Murder, missing money and cover-up claims: South Carolina family mystery grips America

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It’s a communicative arsenic heavy and unctuous arsenic South Carolina’s debased state mud. Those successful the cognize aren’t talking, and those who don’t cognize are. But with six progressive investigations, including a execution inquiry, the lawsuit of Richard “Alex” Murdaugh, a 53-year-old tort lawyer and scion of 1 of the state’s astir almighty families, has gripped America.

Last week, Murdaugh appeared successful tribunal successful Columbia, the authorities capital, connected a enslaved proceeding implicit charges helium misappropriated $3.5m successful security settlements relating to the decease of the family’s longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield. The defence and prosecution approved the enslaved request. Judge Clifton Newman denied it.

Newman’s stated rationale was that Murdaugh, who appeared a shadiness of the portly antheral pictured successful earlier photographs, was a information to himself and others due to the fact that helium – prosecution and defence acknowledged – has a 20-year addiction to opioids and, the justice said, adjacent to 80% of transgression cases that travel earlier the tribunal person a constituent of addiction.

“No magnitude of enslaved tribunal tin beryllium acceptable to fulfill protections to Mr Murdaugh and the community,” Newman said.

But that’s hardly the commencement of it. Like astir things astir the Murdaugh family, what is said raises questions astir what’s being near unsaid – and astir of that revolves astir power, wealth and intimidation successful the southbound stretching backmost decades.

Outside court, Satterfield lawyer Ronnie Richter told the Guardian that issues of people pervade the case. “We person a occupation successful the state with the cognition that powerfulness and influence, existent oregon not, gets you a 2nd tier of justness from rank-and-file. It took courageousness for the strategy to accidental you’re going to get treated similar everyone else.”

Asked if the Satterfield household accepted Murdaugh’s mentation for her death, helium said: “Not sure. It’s nether probe similar everything else.”

Over the past 4 months, the sanction Alex Murdaugh – pronounced Murdoch – has go similar steps connected a way of misadventure.

On the nighttime of 7 June this year, Murdaugh’s wife, Margaret, oregon Maggie, 52, and lad Paul, 22, were recovered dormant of gunshot wounds successful beforehand of the kennels astatine the couple’s 1,770-acre property adjacent the municipality of Hampton. No suspects person been publically named. Maggie Murdaugh had reportedly explored a separation from her hubby aft a cheque to a foundation she supported bounced.

Three days later, South Carolina authorities investigators said they had opened an probe into the decease of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old LGBTQ idiosyncratic recovered dormant connected a adjacent roadworthy successful July 2015. His decease was officially ruled a hit-and-run, but heavy gashes to his caput suggested to immoderate helium was beaten to death.

Files with the authorities road patrol showed that a Murdaugh household subordinate – a idiosyncratic wounded lawyer – called Smith’s household connected the time helium was recovered successful the road, offering to correspond them astatine nary charge. The household told constabulary they thought the connection was “weird”.

Then, successful July this year, tribunal documents alleged a civilian conspiracy connecting instrumentality enforcement and the Murdaugh household to the aftermath of a 2019 vessel clang that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach, the girl of different salient South Carolina family. Paul Murdaugh was alleged to beryllium driving the vessel portion intoxicated, and was facing related transgression charges astatine the clip helium was killed.

“The Beach household are incensed astatine the mode the transgression probe was conducted portion their daughter’s assemblage was missing and judge radical were actively trying to screen up what had happened,” the Beach household lawyer Mark Tilsey told the Guardian.

In August, the execution probe successful the deaths of Maggie and Paul was kicked up to the authorities level. In September, Alex Murdaugh resigned from the instrumentality steadfast the household co-founded. Last week, the steadfast sued Alex for millions they assertion had been misappropriated.

Then, connected 4 September, astatine astir 1.30pm, Hampton region cardinal dispatch received a 911 telephone from Alex Murdaugh, who reported helium had been changeable successful the head. Two days later, helium entered a rehabilitation installation successful Georgia. In a statement, helium said helium had been having “an incredibly hard time”.

Alex Murdaugh successful  tribunal  during a enslaved  proceeding  Columbia connected  Tuesday.
Alex Murdaugh successful tribunal during a enslaved proceeding Columbia connected Tuesday. Photograph: Lewis M Levine/AP

But the shooting, according to authorities police, was not a homicide effort but a imaginable termination attempt, carried retired by a cousin, Curtis “Eddie” Smith, successful a doomed effort to summation a $10m beingness security payout to payment Murdaugh’s different son, Buster.

The changeable grazed Murdaugh’s head; a toxicology study recovered opioids and barbiturates successful his blood. Smith claimed helium was 1,000% definite Murdaugh was not shot. Ten days later, Murdaugh was arrested successful transportation with the shooting and returned to treatment. Smith has been charged with assisted suicide, security fraud and respective different counts. He denies the charges.

Then, past week, Murdaugh appeared earlier Judge Newman aft being arrested astatine a 2nd rehab determination successful Florida connected charges that helium diverted millions successful wrongful decease suit colony funds from the Satterfield family, successful what prosecutors described arsenic strategy “to writer himself successful bid to question an security settlement”.

But that death, too, has raised questions. Murdaugh said Satterfield tripped implicit the household dog, a hunting dog, fell, and deed her head. She aboriginal died from a changeable and cardiac arrest. At the enslaved proceeding connected Tuesday, adjunct lawyer wide Creighton Waters said the alleged fraud “is the extremity of the iceberg. There is acold much we volition uncover soon.”

But alternatively of granting a merchandise connected bond, and returning Murdaugh to rehab successful Orlando, Judge Newman ordered a psychiatric valuation and placed him backmost successful custody.

Residents of Hampton, the civilian spot of Colleton county, are unclear if the full saga marks the unravelling of an idiosyncratic oregon an full dynasty: the Murdaughs, whose wealthiness reputedly originated successful moonshine, person extended onshore holdings, arsenic good arsenic extended political, judicial and humor ties to the region.

For much than 85 years, a Murdaugh has served arsenic South Carolina’s 14th circuit solicitor – the main authoritative for the region. Votes, immoderate claim, were bought done donations of wealth “to the Black people and the churches”. The instrumentality practice, tally retired of the largest gathering successful downtown Hampton, has profited from cases involving CSX, a $79bn railroad and freight company, whose tracks tally done the county.

Equally important, perhaps, are the family’s societal ties successful South Carolina, a authorities known for traditional, blimpish mores and a affluent achromatic nine that enjoys hunting, fishing, costume balls and, for some, dense drinking.

But alongside the wealthiness is heavy poverty. In Hampton itself, formalwear stores beryllium adjacent to thrift stores. In court, the Satterfield household came successful check shirts and mullets, portion Murdaugh lawyer Dick Harpootlian sported a grey pinstripe suit.

But successful Hampton, fewer were consenting to talk connected record. The stakes, immoderate said, were excessively high. Someone who had been astatine schoolhouse with Alex Murdaugh said simply: “He was a bully and helium abused the lower-class kids. What’s happened to him is appropriate.”

Suzy Murdaugh, a comparative connected her father’s side, said she could spell to her wealthier relations for help. “They were powerful. They ain the country. If you went to court, you won. Didn’t substance what it was. Don’t deliberation Alex, his begetter Buster, oregon his grand-father ever mislaid a case. He told the justice what to do.”

That broadside of the household owned onshore crossed the region and considered themselves “on a higher level”.

“I wouldn’t accidental Alex looked down connected people, but helium thought helium was amended than them,” she said.

But Suzy Murdaugh besides said she didn’t judge helium had cause addiction. “Could person been, I guess, but Hampton is simply a cause county. But helium was [a] full-blown alcoholic, yes. All Murdaughs are alcoholic. Three generations backmost they ran moonshine. So we travel from a agelong enactment of alcoholics.”

How the antithetic deaths are resolved, oregon if they are resolved, is present a substance for authorities investigators. Theories, immoderate highly analyzable and abounding with motives, powerfulness plots, and accidental crossed paths, bent similar Spanish moss from the oaks successful the swamps of the interior coastal plain.

“Alex’s handling of the Beach civilian lawsuit surely precipitated his existent unraveling, but it’s inactive hard for maine to fathom however oregon wherefore the murders could person happened, oregon however they could beryllium connected with our case,” said Tinsley.

Most accidental they conscionable don’t cognize the truth. Others indulge successful conspiracy. Suzy Murdaugh says she’s convinced Maggie and Paul aren’t dead: “I cognize it successful my gut.”

It’s a fantastical theory, but not retired of quality for the portion and this story, wherever information seems precise hard to find.

Either way, she says, “all this leads to cover-up, cover-up, cover-up.”