By LIZ FARRELL and MANDY MATNEY
On the morning of Feb. 2, 2018, the Murdaugh family’s longtime domestic worker, Gloria Satterfield, arrived at Moselle where she was — depending on who you ask — either scheduled to work that day, there to pick up her paycheck or there to pick up someone else’s paycheck.
She was either a part-time employee who worked only for the Murdaugh family — doing household chores, babysitting, running errands and acting as a server at parties for $10 an hour — or she was a part-time employee who worked for at least one other family in the area.
Either way, the Murdaughs did not deduct taxes from her paychecks.
The day before this particular morning, Gloria appears to have been in a car accident. Though no report seems to have been filed with local law enforcement, she did file an insurance claim — but did not inform her employers of the crash.
“Mr. Murdaugh was not aware of it … He believes that would have been a low-impact accident, else Ms. Satterfield would have mentioned it to him and would have called him for legal guidance.”
Gloria’s younger son Tony Satterfield was either a registered nurse in Beaufort, South Carolina, or not a nurse at all, but rather a supplies manager at a hospital.
Gloria’s older son Bryan Harriott had either never worked outside the home or was working at a local grocery store.
When she fell ascending the front stairs at the Murdaughs’ Moselle home (or was it their Holly Street house?) in Colleton County (or was it Hampton?), Gloria was tripped (or pushed?) by either Bubba, Bourbon, Blue or Sassy — or maybe it was none of them.
Alex Murdaugh said he was at work at the time, 20 minutes away, and that his wife had called him at 9:45 a.m. to tell him about the fall. He “rushed to the scene,” arriving “before” emergency medical technicians … who were there at 9:41 a.m.
Before Alex arrived, Paul tried to sit Gloria up, but someone told him to “turn her loose” so she fell back over. When Alex arrived, Gloria was sitting on the stairs … but also he helped Paul sit her on the stairs.
After her fall and before EMTs arrived, Gloria was either “speaking gibberish” and unable to form words or lucid enough to tell a single person — the same person who would later allegedly orchestrate a plan to steal $4.3 million from her family — that the “dogs tripped her up.”
Or … “Ms. Satterfield made no such statement and later told hospital staff she did not know why she had fallen.”
Also “hyponatremia conceivably could have been a cause of Satterfield’s fall.”
Paul Murdaugh either attended her funeral — or he did not.
Why all this uncertainty and confusion?
A review of never-before-revealed documents obtained by FITSNews, a recent federal lawsuit, the 9-1-1 call made that morning, court records, interviews and the few available records from fire and rescue have shown that Alex Murdaugh’s account of Satterfield’s fall appears to have been carefully crafted but sloppily executed in his pursuit to allegedly defraud two insurance companies of $4.3 million.
The reports and accounts taken as a whole contradict each other in places, as well as established facts about the Murdaugh family.
Though it is still unclear what happened to Satterfield in the moments before she fell, it is clear she fell hard.
According to a 2018 report from attorney Scott Wallinger, who was hired by Lloyds of London to represent Alex Murdaugh in the case, Gloria sustained a right-sided head laceration, a right-sided subdural hematoma, a traumatic brain injury, multiple left-side posterior rib fractures, a partially collapsed lung and a plumonary contusion.
”As you may know, a traumatic brain injury can cause amnesia of the pre-incident activity and some post-incident activity.”
Prior to her death on Feb. 26, 2018, “she had surgery to repair her broken ribs and to reconstruct her chest wall, and to remove significant blood in her chest cavity.”
Her final days were clearly not easy.
“The (subdural hematoma) was evaluated to not be operable,” the report said. “Doctors also suspected but never located a bowel perforation. She developed a pleural effusion and already had the partially collapsed left lung. She had bilateral chest drains. There is charting by radiology to the effect that at one point her endotracheal tube was positioned too far in (touching the carina) and that an arterial line was in the wrong place, both of which eventually were rectified. Basically she had several severe injuries being managed which together created a greater risk of a downward decline. After a few days she was moved out of the ICU, she appeared by nurse observation to be doing better, then she declined, and was returned to the ICU and eventually placed on a ventilator. She developed a pneumonia of unknown origin; although doctors were aware of sinusitis they never diagnosed the source of pneumonia. She developed fluid in her lungs and had a heart attack and coded. She appears to have sustained anoxic brain injury and went into a deep coma.”
Nevertheless her fall — and particularly her death — presented an opportunity for Alex Murdaugh, who we would all later discover had allegedly been stealing from his clients for years at this point.
“It’s a fact — and now a universal truth — that Alex Murdaugh is a despicable human being and doesn’t think and act like a normal law-abiding citizen and ethical attorney,” Satterfield family Eric Bland said Wednesday. “However do I think that he had a hand in Gloria Satterfield’s death or there was foul play? The answer is no. Nonetheless, I do firmly believe that he used her accidental death as a vehicle to enrich himself and his best friend Cory Fleming.”
‘These Judges Know Mr. Murdaugh and Mr. Fleming Well’
Insurance policies and personal injury law are highly intricate and highly technical. For the purposes of this case, we are going to explain what happened in the simplest and sometimes broadest of terms, adhering to the spirit of what occurred …
At the time of Gloria Satterfield’s fall, Alex Murdaugh had two insurance policies that covered this situation: Lloyds of London, which held his “underlying insurance” policy for $505,000, and Nautilus, which held his “extra” or “umbrella” policy for $5 million.
In order for the umbrella policy to take effect, every penny of the underlying policy had to be paid (or a promise of payment had to be made).
This means that it was important for Alex Murdaugh to successfully convince his underlying policy that he was at fault in Gloria’s death.
Not that this was difficult for him.
Under normal circumstances — in which a fraud is not occurring — a policyholder who believes they are at fault for any given covered incident will admit such to their insurance company.
In South Carolina, when a policyholder admits fault to their insurance company and urges them to cover them for the full policy limit as they’ve been paid to do in this circumstance, they are in essence reserving the right to sue the insurance company for acting in bad faith should the plaintiff come after them for more money.
On Oct. 30, 2018, Beaufort attorney Cory Fleming — who represented the Satterfield estate at the behest of Alex Murdaugh and who is currently facing 23 charges related to at least two of Murdaugh’s alleged financial schemes — made what’s called a Tyger River demand on Lloyds of London, giving them until Nov. 12, 2018, to agree to a full payout of the policy limits, according to documents obtained by FITSNews and interviews with those familiar with the situation.
Less than a week later, Wallinger sent his report on Murdaugh’s behalf to the Lloyds of London team. This report offered support for a full payout.
“Mr. Murdaugh does not want to be sued over this matter if practical and possible to avoid that, as he sees that a wrongful death lawsuit would be detrimental to him personally and professionally in that small, rural community.”
The report noted Murdaugh’s reputation:
“The insured Alexander Murdaugh is a third-generation lawyer practicing with his family’s law firm in Hampton, South Carolina. The firm — Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, & Detrick — is a preeminent plaintiff-only practice. The firm and its partners have a favorable reputation in that area of the state due to the firm’s experience and influence and goodwill created in the county.”
In summary, the report reasoned, it would be smart for Lloyds of London to agree to these terms now because of who Murdaugh and Fleming were and where this case would likely be tried.
“It is highly likely we could get a suit venue transferred from Colleton County to Hampton County. Both of these counties sit within the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit in South Carolina. The Fourteenth Judicial Circuit is known to be a plaintiff-friendly circuit. Hampton County is among the most pro-plaintiff trial venues in South Carolina, largely because of theinfluence of Mr. Murdaugh’s law firm in pursuing cases there. Colleton County is not considered quite as plaintiff-friendly as Hampton County. Given Mr. Murdaugh’s involvement as a party, not as an attorney for a party, I tend to think Mr. Murdaugh would be very favorably viewed by a jury in Hampton County or in Colleton County.
“Absent a case being designated complex, cases are not assigned to particular judges in South Carolina. The Fourteenth Circuit has two resident judges, Judge Perry Buckner and Judge Carmen Mullen. These judges know Mr. Murdaugh and Mr. Fleming well.“
Wallinger’s report — written almost three years before the world found out about the Murdaugh family’s stronghold over the 14th Circuit — offers an unintentional confirmation of what FITSNews has been reporting for years … that our state’s judicial system and legal culture have been corrupted by cronyism, power brokering and favoritism.
While the past and current presidents of the South Carolina Bar Association would disagree — and have disagreed — the proof continues to outpace them.
FITSNews founding editor Will Folks wrote this week about an opinion piece that appeared in The (Charleston) Post and Courier. The piece was written by (Judge) Mary E. Sharp and Hagood Tighe — who appear to have been inspired by their own sixth-grade essays on why the American Legal System is A-OK.
Here was Folks’ response:
“So according to Sharp and her navel-gazing band of self-important apologists, nothing is the system’s fault. Rather, it is the fault of those who are criticizing it. In other words, not content with glossing over their own indefensible conduct these goons are literally gaslighting anyone and everyone who has ever summoned the temerity to stand up to them.
“And while I wasn’t at the weekly meeting of soulless bloodsuckers and attendant fluffers which labored to summon such bloviating drivel from the depths of fecund misology, it isn’t hard to trace the origins of this shameless plea for self-preservation.“
Folks then brings the receipts, listing incident after incident that shows the fractured state of the system.
The case of Gloria Satterfield is another one of those receipts.
On April 22, Nautilus — the insurance company holding the umbrella policy for the Murdaughs — filed a complaint outlining how Murdaugh’s attorneys, state Sen. Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, were preventing them from cooperating with a federal state grand jury subpoena related to the Satterfield scam.
A few weeks later, Nautilus amended its complaint, adding Fleming, Fleming’s former law firm Moss & Kuhn, Chad Westendorf — a Vice President of Palmetto State Bank who served as a high-priced personal representative for the Satterfield estate — and Palmetto State Bank (whose former CEO Russell Laffitte is currently on house arrest after being charged with 21 counts of helping Murdaugh in his alleged schemes).
The amended complaint — though a longtime coming — does not tiptoe into the situation.
Nautilus says it first became aware of the Satterfield scheme in July 2021. It is unclear how it became aware or why it became aware at this point in time. The Satterfield family did not seek help in the matter until late in the summer and details of the alleged crime — and the whopping amount of the settlement — didn’t emerge until the fall.
The complaint outlines what they’ve termed “irregularities” (as shorthand for “allegations of criminal conduct”).
Included are the now widely known facts of the case — that Murdaugh suggested the Satterfield family sue him; that he connected them with Fleming, who was his best friend; that Murdaugh suggested Tony Satterfield step aside and allow Westendorf to handle the financials.
“Unbeknownst to Nautilus, Murdaugh was not a bona fide insured seeking coverage, but rather was coordinating the handling of the claim with Fleming … such that Fleming and Murdaugh were effectively co-counsel.”
As readers will remember from the tome Fleming submitted to the state of Georgia in defense of his suspended legal license there, Fleming also regarded Murdaugh as co-counsel.
“Murdaugh,” Nautilus’ claim states, “pressured Nautilus to settle the claim, threatening a suit for bad faith against Nautilus if it refused to pay policy limits.”
This means Murdaugh was trying for the full $5 million.
“Murdaugh was abusive toward the Nautilus adjuster handling the claim … threatening that if the case against him were filed and went to trial, he would admit liability and the judgment would be substantial.”
This means Murdaugh was leveraging his influence over local juries — and perhaps even local judges — to shake down an insurance company for millions of dollars.
“Murdaugh stated to multiple third parties in Hampton County that he was liable for Gloria Satterfield’s fall and ultimate death, an admission against interest that all but ensured that there could be no challenge to liability, and securing his ability to force Nautilus to contribute settlement funds that Murdaugh and the co-conspirators stole.”
Nautilus’ anger seems to mount when it details how after all that, Murdaugh then confessed judgment in the Satterfield case, essentially admitting to stealing the money.
The Story About Gloria
According to the report compiled by Wallinger and the Nautilus suit, Alex Murdaugh is the only person who heard Gloria say she had been tripped by the Murdaughs’ dogs.
Also Alex Murdaugh made it a point to say that Gloria was not at Moselle working that day but instead there to pick up a check for herself (according to the Wallinger report) or someone else (according to the Nautilus report).
Those two sets of “facts” were critical to Murdaugh’s apparent plan to cash in on the situation.
If Gloria had simply fallen out of clumsiness or an illness — or as the result of a previous car crash! — then there’s no payout.
“Murdaugh stated that Ms. Satterfield briefly regained consciousness during which time she stated that Murdaugh’s dogs had caused her to fall. This statement was heard by no one else and is contradicted by Ms. Satterfield’s later statement to hospital staff that she had no idea what made her fall,” the Nautilus suit states.
If Gloria was there to work, then her case becomes something different.
“Murdaugh claimed Ms. Satterfield was at his property, not to perform work for Murdaugh and his family, but to collect a check for work performed for someone else, thus avoiding a worker’s compensation defense,” the Nautilus suit states.
But when did Murdaugh’s plan take shape? Was it in the moments after the fall? Or on the rushed drive to Moselle? In the moments after Gloria was airlifted to North Charleston? At her funeral, where he allegedly told her sons that they should sue him?
According to the Wallinger report, here’s what happened on Feb. 2:
“Satterfield drove alone to that Colleton residence to see Mrs. Murdaugh and to pick up a check in payment for Satterfield’s past services. Satterfield walked alone up the front brick steps of the house, and allegedly fell backward down the steps due to being pushed or tripped by one or more of Murdaugh’s four pet dogs which were roaming free at the time. No one witnessed Satterfield’s fall. Mrs. Murdaugh was inside the house, heard a great commotion on the front porch, came out the front door, and found Satterfield lying on the steps, bleeding from an open wound to her head. Satterfield told Mr. Murdaugh, who arrived soon after, that the dogs had ‘tripped her up.’ Satterfield made no other statement to an witness about involvement of dogs.”
The Murdaughs, the report notes, had four pet dogs at the time — “several of which have been to obedience training and have been trained for hunting and sporting activities.”
The report introduces us to the four suspects as such:
- “Bubba” is a six year old male yellow Labrador Retriever, not neutered, and described as affectionate and calm. He had been to hunting and obedience training and is obedient. He weighs around 90 pounds. Veterinarian records indicate receipt of annual shots and annual exams;
- “Bourbon” is a 1.5 year old female chocolate Labrador Retriever, described as hyper-active and difficult to command and control. She had been to hunting and obedience training. She weighs around 55 pounds. While veterinarian records are brief, the records indicate regular exams and prescribed heartworm preventative medicine;
- “Blue” is a one year old male Labradoodle (and is Bubba’s son), described as hyper-active and constantly escaping from his kennel, and difficult to command and control. He weighs around 65 pounds; and
- “Sassy” is a six month old, female German Short Hair Pointer puppy. She was acquired in January and has not had training. She weighs around 25 pounds and has a calm disposition.
“Mr. Murdaugh described that normally Bourbon and Blue would be kept in dog kennels at the property and did not roam free. The property has an electric (underground) dog fence system to keep the dogs close to the house. Murdaugh described that whenever all of the dogs were out of the kennel, and in the presence of any people, the dogs would approach the people in a friendly, normal and sociable way and they tended to compete with each other for attention of people. He described that if someone showed praise or attention to one dog, the other dogs would get jealous and escalate efforts to gain the person’s attention.”
Maggie apparently told Wallinger that Bourbon was “just horrible” and “always whining, seeking attention, and getting excited.”
The report included summaries of interviews with Alex, Maggie and Paul.
Here’s Alex’s account:
— He left the house at a 7:45 a.m. to go to his office in Hampton.
— He got a call from Maggie around 9:45 a.m. who said Satterfield had been injured.
— “He found Satterfield sitting on the brick landing at the base of the steps. She was semi-conscious, knew who she was, and had blood on her head and face. There was a pool of blood on the brick landing.”
— Then EMS arrived.
— “Alex followed the ambulance to Walterboro. He was given Satterfield’s purse just before she was put on the helicopter. Alex drove back to his house in Moselle. He attempted to call and text Satterfield’s brother but did not speak with him.”
— “Alex told me that he had heard, from one or more of Satterfield’s relatives he cannot really recall, was that Satterfield had reported that ‘the dogs tripped her up.'”
Here’s Maggie’s account (Wallinger notes that she was interviewed two weeks before his report, which is dated Nov. 6):
— Maggie was asleep in bed. Gloria was expected to arrive at some point that day.
— The four dogs (the suspects?) were outside and were seldom allowed in the house.
— Bourbon (main suspect?) had just been picked up from obedience training a few days before.
— Two employees, Ronnie Freeman and Travis Martin, were on the property working but not near the house.
— She heard the dogs barking in “an unusual tone, as if something had happened.”
— She went out the front door and found Satterfield lying on her back, “head toward the bottom of the steps, with a bleeding head wound.”
— Maggie shouted “Oh my God!”
— Satterfield was not carrying any objects. Her eyes were open, she was conscious but “mumbling gibberish.” The dogs were walking around her.
— Satterfield didn’t know what happened.
— Maggie called 9-1-1.
— Satterfield told EMS her name that the current president was “Bill Clinton.”
— Maggie drove to the hospital and met with Satterfield’s relatives. “Maggie saw Satterfield in the ICU, she was sleeping but occasionally woke and stated her head hurt and she was cold. Maggie said she never visited Satterfield alone. Maggie recalled that at the time of Satterfield’s admission it was the peak of flu season and patients were on gurneys in every hallway. Satterfield never told Maggie why Satterfield fell.”
— Maggie visited Satterfield five or six times but never alone.
— She was not surprised to hear Satterfield died.
Here’s Paul’s account (also interviewed two weeks prior to the report):
— At the time of the incident, he was asleep in his downstairs bedroom.
— He heard the dogs barking, which he associated with someone coming up the driveway.
— He heard Maggie calling him and knew something was wrong.
— He went to the porch and saw Satterfield “had fallen off the front steps.” His mother “was rushing to get a telephone” and “Satterfield’s feet were on the second or third step from the bottom and she was lying on her back. She was bleeding from a head wound and blood was on the brick landing area. Satterfield was awake, making weird noises, and not making any sense. Paul did not try to talk with her.”
— “Paul remembers that his father Alex arrived and asked what happened and that Satterfield said ‘something about dogs.'”
— Satterfield started vomiting so “Alex and Paul sat her up while they waited for EMS to arrive.”
To date, this is the most that is publicly known about what might have happened to Gloria Satterfield in the moments after she hit her head.
But the report — as well as the lawsuit — raise more questions.
Were those injuries indicative of a fall or something else? When did Murdaugh conceive of his plan to defraud the insurance companies and then the Satterfield family? Did he always plan to take the entirety of the money or did he just get in over his head?
There’s another question, too. One that’s better left to social media and message boards. One that might only be answered by an exhumation of Satterfield’s body.
“While most good lawyers think first, ‘What can I do that will be to the benefit of the client?,’ unfortunately Alex Murdaugh’s first thought is ‘How will this client matter benefit me? His priorities and morality are clearly twisted and are warped,” Bland said.
“Gloria’s death was unfortunate, but she did not die in vain. Her death and subsequent lawsuit by her heirs was the catalyst in bringing down Alex Murdaugh and all those who have been complicit around him.”
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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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 story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].