A recent, high-profile search of the Coosawhatchie River by agents of the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has been linked to the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga – we just don’t know how, exactly.
First reported by Michael DeWitt of The Hampton County Guardian, this search hoped to uncover evidence tied to the graphic June 7, 2021 slayings of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh – evidence one source described as “central” to the upcoming murder trial of Murdaugh.
But what evidence were investigators seeking? And did their search uncover anything of evidentiary value?
Over the last three weeks, our sources have been exceedingly tight-lipped as to what SLED was searching for in the Coosawhatchie River just south of Almeda, S.C. – but multiple sources close to the ongoing inquiry have confirmed the search came up empty.
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One pervasive item of speculation? That the search was somehow related to an alleged “accomplice after the fact” connected to the murder investigation – fueling rumors that disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh did not act alone either in the alleged commission of the murders or their aftermath.
Murdaugh has been charged with two counts of murder and two counts of possessing a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in the killing of his wife and younger son.
To be clear: No one else has been charged with a crime in connection with these two murders.
Not only that, sources familiar with the status of this inquiry have repeatedly shot down speculation that Murdaugh might have had an accomplice during the commission of these murders – or during any alleged attempts to cover them up.
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In addition to the two murder charges, Murdaugh is also staring down a multitude of alleged financial crimes as well as drug charges and allegations of obstruction of justice tied to a fatal 2019 boat crash involving his late son. Additionally, he is facing fraud charges tied to a bizarre, botched suicide attempt last Labor Day in Hampton County.
Finally, Murdaugh is a codefendant in multiple civil cases, including a high-profile wrongful death lawsuit tied to the same boat crash.
The 54-year-old lawyer was a fourth generation member of the “House of Murdaugh” – a crumbling legal dynasty which has enjoyed near-dictatorial power over a five-county region in the southernmost tip of South Carolina for decades. Three generations of Murdaughs – including Alex’s late father, Randolph Murdaugh III – held the post of S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor between 1920-2006.
In recent years, Yemassee, S.C. police chief Greg Alexander has emerged as a staunch ally of of the family. In fact, Hampton County residents have referred to him as the Murdaughs’ “fixer.”
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Just over a month after his wife and son were murdered, Murdaugh wrote a $5,000 check to Alexander (above) – which I first reported on back in March.
Alexander told me at the time the money was intended as a loan for his parents and that he was just a “pass-through.” He declined to say whether the money had been repaid.
During the conversation, Alexander referred to Alex Murdaugh as a “longtime friend” who had helped his family in the past.
This wasn’t the only money Alexander received in recent months from his many Murdaugh connections. As I also reported back in March, Alexander raked in at least $5,500 in contributions to his failed bid for Hampton County sheriff from Murdaugh family members and allies.
Alexander finished third in a four-way Democratic primary for Hampton County sheriff in June, drawing only 776 votes (or 18 percent of all ballots cast).
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Alexander is no stranger to controversy. In 2012, while serving as a captain with the Yemassee police department, he was accused of stealing nearly $11,000 from motorists and misusing police funds. Alexander wasn’t merely accused, though, he was indicted by a statewide grand jury on charges of misconduct in office and breach of trust related to the alleged theft of seizure money from a Yemassee police safe.
These indictments stemmed from traffic stops which occurred in July 2010 and February 2009. Alexander was one of only two people with access to the safe, according to the indictments.
During the course of the investigation, in October 2010, Alexander was administered a polygraph examination by SLED. How did he do? Not so well. According to a SLED report (.pdf) obtained by this news outlet, Alexander failed the exam.
“It was the opinion of the examiner that deception was indicated in Alexander’s responses to the relevant questions,” the report noted.
Still, prosecutors in the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson couldn’t make the case against the scandal-scarred lawman stick. In November 2012, a Hampton County jury found Alexander not guilty of misconduct in office and of breach of trust tied to the missing $11,000.
That money has yet to be recovered, incidentally.
“We made our best case … but (the) jurors of Hampton County disagreed and acquitted him,” a spokesman for the attorney general said at the time.
The following month, Alexander was reinstated as police captain – and later became Yemassee’s police chief.
Alexander’s reputation as a Murdaugh ‘fixer’ gained steam in 2015 following the murder of 19-year-old Stephen Smith of Hampton, S.C. – an openly gay teenager whose brutal killing was initially misclassified as vehicular hit-and-run.
Smith’s body was found in the middle of Sandy Run Road near Crocketville, S.C. at approximately 4:00 a.m. EDT on the morning of July 8, 2015. Among other wounds, the 19-year-old had a 7.25-inch laceration located on the right side of his forehead that produced so much blood it was mistakenly confused for a gunshot blast.
Smith’s death was ruled a vehicular hit-and-run by Erin Presnell, a forensic pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Presnell reached this conclusion despite the fact Smith’s injuries were totally inconsistent with a vehicular strike – and despite the fact there was no evidence of a vehicular strike in the roadway where his body was found, according to investigators.
“I saw no vehicle debris, skid marks or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle,” trooper D.B. Rowell of the S.C. Highway Patrol (SCHP) wrote in his report describing the crime scene. “We see no evidence to suggest the victim was struck by a vehicle.”
Another SCHP investigator who walked the scene found “no evidence of car parts or pieces” on the scene, affirming the judgment of the responding officer.
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Moreover, the location of Smith’s body in the middle of the roadway (above) was inconsistent with a vehicular strike.
The “Murdaugh” family name was mentioned more than forty times during the investigation into Smith’s death – and Alex Murdaugh’s brother and former law partner, Randy Murdaugh, has been linked to at least three potential attempts to manipulate the course of the original investigation.
Most significantly, SLED reopened the investigation into this case just two weeks after the Moselle homicides in June 2021. In announcing that decision, the agency specifically stated it was “based on information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.”
Last November, however, attorney Andy Savage – who at the time was representing Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith – gave an interview to WCIV TV-4 in which he indicated the Murdaughs were “unconnected” to Smith’s murder and any speculation that they were involved was “unfounded.”
Sandy Smith recoiled at that revelation – and shortly thereafter parted ways with Savage as her attorney.
However, sources close to the investigation did not dispute Savage’s characterization. In fact, they hinted strongly that his assessment may have been accurate.
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“What if he’s right?” one well-placed law enforcement source told me at the time.
To her credit, Sandy Smith has steadfastly maintained she does not care who is ultimately charged in connection with her son’s murder, only that charges are brought and justice is served.
As for Alexander’s role in the Smith saga, sources familiar with the situation claim he was tasked with “keeping tabs” on the family for someone – although they could not say for sure who allegedly made this request.
“Everyone assumed it was the Murdaughs,” one Hampton, S.C. source told me. “But there were a lot of people in (Stephen Smith’s) little black book.”
One thing is clear, though: Alexander stayed very close to the Smith family.
How close? Multiple sources familiar with the situation say the police chief fathered a child a few years ago with 26-year-old Stephanie Joyner, Stephen Smith’s twin sister – a family secret that has reportedly surfaced as the probe of Smith’s death approaches a point of critical mass.
Alexander has consistently pushed back at allegations that he is a “fixer” for the Murdaughs.
“I’m not a cat,” Alexander said during a famous March 11, 2022 Facebook video. “I don’t cover up no doo-doo.”
Is that true? We shall see … but Alexander’s proximity to so many of the key players in this saga makes him an ongoing focal point of multiple Murdaugh-related inquiries.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has many hats – including that San Jose Giants’ Pacific Coast League 75th Anniversary lid pictured above.
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