Murders, multi-million-dollar fraud and mystery deaths: Alex Murdaugh’s spectacular fall from grace

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On the surface, Alex Murdaugh had it all.

He was a high-powered attorney who ran both his own law firm and worked in the local prosecutor’s office.

He was the son of a powerful legal dynasty that dominated a local South Carolina community for almost a century.

And he was a family man with a wife and two adult sons living on a vast country estate.

But over the last 13 months, Murdaugh has had a spectacular fall from grace, culminating in him now being charged with the savage double murder of his wife and son.

On the morning of Wednesday 20 July, Mr Murdaugh appeared in Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, for the first time since being charged with the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul Murdaugh.

Sporting a newly-shaved hairstyle, he pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

He was ordered to be held without bond – something that his own legal team agreed with given he is already being held on $7m bond on other charges and has no way of paying it.

The murder charges mark the most damning accusation to date but one of a steady slew that have erupted over the last year against Mr Murdaugh.

According to law enforcement, he is also a fraudster who embezzled millions of dollars from his clients and paid a hitman to shoot him dead so that his surviving son would land an insurance windfall.

He is an opioid addict who left his family’s finances in tatters.

And he is the man at the centre of a series of mysterious unexplained deaths.

With each scandal more bizarre than the last, here’s what you need to know:

Murder of wife and son

The twisted tale began on 7 June 2021 when Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and Paul Murdaugh, 22, were found shot dead in a brutal double murder at the family’s sprawling hunting lodge in Islandton, South Carolina.

It was high-profile attorney Mr Murdaugh who claimed he discovered their bodies, placing a dramatic 911 call that night where he cried and sobbed on the phone.

He claimed he’d returned home from visiting his elderly mother and dying father to find his wife and son by the kennels on the property, both suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.

The call, previously released by investigators, was made at 10.07pm local time.

The coroner placed the time of death for the two victims between 9pm and 9.30pm.

In the audio, Mr Murdaugh is heard sobbing as he tells the dispatcher “it’s bad” and “my wife and child have been shot badly”.

When asked if his loved ones were still breathing, he responds “no” and urges them to “please hurry”.

Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were killed at their Islandton estate in June 2021

(Handout)

Mr Murdaugh also tells the dispatcher that he hasn’t seen anyone on the property.

It later emerged that two different weapons were used to kill the victims, with Maggie shot multiple times with an automatic rifle and Paul shot twice – once in the head and once in the chest – with a shotgun.

For more than 13 months, no arrests were made in their murders, no suspects were named and no charges were brought over their killings.

Mr Murdaugh’s attorney previously admitted that the 53-year-old husband and father was a person of interest in their murders but insisted that his client was innocent. No other persons of interest were ever named.

His family rallied around him, with his brothers appearing on Good Morning America insisting his innocence.

One year on, his brother John Murdaugh revealed that the SLED had met with the family and notified them that – two days later – Mr Murdaugh was going to be charged with Maggie and Paul’s murders and evidence would be presented before a grand jury.

“The entire family has been consistent that regardless of what goes on, we want the truth,” said John.

Two days later, the grand jury met behind closed doors and agreed to charge Mr Murdaugh over the slayings.

Officials would not comment further on what evidence had finally led to the murder charges, 13 months on from the attacks, citing an active investigation.

However, sources close to the investigation said that blood spatter on the 53-year-old’s clothing as well as cellphone footage had placed Mr Murdaugh at the scene when his wife and son were shot dead.

Alex Murdaugh is escorted out of the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, on Wednesday 20 July 2022

(AP)

The source told FITS News that the high velocity blood spatter on his clothing shows he was in close contact with at least one of the victims when they were shot.

Meanwhile, Paul’s cellphone – which was discovered by his body – contained audio and video footage of Mr Murdaugh speaking to his wife just before the time that he and his mother were killed, the source said.

This evidence contradicts Mr Murdaugh’s version of events as he claimed he returned home to find his loved ones already dead.

Following his indictment, Mr Murdaugh’s attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin doubled down on their client’s innocence, saying that he loved Maggie and Paul “more than anything in the world”.

No motive has been given for the murders.

However, prosecutors hinted at his arraignment hat Mr Murdaugh’s motive is linked to the string of white collar fraud and drugs scandals swirling around the disgraced attorney.

“Much of the information gathered in the state grand jury case – all of the 81 allegations of white collar fraud and other crimes, drugs and the like gathered against Mr Murdaugh – a lot of that provides the background and motive for what happened on June 7 2021,” said the prosecutor.

Over the course of the “long and arduous investigation over 13 months”, all the evidence “came back to one person and that person was Alex Murdaugh”, he said.

At the time of the murders, Mr Murdaugh’s finances were secretly in tatters and his marriage to Maggie was reportedly in ruins.

Maggie was living apart from her husband at the family’s beach house on Edisto Island and had been speaking with divorce attorneys.

Alex Murdaugh pictured in his booking photo following his arrest on charges last year

(Orange County Corrections)

The night of her killing, the 52-year-old had texted a friend saying that her husband had asked her to meet him at their estate that night so they could go to visit his dying father together, FITS News reported.

Maggie told her friend she believed Mr Murdaugh was “up to something” and was acting “fishy”.

Hours later, she was dead.

Paul, meanwhile, was facing trial for the boating death of a 19-year-old woman.

Botched hitman plot

Three months after their murders – on 4 September – Mr Murdaugh was shot on the side of a road in Hampton County.

He survived and called 911, claiming he was ambushed in a drive-by shooting while he was changing a tire on his vehicle.

He was treated at a hospital for what police called a “superficial gunshot wound to the head,” but his story quickly unravelled.

One day after the shooting, Mr Murdaugh entered rehab for a 20-year opioid addiction and announced he had resigned from his law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, & Detrick (PMPED).

Just one day before the shooting, Mr Murdaugh’s law firm partners accused him of stealing millions of dollars from its clients going back years and had confronted him about the allegations. They ousted him from the firm that day.

Mr Murdaugh’s version of events rapidly fell apart and, on 13 September, he confessed to police to paying an alleged hitman to shoot and kill him in an assisted suicide plot so that his surviving son Buster could get a $10m life insurance windfall.

Curtis Smith is accused of shooting Alex Murdaugh in a botched hitman plot

(Colleton County Sheriffs Office)

He admitted that he had paid a former client of his Curtis Smith, 61, to carry out the shooting. Both men were arrested and charged over the incident.

Mr Murdaugh was then released on bond on the promise that he enter rehab for his opioid addiction.

Mysterious death of housekeeper

On his release from rehab one month later, Mr Murdaugh was dramatically arrested on charges of stealing funds from the wrongful death settlement over the mysterious trip and fall death of the family’s longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield in 2018.

Satterfield worked for the influential Murdaugh family for more than 20 years when she was found at the bottom of some stairs at the family’s home. She died weeks later from her injuries.

At the time, her death was regarded as an accidental fall – though her death certificate cited her manner of death as “natural”.

Mr Murdaugh reached an agreement to pay her family $4m in a wrongful death settlement – but they never received a dime of the money. He is accused of siphoning off $3.4m of settlement meant for Satterfield’s sons to a fake company called Forge.

Questions have been swirling around Satterfield’s death ever since and investigators reopened a probe into her death. Earlier this year, officials announced plans to exhume her body.

Gloria Satterfield died in a ‘trip and fall’ at the Murdaugh home in 2018

(Provided)

Mr Murdaugh is now accused of swindling from his insurance company to help fund his drug habit.

But as Mr Murdaugh’s name hit headlines, the Hampton County coroner Angela Topper asked the SLED to reopen an investigation into her death.

“The decedent’s death was not reported to the Coroner at the time, nor was an autopsy performed,” Ms Topper wrote.

“On the death certificate the manner of death was ruled ‘Natural,’ which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident.”

‘Misappropriated funds’ charges

Mr Murdaugh is already facing a staggering 84 charges from 16 indictments around the suicide-for-hire plot, a scheme to defraud the Satterfield family and scams to defraud dozens of other victims out of millions of dollars. He is also facing 11 civil suits.

In total, he is accused of stealing nearly $8.5m from settlements from more than a dozen clients who he represented through his law firm.

The plots involved Mr Murdaugh negotiating wrongful death and other settlements for his clients and then stealing the money for himself, according to prosecutors.

The alleged schemes date back as far as 2011 – more than a decade before he was ousted by his law firm and slapped with charges.

One of the alleged victims was a man whose wife died in a car wreck in 2013, say prosecutors. Mr Murdaugh is accused of stealing 14 settlement checks totaling $1.3m from the man.

On 12 July 2021, the same day his family were informed murder charges were on the way, Mr Murdaugh was disbarred from practicing law in South Carolina by the state’s Supreme Court.

“Based on his admitted reprehensible misconduct, we hereby disbar respondent Richard Alexander Murdaugh from the practice of law in South Carolina,” the Supreme Court said in an order signed by all the court’s justices.

The entrance to the family estate where Maggie and Paul were killed

(Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Other mystery deaths

At the time of Paul’s killing, the 22-year-old was due to stand trial over the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach in a 2019 boat crash.

Paul was allegedly drunk driving a boat when he crashed it, throwing his friend Ms Beach to her death.

He was charged with boating under the influence and faced up to 25 years in prison but was killed before his trial. Rumours instantly swirled that the incident was in some way connected to Paul’s death.

An investigation has also been reopened into a third mystery death connected to the Murdaugh family.

Stephen Smith, 19, was found dead in the middle of the road from blunt force trauma to the head in 2015.

His death was officially ruled a hit-and-run but the victim’s family have long doubted this version of events and said that there were murmurings in the community that a “Murdaugh boy” may have been involved.

Decades-long opioid addiction

Mr Murdaugh’s attorney Richard Harpootlian dramatically revealed last fall that his client has struggled with a decades-long addiction to drugs and that this played a role in his attempted suicide.

“For the last 20 years, there have been many people feeding his addiction to opioids.

“During that time, these individuals took advantage of his addiction and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs,” Mr Harpootlian said in a statement.

“One of those individuals took advantage of his mental illness and agreed to take Alex’s life, by shooting him in the head.”

Who are the Murdaughs?

Prior to the dramatic fall from grace, Mr Murdaugh was a powerful figure in Hampton County.

For almost a century, his family members have reigned over the local justice system with his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all serving as the solicitor in the 14th Judicial Circuit solicitor’s office.

His father died just days after Maggie and Paul’s murders.

Disgraced legal scion Alex Murdaugh laughs that he has ‘allegedly done illegal stuff’ in jailhouse phone call

Meanwhile, Mr Murdaugh’s now only surviving son Buster has stood by his father throughout the flurry of accusations that have come to light.

Chilling audio from a jailhouse phone call with Buster emerged in June where Mr Murdaugh laughed that he has “allegedly done illegal stuff”.

In the phone call, Buster is heard acknowledging that his father has done “illegal s***” as they discuss a search warrant that he believes was improperly served on Mr Murdaugh while he was behind bars.

“Well, I think it does matter, man… I mean, something’s got to give,” he says in the call.

“I understand that you’ve done illegal s***. But it doesn’t mean you can just, you know, turn a cold shoulder to the laws of the United States.”

At that point in the call, Mr Murdaugh – who is also facing charges for allegedly orchestrating a botched hit on himself – makes an unsettling joke about his alleged crimes.

He laughs and says to his son: “Allegedly done illegal stuff.”

It remains to be seen if Buster will stick by his father now as he awaits trial charged with his mother and brother’s murders.

Murders, multi-million-dollar fraud and mystery deaths: Alex Murdaugh’s spectacular fall from grace

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