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Crime & Courts

Stephen Smith Case Files: Read Sandy Smith’s Letter Implicating Buster Murdaugh

“This investigation is being deliberately derailed …”

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Over the coming days and weeks, this news outlet will be releasing documents and other materials in connection with our ongoing investigation into the July 8, 2015 murder of Stephen Smith of Hampton, South Carolina. Our goal in releasing this information is to let the public see what we are seeing as we continue our deep dive into this unsolved mystery.

Smith’s death is back on the radar in a big way after it was featured in the hit Netflix documentary ‘Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal.’

As this article goes to press, there is an ongoing criminal investigation into Smith’s murder being led by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED). That investigation has reportedly made “significant progress” – but has yet to yield any arrests.

I will have more information on the status of SLED’S probe soon …

Just this week, Buster Murdaugh – the surviving son of convicted killer Alex Murdaugh – issued a statement denying any involvement in Smith’s death, slamming “baseless” and “vicious” rumors to the contrary.

To recap: Smith’s body was found in the middle of Sandy Run Road near Crocketville, S.C. in the early morning hours of July 8, 2015 – where it was discovered by a passing motorist (a tow truck driver) at approximately 4:00 a.m. EDT.

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Initially classified as a vehicular hit-and-run, 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.

Alex Murdaugh was convicted of those killings and sentenced to life in prison.

Contrary to popular perception, SLED’s investigation into Stephen Smith’s death was not based on any evidence or information obtained at Moselle – but rather the agency receiving a copy of the original 2015 S.C. Highway Patrol  (SCHP) accident report.

“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.

That document is one of the many Smith-related items this news outlet will be releasing this week.

SLED’s investigation isn’t the only game in town, though.

On Monday, Smith’s mother – Sandy Smith of Barnwell, S.C. – introduced attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter as her new lawyers. Bland and Richter promptly announced they would be leading their own investigation into Smith’s murder. That inquiry will begin next week with a formal request to exhume Smith’s body for the purposes of conducting an independent review of the initial autopsy performed by Erin Presnell, a forensic pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).

This news outlet supports Bland and Richter in their efforts. In fact, I penned a column over a year ago on this very subject.

“It is abundantly clear an independent review of Presnell’s autopsy of Stephen Smith must be conducted … up to and including the exhumation of Smith’s body from its resting place in Gooding Cemetery in Crocketville, S.C.,” I wrote last February. “Such a drastic step may be the only way to start uncovering the truth.”

What does Smith believe is the “truth” about what happened to her son?

(Click to View)

Stephen Smith roadside marker (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

On September 28, 2016 – a little over fourteen months after her son’s murder – Sandy Smith wrote a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) headquarters in Washington, D.C. seeking the agency’s assistance in her son’s case.

In her letter to the FBI (.pdf) – one of the first case files we are releasing – Smith noted “it has been apparent from the first week of this investigation that authorities are covering up critical evidence, and we no longer know who to trust.”

“This investigation is being deliberately derailed,” Smith wrote.

Smith made it clear in her letter the primary suspect in her son’s death was Buster Murdaugh – and that the Murdaugh family was attempting to cover up his involvement in the crime.

“The first call my family received after the murder was from authorities notifying us of Stephen’s death,” Smith wrote. “The second came very quickly the same morning from solicitor Randolph Murdaugh. In fact, he called my ex-husband’s cell phone as we waited in the police station for a positive identification. He said he heard of the case and was interested in working pro bono as a liaison between the family and investigators.”

“Stephen’s father accepted the offer, although we were unsure why Mr. Murdaugh wanted to help us,” Smith continued. “We also weren’t sure how he found out so quickly – even before it was confirmed to be our son.”

(Click to View)

Murdaugh family members leave the courthouse for lunch during the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh at the Colleton County Courthouse on Monday, February 27, 2023. Jeff Blake/The State/Pool

According to Sandy Smith, “surprisingly, after just a few interactions, Mr. Murdaugh stopped returning our calls.”

Shortly thereafter, Smith’s twin sister – 26-year-old Stephanie Joyner – was approached “multiple times by peers” who indicated the Murdaughs were somehow involved in her brother’s death.

Joyner, readers will recall, has a child with Yemassee, S.C. police chief Greg Alexander – an alleged Murdaugh family “fixer” who is said to be the focus of an ongoing statewide grand jury investigation related to the family.

“As a family, it was suspicious to us since he had taken such an immediate interest in the case and then became unreachable so quickly,” Smith wrote in her letter to the FBI.

Several weeks later, Smith said an unnamed witness told yet another member of her family that he was present when Stephen was murdered – and that the killer was Buster Murdaugh. According to this witness, Buster Murdaugh allegedly “beat Stephen to death with a baseball bat … because Stephen was gay.”

“The witness said they were out smashing mailboxes when they came upon Stephen, and Buster seized the opportunity,” Smith wrote in her letter. “The young man (said) that Buster threatened to kill him if he ever spoke up. This information was given to investigators but nothing has come of it.”

Smith also reported an “alleged conversation” between a schoolmate of Buster’s littler brother, Paul, and school officials.

“I was told (the schoolmate) claimed to have knowledge of the murder and implicated Buster as the murderer,” she wrote.

Again, though, Sandy Smith claimed in her letter to the feds that was “no further follow-up” on this information.

"The Murdaughs are probably the most prominent family in Hampton County," Sandy Smith wrote to the FBI. "Stephen had on more than one occasion mentioned to friends and his twin sister that he was involved romantically with someone from a prominent family in the county who was hiding his sexuality. He said it would shock people to know this person was gay. We suspect this could be the young man Stephen was referring to, though he never named him."

Sandy Smith went on to accuse Buster Murdaugh of getting rid of his "old vehicle" following the murder - which according to her was "critical" because she and others believed "there (was) DNA in Buster's old vehicle."

A year before sending her letter to the FBI, Smith claimed to have submitted a "plea for help" to former S.C. governor - and current 2024 presidential candidate - Nikki Haley. To her surprise, Haley not only responded but made the case an investigative priority.

"She responded promptly and assigned new investigators to the case," Smith wrote back. "While it appeared to be the answer to our prayers, very little progress (was) made and they say they have exhausted their leads."

As I have repeatedly pointed out, 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.

These connections - and the allegations raised by Sandy Smith in her September 2018 letter - cannot be ignored.

Then again, neither can allegations that Smith was engaged in what I have described previously as "high-risk behavior," including numerous illicit liaisons detailed in 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.

“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.”

In recent weeks, public reaction to Smith's case seems to have segregated into warring sections at some sporting event - with jeering voices dominating the discussion and all manner of agenda-driven preconceptions pushing truth to the sidelines.

We are not participating in such a game.

"The job of a journalist is to follow the the truth … wherever it leads and however uncomfortable that journey may become," I wrote earlier this month. "Anything less than that is a disservice to the truth and to the memory of all victims."

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THE LETTER ...

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...

Will Folks on phone
Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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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13 comments

Zan March 20, 2023 at 11:06 pm

His “girlfriend” seems more like a friend in public..no hand holding or protective cuddling. He might want to start doing that.

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stephen henry Top fan March 21, 2023 at 12:52 pm

You mean BB ( “Buster’s Beard”)? Her contract probably specifies “no cuddling” and “no touching”. She is a law school graduate, btw, and apparently passed the SC Bar Exam. Any lawyer who would get involved with a guy who had been recently kicked out of HER law school for cheating … really? And to sit through six weeks of the excruciating trial when her law career could be started? Yeah, right.

Reply
dwb619 Top fan March 21, 2023 at 6:15 am

“girl friend”, even if there is no family fortune ?

Reply
yjc March 23, 2023 at 1:17 pm

Maybe she already got the money? Newly out of law school and was able to afford a condo in Hilton Head, SC.

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Judy Brandt Top fan March 21, 2023 at 6:24 am

How did we get from that letter to yesterdays press conference sphere they disavowed any implication of Buster? How/why did this turnaround happen?

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stephen henry Top fan March 21, 2023 at 12:57 pm

Which “Randolph Murdaugh” contacted Stephen’s mother immediately after his murder? If it was Buster’s grandfather who recently died, Buster is DEFINITELY guilty as hell. And if it was Alex’s brother Randy, Buster is probably guilty as hell.

I really hope someone will provide an answer to my question. The video of Buster’s grandfather and Alex caught in the act of witness tampering and obstruction of justice at the hospital after the boat crash is a better depiction of corruption in action than anything I have ever seen in a Netflix series.

Reply
Clisby A Williams March 21, 2023 at 1:17 pm

Why does Sandy Smith’s letter to the FBI mention Randolph Murdaugh’s nephews and then move on to Buster Murdaugh? Buster was his grandson, not his nephew.

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Angela Ice Top fan March 22, 2023 at 1:48 pm

Alex’s older brother is Randolph Murdaugh IV (Randy).

Reply
Jane Smith March 21, 2023 at 2:22 pm

If I were a parent, and my son was found dead in the road under mysterious circumstances, and if one individual’s name was mentioned by multiple people over the course of an investigation, and that person’s family had long-standing ties to the solicitor’s office, and a family member of that person placed a call to me to ask if would like his services before I even had a positive ID on the body, I’d have a lot of questions. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I also don’t think she’s pointing the finger now and my read of the letter is that she wasn’t even pointing the finger in 2016. She was highlighting leads that had not been pursued. Leads are not the same as accusations. She wants answers and deserves answers, regardless of who it was. Regardless of whether it was a deliberate murder, or even an accidental hit-and-run, the person responsible is still out there. Personally, I doubt that Buster Murdaugh had anything to do with it at all. But I would like to know who had an interest in suggesting to investigators that he did.

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Anonymous March 22, 2023 at 9:11 pm

Randy and Alex are lawyers .Are they ambulance chasers in the middle of the night. Who let them know there was a death on that road sounds familiar they were at hospital after boat accident. Sounds a little suspicious..

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Anonymous April 3, 2023 at 3:48 pm

Perhaps that’s another “reason” why Alex killed, Paul. Not only was he indicted for the boat crash death of Mallory Beach, but, if true, he also tried to implicate his brother Buster in the death of Stephen. It has been reported that Buster was a favored son, thus possibly leading to Paul’s jealousy and risky attention seeking behavior.

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Anonymous April 18, 2023 at 1:55 am

IT WAS STATED THAT BUSTER CONTACTED ALEX & ALEX CONTACTED RANDOLPH. BUSTER WAS IN TROUBLE & NEEDED THEM TO GET HIM OUT OF TROUBLE.

WHY HAVENT THEY FOUND BUSTERS TRUCK? THE ONE HE WAS DRIVING THE NIGHT OF STEPHENS MURDER, THE ONE HE IMMEDIATELY GOT RID OF AFTER THE MURDER?!
LE SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALL OVER THAT IF THEY GOD FEARING & NOT MURDAUGH FEARING!!!!!

Reply
Celie May 26, 2023 at 9:48 pm

In the Netflix documentary, Ms. Smith said that Stephen implied to her he was dating a member of a powerful family. Perhaps homosexuality is unacceptable in that family…or what’s left of that family. The Smith family has a RIGHT to know the truth.

Reply

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