”The information that was first given to me was that Buster Murdaugh and one or two other people out that night and saw Stephen’s car and they went down a road and saw him walking and held something or swung something out of a car and accidentally hit him. Does any of that sound familiar?
- Mia: I’ve heard something about Buster but I didn’t remember..
- Proctor: “I’m out of Charleston. I’m not from Hampton. But I know the Murdaugh name in Hampton is pretty big. But as far as I’m concerned I couldn’t give two craps about the Murdaughs. But what I’m seeing is a lot of people seem hesitant to talk to the Murdaughs or Buster. Do you kinda see that?”
- Mia: When we were speaking about it, someone told me it was Buster. They were saying nothing would be done about it because who he was.
- Proctor: But that’s the problem. I don’t care about Buster. I’m not a local police officer in Hampton.I don’t care about the last name Murdaugh. I’m not saying I’m going to put it on Buster. But if he did something do with it, it needs to come out. The thing about it is….We all know Stephen lived a different lifestyle. But it seems to me like no one really took issue to that. He seemed like the kind of guy everyone got along with him. It seemed like no one really had issues with him.
- Mia agrees.
- Proctor: Someone had a part to play in his death. He wasn’t hit by a car. Something else happened. The unfortunate part is…My job is to tell Stephen’s story because he can’t.
- Proctor: The Murdaughs, as big and powerful and whatever and rich as everyone thinks they are. They’re going to go on living their lives like nothing (happened). So they can play that card like they care about everyone else. No they don’t…. They care about protecting themselves.
- Proctor: If Buster had something to do with it. I’d like to be able to prove that. But the information that I’m getting it’s kinda.. It started out strong because I had an individual who really stepped out against the Murdaughs and was willing to talk and it seems as I keep continuing on and talking to other people it’s getting watered down a good bit.
- Proctor then asks if Mia has Isaac’s number and she gives it to him.
- Proctor: I’d like to get in touch with (Issac) of where he got this information how Buster was involved. I’ve talked to several different people and I’ve encouraged people not to hide anything. If you’re friends with Isaac, let him know that I’m going to be in touch with him. None of y’all are in any kind of trouble. I need someone to give me solid information aside from what the Murdaughs are saying.
- Proctor: I’m trying to track down, you are now the 10th person I’ve talked to in reference to this one rumor. It had to start somewhere. If you say you heard it from (Isaac), eventually I’m going to get to the source. I was in Hampton yesterday and stirred up some dust. If you hear anything if you have my number, please give me a call.
There is no record of Proctor ever calling Issac. According to the investigation file, the Highway Patrol didn’t touch the case between September 2, 2015 and late October.
SCHP: Proctor calls Buster Murdaugh. Note says “didn’t answer, voicemail full.” Proctor then emails him. There is no audio recording of this phone call, like when he called Monica. This is the only time in the investigation Highway Patrol attempted to talk to Buster.
12:23 p.m. SCHP: Sandy Smith calls Duncan wanting to know if any of the interviews have led to new information. There are no other notes about this phone call.
SCHP: Sandy Smith calls and tells Duncan that she heard on the radio that an arrest had been or will be made in her son’s death.
November, 19, 2015
- SCHP: Proctor contacts the radio station to find out “if this was true and maybe who called saying it”
- 3:30 p.m. SCHP: Proctor interviews a host from the radio station
- Host: “Stephen Smith doesn’t ring a bell to me.. I’m trying to think. I’m on the talk show, so I’m just trying to think” when Proctor asks Gooding about someone calling in on the case saying their way a rest.
- Host: Oh that little fellow that they called it a hit and run and someone said he was out of gas? Someone called in yesterday and asked if there was an arrest in the case and said they were investigating a prominent family or something like that.”
- Host: I know it was a white male. I’d be lying if I knew who called.
- The radio host said people call in all the time and talk about arrests and rumors.
- Proctor asks him about rumors.
- Host: “I don’t know if it’s true or not, somebody told me… a good friend of mine’s son… the Murdaugh kid down in Hampton” and that was yesterday. You gotta understand… that’s Hampton and that’s just a rumor….Street committee.
- Host: “I heard yesterday, like I say street talk, someone said … there are a thousand rumors flying about this. Like I said, it’s a prominent family Hampton County and I’m sure people don’t like them. I mean they’re friends of mine, but I’m sure people don’t like them and will take any shot they can at them.
- The host asks if the MAIT team is investigating the case.
- Proctor: Nobody has been arrested at this point.
Hampton County Guardian: Story by Matt Popovich called “Mother of slain HC states possible ‘hate’ crime” about Stephen’s death is published.
Sandy Smith told the Guardian she heard “rumors about an older man stalking him,” but she’s heard other rumors she “believes more.”
“She reiterated, several times, her opinion that her son was killed, for being gay, by several local Hampton County youths from prestigious families which she believes have sworn to protect their children, no matter what heinous crime they committed,” Popovich wrote.
Sandy would not give the reporter names, but said she believed that Stephen would not have been walking on Sandy Run Road in the middle of the night. She didn’t buy the hit-and-run theory at all. She said boys, some of whom were Stephen’s classmates, were coming home from a baseball game and “they took him from his car.”
“I hear the same story but from different people. Everybody knows what happened to my son, but nobody wants to tell me who is responsible,” she said.
Editor’s Note: The names in the sections below have not been changed because they’ve already been published by other media.
- SCHP: Duncan receives an anonymous tip: “Dontereo Aiken along with another black male and a white male (Murdaugh) are the ones involved in death”
- SCHP: Duncan contacts Rowell and briefs him on the tip. Duncan sends an email to three other SCHP troopers (not Todd Proctor) “about what I wanted L/CPL Rowell to do”
- SCHP: Duncan sends information to Proctor “and advised him about situation”
SCHP: Proctor receives information from Duncan about Darrell Williams, who says his stepson Patrick Wilson told him that Shawn Connelly “struck and killed Stephen Smith.” Proctor notes:
- Williams said his stepson told him this in confidence. He said Wilson had moved out and he did not know where he was staying
- Williams said he could only tell Proctor that Wilson attended some Christian school in Ridgeland
- Proctor drives to Ridgeland and goes to the Step of Faith School, but Wilson does not go there
- Proctor then goes to Legacy Euhaw Baptist Church School. Wilson is a student but not at school that day
- Williams doesn’t return Proctors calls seeking more information
- “Mr. Williams stated that the reason that he was passing this information on was because Randy Murdaugh told him to call,” Proctor wrote in his report.
- This conversation was not recorded.
3:25 p.m. SCHP: Duncan interviews Nick Ginn of the Hampton Police Department in reference to “a tip that came in from an email from Sgt. Burns”
- Duncan says he’s calling Ginn at a phone number, which Duncan says is the Hampton Police Department
- When FITSNews looked up the phone number written in the report and stated in the recording, the number is for a local law firm (not the Murdaugh law firm). The Hampton Police Department is a completely different phone number.
- When Ginn picks up the phone he says “Sgt. Ginn” as if picking up the phone in his own office
- When Duncan asks Ginn whether he has time to talk about the Hampton Co. case, Ginn tells him he’s at somebody else’s desk and needs to put him on hold to get a piece of paper “in case” he needs to “take notes”
- Ginn returns after some delay. “Some of our phones have ‘line 1,’ some of them don’t”
- Darrell is Ginn’s stepdad
- What was told to Ginn from Darrell: Patrick Wilson said Shawn Connelly was drunk and hit something. He came back the next day and said saw cops and learned through the media somebody had been killed. He said Shawn called Patrick crying. Shawn called Patrick crying saying that’s what happened
- Patrick cried as he told his stepfather the story and walked outside and threw up, Ginn said. They wondered if Patrick was with him.
- Duncan: Did he describe what happened?
- Ginn: Supposedly It was the mirror, I sent Nick the pictures of the truck he was driving that night. I want to say I sent everything to Mitch Altman (of SCHP). Him and my brother and me are good friends and I didn’t know who to contact. Mitch said he would get that information to the right person.
- Darrell told Ginn he was concerned and somebody lost a son.
- Duncan says they got this tip on Dec. 9, 2015, and “we got a couple people out looking for Patrick”
- Duncan asks him whether he had heard about this incident before. Ginn says he heard some rumors around town but “as far as anything that I could say would have any kind of possible validity would be this
- Duncan: What do you feel about Patrick?
- Ginn says he thinks he’s a “good-hearted person” but he’s “shady”
- Duncan: Does Patrick have a criminal record?
- Ginn: I think he was charged with attempted murder, but I’m not exactly sure what the circumstances behind that was. But I think it was one of those things they charged with a higher charge to work their way down (scroll down to see The Patrick Wilson case for more details).
According to the investigation file, the Highway Patrol never contacted Patrick Wilson or Shawn Connelly.
The following information was discovered by FITSNews in its investigation of the Stephen Smith case. The Highway Patrol did not appear to look into Wilson’s charges at all.
Wilson was charged with first-degree assault and battery and attempted murder on April 17, 2015.
According to the arrest warrants in the case, Wilson got into an argument with a man and fired a shot at the man’s car that had two passengers inside.
The incident happened on Prince William Road in Brunson, South Carolina.
“All victims were afraid for their lives,” the arrest warrants say.
Shawn Connelly — the person who Wilson claimed hit Stephen with his truck — was in the car with Wilson when the shooting occurred, according to his witness statement. Connelly told police that Patrick Wilson grabbed his gun and shot at the sign after he argued with a man.
The Hampton County Grand Jury indicted Wilson on attempted murder and assault and battery in August 2015.
While Wilson was out on bond, the family he allegedly shot at filed several harassment complaints about Wilson.
Cory Fleming — a close friend of the Murdaugh family — represented Patrick Wilson in the case. In 2018, Fleming represented Gloria Satterfield‘s family in a wrongful death settlement against Alex Murdaugh. In 2019, Fleming temporarily represented Connor Cook in the boat crash that killed Mallory Beach.
In February 2018, Wilson’s indictment was nolle prossed — which means the 14th circuit solicitor’s office (where Alex Murdaugh worked as a part-time solicitor) decided to not prosecute and the charges were dropped.
Editor’s Note: The accusations in the interviews above were never proven. We are just simply showing the inquires of the investigation.
Stay tuned for part 4…
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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