The Hampton County man who was loaned money by Alex Murdaugh in January 2020 to purchase a Georgia funeral home is also linked to a disturbing case that came to light in 2009 after years of rumors and speculation about how undertakers were able to fit a 6-foot-7-inch man into a casket much smaller than that.
When it comes to the world surrounding the Kingdom of Murdaugh, not many questions have had clear answers to them.
This one does.
How did a very tall man fit into a standard-sized casket?
Someone sawed off his legs.
And put the man’s legs into the casket with him.
Unbeknownst to his family.
More on this in a second …
Alex Bought A Funeral Home? … Really?
Last week, FITSNews was first to report that John H. Martin, director of Martin’s Funeral Home in Estill, had not responded to a subpoena seeking information related to Murdaugh’s payment of $110,231.15 to purchase a funeral home, a hearse, a limo and other property — on Martin’s behalf — in Brunswick, Georgia.
After our report, Martin reached out to us and to co-receiver John T. Lay‘s team — which has been working for nearly six months to investigate Murdaugh’s financial house of horrors — and offered what he said was proof that he and his wife had returned the money to Murdaugh soon after the transaction.
The money that Murdaugh used to purchase the funeral home had come from his personal checking account, according to court records.
Martin told FITSNews in an email that Murdaugh never actually owned the funeral home and that the paper trail discovered by the receivership team merely documented the simple act of an attorney doing his client a favor.
Martin did not explain why he hadn’t responded to the subpoena nor the certified letter that warned of court action if the requested records weren’t produced by the end of March.
DON’T MISS A STORY …
FITSNews was unable to independently verify that the PDFs provided by Martin prove that Murdaugh had been payed back the money.
Martin’s PDFs included a copy of the January 27, 2022, certified letter from the receivers that accompanied the subpoena, a copy of the subpoena — which asked for “any and all documents in your possession regarding the transaction referenced … including but not limited to any correspondence, text messages or emails” — a copy of the proof of service showing that the subpoena had been delivered to him, as well as a “To Whom It May Concern” letter on a plain sheet of paper signed by John Martin and dated April 28, 2022.
“Please find the necessary documents that will prove that Alexander Murdaugh did not purchase and does not own any shares in Martin Funeral Home LLC, Estill, South Carolina or Brunswick, Georgia.
Alex Murdaugh was my personal attorney for many years. I was out of town and had a deadline to meet, so I asked Attorney Murdaugh to stand for this money at my bank, which was Palmetto State Bank. My wife and I are retired educators who both own 401K accounts that can be traced back to our former employees [SIC]. On January 21, 2022 [SIC] we both withdrew $79,000 from our 401K account to pay back the bank and to complete our business deal in Brunswick. The enclosed documents will show that this money was returned to the bank as promised.”
Also included in the PDFs were pieces of information that largely seem to support what Martin’s letter claimed. They were:
- a copy of a January 13, 2020, email from Southeastern Bank in Darien, Georgia, to Martin, which included instructions on how to pay for the purchase.
- a copy of the front and back of a check for $36,000 issued by BB&T in Hampton on January 31, 2020, and made to the order of “Palmetto State Bank.”
- a copy of the front and back of a Palmetto State Bank “checking withdrawal” slip dated January 31, 2020, seeking a withdrawal of $74,253.76 with the handwritten name “John H. Martin” printed and signed on the front.
- a copy of the first page of a quarterly statement from Allianz Vision, a “deferred variable annuity,” showing the particulars of an “IRA – Traditional (408(b))” owned by John H. Martin. The single page that was provided to FITSNews only shows the contract values of Martin’s account as of March 31, 2020.
- a copy of the first page of a “Transaction Confirmation Statement” from Allianz Vision, showing the contract activity for an “IRA – Tradition (408(b))” owned by “Deborah S. Martin.” On this page is a circled amount for $79,705.39, which is listed as a withdrawal that was made on January 21, 2020.
- a copy of the front and back of a Palmetto State Bank “check deposit” slip dated January 31, 2020, with the name “Alex Murdaugh” handwritten on the front and showing a deposit of $110,253.76, which is $22.61 more than the purchase price of the funeral home and properties.
It is not clear whether Martin provided more information to the receivership team, but shortly after we received Martin’s email, the co-receivers withdrew their motion to compel against him and the funeral home.
Another Connection to Murdaugh
After we published our first story about the funeral home purchase last week, another odd twist to the Murdaugh saga immediately became apparent.
Martin is the father of Deon Martin, who is one of more than a dozen clients from whom Murdaugh is accused of stealing more than $9 million.
In Deon Martin’s case, that alleged theft totals almost $600,000, from multiple transactions in 2015 and 2016.
In other words, Murdaugh “stood for” more than $110,000 so that a family from whom he had allegedly stolen more than a half a million dollars years earlier could expand their small business.
Then, the family says, they — the alleged victims — paid back that money to him — the alleged thief.
Though the details of Deon Martin’s case first became public in November — and were published by multiple outlets at that time and again when a superseding indictment was handed down in January of this year — John Martin accused FITSNews last week of publishing details of his son’s “settlement” and putting his son in harm’s way.
To be clear, FITSNews has not published and does not know the total amount of the settlement received by Deon Martin from his 2013 personal injury case. We instead published the amounts Alex Murdaugh stands accused of stealing, along with the circumstances of those alleged thefts, all according to indictments handed down by the state grand jury.
Now … the Legs
The 2020 purchase of a funeral home in Georgia is not the first time Martin’s Funeral Home has expanded its business.
In August 2009, Martin took over Cave Funeral Services in Allendale — just one month after Cave, a family-owned funeral home that had been in business for almost 50 years, had been shut down by the state for an act that remains shocking to this day.
James Hines was a 60-year-old preacher from Allendale — and a one-time funk musician — who died of skin cancer in 2004.
Cave Funeral Services handled the arrangements.
At the funeral, Hines’ body was displayed in a standard casket. His body was only visible from the chest up.
What Hines’ family did not realize at the time was that an unlicensed employee of the funeral home — Charlie Cave, who was the father of Michael Cave, the funeral home’s director — had cut off Hines’ legs using an electric saw.
Hines, who was 6-foot-7-inches tall, did not fit in a standard casket.
But employees of Cave Funeral Services never told the Hines family this, nor did they suggest the purchase of a larger casket, according to news reports.
Instead Cave cut Hines’ legs between the ankle and the calf and placed them back in the casket, according to a June 2009 Associated Press story.
For years, rumors circulated about how the funeral was able to fit Hines into the casket.
In 2007, the Hines family filed a complaint against Charlie Cave and Cave Funeral Services in Allendale County Courthouse.
The plaintiffs were represented by Beaufort attorney Samuel Svalina. The defendants were represented by Columbia attorney Rebecca Laffitte — who is related to the family that owns Palmetto State Bank — and Columbia attorney I.S. Leevy Johnson. Carmen Mullen is listed as the judge.
The case was settled swiftly and within the year, according to the public index. According to a story by NBC News in April 2009, the settlement agreement barred Hines’ widow from sharing how much she was paid.
Though the legal matter was over in 2007, the real reckoning did not come until 2009 when Hines’ body was exhumed in April after the coroner and the state funeral home board began looking into the incident.
According to news coverage at the time, it was a fired employee of Cave Funeral Services that confirmed what happened.
After exhuming the body, the coroner’s office opened the lid, took a photo of what it called ”undesirable evidence” and reinterred the body.
The incident was further traumatizing to Hines’ family.
“It’s just like pulling the scab off an old sore. I was kind of like smoothing things out. But now it’s like starting all over again,” Ann Hines told The Associated Press.
As a result of this incident the state board revoked Michael Cave’s license and shut down the funeral home.
A month later, John Martin took over the Allendale location, renaming it after his Estill funeral home.
In approving Martin’s plan, the state board barred Martin from employing Michael and Charlie Cave.
By 2015, however, Martin would lose his license and the Allendale location would be taken over by new owners.
The state board found that Martin had defied their order and continued to allow the Caves to work at the Allendale location. In addition, Martin was disciplined for not filing the death certificate of a woman for more than a year despite several requests from South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Martin appealed the state’s decision and lost.
In February 2020, shortly after purchasing the Georgia funeral home, Martin secured an apprentice’s license. This type of license requires a the direct supervision of a licensed undertakers. According to the state board’s website, Martin was licensed under a 70-something-year-old Charleston woman.
The apprenticeship license, however, expired March 1 of this year.
According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, Martin’s funeral director and embalming licenses are active.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Liz Farrell is the new executive editor at FITSNews. She was named 2018’s top columnist in the state by South Carolina Press Association and is back after taking a nearly two-year break from corporate journalism to reclaim her soul. Email her at [email protected] or tweet her @ElizFarrell.
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