Over the last two weeks, the latest chapter in the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ true crime saga has unfolded in real time on the pages of this news outlet and countless other publications across the country (and around the globe). To say the story has captivated readers is an understatement: Interest in its riveting twists and turn has been nothing short of all-consuming.
The case is made for Hollywood … and Hollywood is clearly very interested in it, too. Or at least interested in monetizing the public’s interest.
Yesterday, the latest news in this saga – the arrest and arraignment of “lead actor” Alex Murdaugh in connection with one of the many Murdaugh-related criminal inquiries – broke in wide circulation.
As has been the case for several months, the job of unpacking and analyzing the deluge of Murdaugh-related information consistently falls to my news outlet, which has broken nearly every major development in this saga (and then broken down the implications of these developments for readers).
Getting there “firstest with the mostest” (as the southern expression goes) can be tiring, though. Especially for a two-person shop that has suddenly found itself competing for scoops with The New York Times. Accordingly, I was genuinely glad to see Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate publish a nifty recap on the saga for his readers earlier this week.
Anyway, before I dive into a dissection of yesterday’s big narratives – including the dubious bond granted to Murdaugh and the conspicuous absence of any visible injury from the bullet he allegedly caught two weeks ago – there is something very important I think needs to be addressed as it relates to this story.
Something very few people are paying attention to …
I am referring to recent statements made by Mark Keel, chief of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED). As regular readers of this news outlet are aware, SLED is the police agency heading up six – that’s right, six – separate criminal investigations involving Alex Murdaugh, his influential family and the powerful law firm that family established in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Some media outlets have complained SLED is not providing them with enough information on these investigations. And that may be true. But perhaps – just perhaps – if these outlets weren’t so busy publishing advertorials for the Murdaugh defense team, they might be able to read between the lines.
Because Keel is saying something … even if no one in the mainstream media is listening.
(Click to view)
(Via: S.C. Governor’s Office)
First, though, some history. Keel, 64, came to SLED in 1979. He quickly rose through the ranks at the agency and was named captain over its tactical operations division in 1993. Eight years later, in 2001, he was tapped to be SLED’s chief of staff. He held this position for several years prior to leaving the agency in 2008 to run the S.C. Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) for three years under former governor Mark Sanford.
Three years later, in 2011, former governor Nikki Haley tapped Keel to lead SLED – and he was reappointed to a second, six-year term by governor Henry McMaster in 2018.
Keel is the definitional “speak softly and carry a big stick” public figure. Since being named chief of SLED a decade ago, he has held precisely two press conferences – one in October 2012 (at Haley’s request) to address a data breach at the S.C. Department of Revenue (SCDOR) and one back in June to address a troubling rise in violent crime in the Palmetto State.
Clearly, he is not a seeker of the limelight.
“He doesn’t speak often, but when he does – you should probably pay attention to what he says,” one law enforcement source told me
During the recent high-profile murder trial of convicted “Fake Uber” killer Nathaniel Rowland, Keel was literally nowhere to be seen on television (sort of like he has been nowhere to be seen thus far during the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ case). SLED did the lion’s share of the investigative work in the Rowland case, but Keel never once sought to take credit for it. In fact, at one of the initial press conferences following this tragedy Keel was asked by a reporter if he had anything to add to the comments made by local law enforcement officials.
He did not speak, he simply shook his head in the negative …
When the Rowland trial was over, rather than take a victory lap in the press Keel privately congratulated the agents who worked the case – thanking them and giving them the credit for a job well done.
In a media environment where most public figures are tripping over each other to get in front of the next television camera, Keel’s restraint is noteworthy – and commendable. So, too, is his commitment to the pursuit of justice. Keel and I have butted heads on many issues in the past – most notably his opposition to decriminalizing marijuana – but despite our disagreements I have come to admire him as a man of integrity, someone who genuinely strives to do the right thing on behalf of the people of the Palmetto State.
And someone who genuinely cares for victims in a state where the levers of “justice” do not always work the way they are supposed to …
Even Keel’s opposition to legalizing marijuana – which I believe to be misguided – is motivated by a genuine belief that such a move would adversely impact public safety. Or at least that’s my measure of his opposition.
So … what is Keel saying about the ‘Murdaugh Murders?’
Not much. In fact as I noted in a post earlier this summer, his agency is doing its level best to keep its investigative work under wraps. As a member of the Fourth Estate, that doesn’t necessarily make me happy. After all, the formula is simple: Scoops equate to clicks, and clicks equate to cash. However, as someone who believes the many victims of this still-unspooling saga are entitled to as much justice as can humanly be delivered to them – SLED’s cautious, conservative approach to this investigation is necessary.
Especially in light of its recent metastasis.
“While frustrating for members of the media and the public, SLED is doing what it needs to do to preserve the integrity and operational effectiveness of its inquiries,” I noted at the time.
I have said from the very beginning of this odyssey I believe SLED will bring all of these interconnected inquiries to a successful conclusion, and as of this writing I have seen nothing that would sway me from that conviction.
This week, SLED issued a pair of brief, written statements from Keel as the agency announced two major developments in the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ saga.
The first development? The opening of a criminal investigation into allegations of financial misappropriation at Alex Murdaugh’s former law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED).
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“As with all cases, SLED is committed to conducting a professional, thorough, and impartial criminal investigation, no matter where the facts lead us,” Keel said in a press release announcing this inquiry on Monday.
Keel’s “no matter where the facts lead us” reference struck me as pretty fortitudinous. After all, multiple law enforcement, prosecutorial and court sources have informed me this inquiry is likely to break the seal on a much larger public corruption scandal – one which could soon spread far beyond the family, the firm and the fourteenth judicial circuit, a five-county region of the Palmetto Lowcountry where the Murdaughs (and PMPED) have operated with impunity for decades.
This public corruption inquiry would represent another escalation of this saga – which, again, already features six active criminal inquiries.
“Keel’s promise was a bold one considering where some of these probes could potentially lead – and considering some of the powerful people who could conceivably be implicated during the course of these investigations,” I noted earlier this week.
Still, sources familiar with the various cases assured me Keel meant exactly what he said.
“No stone will be left unturned,” one of these sources told me bluntly.
Just yesterday, Keel issued a written statement in connection with the arrest of Murdaugh and his co-conspirator in the roadside shooting, 61-year-old drug dealer Curtis Edward “Eddie” Smith. In that statement, the veteran lawman not only doubled down on his previous remark – he appeared to cast an even wider net.
“I can assure you that SLED agents will continue working to bring justice to anyone involved with any criminal act associated with these ongoing investigations,” Keel said. “The arrests in this case are only the first step in that process.”
That’s right … “anyone involved with any criminal act associated with these ongoing investigations.”
Again, that is an incredibly bold statement. Especially in light of where these inquiries appear to be headed …
Make no mistake: Keel and SLED must stand and deliver. And so must the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson, which will prosecute the criminal charges filed in connection with these six (so far) investigations.
That is a huge weight … a huge responsibility. And clearly, there are huge expectations.
Still, these statements by Keel send a reassuring message to those following the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ saga that South Carolina’s top law enforcement agency is committed to untangling this convoluted web of murder and corruption … and holding those responsible for weaving it accountable for their actions.
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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