Late on Feb. 23, 2022 — the day FITSNews and Murdaugh Murders Podcast first published recordings of phone calls that Alex Murdaugh had made from jail — Murdaugh called his son Buster in a rush from the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Richland County.
The call, which took place just before 10 p.m., was the only one Alex made that day, according to documents obtained by FITSNews through the Freedom of Information Act.
“Hey buddy,” Alex said after Buster had accepted the collect charges.
“I hope you’re not in bed.”
“Uh, about to get in it,” Buster said.
“Well, good for you. Did you have a good day?”
“Um. Yes, it was all right.”
“Long day?,” Alex asked.
Alex apologized for not calling Buster sooner and told him he’d try to be in touch the next day but wanted to make sure he was doing OK. The two talked briefly about Buster’s work schedule. Right before they ended the call, Buster told Alex what was on his mind …
“Um, I, um, I spoke with Jim today,” Buster said, possibly referring to Alex’s attorney Jim Griffin. “So, um, we gotta, we gotta do something different than keep talking over this jail phone.”
“Yeah. Yeah. All right. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I love you,” Alex said in hasty response before hanging up.
From that point forward, Alex Murdaugh did indeed do something “different.”
An examination of the calls Murdaugh made from the time of his arrival at the detention center in October 2021 through May 10, 2022, when FITSNews submitted a FOIA for a list of the calls, shows that starting Feb. 24, Murdaugh made far fewer calls to his family and instead began contacting a new phone number — the main line of the Griffin Davis Law Firm in Columbia.
Griffin Davis is the law firm of Jim Griffin, who along with state Sen. Dick Harpootlian represented Paul Murdaugh in a 2019 fatal boating under the influence case before Paul’s murder alongside his mother, Maggie Murdaugh, in June 2021.
Griffin and Harpootlian now represent Alex Murdaugh. As FITSNews was first to report early Tuesday, Alex Murdaugh is expected to be charged with murdering his wife and son Thursday.
Prior to the publication of the recordings, Murdaugh — who now faces 85 charges, most of them connected to the alleged theft of $8.4 million from clients — called the law firm’s number exactly zero times.
To reach Griffin, he would instead call Griffin’s cellphone, which he continued to do after the publication of the calls.
Murdaugh made some other changes too.
For instance, he appears to have stopped calling his brother John Marvin Murdaugh altogether and drastically reduced his calls to Buster, as well as to John Marvin’s wife, Liz Murdaugh, and their sister, Lynn Goette.
The majority of his calls were now being made to the law firm’s front desk.
Why is this? Was Murdaugh simply contacting his attorney using a new method? Or was he employing his attorney’s office as a conduit and a shield? As a way to call anyone he wanted without the scrutiny of the public … and, more importantly, without law enforcement listening in.
The calls that inmates make to their attorneys are protected from monitoring by investigators. This allows inmates and attorneys to have private conversations related to the inmate’s defense.
In Murdaugh’s case, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office was listening in on his calls. Per protocol, they did not listen to calls made to Griffin’s cellphone or to the law firm, according to documents.
They also did not listen to nearly all of the 22 calls Murdaugh made to his brother — and former law partner — Randy Murdaugh from Oct. 19, 2021 through May 10, 2022.
Wait … what? Was Randy Murdaugh using the “attorney-client” privilege with his brother to have unmonitored calls? Sure looks that way! More on that in a second.
The important thing to note here is this: After Feb. 23, Murdaugh’s calls from jail went largely unmonitored by law enforcement because most calls were being made to the main line at Griffin’s law firm, according to the 16-page log reviewed by FITSNews.
While it can be assumed Murdaugh was speaking directly to his attorney in each of those calls, a review of more than 100 recordings of Murdaugh’s jailhouse calls has revealed that he was, in some measure, regularly using “three-way calling” as a way to connect with people he couldn’t directly call.
In one such instance on Dec. 2, 2021, he demanded that Buster Murdaugh call “Jim” in a “three-way” right then and there to address confusion over Buster’s readmission to law school. In another on Dec. 30, he had Buster call a friend named Greg Cook and connect them on the spot.
According to the jail’s handbook, inmates are prohibited from taking part in three-way calls. By calling Party A and then having them connect him with Party B, an inmate could effectively bypass the jail’s system for monitoring outgoing calls if Party A’s calls are protected from monitoring.
It is not known whether Murdaugh was calling Griffin’s firm to then get connected to family members or other parties.
However, according to multiple sources, sometime this spring, Murdaugh began calling Maggie’s parents, Terry and Kennedy Branstetter. Nowhere on any of the call logs, though, does it show that Alex Murdaugh directly dialed their number from his jail account.
For months, Alex had asked Buster whether he thought the Branstetters would be open to a phone call from him. He repeatedly asked Buster to set up an inmate phone account for them so that he could contact them. As of February 2022, Buster did not appear to have done that.
If three-way calls were being used, it would mean that Alex Murdaugh was allowed unmonitored access to the parents of the woman he will soon stand accused of murdering.
In two Freedom of Information Act requests, FITSNews obtained records that showed every phone number Alex Murdaugh called from a jail phone. The records show the time, date, duration of call, cost of call and the name of the person who “listened to” the call.
Between Oct. 19, 2021, and Feb. 23, 2022, Alex made 196 phone calls. Here is how that broke down:
- 100 calls to Buster
- 33 calls to Jim Griffin
- 25 calls to Liz Murdaugh
- 23 calls to John Marvin Murdaugh
- 20 calls to Randy Murdaugh
- 16 calls to Lynn Goettee
Between Feb. 24, 2022, and May 10, 2022, Alex made 75 phone calls. Here is the breakdown:
- 34 calls to Griffin Davis Law Firm
- 21 calls to Buster
- 15 calls to Lynn Goettee
- 8 calls to Jim Griffin
- 5 calls to Liz Murdaugh
- 2 calls to Randy Murdaugh
- 0 calls to John Marvin Murdaugh
The last set of calls to family members were substantially shorter than the first set.
Why are these calls important?
The common thought about the Murdaugh family has been that their unique relationship to law enforcement and the judiciary — particularly in the 14th Circuit — has allowed them to “get out of” whatever trouble they may have gotten into from one generation to the next. In short, if you were a “Murdaugh,” the rules weren’t thought to apply to you.
The calls have not only revealed that this is how Alex Murdaugh appears to operate — outside the rules — they’ve served to discredit several narratives that were being posited by Murdaugh’s attorneys in the early days after the murders and the bizarre Labor Day “shooting” he was involved in.
In January, state prosecutor Creighton Waters told the court that the calls showed that not only was Murdaugh a man of means, being behind bars had not stopped him from working to hide assets from his future creditors.
One of his alleged creditors was Randy Murdaugh, who — in a move that some say was designed to help Alex preserve his assets — sued Alex in October for an unpaid debt of $46,000, to which Alex immediately confessed judgment.
It’s this apparent trickery that led attorney Mark Tinsley — who represents the family of Mallory Beach — to seek an injunction and court-appointed receivership that same month. This receivership has proven critical in understanding Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes, as well as the measures that Alex and his brothers seem to have taken to transfer his assets to friends and other family members.
Oddly, Alex’s calls to Randy are not monitored by the state Attorney General’s Office, according to the documents from the county.
Why is this? Randy is not Alex’s attorney — at least not in any public or official capacity. Does Randy’s mere profession qualify him for unmonitored calls with inmates, even if he doesn’t represent that inmate?
One thought is this: After Paul Murdaugh’s murder Randy Murdaugh became personal representative of Paul’s estate. Paul died without a will, which means that Alex and Maggie are his heirs. Maggie, obviously, is unable to be his heir, and should Alex be found guilty of killing Paul he would then become disqualified from being Paul’s heir.
But in the meantime, is it possible Randy’s role as PR for Paul’s estate and Alex’s role as potential heir is one that allows for the unmonitored phone calls?
Here’s where it gets interesting: On Oct. 7, 2021 — 12 days before Alex’s unexpected incarceration at Richland County Detention Center — Randy resigned as personal representative of Paul’s estate citing an unspecified conflict of interest. But as of this date, no successor has been named. In fact, according to publicly available documents in Colleton County Probate Court, Randy has been delinquent in filing a required inventory of Paul’s estate.
Has he been delaying this process because it allows for these unmonitored calls with Alex?
FITSNews reached out to the state Attorney General’s Office for clarification on its monitoring of Alex Murdaugh’s phone calls. They declined to comment.
Griffin, too, was asked for comment on whether his office has been facilitating three-way phone calls for his client. He did not respond to that request.
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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