Last month, this news outlet reported that a statewide grand jury in Columbia, South Carolina was actively investigating the 2015 homicide of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old from Hampton, S.C. whose death remains an unsolved mystery more than eight years after it happened.
Smith’s violent end attracted international attention via its purported proximity to the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga. Interest in the Smith case escalated even further after it was prominently featured in the hit Netflix documentary, ‘Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal.’
In late May of this year, Lexington, S.C. attorney Eric Bland – one of the attorneys representing Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith – said he believed a grand jury had been empaneled based on his conversations with chief Mark Keel of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
“(Keel) told me subpoenas are being issued – as well as warrants – and I believe there is a grand jury empaneled,” Bland said during a May 25, 2023 panel discussion on CourtTV.
This news outlet confirmed the existence of the statewide grand jury investigation shortly thereafter.
Since then, though, very little information about the investigation has been released. However, a video posted on TikTok in June brought renewed attention to the case – and specifically the potential involvement of 25-year-old Patrick Wilson of Brunson, S.C. Along with 25-year-old Shawn Connelly – who also hails from Brunson – Wilson has previously been described by sources close to the inquiry as a “person of interest.”
The TikTok video – which disappeared from the platform almost as soon as it was uploaded – was a short clip of a woman detailing a dinner conversation she had with a group of acquaintances.
After researching the claims she made, it appears there could be at least some validity to the story.
To recap: Smith’s body was discovered by a passing motorist (a tow truck driver) at approximately 4:00 a.m. EDT on July 8, 2015 in the middle of Sandy Run Road near Crocketville, S.C. Initially deemed gunshot wound – and later a vehicular hit-and-run – the investigation was originally handled by the S.C. Highway Patrol (SCHP) “Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team” (MAIT). It wasn’t until nearly six years later that it became an active murder case handled by SLED.
SLED opened a homicide investigation into Smith’s death shortly after the savage slayings of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh on June 7, 2021 at Moselle – a 1,700-acre hunting property straddling the Salkehatchie River which until recently belonged to the Murdaugh family.
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What was the Murdaugh family’s connection to Smith’s death? It’s not immediately clear. According to 26-year-old Buster Murdaugh – who has been accused by many on social media of being involved in the crime – there is no connection.
“These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false,” Murdaugh said in a statement released back in March. “I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death.”
Others close to this story – including Sandy Smith – believe otherwise. In fact, Smith wrote a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the fall of 2016 detailing the Murdaugh family’s alleged involvement.
“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,” Smith wrote in her letter. “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.”
THE TIKTOK VIDEO …
In the original TikTok video, a young woman described a conversation she overheard while out to dinner with friends. During the meal, a man at the table told the group about some manpower issues at his place of employment – Jeff Lynch Appliances in Greenville, S.C.
Per the video, the man claimed one of their deliverymen had stopped coming to work recently. When they inquired as to the reason why, his response took them by surprise. Per the video, the man claimed this person committed suicide via drug overdose after learning authorities were seeking out Patrick Wilson in connection with the Stephen Smith case.
The TikTok-er said a warrant had been issued for Wilson’s arrest – which as far as we have been able to determine is inaccurate, at least as stated in the video. A far more likely scenario is the grand jury issued a subpoena for Wilson. Given that grand juries operate in secret, however (with good reason) it is not possible to verify this through official channels.
Confusing, right? But not entirely implausible …
When following up on the rumor, a person working in the human resources office at Lynch confirmed some of the claims made in the video. The individual indicated Wilson was working there earlier this year. However, she refused to go into detail about the claims made in the TikTok about another delivery driver who was said to be Wilson’s roommate.
An interesting connection was made, however, when researching employees of Jeff Lynch Appliances. According to his Facebook page, David Wilson – Patrick Wilson’s father – is an employee of the retail store.
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As this news outlet previously reported, both Wilson and Connelly lived in the area near where Stephen Smith’s body was found … and there is information obtained by SLED investigators which has reportedly drawn a sharper focus on them as potential suspects. Several of these same leads were followed by producers and investigators associated with the Netflix documentary – as well as the initial legal team retained by Sandy Smith.
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 related to their involvement was “unfounded.”
Sandy Smith recoiled at that revelation – and parted ways with Savage as her attorney shortly thereafter.
As previously reported by this news outlet, on December 18, 2015 – five months after Smith’s murder – SCHP investigators received a tip from Wilson’s self-described step-father, Darrell Williams of Varnville, S.C. According to Williams, Wilson informed him that Connelly another Hampton County teenager were driving a vehicle which “struck and killed Stephen Smith.”
Who allegedly told Williams to share this information? Randy Murdaugh – Alex Murdaugh’s older brother. According to case notes contained in the MAIT report, Williams stated the reason he was passing this information along was “because Randy Murdaugh told him to call.”
STEPHEN SMITH CASE FILES
FILE 1: SANDY SMITH’S LETTER IMPLICATING BUSTER MURDAUGH
FILE 2: THE FIRST AUTOPSY
FILE 3: THE HIGHWAY PATROL REPORT
FILE 4: THE INITIAL INTERVIEWS
FILE 5: EXHUMATION, PERSONS OF INTEREST UPDATE
FILE 6: THE PRIVATE EYE
As our founding editor Will Folks has often noted, the crime scene on Sandy Run Road is “a study in contradictions.”
“The location of Smith’s body in the middle of the road was totally inconsistent with a vehicular strike – but the massive blood loss observed on the asphalt seemed inconsistent with him being murdered at another location,” Folks noted in a recent report.
According to our sources, the statewide grand jury has heard “critical evidence” related to Smith’s case – including evidence which “conclusively proves” Smith was killed at the site where his body was found.
Forensic expert Kenneth Kinsey has reportedly confirmed this assessment based on a review of the graphic crime scene photos of Smith’s murder. Kinsey was hired to review the evidence in this case as part of an independent investigation launched by Bland’s law firm.
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS PATRICK WILSON?
While the claims made in the TikTok video cannot be conclusively verified, Patrick Wilson hasn’t exactly laid low since his name because a focus of news reports relating to the murder of Stephen Smith. On December 23, 2022, Wilson was pulled over in Hampton County for speeding and ticketed for having an open container. He was scheduled to appear in court on these charges February 15, 2023. However, he failed to do so.
As a result, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest on February 16, 2023. Court documents indicate judge Gwendolyn Bampfield also issued a sealed sentence over these infractions.
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Wilson is facing more serious charges related to an incident that occurred July 16, 2022 involving the theft of tools and two rifles from the Varnville home of Gene and Kathleen Davis. The stolen items are valued at more than $2,000 and less than $10,000, according to an arrest warrant out of Hampton County dated August 2, 2022.
The offense listed is larceny in the public index. On August 22, 2022, Wilson stated he was indigent and so the court appointed a public defender (by title only) as Wilson’s counsel. The larceny case has yet to be scheduled for trial.
As of today, Patrick Wilson’s location is unknown. It’s also unknown if he was subpoenaed by a grand jury and if so, if he appeared during their inquiry.
FITSNews Researcher Callie Lyons contributed to this report.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at [email protected].
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