This news outlet has expended significant bandwidth in the hopes of uncovering the truth about the murder of Stephen Smith – a homicide many believe is linked to the ‘Murdaugh Murders‘ crime and corruption saga. An openly gay teenager from Hampton, South Carolina, Smith was a star student at Wade Hampton High School and a friend of Buster Murdaugh.
Buster is the oldest, surviving son of convicted killer Alex Murdaugh – who was sentenced to life in prison last week for murdering his wife and younger son on the family’s hunting property near Islandton, S.C. on June 7, 2021.
Smith’s body was dumped in the middle of Sandy Run Road near Crocketville, S.C. where it was discovered by a passing motorist at approximately 4:00 a.m. EST on the morning of July 8, 2015.
Who killed him? And why?
These questions have haunted Smith’s family for the past eight years … while simultaneously captivating journalists and documentarians who have been investigating the Murdaugh family.
Smith’s death was initially misclassified as a vehicular hit-and-run by Erin Presnell, a forensic pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Presnell reached this conclusion even though Smith’s injuries – which included a 7.25-inch laceration on the right side of his forehead – were inconsistent with a vehicular strike.
There was also zero evidence of a vehicular strike on the roadway where Smith’s body was found.
“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, and the location of Smith’s body in the middle of the roadway was inconsistent with a vehicular strike.
Smith’s head wound produced so much blood it was initially confused for a gunshot blast.
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As I have previously reported, SCHP troopers and investigators weren’t the only ones to express doubts regarding the “official narrative” of a vehicular strike. Following Smith’s autopsy, Hampton county coroner Ernie Washington told SCHP investigator Todd Proctor he “(did) not agree with the pathologist stating that the victim was struck by a motor vehicle.”
Still, Presnell stuck to her story – yet she offered nothing to support her claim other than the fact Smith’s body “was found in the road.”
Given the questions surrounding Smith’s death, I called for an independent forensic review of Presnell’s autopsy findings – including the exhumation of Smith’s body from its resting place in Gooding Cemetery in Crocketville, S.C.
Smith’s mother – Sandy Smith – supported these efforts.
The investigation into Smith’s death is now back on the radar in a big way after it was prominently featured in the recently released Netflix documentary ‘Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal.’
Were the Murdaughs involved, though?
Speculation about potential Murdaugh connections to Smith’s death was certainly well-founded. For starters, 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, was linked to at least three purported attempts to manipulate the course of the original investigation.
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On December 15, 2015 – five months after Smith’s murder – SCHP investigators received a tip from Darrell Williams of Varnville, S.C. According to Williams, his stepson Patrick Wilson told him Shawn Connelly – another Hampton County teenager – was driving a vehicle which “struck and killed Stephen Smith” on the night in question.
Both Wilson and Connelly both lived in the area near where Stephen Smith’s body was found …
At the time of Wilson’s “confession,” he was facing attempted murder charges which were later dropped by the office of S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor Duffie Stone. As regular readers are well aware, Stone’s office employed Alex Murdaugh as a badge-carrying attorney. Stone also followed Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather in office.
Additionally, on August 7, 2015 – one month after Smith’s death – Randy Murdaugh filed a motor vehicle accident lawsuit against Connelly on behalf of his client, Christopher Still. Less than a year later – on May 17, 2016 – another Murdaugh attorney filed another motor vehicle accident lawsuit against Connelly.
Both actions were later dismissed by Murdaugh-friendly judges in the fourteenth judicial circuit.
While those filings can certainly be explained away, the Murdaugh rumors exploded when agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) opened a homicide investigation into Smith’s death just two weeks after the savage slayings of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh on June 7, 2021 at Moselle – the Murdaugh family’s 1,700-acre hunting property straddling the Salkehatchie River on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties.
In announcing that inquiry, SLED specifically stated it was opening the Smith case “based on information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.”
Maddeningly, that statement has yet to be expounded upon …
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SLED has reportedly made “significant progress” in its investigation of Smith’s murder, but it does not appear as though their investigation has any members of the Murdaugh family in its crosshairs.
Furthermore, sources familiar with the status of the inquiry are debunking rumors that any “evidence” – or any other information – related to Smith’s murder was obtained from Moselle in the aftermath of the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. Those rumors are false.
The information which led SLED to open its homicide investigation into Smith’s death was contained in the original 2015 SCHP report – not anything related to the Moselle murders.
“SLED reviewed the file and agreed it was unlikely Stephen Smith’s death was attributable to a vehicular strike,” a source close to the case confirmed.
In November of 2021, Charleston, S.C. attorney Andy Savage – who at the time was representing Smith’s family – 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.”
“There are suspects we have in sight that are unconnected to Murdaugh,” Savage told reporters Anne Emerson and Drew Tripp. “The focus any in the media have on Murdaugh may be unfounded.”
Sandy Smith recoiled at that revelation – and parted ways with Savage shortly thereafter.
However, sources close to the investigation did not dispute Savage’s characterization. In fact, they hinted strongly that his assessment may have been accurate.
“What if he’s right?” one well-placed law enforcement source told me at the time.
“Everyone assumed it was the Murdaughs,” one Hampton, S.C. source told me last fall. “But there were a lot of people in (Stephen Smith’s) little black book.”
Speaking of that “little black book,” this news outlet recently reviewed files extracted from at least one personal electronic device purportedly used by Smith (and in his possession) at or around the time of his death. That review strongly suggested Smith was engaged in what could charitably be described as high-risk behavior at the time he was killed.
According to my sources, investigators have been digging through these files in the hopes of identifying who is responsible for his unsolved murder.
To be clear: All this news outlet wants (and has ever wanted) is for the family and friends of Stephen Smith to receive justice – and for the individual(s) responsible for his murder to be held accountable for their actions.
Smith’s death was clearly no accident, and his family deserves to know who killed him … and why.
Are we closer to achieving those objectives today than we were when SLED opened this case nearly two years ago? Yes. Will people invested in certain outcomes like where the case ultimately winds up? Probably not …
But the job of a journalist is to follow the the truth … wherever it leads and however uncomfortable that journey may become. Anything less than that is a disservice to the truth and to the memory of all victims of violent crimes.
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.
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“But the job of a journalist is to follow the the truth”
Let us know when a journalist shows up here.
that is so extremely real
FITS Sources have been pretty good in the past so this seems plausible…
You rock! Thanks for your hard, tenacious reporting!
So, one clicks on this article and it counts against the free ones you claim to give each month to those who do not think you are worth subsidizing BUT ALL ONE GETS is a request to subscribe to read the content?!?!? No thanks! Keep your content for the dupes who still believe you after you pretended Nikki Haley tried to rape you in the back of her Cadillac, then you pretended you were writing a book about it, then you pretended a willing prostitute was the victim of sex-trafficking. You helped get Alex Murdaugh wrongly convicted; now it is Buster’s turn in you callous heart? I admit I visit for the lead gossip which starts threads of thought not available elsewhere. But that is where it begins, not where it ends. I do my own research and use my own sense, unlike the bevy of parrots who surrond you. I still have too much class to say anything other than “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” and “from the cup you served others, ye shall be made to drink.”
You are correct about the lack of a fair trial. Look at all the comments at the end of these articles. No one was ever interested in Murdaugh getting a fair trial. Everyone just wanted to watch him burn. Some justice system. It’s nauseating that so many people don’t understand the importance of a fair trial. It doesn’t matter if you like the person or not; whether you think they’re guilty or not. Fair trials have to be maintained so the innocent are not wrongfully convicted. It’s not about Murdaugh. His trial should never have been held down there. There’s no way he could’ve gotten a fair trial. I think his lawyers underestimated how much people hate him there. Not to mention, people love to see other people fall, especially people who have always had things they envied. Then they smugly sit back and convince themselves that they’re only interested in seeing him get what’s coming to him. Yeah, right. Same damn people who would be racing to kiss his *ss if he hadn’t “fallen from grace.” (Folks seriously needs to come up with some new lines. I skip half his articles because the majority of it is repetition. Takes forever to get to the new information.) Anyway, people are so transparent and so fickle. That man was convicted before the jury was even assembled. Welcome to the South.
Okay! So, one MUSC pathologist MUST be wrong solely because she diagnosed a motor vehicle accident when some wanted her to diagnose a murder; but another MUSC pathologist MUST be right solely because she diagnosed a down-up wound when Alex Murdaugh’s defense argued for an up-down wound?!?!? Is that jounalism or a lynch mob? Have some self-respect! Buy or borrow some if you can’t find it within yourself.
Based on the injuries sustained, anyone with some common sense or half a brain can determine that it was not a hit and run accident. The pathologist based her decision on him simply being in a roadway. Who wanted it diagnosed as a murder?? Just for the way the Murdaughs operate, most likely she was paid to say it was a hit and run. They were at the scene…why?
Have YOU seen the injuries? If, according to you, one pathologist can be paid off to issue a false report FOR Alex Murdaugh, then another pathologist can be paid off by SLED or whomever to a false report AGAINST Alex Murdaugh. “Common sense” dictates that IF female pathologists’ professional consciences are for sale, then they are for sale to the highest bidder, be that the Murdaughs or the anti-Murdaughs. I do NOT think pathologists’ consciences are for sale and I do NOT make conclusions based on what I have not seen or not seen an authentic pictures of. I do know, however, that, in close cases, reasonable, experienced, and alert, pathologist and radiologists, as in other medical specialties, can differ in diagnosis and recommendations for medical treatment. Unless you KNOW different, please have more respect for female physicians. Thanks.
From some of the comments…you must be on to something…keep it up! Great job!
Judy, are you so easily taken in by the media? That’s sad.
Only three things are 100% certain when it comes to the Stephen Smith case:
(1) His death was NOT the result of a “hit-and-run” accident. (That is,
unless “hitting” Stephen in the head until he died, then moving his
body and leaving it in the middle of road, and then “running” away
from the scene is the definition of a “hit-and-run”.)
(2) The initial “investigation” resulted in a broad cover-up by at least
one and possibly multiple law enforcement agencies.
(3) For whatever reasons, there were (and apparently still are) some
important individuals in South Carolina who do not want this case
solved or even thoroughly investigated.
in South Carolina did not and do not want this case solved.
(and apparently still do not) want this murder solved.
want this case
Have you SEEN someone hit Stephen Smith in the head until he died? On what do you base what you write? Is it not enough that Alex Murdaugh got wrongly convicted of two murders he did not commit? Now you want to frame Buster too? Get some religion, really, injustice is a sin.
Great reporting, as always, guys. You really must have stirred up the ant hill with all these “poor innocent Alex” posts. Keep shining the light..
Almost down Buster…. er um “SubZero”. There is no way a person gets hit by a car with such force he is fatally injured yet he had no scrapes or burns from the roadway and there is no evidence of car parts and his loosely tied shoes remained on and no injuries to his body below the shoulder. It’s impossible. Dont believe me? Try throwing yourself on the street and see if you have no scrapes or cuts. Try it!
Gooding Cemetary? Is that owned by the Gooding & Gooding law firm where Mark Tinsley works? Just asking!
You write: “That review strongly suggested Smith was engaged in what could charitably be described as high-risk behavior at the time he was killed.” What does that mean? Are you implying he was into drugs? Other crime? Sky diving?
What kind of “reporter” uses that phrase and gives absolutely no context? Very irresponsible and borders on defamatory because it implies terrible behavior on the part of the victim, Stephen.