On July 14, 2022, a South Carolina jury indicted Alex Murdaugh on double murder charges in the deaths of his wife Maggie, and youngest son, Paul. He pled not guilty. Jury selection began on January 23 of this year. The trial lasted 28 days before the jury quickly returned a guilty verdict. In this episode, I’d like to discuss the Netflix documentary, “Murdaugh Murders, A Southern Scandal,” which was released in early January of this year, the evidence presented at the trial, what listeners of this podcast thought about this case, and where the related cases of Gloria Satterfield and Stephen Smith’s death stand now.
Review of “The Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal”
The first episode of “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal” begins with the details from the 2019 boat crash that resulted in the death of 19-year-old South Carolina resident Mallory Beach. These are details that have been shared in numerous new casts, podcasts, and other documentaries. You then get the backstory of the Murdaugh family as the group of friends involved explain the dynamics of the Murdaughs and the relationships between various family members. All the young adults involved in the boat crash are interviewed and the pain in their voices is evident. Mallory Beach’s parents are also interviewed and you get to hear her friends discuss what an important part of their lives she was.
You hear firsthand from Paul’s ex-girlfriend, Morgan, who was one of Mallory’s best friends. She shed a lot of light on the dynamics of the Murdaugh family, including their love of always having alcohol around, even for their underage kids and their friends. Morgan also shared details about her complicated relationship with Paul, how at first they were happy together, but when he began physically and emotionally abusing her she became conflicted. Her two best friends, Mallory Beach and Miley Altman, who were also in the boat crash with her, wanted her to break up with Paul because they could see the toll the relationship was taking on her.
The second episode focuses on the weeks following the boat crash and the evidence the Beach family’s attorney uncovered during his investigation. They hired a biomechanical engineer to examine where everyone was on the boat when it crashed into the bridge. The families involved in the boat crush grew more and more frustrated with the delay in bringing charges against Paul, and then the subsequent special treatment he seemed to receive after he was charged. Episode Two ends with the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh on June 7, 2021. A local reporter provides foreshadowing that these murders helped unearth all the skeletons that were in the family’s closet. Episode Three breaks down the suspicious deaths of local resident Stephen Smith and the Murdaugh’s longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield.
Why the Murdaugh Trial Captivated the World
Alex Murdaugh’s trial was one that many people took time out of their day to watch. A sociocultural professor from Benedict College named Sybil Rosado shared her opinion on why this case captured the attention of so many people. First of all, there’s the level of power the Murdaugh family had over their small South Carolina community for decades. She said that all the new information revealed in the trial let people imagine what could’ve happened, and she added everyone loves solving a puzzle.
“This situation represented a puzzle. It was a digital puzzle, it was a crime puzzle, it was a power and control puzzle,” she said.
Prosecutors believed the fear of having his vast financial crimes revealed led Alex to commit the murder of his wife and youngest son. He had spent years embezzling millions of dollars from clients and his law firm where he worked as a personal-injury lawyer and the Mallory Beach civil case would have disclosed the state of the Murdaugh’s finances. They believe he murdered Paul and Maggie to delay the efforts to get him to share his financial records.
Timeline of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh’s Murders
Alex Murdaugh had to reveal he lied about the timeline of his whereabouts on the night of June 7, 2021. From the start of the investigation Murdaugh has told law enforcement that he was napping at the Moselle estate before driving to his mother’s house for a visit. He said he was not at the dog kennels where Paul and Maggie were murdered prior to finding them. During the trial, prosecutors presented a 58-second video from Paul Murdaugh’s phone that revealed Alex’s voice in the background, along with Maggie’s. You don’t actually see Murdaugh in the video, but a half-dozen witnesses during the trial confirmed the voice to be Alex’s.
On February 19, 2023, The Herald out of Rock Hill, South Carolina, shared the following timeline in their coverage of the trial that I thought was a helpful way to view the events that happened the night of Maggie and Paul’s murders. The following information was presented during the trial by South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Agent Peter Rudofski.
At 7:39 p.m., Paul Murdaugh took a Snapchat video of his dad straightening a droopy tree on the Moselle property. In the video, Alex was wearing a blue shirt and light-colored slacks. Those clothes are now missing, and prospectors theorize they were worn during the murder.
Around 8 p.m., Maggie arrived at the property, and she and Paul had a meal together prepared by their housekeeper. It is unclear whether or not Alex ate with them.
Around 8:30 p.m., Maggie and Paul went to the dog kennels, which were located a few hundred yards from the house. At 8:40 p.m., Paul had a brief phone conversation with his friend Rogan Gibson.
At 8:49 p.m., both Paul and Maggie’s phones both locked for the last time. Texts went unanswered. Paul was killed by two shotgun blasts to the head and chest. Maggie’s leg, chest, and skull were pierced by four or five shots from an assault rifle.
Alex’s phone showed him being offline between 6:52 p.m. to 9:04 p.m. That was went Alex tried to call Maggie. The OnStar Navigation system in his 2021 Chevy Suburban recorded the car moving away from Moselle at 9:07 p.m., as he tried to call Maggie again. After leaving the property, his SUV slowed down as he passed the place where Maggie’s cell phone would be found the next day. He made several phone calls during that time while driving 52 miles per hour.
At 9:22 p.m., the Suburban was put into park at his mother’s home in Almeda, where a caretaker testified she saw Alex, who stayed for around 20 minutes. The OnStar date showed Alex drove his vehicle to a wooded area behind his mother’s house for a minute. Prosecutors implied he might have hidden the murder weapons at that time. They also admitted they did not search that area for evidence until three months after the murders.
At 9:47 p.m., Alex texted Maggie, “Call me babe.”
At 10:06 p.m., Alex arrived back at Moselle, and went into the house. He came out, and then drove to the dog kennels, where he discovered the bodies of Maggie and Paul and called 911 to report the murders.
The state presented 59 witnesses and roughly 400 exhibits of circumstantial evidence in their case against Alex Murdaugh. Members of the jury were taken to Moselle, the secluded estate with a fishing pond, more than a 1,000 acres of farmland, four-bedroom house, and dog kennels where Paul and Maggie’s body were discovered.
Alex Murdaugh took the stand in his own defense, which some legal experts believe was a bad idea. When confronted with the evidence that he had lied to police about not being at the kennels with Paul and Maggie on the evening of their deaths, he said the paranoia created by his long-term opioid addiction kept him from telling the truth. He said he was afraid if he admitted to being at the dog kennels the police would focus on him as a suspect without looking at the real murderers.
The Anderson Independent Mail also highlighted some other important facts revealed at the trial:
- Firearms and ballistics experts testified that the fired 300 Blackout rounds found near Maggie’s body were cycled through the same rifle that fired rounds at the family home. This points to her being murdered with a “family weapon.” Spent rifle cartridges, as well as the 12-gauge shotgun shells found near Paul’s body, were also the same type and manufacturer brand as the ones found in the Murdaugh home and outbuildings. Alex said his son’s rifle was either lost or stolen around 2020, but witnesses at the trial refuted that claim by saying they had seen Paul shooting with it just a few months before the murder.
Two Murdaugh family employees testified Alex appeared to be coaching them on what they should say about the night of the murders when questioned by police. Shelley Smith said Alex told her to say he was at his mother’s house for 30 or 40 minutes, when in reality he was only there for 20. Blanca Simpson-Turrbiate said Alex wanted her to say he had been wearing the same clothes all day. Cell phone video evidence from Paul’s phone showed him wearing a different outfit when police arrived to investigate the murders. Law enforcement believed he changed clothes and cleaned himself up after the murders.
The trial lasted six weeks. It took the jury less than three hours to return with the verdict in this trial.
I found an excerpt in The New Yorker, written by James Lasdun that I thought gave an interesting view of the verdict.
But for some observers, myself included, the alleged motive behind the crime strained belief. Would a functional, albeit, opiod-addicted, middle-aged man blast his twenty-two-year-old son in the chest and head with a shotgun and then gun down his wife of three decades with five bullets from a semi automatic .300 Blackout, within a few minutes of chattering with them about Bubba and the chicken, just in the hope of warding off an approaching storm of legal troubles? Justice may have been served, but the human element of the story just didn’t add up.
The judge in the case sentenced Alex Murdaugh to two consecutive life sentences.
Other Murdaugh-Related Updates
I wanted to provide a few more updates to some of the other cases that have been tied to the Murdaugh family. In the case of housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, her son Tony Satterfield has expressed his family’s wish that her body be exhumed for further examination. He says the family wants to rule out any indications of foul play.
Gloria Satterfield was pronounced dead at Trident Medical Center in North Charleston after being injured in a reported trip-and-fall incident while working inside the Murdaughs’ Hampton County home on Feb. 26, 2018. She had been hospitalized in early February after the fall, but didn’t pass away until a few weeks later. In September 2021, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division officials put out the statement that a coroner had found inconsistencies surrounding Gloria’s death. The incident was not reported to the coroner in 2018, and there was no autopsy performed at the time. Remember that at the time of her death, Alex approached Gloria’s sons and advised them that he had insurance on his property that would result in a cash settlement for her family. Alex eventually collected more than half a million dollars in the settlement but never distributed any of that to the Satterfield family.
In an article published by People Magazine, Tony Satterfield’s attorney said while he doesn’t believe anyone on the Murdaugh property would have intentionally pushed Gloria down a flight of stairs and then call for medical help, the police have had doubts that the family’s dogs caused her fall, twelve broken ribs, and significant and fatal head injuries. An exhumation may help give the family more insight on what could have happened.
Sandy Smith, the mother of deceased 19-year-old Stephen Smith, has raised more than $90,000 for an exhumation of her son’s body and private autopsy. Stephen was found on a rural Hampton County road a few miles from the Murdaugh family property on July 8, 2015. His death was initially ruled as being caused by a hit and run accident, possibly from a side mirror of a car or truck, although many in the community found the circumstances suspicious. There was no vehicle debris on the scene, no skid marks, and Stephen’s shoes remained on his feet despite being loosely tied. At the time of his death, law enforcement immediately began hearing rumors that the Murdaugh family, specifically, Paul and Buster, were involved in Stephen’s death. But they could never find anyone with firsthand information, other than hearsay, so neither brother was ever questioned or interviewed.
Buster Murdaugh released a statement recently denying any involvement in Smith’s death. He said: “Before, during and since my father’s trial, I have been targeted and harassed by the media and followers of this story. This has gone on far too long.
“These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false. I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family.”
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Divsion is asking anyone with relevant information on the death of Stephen Smith to call 803-737-9000 and ask for Investigative Services.
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