In tiny Hampton County—population less than 20,000—coronavirus-related deaths are still outstripping Murdaugh-related deaths, but not by all that much. And the bizarre, tragic, altogether baffling incidents surrounding this prominent, powerful South Carolina family show no sign of letting up. Whatever the explanation, or explanations, Murdaughs and their associates continue to fall like dominoes.
Last Saturday, Richard Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh, 53, a lawyer whose wife and one of two sons were killed in June—the crime is still unsolved—was shot in the head while changing a flat tire on his Mercedes-Benz along a rural Hampton County road. The wound was superficial—after having been shot, by someone in a truck, Murdaugh said, he called 911 for help. In any event, this latest development was almost immediately eclipsed by another: news that the day before his roadside contretemps, Murdaugh had suddenly resigned from PMPED (Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, Detrick), the law firm started by his great-grandfather. And that he was under investigation for allegedly having misappropriated more than a million dollars from the firm. Oh, and that he was going into rehab.
“The murders of my wife and son have caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret,” he said in a statement. “I’m resigning from my law firm and entering rehab after a long battle that has been exacerbated by these murders. I am immensely sorry to everyone I’ve hurt including my family, friends and colleagues. I ask for prayers as I rehabilitate myself and my relationships.”
The saga bears recounting, though you might want to take notes.
On June 7, Murdaugh returned to his 1,700-acre hunting-lodge property, in Islandton, a hamlet west of Charleston, to find his wife, Maggie, 52, and son, Paul, a 22-year-old college student, dead as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. According to investigators, there was little evidence (shell casings), no apparent motive, and no suspects. Just before he discovered the bodies, Murdaugh had been visiting his father, Randolph Murdaugh III, who three days later died of cancer.
“The murders of my wife and son have caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret.”
At the time of his death, Paul, the son, was out on bail and awaiting trial for the 2019 death of Mallory Beach in a boating mishap in which the 19-year-old woman was a passenger. There was speculation that Paul had been drunk and had run his father’s Sea Hunt boat into a bridge—the “boat crash heard around the world,” according to the Hampton County Guardian/Bluffton Today, whose ongoing coverage of the various Murdaugh cases reflects the intense local fascination with the family. As Michael M. DeWitt Jr. wrote in the newspaper, “For more than 100 years of South Carolina Lowcountry history, the Murdaugh name meant legal power and money. The Murdaughs quietly enjoyed their wealth, privilege, sprawling estates and waterfront property—even naming one parcel ‘Murdaugh Island.’”
The boating victim’s mother ended up filing a civil suit, and the Daily Mail reported on Thursday that Murdaugh’s insurance company had “stated that it had no obligation to insure or indemnify Murdaugh” for the accident—not good news for him. And this wasn’t the only recent wrongful-death claim against the family. In February of 2018, the New York Post’s Page Six reported, the Murdaughs’ 57-year-old housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, “died as a result of a ‘trip and fall,’ according to documents obtained by Mandy Matney at FITSNews. Her family settled for $500,000.”
Two weeks after the double killings, The New York Times reported that “the state police agency that is investigating the Murdaugh killings said … that the police had learned something—they won’t say what—that prompted them to open a new inquiry into yet another case, the 2015 death of a 19-year-old man. That man, Stephen Smith, was found along a road 10 miles from the Murdaugh home, his death never fully explained.” At the time, the death was ruled to be the result of a hit-and-run. Smith’s mother has claimed it was a hate crime because her son was gay.
This summer, things quieted down a bit. Although in August, Isaac “Duffie” Stone III, the chief prosecutor for the double homicide—who, small world, or, anyway, small county, had succeeded the late Randolph Murdaugh III in that post—recused himself from the case, citing unnamed new “events” in the investigation. The “events” remain unnamed.
Then came the flat tire, about which there is also some mystery: reportedly, it had been slashed. So whoever shot Alex Murdaugh in the head must have decided to inconvenience him further by letting the air out of one of his tires, presumably while Murdaugh was occupied calling 911. (His lawyer and spokesperson deny that the wound was self-inflicted.)
The tally so far, then, excluding natural deaths: Two family members, one of whom might have been responsible for another person’s death, are killed for no reason yet determined. There’s the earlier death of the family’s housekeeper. The still-earlier death along a nearby road of a young man that is suddenly warranting closer scrutiny. And, on another local roadside, the surviving parent of the family—more than anyone, the sorry nexus of the steadily expanding toxic spill of misfortune—is shot in the head, a day after he resigned from his law firm under suspicion of misusing perhaps millions of dollars. (His law license has since been indefinitely suspended.)
Yes, there is already a podcast.
Back in June, Alex’s shaken brothers, John Marvin Murdaugh and Randolph “Randy” Murdaugh IV, had gone on ABC’s Good Morning America to discuss the awful events. “You see words like ‘dynasty’ used and ‘power,’ and I don’t know exactly how people use those words,” Randy said. “But we’re just regular people, and we’re hurting just like they would be hurting if this had happened to them.” (This week, Randy, a partner in PMPED, the Murdaugh law firm, issued a statement saying he was “shocked, just as the rest of my PMPED family, to learn of my brother, Alex’s, drug addiction and stealing of money … While I will support him in his recovery, I do not support, condone, or excuse his conduct in stealing by manipulating his most trusted relationships.”)
Depending on your point of view—and there are plenty of those to go around, especially in the absence of much real information from the investigation so far—the recent spate of tragedies that seem to connect to a single family represents either vengeance, karmic comeuppance, a remarkable run of bad luck, bizarre coincidence, or some combination of all those.
And let’s throw in irony as well. PMPED—whose Web site was “temporarily unavailable” all week—specializes in personal-injury cases, something its founding family has lately had a great deal of experience with firsthand.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for Air Mail