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‘Did You Call Butch?’: Alex Murdaugh’s Quest To Get His Son Readmitted To Law School

‘Given the scenario, you know, of me not knowing if I’m going to go back and work for the law firm, my grades need to be as high as possible so that if I want a different job, I can get one’

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One afternoon, a few days before Christmas 2021, Richland County inmate Alex Murdaugh got on the phone with his sister-in-law Liz Murdaugh.

“Hey, Lizzie! How you doing?”

“I’m good,” she said. “I’m taking a bath!”

Alex laughed and said, “Sounds like somebody else I know.”

Ostensibly, he was referring to Maggie Murdaugh, who was murdered alongside their 21-year-old son Paul almost seven months prior to this call.

“I talked to her all the time in the bath back then,” Liz said.

“She loved to talk on the phone in the bathtub,” Alex said, chuckling.

The two discussed Alex’s exercise routine and the letters he had mailed to family members. Liz asked Alex if he would be getting a special Christmas meal served to him at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, where he’s been incarcerated since October 2021.

Alex wasn’t sure.

Liz joked about reaching in her pocket to get $7 million to pay Alex’s bond.

This is when the light-hearted tone of the conversation changed.

“I never even had $7 million dollars,” Alex said to her bitterly. “You know, this thing about how rich we are and how powerful we are and— I mean, it’s just, I mean, taken a life of its own. I wish it was half true.”

This lament was one that Alex Murdaugh — the fourth generation of an especially connected family of Hampton County attorneys and 14th Circuit prosecutors — made more than a few times during phone calls to family members between October 2021 and February 2022.


The idea that anyone would think of the Murdaugh family as being anything other than “average folk” seemed to offend him — also his brothers.

“You see words like ‘dynasty’ used and ‘power’ and I don’t know exactly how people use those words but we’re just regular people,” Alex’s older brother and former law partner Randy Murdaugh told “Good Morning America” about a week after Maggie’s and Paul’s murders.

The Murdaughs are not “just regular people.” For decades, their currency in this state has been their last name and what it could do for them.

From a young age, Alex Murdaugh, according to those who knew him personally, was eminently aware of what it meant to be a Murdaugh in South Carolina — and he was especially liberal about spending that cache.

According to more than 100 jailhouse calls reviewed by FITSNews in the past week, incarceration doesn’t seem to have changed this.

Alex faces 83 charges, most of which are related to the theft of more than $8.4 million from clients. He remains the only publicly named person of interest in the murders of Maggie and Paul — and high-velocity impact spatter found on his clothes places him at the scene at the time that at least one of his family members was shot.

No one has been charged with their murders.

At the time of their deaths, Alex Murdaugh and other members of their family were the focus of an obstruction of justice investigation by the state grand jury into actions they and members of law enforcement allegedly took to muddy the waters in the aftermath of the 2019 boat crash involving Paul.

For more than a year, the details of Alex Murdaugh’s alleged crimes — some of which he has admitted to committing — have been met with horror and, in certain cases, fear by the state’s legal and judicial community.

He is, in the inelegant words of more than one source, a “giant shit stain on this state’s legal profession.”

And yet none of this — not even Alex Murdaugh’s current lot in life — seems to have tempered his expectations of privilege.

The Murdaugh family built their legacy on the notion that they are different.

This brand of “different” — which, ironically, is not unique to them in this state — has meant special access to influential people, special flexibility with the rules, special expectations of favor, consequence and payback, and special consideration from friends, neighbors, law enforcement, the courts, the juries, insurance adjusters, the local bank, business owners and all manner of institution.

The expectation of “specialness” is so long-standing that it has become an evolutionary trait for a certain class of families in South Carolina — it is a part of them in the way of a specifically inherited nose. So plainly dominating their face, yet they do not and perhaps cannot see beyond it.

This much is evident in the jailhouse phone calls involving Alex Murdaugh’s relentless quest to get his son Buster re-admitted to the University of South Carolina School of Law.

And not just ”re-admitted,” but re-admitted on his terms.

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’Did You Call Butch?’

Buster Murdaugh, now 26 years old, was ejected from the University of South Carolina School of Law at the end of his second semester in 2019 after being accused of plagiarism, according to a September 2021 report in the Wall Street Journal.

As FITSNews exclusively reported in February, the Murdaughs appear to have enlisted the help of Columbia attorney Butch Bowers to help Buster regain admittance to the school.

According to his phone calls from jail, Alex paid Bowers $60,000 for this task — half upfront and half when he succeeded in his mission.

As of at least Dec. 1, 2021, he had received his payment in full, according to the calls.

Bowers, who is from Hampton County, is a “political operative” — as Alex Murdaugh noted in a November phone call with his brother John Marvin Murdaugh.

Over the years, Bowers has advised some big names in South Carolina, including Gov. Henry McMaster and former governors Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley. He is also one of the many attorneys hired by President Donald J. Trump‘s team during the president’s second impeachment hearing in 2021.

Bowers was reportedly dumped by Trump after just two weeks because he seemed to be in over his head and the two had no chemistry, according to previous reporting by FITSNews.

Bowers often works with clients who find themselves under some sort of ethical cloud, to say the least,” FITSNews founding editor Will Folks wrote in January 2021. 

In just about every phone call with Buster before the end of last year, Alex asked his son whether he had “called Butch” and then urged him to do so.

During one call on Nov. 18, 2021, Alex became perturbed with Buster for not “rescheduling” with the law school.

He called back later that evening to explain.

ALEX: Buster, I just thought about it and I hope you didn’t think I was being short with you today. I mean, I’m basically saying, I’m asking you to make that appointment at law school or— I just don’t want to bug you if you don’t want to do it is all I was trying to say.

BUSTER: Yeah. I mean, that’s fine. I mean, I’m going to do it. It just hasn’t worked out and probably, with the holiday coming up, probably won’t. Well, I mean I can definitely call Blanca, but I might not be able to get, sit down with Hubbard prior to that.

“Hubbard” is William Hubbard, the dean of the law school.

More on him in a second.

“Blanca” is believed to be the assistant to former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte, who is accused of conspiring with Alex Murdaugh to steal nearly $2 million from clients. It is unclear what role, if any, Blanca played in the law school plan.

ALEX: And I understand that. But just remember, it’s important. Even if you don’t set the meeting for the week after Thanksgiving, get back in touch with them. Don’t wait.

BUSTER: Right …

ALEX: Do you follow what I’m saying?

BUSTER: Yeah. I do.

ALEX: Because I really am telling you, I think it’s important that you have that meeting sooner rather than later.

BUSTER: OK.

ALEX: And, I mean, you’re in good shape in November. I think you’re still in good shape. But I think you want to have it— if he doesn’t have time at the beginning of next week because of Thanksgiving, you want to get it set that first week of December.

BUSTER: Yeah. I don’t disagree …

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‘A Guy Smart As Hell’

If the Murdaugh Crime and Corruption Saga has taught the world one thing about South Carolina, it’s that “success” works a little differently here.

The legal ecosystem, especially, tends to reflexively reward those with lineage and pre-established connections.

Those from somewhere else or who worked their way up from nothing are often relegated to the outer edges of the incestuous groups that emerge from the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Stories abound about students getting admitted to the school despite low LSAT scores, openly cheating their way through each semester and passing the bar merely because of the designated number on their exam — all because of “who” their family is.

How can this be? How can a lawyer make any money if they don’t know the law?

Because for some lawyers in South Carolina it’s about what they can do outside the courtroom, not inside.

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To many, Alex Murdaugh is the purest, most uncut product of this system, but he’s not alone.

In March 2022, the quiet part — the part everyone has known to be true — was said out loud by “political kingmaker” Dr. Eddie Floyd, an 87-year-old heart surgeon from Florence, who is the longest-serving member on the University of South Carolina’s powerful (and, in his case anyway, ethically challenged) board of trustees, having first been appointed in 1982.

Floyd is one of several board members who have been accused of interfering in the university’s day-to-day operations, wasting millions of dollars on folly and, essentially, running a shadow board apart from the normal process.

For context on Eddie Floyd and his way of thinking, it’s worth watching this short video by The State from 2017.

During a screening hearing at the Statehouse for his re-appointment to the board a few months ago, Floyd answered questions from legislators about his role in the disastrous — and scandalous — hiring of former U.S. Army General Robert Caslen as president in 2019.

Caslen resigned in 2021 after giving a mealy-mouthed commencement speech that turned out to be plagiarized — he also referred to the university as “the University of California.”

Floyd admitted to state legislators that he had made a mistake during the hiring process — such as flying with other board members to Florida where they secretly met with Caslen.

Then state Sen. Dick Harpootlian had some other questions for him.

In addition to being known as one of Alex Murdaugh’s two ”bulldog” attorneys, Harpootlian is one of the few state legislators willing to challenge the status quo, push for much-needed reform and advocate for government accountability.

Here, he questions Floyd about his interactions with the school’s department heads …

HARPOOTLIAN: I mean, you talk to (athletics director) Ray Tanner from time to time?

FLOYD: Yes.

HARPOOTLIAN: Do you call him or he calls you?

FLOYD: Half and half probably.

HARPOOTLIAN: Now he is a department head, right?

FLOYD: Right.

HARPOOTLIAN: Do you call the head of the chemistry department?

FLOYD: I would if I thought it was necessary.

HARPOOTLIAN: Well, what would make calling the head of the chemistry department necessary?

FLOYD: Well, OK, let me give you a good example.

HARPOOTLIAN: I want one.

FLOYD: We’ve got a really good lawyer in Florence, and his daddy was a KA with me at the university. He called me and said, “My son has been turned down in law school.” This has been years ago. And this guy is a guy smart as hell. He had been president of Boy’s Nation, all kind of credentials. And I called the dean of the law school.

HARPOOTLIAN: William Hubbard? 

FLOYD: No.

HARPOOTLIAN: Prior to William?

FLOYD: Much prior to William.

HARPOOTLIAN: OK.

FLOYD: And I got a call back from the dean in about two weeks, and he said, “Dr. Floyd, I really made a big mistake.”

HARPOOTLIAN: He let him in?

FLOYD: He let him in.

HARPOOTLIAN: And this was a personal friend of yours?

FLOYD: Yes.

HARPOOTLIAN: And you called the dean of the law school to help his son out. Do you do that a lot?

FLOYD: To find out. Well, I feel like if you elect me to the board of trustees, I’m a representative with the University of South Carolina for the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, and I feel like if anybody has a complaint or wants me to help their kids any way, I feel like it’s my responsibility to help them the best I can.

HARPOOTLIAN: Even if they objectively couldn’t get in, you use your influence to get them in?

FLOYD: I would if I thought they were qualified to do.

HARPOOTLIAN: Even though their SAT scores and rankings in their high school class didn’t qualify them? If you felt that they should get in, they should get in, correct?

FLOYD: Well, I find out — first thing — first thing is you’ve got to check to find out what they tell you is the truth —

HARPOOTLIAN: Well, assume that they —

FLOYD: — and if their parents call you, the majority of time it’s not exactly what the facts are, but I’ve got a secretary that I hire full time that does university things.

HARPOOTLIAN: That does what, now? University what?

FLOYD: Things. I mean, you know —

HARPOOTLIAN: Oh, yeah, OK. I guess what I’m saying is, you get a call from somebody, you know the family, good family, comes from a good background, the kid got turned down by USC law school or undergraduate school, you do what you can to get them in.

FLOYD: I do what — yes.

HARPOOTLIAN: Yes, OK. That’s all. Thank you.

In an unprecedented move, state legislators decided to sit on the decision to re-appoint five board members, including Floyd. All five are up for re-election and are running unopposed for their seats. Though they are currently still part of the board, it is unclear what their futures hold.

After state Sen. Brad Hutto single-handedly crashed a bill that would reform the school’s board trustees in May, Harpootlian told The State newspaper: “This is not going away. He bought six months, but I’m not going away on this issue and I think a number of us in this body are not going away.”

This is a taste of how things have been working at the University of South Carolina.

This is the system that Alex Murdaugh came from, that his father came from, that his grandfather and great-grandfather came from.

This is the system he thought could be worked for a fee.

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The School of Law

The University of South Carolina School of Law — which this publication once referred to as the University of Nelson Mullins, in reference to the powerful law firm that historically has had great influence over the school — has been plagued with problems.

In addition to having a low endowment, a below-average participation rate from its alumni (read: they don’t donate any money) and being ranked near the very bottom of the nation’s top 100 law schools, the school is in massive debt, lacks diversity and charges an above-average tuition to attend, according to a June 2020 report in The (Columbia) State.

The school’s dean — William Hubbard — is a former president of the American Bar Association and partner at Nelson Mullins. He was also the second-longest serving member on the university’s board of trustees (second to Dr. Floyd) up until he was hired to take over the law school in the summer of 2020.

In 2014, our founding editor Will Folks described Hubbard this way: “A guy so corrupt South Carolina lawmakers have previously had to draft legislation in an effort to contain his unethical, self-serving behavior.”

Three years prior, in 2011, Hubbard had lobbied hard to become dean of the law school, a position he apparently wanted to hold while also serving as a member of the board of trustees, according to previous reporting by FITSNews.

Within three months of being hired nine years later, he found himself in the headlines for accidentally emailing a document with the confidential Bar Exam scores for every student who took the test that year — including the names of those students who failed.

“Hubbard said he was so excited last week when he got the official email (from the Bar) that 82 percent of his students passed that he forwarded it without noticing the attachments that were supposed to remain private,” The State wrote in October 2020.

“It was totally an accident, an accident I deeply regret,” he told The State.

During Hubbard’s interview for the position in 2020, panel member U.S. Judge Michelle Childs noted that each law school class has about 200 graduates and that “only about 50 of that number are highly sought after for top legal jobs,” according to a report in The State.

Childs wanted to know how Hubbard planned to help the rest of the students get decent jobs.

Hubbard told her “his connections would likely get some employers to ‘take a flyer’ and gamble on a law school graduate with less than stellar grades.”

”What I might bring to the table as dean would be to take advantage of my national network of relationships at other law firms to make pitches and call them up and say, ’Hey let me talk to you about this law school, how good it is, and let me introduce you to some of our faculty members who are doing world-class work.’ We are basically a secret on the national scale,” Hubbard said during his interview, according to The State.

Hubbard’s name came up often during Alex Murdaugh’s calls with Buster.

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The Buster Deal

On Oct. 27, 2021, in one of Alex Murdaugh’s first calls from the detention center, Alex reminded his son that the calls were being recorded and later asked him whether he had reached out to the law school.

Buster told him he hadn’t done so yet but planned to do it in November.

“I just don’t want you to wait,” Alex told him. “It’s not as effective if you wait till right up till, you know, a couple of weeks before school starts.”

This exchange would become almost routine for Alex in his calls with Buster.

Though neither man spoke explicitly about what Butch Bowers was paid to do for them — and Bowers did not respond to a request for comment from FITSNews — this much can be deduced through their conversations:

  • Buster appears to have been re-admitted to the school for the Spring 2022 semester.
  • As part of the agreement, there are four or five “contingencies.” One of them is that he will have to retain the GPA he had when he was ejected from the school in 2019. Another is that he can never “run for Student Bar.” He also will be required to meet with a “help person” every week.
  • But Alex and Buster want to change the stipulations to his re-acceptance because of how it will affect his GPA moving forward.
  • Buster would like to start fresh in the fall with a clean slate and not have to carry the burden of the old GPA he had in 2019.
  • Alex pushes Buster to get with Butch Bowers and William Hubbard to have the stipulations changed.
  • As time runs out toward the end of December, neither Alex nor Buster had any straight answers about whether their demands would be met.
  • Five days before classes were to start for the Spring semester, Alex finds out that the school is, in essence, rescinding its offer and recommending that Buster start in the Spring of 2023 instead.

Here’s how this seems to have gone down …

On Dec. 2, 2021, Buster told Alex that he got in touch with Butch Bowers, and Bowers said he never told Alex that the terms would be changed.

“That’s just not true,” Alex said. “He and Jim were on the phone. So what’s he saying if you start in the fall?”

Buster said that Bowers told him he could start in the fall but didn’t specifically say he could start “fresh,” with different stipulations.

“But then I thought about it more,” Buster said. “And I was like, if I do it in the fall, they would have to change.”

Alex asked him how they would count the fall semester given that Buster had already completed a first-year fall semester.

“I thought about that too. But I talked to him and he’s going to reach back out to him and say like, ‘Hey, you know, if he’s willing to, you know, put off his aspirations for another length of time, we think it’d be good to go ahead and just let him, you know, start from zero.'”

“I’m telling you, Buster. Do a three-way and get Jim on the phone.”

“Why?”

“Just … I want to see if I’m crazy or that’s what he told us?”

Buster told Alex that Jim was in a meeting.

Some of the jailhouse calls reference other calls made to Alex Murdaugh’s attorney Jim Griffin and to Bowers. These calls were not available to FITSNews through the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the jail’s handbook, three-way calls are against the rules and result in immediate termination of the call. From the calls FITSNews reviewed, this does not actually seem to be the case, though.

The call ended with Alex telling Buster that he was aware of how much pressure he was putting on him with all of this.

“I just want whatever is best for you,” he said to his son.

Buster told him that if the terms aren’t changed regarding his GPA, then he’s not going to go to law school now because “there’s no point.”

“I don’t disagree with that,” Alex said. “I think that’s logical thinking. And, I think you could go there and do real good. But it’s going to be hard for you to get a high GPA because—”

“Because of how low the one … I understand,” Buster said.

“That’s right,” Alex said. “So even if you made 4.0s for five semesters that’s still the highest you could get up to would be about a three.”

A few days later, on Dec. 5, 2021, Buster tells Alex that Bowers has gotten in touch with Hubbard and that Hubbard is willing to let him start in the fall, he just needs to “run it by admissions and all that other stuff.”

“Given the scenario, you know, of me not knowing if I’m going to go back and work for the law firm,” Buster said, likely referring to Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick, which disbanded weeks after this call, “my grades need to be as high as possible so that if I want a different job, I can get one.”

For the next few weeks, Alex continues to prod Buster about whether he’s followed up with Butch.

“Given the scenario, you know, of me not knowing if I’m going to go back and work for the law firm,” Buster said, likely referring to Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick, which disbanded weeks after this call, “my grades need to be as high as possible so that if I want a different job, I can get one.”

“I mean, shit,” Alex said. “You’re two weeks out.”

“I told Butch, I was like, ‘Well look, man. It’s not exactly like I can be told on the 31st that I go to school on the 5th.’ And he’s like, ‘I understand.’ He seems to think that due to the delay, that—

“— the situation is going to work out?”

“Yeah, I mean, I’ll just tell (him) ‘Look, man. You f****d this all up. I can’t come to school with four days’ notice.'”

“I know,” Alex said. “But you can’t tell him quite like that.”

Buster reminded Alex that if “push comes to shove” he had a “good hard letter that says I’ve been accepted and they don’t want that PR going out there. I’ve got valid, you know, hard copy proof.”

Ultimately, it is not clear who was putting off whom — was it the school regretting a previous decision? was it Butch Bowers not following up with Buster? was it Buster not following up with Bowers or Hubbard? did Buster actually want this or was this for Alex’s sake?

FITSNews reached out to the University of South Carolina for this story and provided an overview of the assertions made by Alex and Buster in their phone calls.

Here is the university’s response: “Richard Alexander “Buster” Murdaugh Jr. is not enrolled at the University of South Carolina School of Law. He was previously enrolled from Fall 2018 to Spring 2019.”

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The Buster Letdown

On Dec. 31, 2021, Alex Murdaugh delivered the bad news to Buster: The school decided to delay its offer for now. They said they didn’t think law school would be in Buster’s best interest at this time. But he could come back in the Spring of 2023.

“I’m not sure they can do that,” Alex said.

Buster told Alex that he didn’t even want to go to school in the Spring of 2022 anyway, so all of this is fine.

“I feel like it’s all my fault,” Alex said to Buster. “I know it’s my fault.”

Buster assured him that wasn’t the case.

“Not entirely,” he said. “I share some blame in this.”

At no point during any of their conversations did they talk about trying a law school in a different state.

Immediately after getting off the phone with Buster, Alex called John Marvin and told him the news.

“Do me a favor?” Alex said. “Check on Buster.”

The two discussed the options now that they had the university’s final decision. Alex seemed to go back and forth — one minute saying this decision was in Buster’s “best interest,” the next talking about “leverage” and having Harpootlian and Griffin figure out a way to get Buster enrolled for the Fall semester.

He even talked about getting the court involved.

“Let’s just say, he could force them to honor the admission,” Alex said.

“And go this coming semester?,” John Marvin said.

“Yeah,” Alex said. “I mean, with all this pressure on him and that’s going to piss off the administration and they’re going to grade him extra hard. Who knows what might happen.”

At the end of the call, though, Alex was not ready to give up.

“Jim and Dick seem to think maybe they can negotiate,” he said. “Right now they’re saying the Fall is not an option. But they seem to think as time goes by they might can work it out for him to start in the fall. That’s what they think.”


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Via: Provided)

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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