Even before the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ true crime saga went completely off the rails last week, it was already being billed as the sort of made-for-television mystery someone like John Grisham couldn’t concoct on his most creative day.
The story has it all: A wealthy and powerful family. A violent, unsolved crime. Multiple ancillary mysteries. All interconnected … all set against the beautiful, balmy backdrop of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, a historic, picturesque locale which evokes visions of colonial America as well as the antebellum south.
Not surprisingly, interest in the story was already off the charts. And that was before the central figure in this unspooling narrative – prominent Palmetto State attorney R. Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh – endured a Labor Day weekend meltdown of Biblical proportions. Murdaugh’s weekend featured a roadside shooting, admissions of opioid addiction, a helicopter flight to the hospital, a subsequent trip to rehab, rumors of multiple mistresses … oh, and the suspension of his law license after partners at his firm accused him of stealing more than $10 million from their coffers.
With this story (obviously) jumping to a much higher energy level, is it any wonder the Hollywood vultures are circling?
As the dust settles from last weekend’s dramatic revelations, what’s next for this confounding narrative?
Where is this story going?
I have been advised by all of my sources – including police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and friends of the Murdaugh family – to continue “expecting the unexpected” in the days and weeks to come. Really? Because at this point, I literally wouldn’t be surprised if aliens were involved in this narrative.
Seriously, though … is there anything to be gleaned from the pieces of the puzzle currently sitting on the table? And are there any questions in need of asking which might move us closer to the truth?
And closer to securing justice for those who deserve it?
First, a backgrounder: For those of you just wrapping your brains around this Shakespearean saga, the Murdaughs are (or were) one of the most powerful families in South Carolina. From 1920-2006, three generations of Murdaughs served as solicitor (or district attorney) for a five-county region in the southernmost portion of the Palmetto State – controlling the levers of justice in Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.
“Nobody in any of those counties got elected or appointed without the Murdaughs approval,” a source close to the family told me over the weekend.
And no one got charged – or cleared – without the Murdaughs’ signing off.
Cops, coroners, judges, prosecutors, politicians … all paid obeisance to this family (and many of them were allegedly paid by the family and its powerful allies).
In addition to their positions of public trust, three members of the Murdaugh family were longtime attorneys at the prestigious Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED) law firm. PMPED made a fortune over the last few decades trying cases in Hampton county – a so-called “judicial hellhole” where local juries friendly to the firm regularly doled out huge verdicts against corporate defendants (earning huge paydays for the firm).
For decades, the Murdaugh family (and firm) operated with impunity – imposing its will over its Lowcountry fiefdom with ruthless efficiency. The family also operated in relative anonymity, at least to those residing outside of the S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit.
All of that changed, however, in the early morning hours of February 24, 2019. Shortly after 2:00 a.m. EST that morning, then-20-year-old Paul Murdaugh – Alex Murdaugh’s youngest son – allegedly slammed his father’s 17-foot center console fishing boat into the piling of a Beaufort county, S.C. bridge. That crash claimed the life of 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, S.C. and injured several others.
It did more than that, though. The collision ripped to shreds the shroud of secrecy cloaking this family and its shadowy network – which are tied to at least two previous suspicious deaths.
Paul Murdaugh was allegedly “grossly intoxicated” at the moment of impact – and was charged with multiple counts of boating under the influence in the aftermath of the fatal collision. Meanwhile, his family members are at the heart of an ongoing obstruction of justice investigation for their alleged efforts to conceal the facts of this case from law enforcement.
Simply put, the boat crash thrust the Murdaughs into the statewide spotlight – and not in a good way. Additionally, a wrongful death case (one in which Alex Murdaugh was named as a defendant) thrust both the family and the law firm into a potentially combustible financial situation.
In fact, readers will recall Alex Murdaugh was due to appear in court on June 10, 2021 in connection with this lawsuit. At that hearing, a judge was set to rule on any number of motions – including one which would have required Alex Murdaugh and other members of his family to disclose all of their financial records.
The hearing never took place, however.
Three days earlier, on June 7, 2021, Alex Murdaugh called 911 shortly after 10:00 p.m. EDT claiming to have discovered the bodies of his son, Paul Murdaugh, and his wife – 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh – on the family’s 1,700-acre “Moselle” hunting property on the Salkehatchie river (on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties).
“Paul Murdaugh was reportedly killed by a pair of shotgun blasts – one to the chest and another which struck his arm and head,” I reported at the time, citing my network of law enforcement and prosecutorial sources.
This information was later confirmed by health officials as the cause of Paul Murdaugh’s death.
Maggie Murdaugh was reportedly shot and killed by a semi-automatic rifle at or around the same time her son was killed. Her cell phone was discovered the following day along a rural South Carolina road near where the killings took place. As I exclusively reported two days after the killings, Alex Murdaugh was identified by both law enforcement and prosecutorial sources as a ‘person of interest‘ in the investigation – even though he ostensibly provided investigators with an “ironclad alibi” for his whereabouts at the time of the murders.
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This double homicide remains unsolved, although the recent recusal of solicitor Duffie Stone – a staunch Murdaugh ally – has led to speculation that agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) have been making progress in their inquiries into the killings, progress which may have pointed them to the Murdaugh family in some form or fashion.
Certainly the bizarre shooting incident involving Alex Murdaugh last Saturday – and the subsequent embezzlement allegations leveled by the law firm – have only escalated these suspicions.
“None of it makes any sense,” many, including myself, have said repeatedly over the last week.
But does it?
In the aftermath of PMPED’s announcement that Alex Murdaugh potentially stole more than $10 million from the firm, several questions have been floating around in my mind. Among them:
- Why did the law firm pull its website offline in the aftermath of the embezzlement announcement? Especially after its statement urged clients to make contact with its attorneys to answer questions?
- Exactly how much money is Alex Murdaugh alleged to have stolen from the firm? And over what time period did he allegedly steal it?
- Where was the money allegedly stolen from? Trust accounts? From other partners?
- When did the firm first realize Alex Murdaugh was allegedly embezzling money?
- Why did the firm wait until Labor Day to disclose this alleged theft?
- What is Alex Murdaugh supposed to have done with the $10 million he allegedly stole from PMPED?
None of these questions have even been remotely addressed by the mainstream media coverage of this saga.
Of course, there is an even bigger question to consider: A week after leveling this allegation, has PMPED contacted SLED and asked the agency to launch a criminal investigation into the alleged theft?
The firm has hired a group of Columbia, S.C. accountants to conduct a forensic audit of its finances, but have they asked law enforcement to pursue a criminal investigation into the missing money?
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As of late Sunday afternoon, SLED has yet to acknowledge receiving a request from PMPED to investigate the embezzlement allegations against Alex Murdaugh (above, right) – which is surprising considering the firm previously told the press it reported the alleged theft to the agency.
Late last week, a source who spoke confidentially with one of the defense attorneys working the Murdaugh case reached out to me. According to this source, the attorney described the unraveling saga as something akin to “an episode of Ozark.” That’s a reference to the Netflix hit in which a financial advisor from Chicago (portrayed by Jason Bateman) drags his family against its will to rural Missouri – where they become key cogs in a massive money laundering operation at the behest of a Mexican drug cartel.
Another source close to the same attorney claimed they made a similar reference earlier last week comparing the Murdaugh case to Ozark.
Meanwhile, late last week an ominous email began making its way through South Carolina legal circles. I have been warned against quoting directly from this message, but it hints in no uncertain terms that the embezzlement allegations leveled by PMPED against Alex Murdaugh are just the beginning of a much larger scandal – one that is going to metastasize far beyond the family, the firm and the fourteenth circuit.
The email referenced compromised judges, financial institutions, law firms and elected officials – and intimated that the tentacles of corruption reached far beyond the borders South Carolina.
A source who forwarded the email to me spoke of “genuine panic” within the state’s legal community, adding that “while they may not know it yet, everyone in this state knows someone, perhaps many, in severe legal jeopardy right now.”
Local sources have offered similarly dire predictions.
“If Alex Murdaugh and his family goes down, there’s a lot of people – maybe a whole system – going down with them,” one Hampton native told me on Saturday. “There’s nobody who didn’t want to be on the Murdaughs’ payroll.”
I have no idea at this point where the rabbit hole leads … but at this point, it is becoming increasingly clear it leads somewhere.
Stay tuned … as I noted at the conclusion of a recent Murdaugh-related post, the national networks and Hollywood vultures clamoring to tell a story they think is unfolding “have absolutely no idea of the real story that is coming down the pike.”
Count on news director Mandy Matney and I to continue chasing that story … and reporting what we find to our readers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that St. Louis Cardinals’ bird lid pictured above).
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