Before he became the focal point of America’s most riveting true crime drama – the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ saga – South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh was a legal representative and business partner of a man from Allendale, S.C. named Barrett T. Boulware.
And before 4157 Moselle Road in Islandton, S.C. became the site of one of South Carolina’s highest-profile homicides – the June 7, 2021 murders of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh – this sprawling hunting property on the sleepy Salkehatchie River was sold to Alex Murdaugh by Boulware’s wife, Jeannine Morris Boulware.
For five dollars …
Wait, though … who are the Boulwares? And what is their nexus to this still-unspooling made-for-Hollywood drama?
So far as I know, these questions haven’t been raised in connection with any of the six active criminal inquiries currently bearing down on this influential family and the powerful law firm it founded … however I suspect this article could spark a few new lines of inquiry.
As I noted in a recent column, Murdaugh defense attorneys have been privately telling colleagues for weeks that their client has gotten himself mixed up in 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.
Based on some of the information now coming to light, this comparison could ring truer than anyone possibly imagined.
MEET THE BOULWARES …
Their names have stayed out of the newspapers for many years, but two generations of Boulwares worked the high seas off the coast of South Carolina – and points further south – for decades, ostensibly as fishermen.
Were they also engaged in other, less legitimate offshore endeavors?
According to his obituary, Boulware was a “commercial fisherman” – a shrimper who operated out of Beaufort, S.C. for “more than forty years.” Few locals believed fishing was the only thing Boulware was up to, though. And the same could be said for his father, a native of Barnwell, S.C. who was also named Barrett Boulware.
Barrett T. Boulware died on September 12, 2018 following a brief battle with an aggressive form of cancer.
“He went to Mayo, did it all,” one local source told me. “(But) he still died fast.”
“Barrett enjoyed life, lived it to the fullest with his many friends but most of all he loved his family,” his obituary noted.
His death came six years after his father passed away at the age of 87.
While the father-and-son are gone, their legend lives on in the Lowcountry.
“It has long been alleged he used his shrimp boats for hauling contraband,” one Lowcountry attorney told me on Saturday, referring to the younger Boulware. “He has long been rumored as a smuggler. He was a wheeler and dealer, a very flamboyant personality.”
The same rumors also ran rampant about the elder Boulware, a peer of former S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh Jr. In fact, the elder Boulware’s father – a lawyer named Thomas McCullough Boulware – tried cases with Murdaugh in the late 1940s.
These drug-running rumors were not randomly pulled out of the thick, humid Lowcountry air, either.
The possibility the Boulwares were engaged in something other than fishing on their maritime voyages first hit the public consciousness more than forty years ago when a 95-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter called the Cape Knox was patrolling the St. Helena Sound off the South Carolina coast on the evening of Thursday, January 24, 1980.
(Click to view)
(Via: U.S. Coast Guard)
According to a report (.jpg) published by The Associated Press on January 26, 1980, the Cape Knox (above) spotted two 65-foot fishing boats – the Miss Kathy and the Waterworld – during a “routine patrol” of the St. Helena Sound, a coastal inlet between Hilton Head Island and Charleston, S.C. that to this day remains largely undeveloped.
Not surprisingly, the lack of development makes it an inviting destination for smugglers.
The sound – seven-and-a-half miles across at its widest point – is fed by the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto rivers, hence the “ACE” basin moniker.
On this particular evening, eleven Miami-area men were discovered aboard the Waterworld – a fishing boat owned by Boulware. These men claimed to have been rescued by Boulware’s vessel after the boat the were on, the Island City, sank “thirty to fifty miles offshore.” A coast guard warrant officer, George Matheson, told the wire service the cause of the sinking was “unclear” and ownership of the vessel was “not immediately established.”
The operator of the Miss Kathy – Edward E. Legree – was temporarily held by the USCG to establish “clarification of ownership” due to the “non-availability of required documentation.” Agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) also questioned the men from the sunken vessel “rescued” by the Waterworld, but no arrests were made – presumably because anything that would have incriminated anyone involved was well on its way to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Legree, incidentally, was arrested six years later as part of Operation Cancer, a multi-year, multi-agency sting led by the DEA and local law enforcement agencies in Florida and South Carolina. That operation shut down a network that moved more than 40,000 pounds of marijuana into the country from December 1982 to May 1983.
ELUDING ‘OPERATION JACKPOT?’
In between the 1980 sinking incident and the Operation Cancer arrests, the long arm of the law did reach out and touch the Boulwares, though. On February 5, 1983, the Ute – a 205-foot USCG cutter – encountered the Jeannine Ann, another “shrimper” owned by Boulware, while on patrol in the Bahamas. A total of 854 bales of marijuana were discovered aboard the vessel at the time it was boarded. Authorities allowed the vessel to proceed to its destination – Beaufort, S.C. – where numerous arrests were made among those co-conspirators awaiting its arrival.
According to an article (.jpg) from The Associated Press published in the February 15, 1983 print edition of The (Columbia, S.C.) Record, Barrett Boulware the elder was among those who turned himself into authorities in connection with this sting – but both he and his son, who was 27 years old at the time, wound up facing charges in its aftermath.
The 1983 sting took place during the heyday of Operation Jackpot, a massive anti-smuggling campaign led by multiple law enforcement agencies and the office of then-U.S. attorney Henry McMaster of South Carolina. This campaign – which took advantage of new civil asset forfeiture laws – shut down a network of so-called “gentlemen smugglers” who brought hundreds of thousands of pounds of marijuana and hashish into the Palmetto State via numerous lightly patrolled Lowcountry inlets.
“It was virtually impossible to catch them in the act,” now-governor McMaster told Lynn Padgett Beard of Columbia Metropolitan magazine earlier this year. “We decided to figure out who they were and catch them at home.”
Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan – who appointed McMaster to his post – hailed the operation during a 1986 speech at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.
(Click to view)
(Via: U.S. Attorney’s Office)
“Operation Jackpot was our first major breakthrough in our war on drugs,” Reagan said, praising McMaster (above) for proving himself “instrumental in our drug enforcement effort.”
While successful politically, the wide net cast by McMaster’s operation never ensnared the Boulwares – although it came very, very close.
What happened? Franklin C. Branch – the captain of the Jeannine Ann (and a witness for the government in its case against the Boulwares) – met a violent end shortly before he was scheduled to appear in court to testify against father and son.
According to an April 18, 1983 news brief (.jpg) in The Tallahassee Democrat, Branch was “making his way to the Wonder Bar in St. Joe Beach” when he “walked into the path of an oncoming vehicle.”
“Branch was one of nine people arrested in February when authorities seized about 17 tons of marijuana from a shrimp boat in Beaufort, S.C.,” the Florida paper noted.
A Florida trooper noted Branch was “scheduled to testify in a drug trial” at the time of his death.
Without his testimony, the feds were forced to abandon the case they were pursuing against the Boulwares. And according to a June 3, 1983 news brief (.jpg) published in The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper, charges against both Boulwares were dropped by the U.S. attorney’s office.
THE MURDAUGH CONNECTIONS …
Aside from the connections mentioned earlier, though, is there anything substantive linking Murdaugh to the Boulwares? Something more tangible?
A lot, actually.
As noted earlier, according to Colleton county property records Murdaugh paid Boulware’s wife five dollars for Moselle. However, the transfer deed (.pdf) dated April 15, 2013 referenced the “exchange of like-kind replacement property” totaling $730,000 – part of a “multi-property, non-simultaneous, tax-free exchange transaction” entered into between Boulware and Murdaugh. Typically such transactions – which are authorized by section 1031 of the U.S. internal revenue code – allow the seller to avoid capital gains taxes so long as they invest any proceeds of the sale into the purchase of other properties.
Still, the “transfer price” for Moselle – a collection of properties in Hampton and Colleton counties assembled by Boulware over a period of multiple years – “seemed low,” according to one Lowcountry real estate expert.
(Click to view)
What’s a few hundred thousand dollars amongst back-scratching Lowcountry land barons, though? Given the sheer number of properties owned by Murdaugh and Boulware – including multiple properties co-owned by the two business partners – such land transfers would not necessarily be uncommon.
Two months before he died, however, Boulware surrendered control of the properties – and everything else in his life – to Murdaugh.
On July 6, 2018, Boulware granted power of attorney to Alex Murdaugh – authorizing his attorney and business partner to “lease, let, take possession, bargain, sell, assign, convey, pledge, mortgage and encumber, repair, insure and generally manage any and all property, both real and personal, which I own, or may hereafter acquire from any source.”
The instrument Boulware signed just prior to his death also authorized Murdaugh to “sign, execute and deliver any and all legal documents” in his name, and to “deposit any monies received from any source whatever for me, and in my name with any bank, and to draw and deliver checks in my name against said monies and other monies to be deposited in my name or to my credit.”
Boulware further authorized Murdaugh to “do all things necessary concerning any insurance policies, including the right to change beneficiary,” and was even granted control over “decisions regarding my health and healthcare.”
Finally, the document made clear any decisions made by Murdaugh regarding Boulware’s assets would be “binding on myself and my heirs.”
(Click to view)
(Via: Beaufort County)
PAST IS PROLOUGE?
Boulware and Murdaugh were more than just business partners, though. The two businessmen and their wives regularly socialized together – much to the surprise of locals who whispered behind the couples’ backs about Boulware’s alleged involvement in illicit activities.
“Boulware and his wife Jeannine were for several years regular guests of Alex and Maggie’s at (University of South Carolina) basketball games,” one Hampton, S.C. source familiar with the histories of both families told me. “Allendale’s elite were surprised Maggie and Alex spent so much time with them.”
Local sources recalled how Jeannine Boulware paid “cold, hard cash” for everything she purchased – including clothes from the nicest women’s dress shops in the Lowcountry. Now residing in Beaufort, S.C., Jeannine Boulware now purchases her clothes from the “cutesy boutiques” on Bay Street. But she still pays in cash, my sources say.
Also, when the Boulware’s daughters applied for employment in the office of a local doctor, several patients reportedly warned him “to be careful because the Boulware’s were drug dealers.”
As this news outlet has previously chronicled, the Murdaugh family is no stranger to scandals involving illicit rackets. My report last week detailed how Buster Murdaugh, Jr. – who held the office of solicitor for more than forty-five years – was indicted in June of 1956 and narrowly avoided conviction that fall in connection with a conspiracy “to violate the internal revenue liquor laws.”
A federal bulletin recapping the trial (.pdf) cited “very questionable practices on the part of some of the defendants and their attorneys, during which government witnesses were threatened, attempts were made to influence them by promises of reward for themselves or members of their family, and at least one attempt was made to intimidate or influence the United States Attorney.”
“The defense resorted to some highly questionable tactics, all apparently designed to bring about an acquittal or mistrial as to solicitor Murdaugh, even at the risk of sacrificing the remaining defendants,” the bulletin continued, adding that while Murdaugh was ultimately acquitted, the president judge “publicly castigated (him) for his unethical practices.”
What was past may have been prologue …
“Don’t forget that Buster Murdaugh was the solicitor for the fourteenth circuit during the prelude and heyday of Operation Jackpot,” one Lowcountry law enforcement source told me. “There were plenty of smaller time drug dealers all over this area other than just the Operation Jackpot boys.”
And as recent events have made clear, the Murdaughs’ influence over local law enforcement remains … very strong.
THE PROPERTIES …
(Via: GETTY IMAGES)
While Boulware passed away more than three years ago, he is still listed as the co-owner of multiple properties with Alex Murdaugh – and numerous additional properties are owned by a holding company bearing the names of both men. This news outlet performed a records search of several Beaufort county properties, in particular, and the results were revealing.
Nine properties in particular are located at strategic access points on – or around – St. Helena Island, the hotbed of the drug trade during “Operation Jackpot.” Several of these properties do not have addresses – because there are no streets accessing them.
One property record referenced “islands” in and around Harbor River, which separates St. Helena Island from three barrier islands – Hunting Island, Fripp Island and Pritchards Island. Of those three islands, only Fripp is developed. Hunting Island is a state park, while Pritchards Island is almost completely uninhabited.
Beaufort county records refer to these jointly owned properties in one of two ways. Three of the island properties – ranging in size from 5.05 to 20 acres – are classified as “forest.” Six of the properties – ranging in size from .28 acres to 1.38 acres – are listed as islands with “boat access only.”
Two of the islands have residential structures on them – accessible only by boat. However, only one of the residential properties is owned by the Barrett-Murdaugh holding company. The other island is subdivided.
A tenth property owned by Barrett is strategically located near Village Creek, an offshoot of the St. Helena Sound that juts into the island from the northwest – providing ready access to U.S. Highway 21.
So … what is Alex Murdaugh using these properties for? Your guess is as good as mine … but it seems abundantly clear at this point whatever Alex Murdaugh is “into,” he is into it deep.
As previously noted, Murdaugh, his family and the powerful law firm it founded in Hampton, S.C. are currently mixed up in multiple criminal investigations and civil lawsuits in South Carolina. The S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is leading all of the criminal probes, while the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson is handling any prosecutions that may arise from the various inquiries.
SLED has already brought charges in connection one of these investigations – a probe of a bizarre September 4, 2021 roadside shooting incident in which Murdaugh and a co-conspirator are accused of staging the former’s murder in an effort to allow his surviving son to collect on a $10 million life insurance policy. Both initially copped to the plot, but Murdaugh’s co-conspirator – 61-year-old Curtis Edward “Eddie” Smith – has since claimed he was “set-up” by the powerful attorney.
Obviously, the highest profile investigation SLED is leading involves the savage Moselle double homicide that killed Maggie and Paul Murdaugh three-and-a-half months ago. Alex Murdaugh remains a ‘person of interest’ in connection with that investigation, incidentally.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of that double homicide, SLED has opened investigations into two other suspicious deaths tied to the Murdaugh family – the 2015 murder of 19-year-old Stephen Smith of Hampton, S.C. and the 2018 death of 57-year-old Gloria Satterfield, also of Hampton, S.C. Smith was a friend of Alex Murdaugh’s sons, while Satterfield was the family’s housekeeper.
SLED is also investigating allegations of obstruction of justice involving Alex Murdaugh and other members of his family in connection with a February 2019 boat crash involving Paul Murdaugh – who allegedly slammed his father’s 17-foot center console fishing boat into the piling of a Beaufort county, S.C. bridge while “grossly intoxicated.” That crash claimed the life of 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, S.C. and injured several others. The boat crash obstruction probe is currently before a statewide grand jury in Columbia, S.C.
Finally (and perhaps most significantly) SLED is probing the tangled financial web surrounding Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED) – the firm where Murdaugh, his brother and father all worked. Launched on September 13, this financial inquiry purports to determine whether Alex Murdaugh “misappropriated funds in connection to his position as a former lawyer” at the firm. In the aftermath of the roadside shooting on September 4, PMPED hastily accused Murdaugh of absconding with more than $10 million from its coffers – however the firm’s ongoing efforts to distance itself from the disgraced attorney have fallen on deaf ears.
Worth recalling? PMPED never asked SLED to conduct its investigation into the firm’s finances – the agency launched it on its own. Sources familiar with the nascent probe have told me it could soon metastasize into a much broader graft and corruption inquiry – one impacting numerous law firms, financial institutions and public officials. Oh, and judges.
Given the Murdaugh-Boulware ties uncovered in this story, it is not hard to see why so many people are so concerned about the direction this story could take …
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 Los Angeles Dodgers’ lid pictured above).
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