This story is breaking and will be updated throughout the day.
On the night of June 7, 2021, Richard Alexander Murdaugh Sr. — then an influential Hampton County attorney — told the world he arrived home to discover the bodies of his wife and son by the family’s dog kennels, where they had been gunned down.
In the days that followed, two narratives emerged from the powerful Murdaugh family.
One was that an ornery groundskeeper, at whom Paul Murdaugh had allegedly screamed over the seeding of a dove field, might have done it.
The other was that these were revenge killings for the 2019 fatal boat crash in which Paul was involved — or perhaps the mysterious 2015 death of a young gay man to which the family was rumored to be connected.
The Murdaughs, who were working with an image consultant, said they were running their own independent investigation; and weeks after the murders — with the public questioning why the family wasn’t more loud about demanding justice — they offered a $100,000 reward for information.
The reward, strangely, came with an expiration date.
Then, when Murdaugh was arrested in a bizarre roadside shooting in September, the narrative changed: Murdaugh was a drug addict, they said. He had stolen $10 million from his law firm to support his habit. The killings were potentially related to that and, come to think about it, a gang in Walterboro might be involved.
That arrest was followed by another; and the secrets that had been long-kept by the man “who has no bottom” began to spill out in the most epic of ways.
Soon Alex Murdaugh was facing 85 charges, the majority of which are related to alleged schemes to steal millions of dollars from his clients — two of which are related to drug-trafficking.
All the while, Murdaugh — who was said to have an “ironclad alibi” on the night of the killings — remained the only publicly named person of interest in his wife’s and son’s deaths.
But as each month passed with no charges and no updates from law enforcement, the public began to wonder whether investigators would ever solve the case … whether they’d ever be able to prove what happened given the Murdaugh family’s reputation, their connections to law enforcement and their ability to harness resources in their favor.
Murdaugh’s attorneys state Sen Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin began making comments to the media and taunted investigators in court, telling them to focus less on the financial crimes and more on finding out who killed Murdaugh’s wife and son.
Today, Harpootlian and Griffin have gotten their wish.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced in a joint news release Thursday that Alex Murdaugh has been charged with the gruesome, cold-blooded murders of his wife, 52-year-old Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, and his son, 22-year-old son Paul Terry Murdaugh.
Murdaugh faces two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The latter charge is an enhancement charge. If Murdaugh is found guilty of both murders, the second charge could carry an additional sentence of five years.
“All the efforts of our office and the law enforcement agencies involved in this investigation have been focused on seeking justice for the victims’ families. We want to thank the State Law Enforcement Division, the attorneys and staff in our office, and everyone who worked on this case for their tireless efforts to gather evidence and follow where it led. We also want to thank the Colleton County Grand Jury for listening to that evidence and for their service to the people of the state,” state Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a news release Thursday morning.
“Over the last 13 months, SLED agents and our partners have worked day in and day out to build a case against the person responsible for the murders of Maggie and Paul and to exclude those who were not. At no point did agents lose focus on this investigation. From the beginning I have been clear, the priority was to ensure justice was served. Today is one more step in a long process for justice for Maggie and Paul,” said SLED Chief Mark Keel.
The indictments indicate that Alex Murdaugh acted alone.
A bond hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 20 at Colleton County Courthouse.
What Happened That Night …
The indictments that were handed down Thursday do not provide any details about what investigators think happened the night Maggie and Paul were killed.
This means it is not clear who investigators believe was killed first.
It also means that the motive has not been made public.
The press release from the SLED and the state Attorney General’s Office also did not provide an explanation for why authorities took 13 months to charge Murdaugh, but a statement issued to Live 5 News on Thursday morning from Murdaugh’s attorneys demanding a trial in 60 days might provide explanation.
Read the indictments here.
Knowing that an unprecedented amount of bureaucratic resolve would be required to take on the indomitable Murdaugh machine, FITSNews sought to keep pressure on the investigation from the start by relentlessly shining a spotlight on the players and the process.
While indictments confirmed what FITSNews has previously reported — Maggie was killed with a rifle and Paul was killed with a shotgun — no information was given about what evidence led investigators to this conclusion.
Here is what we have learned over the past year about the evidence:
As FITSNews exclusively reported in April, high-velocity impact spatter was found on Murdaugh’s clothes, placing him at the scene of the murders when at least one of the victims was killed. Last month, we reported on audio and video evidence obtained by investigators which called into question statements provided by Murdaugh to investigators.
Last week, we reported on cellular location data which could have assisted investigators in tracking Murdaugh’s movements at the time of the murders – helping them create a timeline for what actually happened versus what Murdaugh and his attorneys told them happened.
FITSNews has also reported that Maggie Murdaugh appears to have been lured to Moselle that night by her husband under the guise of visiting his dying father.
Questions that remain include: what happened to the weapons? And how did Maggie’s cellphone end up on the side of the road?
And will the Attorney General seek the death penalty?
‘He loved them more than anything in the world’
On Thursday morning, Murdaugh’s attorneys provided a statement to FITSNews through Murdaugh’s public relations firm NPStrategy denying Murdaugh’s culpability in Maggie’s and Paul’s murders.
“Alex wants his family, friends and everyone to know that he did not have anything to do with the murders of Maggie and Paul. He loved them more than anything in the world.
“It was very clear from day one that law enforcement and the Attorney General prematurely concluded that Alex was responsible for the murder of his wife and son. But we know that Alex did not have any motive whatever to murder them. We are immediately filing a motion for a speedy trial, we are requesting that the Attorney General turn over all evidence within 30 days as required by law and we demand to have a trial within 60 days of receiving that evidence.”
On Thursday afternoon, attorney Eric Bland — who represented the family of Gloria Satterfield, from whom Murdaugh has admitted stealing $4.3 million — said the murder charges were “expected” but that he was “still shocked.”
“(It’s) just another shameful chapter in the downfall of an evil man devoid of morality,” Bland told FITSNews. “What is sad is the amount of victims that are in his wake. Clients, family members, law partners, colleagues and friends. Alex was an equal opportunity victimizer.”
Also on Thursday, attorney Mike Hemlepp, who represents the family of Stephen Smith, the 19-year-old Varnville man who was killed and left in the middle of a Hampton County highway in July 2015, released a statement from Smith’s mother, Sandy:
“We have waited for answers for a long time in Stephen’s death, but I am not the only grieving loved one who needs help. I know that other loving family members have also searched for answers in the deaths of their family members. I am happy that SLED and the Attorney General’s Office have provided some closure and answers in the deaths of Maggie and Paul. While the many questions about my son’s death remain, this action gives me hope that we will get justice for my Stephen. We think of him and miss him every day and we grieve with the members of the Murdaugh and Branstetter families who have been left behind.”
Hemlepp issued a press release asking that anyone who has information about Stephen’s death come forward now.
”The men and women investigating the unsolved and mysterious crimes which have been uncovered in Hampton County took a bold step today proving that a new day has dawned in Hampton County, this was it. To all of those citizens who know what happened to Stephen but have been afraid or reluctant to come forward, this action today is a sign that the old ways of doing business in Hampton are gone. You can relieve your burden with courage and confidence by coming forward and telling what you know.”
‘This Is a Total Distraction’
From the start, Murdaugh’s attorneys and his family attempted to paint Alex Murdaugh as a man from whom much had been stolen, which is perverse given how much we now know Murdaugh is accusing of taking from others.
His brothers, John Marvin and Randy, appeared on “Good Morning America” just over a week after the murders to dispel the characterization of their family as a “dynasty” and to share their thoughts on what might have happened to Maggie and Paul.
“When I got a call from Alex Monday night, as soon as I answered the phone I knew something was wrong. He just told me, he said, ‘Come as fast as you can. Paul and Maggie have been hurt,’” John Marvin told reporter Eva Pilgrim.
“His voice. The fear. He was just distraught,” Randy said through tears. “The person that did this is out there. And there’s information, however big or however small it is. … I really don’t know of any enemies. You hear all this talk on the social media with regard to Paul. But I don’t know anybody that would truly, that would truly be an enemy or truly want to harm them.”
John Marvin expanded on the alleged threats that were made to Paul. Pilgrim asked him if they included threats of violence.
“I didn’t think it was credible threats. If it was I would have tried to do something or notified someone but I guess maybe I made a mistake.”
The public, however, remained suspicious.
Two days after the murders, FITSNews reported that sources close to the investigation had identified Alex Murdaugh as a “person of interest” in the case.
It turned out to be a bold and lonely move.
In September, a reporter asked Harpootlian about Murdaugh’s status as a “person of interest.” His response: “You’d have to ask SLED. I don’t know what they’re interested in.”
It would take another four months before anyone would go on the record with that same information. “Anyone” would turn out to be Murdaugh’s other attorney Jim Griffin who, in an interview with Fox Carolina, officially — accidentally? — referred to his client as a “person of interest.”
Up until that point, Alex Murdaugh’s designation as a “person of interest” was largely brushed off as “standard” in these kinds of investigations.
They always look at the husband first.
In the meantime, local residents continued to talk about their encounters with Alex Murdaugh in which he seemed … not particularly mournful.
Social media users and online sleuths also picked up on Alex’s apparent lack of indignation over the slow pace of the investigation — in which the killer or killers of his loved ones continued to roam free.
With this and other pressures mounting, Alex Murdaugh seemed to come up with a solution.
On Sept. 4, 2021, Murdaugh reported to law enforcement that he had been “shot” by a passerby while changing a tire on the side of a rural road.
Someone was trying to murder him like they murdered Maggie and Paul!
Murdaugh, not accustomed to fact-checking, would soon have to change that story because the luxury car he was in had “run-flat” tires on it and therefore contained no spares because “changing a flat” was not necessary.
Murdaugh then “admitted” to a 20-year opioid addiction — an addiction that comes prepackaged with the nation’s sympathy — and was purportedly shuttled off to rehab.
As law enforcement closed in on the truth, Alex Murdaugh’s story then became “murder for hire” and a co-conspirator was named. Murdaugh confessed to trying to stage his own death in attempt to leave $10 million in a life insurance policy to his son — a son whose future already included a multimillion dollar inheritance from his grandfather, according to sources.
But was that what happened? Or did Murdaugh think the lesser of two evils would be to admit to insurance fraud rather than admit to a plan in which a pretend killer pretended to try to kill him?
That incident — bizarre and suspicious when understood within the context of the unsolved murders — set in motion a chain of revelations in which it became clear that Alex Murdaugh had much more to hide than the story of what happened to his wife and son.
SLED and the state Attorney General’s Office began presenting evidence of what appears to have been a longtime scheme of Murdaugh in which he allegedly stole millions of dollars from clients.
And for the first time in his life, it seemed, Murdaugh was starting to face consequences.
After the roadside “shooting,” Harpootlian went on the Today show to mitigate the fallout from the charges that would be announced the next day.
“The murder of his son and wife 90 days ago took a tremendous toll on him,” Harpootlian told reporter Craig Melvin. “… He is totally distraught. We’ve talked to him at length about it this week. Clearly, he is distraught about their deaths. He did not murder them.”
Harpootlian told Melvin that he and Griffin had been doing some sleuthing of their own.
“Jim Griffin and I are working on and investigating an individual or individuals we believe may, MAY, have have some culpability or had did or done it,” Harpootlian said. “And we’re in the process of doing that. We’re not SLED. We’re not law enforcement. We don’t have their tools. But we think we’ll know this week whether the one suspect we’re looking at bears further scrutiny and we’ll make that information available to law enforcement.”
The next day, Harpootlian told a Hampton County magistrate — in arguing for a personal recognizance bond for his client — “Your honor, Alex Murdaugh spent his entire life in this county. No prior record. Actually involved, in all aspects of this community. Up until this charge, had no blemish on his character whatsoever.”
Murdaugh, he said, had never participated in any act of violence other than this one and is only a danger to himself.
“He has fallen from grace. It has been a tremendous … I mean, before any of that falling happened his wife and son were brutally murdered and that has had an extraordinary effect on him. We’d ask you to allow him to go and help heal himself.”
The next month, outside the Richland County Courthouse after Murdaugh had been denied bond on charges he had stolen millions from the family of his former housekeeper, Harpootlian was asked about the status of the investigation he had mentioned on the Today show.
“I’m not commenting on that. What else?,” he said, abruptly shutting down the question.
During a bond reconsideration hearing in January, Harpootlian became heated about prosecutor Creighton Waters’ continued focus on Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes.
“All this is about is Mr. Waters’ inability to have law enforcement focus on the murders of Paul and Maggie. And they’re attempting to distract from those murders. They’re attempting to infer that somehow Alex Murdaugh was involved and use that as a way to heavy up on him. He was not involved. He’s indicated he wasn’t involved. And this is a total distraction. I apologize to the court for being somewhat emotional about this.”
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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