Dark Facts About The Murdaugh Family

For decades, the Murdaughs were a highly respected, yet also feared family of attorneys in South Carolina. Then, beginning in 2018, a series of tragic events occurred that deeply affected them, such as the death of a long-time housekeeper who had practically become a member of the family, followed by a horrific boating accident, and finally, the terrifying shootings of son Paul Murdaugh and his mother, Maggie, in June 2021.

As the terrible news of the many tragedies that had befallen the Murdaughs spread across the U.S., it would be reasonable if the public felt sympathy for the grieving family during their extremely difficult period. However, as time went on, and a flood of dark details began to flow in from numerous investigations and lawsuits, the story showed the head of the family, especially, in a far more malevolent light. As of March 2023, Alex Murdaugh is on trial for the murders of his loved ones, but even if he is found not guilty of those heinous crimes, there are several other ominous facts about him and his family members that are good reasons why the locals were so intimidated by them.

The frightening power of the Murdaugh family

The immense power that the Murdaugh family wielded around Hampton, South Carolina stretched back to Randolph Murdaugh, who practiced law in the 1920s and '30s. After his tragic death following an accidental collision with a C&W freight train in 1940, the surviving Murdaughs gradually shifted the focus of their law firm to cases against the railroad companies  — to great success.

For over 50 years, the family of attorneys established themselves as the go-to place in the county to sue railroads because of the amount of money they won in lawsuits, making a fortune themselves in the process. One highly effective strategy the firm used was to get heavily involved in the community in order to influence potential jurists, which was a major factor that led to such high financial awards.

Eventually, the Murdaugh law firm became so wealthy and powerful in the region that locals became afraid to criticize them. An anonymous Hampton-area resident told The State, "They are known for suing people. That would be the last place you would want to find yourself — in court, with those folks suing you. The Murdaughs know everyone, they are well-liked, and they make it a point to stop and talk to people, just like politicians. They never know who might be on a jury." By 2021, the rumors spread throughout the community were confirmed that the family used their connections with prominent business members and law officials in nefarious ways, such as the Palmetto State Bank chief operating officer, Russell Laffitte, who benefited from the massive sums that Alex Murdaugh has admitted to stealing.

Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were murdered

In 2021, the Murdaugh family was thrust into the national spotlight when Paul and his mother, Maggie, were shot to death. While the 22-year-old was brutally slain with two shotgun rounds, Maggie perished from wounds caused by a separate firearm, a rifle. The grisly murders took place on their own property, and it was the patriarch of the family, Alex, who found their bodies on the estate and called the authorities.

At first, Alex was not considered a suspect, but that changed dramatically a year later when he was charged with the killings and brought to trial. Although the former lawyer pleaded not guilty to the heinous crimes, prosecutors argued that his motive was to direct attention away from a series of embezzlement cases against him that were rapidly coming to light, on top of the money spent on his opioid addiction.

In 2023, further evidence was revealed in court that just a month before the murders, Paul and his mother discovered the extent of Alex's drug problems. A text the son sent to his father said, "When you get here, we have to talk. Mom found several bags of pills in your computer bag," as reported by The New York Times. Despite the evidence, and contradictions in his account of the night, Alex insists he did not commit the murders. In his testimony, he stressed, "I did not shoot my wife or my son any time. Ever," NPR reported. He also added, "I would never do anything intentionally to hurt either one of them."

The suspicious accidental death of Gloria Satterfield

In 2018, a death occurred on Murdaugh property, at their home in Moselle, but it gained significantly less publicity than the later fatalities associated with the family, or at least that was the case initially. At the time, the Murdaughs' story was that Gloria Satterfield, the housekeeper who had worked for the family for 24 years, accidentally fell down some steps, leading to a fatal injury she did not recover from.

The official account of Gloria's fate remained unquestioned for a year until her sons figured out that Alex Murdaugh had secured a wrongful-death settlement worth around $500,000 but kept it all for himself, according to The New Yorker. After this grim realization, the Satterfield brothers' attorney, Eric Bland, made an even worse discovery: Murdaugh had also robbed them of the $3.8 million payout from a liability insurance policy. Once the company, Nautilus Insurance, was informed of the malevolent activity, they filed a lawsuit against Alex and stated, "The scope of Murdaugh's depravity is without precedent in Western jurisprudence." But that was only the beginning, for the floodgates had been opened to an extensive history of criminal actions committed by the prominent lawyer.

In 2022, after the many dark revelations about the Murdaughs came to light, Gloria's body was exhumed to determine if there was any foul play involved in her death. As of this writing, the authorities have not released their findings.

Paul Murdaugh's alcohol abuse led to the death of Mallory Beach

In 2019, the lives of Paul Murdaugh and his close friends were irreversibly changed one tragic night the group took a boat down the river to the nearby Paukie Island and back. Among the six passengers on the Murdaugh vessel were Paul's girlfriend, Morgan Doughty, his best friend, Anthony Cook, and the latter's girlfriend, Mallory Beach. The group not only started drinking beforehand but continued to do so throughout the trip, even making a stop at a waterfront bar as well.

Even though Paul was the most intoxicated of them all, he refused to let anyone else drive his boat; it was later found that his blood alcohol level was over three times the limit. The situation then deteriorated further as the youngest Murdaugh focused more on screaming at Morgan in a heated argument than steering the vessel. With no one at the wheel, the boat collided with Archers Creek Bridge at an extremely dangerous speed, causing Mallory to be thrown overboard and later die in the water.

When first responders arrived, they desperately searched for Mallory, but it would take over a week until she was found. That terrible night, as Anthony anxiously waited, he was absolutely furious with Paul. Deputy Sheriff Stephen Domino told "48 Hours," "He actually tried to rush through me to get to Paul because I guess he saw him smiling ... and it just set him off again." Paul was eventually charged with three felony counts for his actions but died before the trial could begin.

Stephen Smith was allegedly slain in a hit and run

South Carolina law enforcement also focused on an older case that could be another vile crime committed by the Murdaughs. For years, rumors have spread throughout the community of the involvement of both brothers, Buster and Paul, as playing a part in the death of Stephen Smith in 2015. Officially, Smith lost his life in an anonymous hit and run, however, a highway patrol officer who arrived at the scene never agreed with that conclusion. He explained, "I saw no vehicle debris, skid marks, or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle," as reported by The New Yorker.

Even though the county coroner also questioned the likelihood that Smith was killed by a fatal collision, the pathologist of the investigation stated that was the cause of death. Yet, the persistence and frequency of the rumors that Buster especially had a role in his demise led many to not let go of the possibility. Regardless, neither of the Murdaugh siblings was ever questioned by the authorities.

Alex Murdaugh was charged with embezzlement in millions of dollars

On top of being on trial for the murders of his son and wife, Paul and Maggie Murdaugh, Alex has also faced a whirlwind of charges regarding rampant embezzlement over several years. In 2021, his severe downfall began once he was forced to leave his own family's law firm because of missing funds he was linked to that amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Alex was then later disbarred as the counts of his alleged criminality rapidly increased to around 90 charges by the following year, as reported by the Associated Press. According to prosecutors, the disgraced attorney may have stolen at least $8.5 million in total.

The theft of such a large sum of money is not even nearly as disturbing as the ways Alex potentially seized the cash and who he took it from. The victims were often clients who already struggled financially before experiencing a tragic injury or death in the family, and then he used various methods to steal the funds won in court settlements from them.

Alex Murdaugh tried to arrange his own violent death

In 2021, only three months after Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were brutally slain, Alex made an outrageous attempt to resolve his terrible situation on his own terms, but failed miserably. Based on the belief that his one surviving son, Buster, would not receive a payout from his $10 million life insurance policy if he took his own life, Alex devised a plot for a former associate to do it for him instead, as reported by the BBC.

In an attempt to make it appear as if Alex was attacked, he hired Curtis Edward Smith to shoot him with a gun while Alex pretended to change a tire on the side of the road. However,  the planned attack resulted in only a minor head wound for Alex, and shortly thereafter, the scheme unraveled. Within a month, both men were indicted for conspiracy.

Alex Murdaugh was charged with dealing narcotics

Alex Murdaugh's flawed attempt to have an associate kill him was not only unsuccessful but also set off another avalanche of legal trouble for the disbarred lawyer. After both he and his accomplice, Curtis Edward Smith, were indicted, it was revealed that the two allegedly had a long history of working together in drug-related crimes.

Stretching all the way back to 2013, there is evidence that Alex and Smith likely engaged in the drug trafficking of oxycodone in more than one county of South Carolina. Throughout the period in question, Alex wrote hundreds of sketchy checks to Smith, which added up to the insane amount of $2.4 million, per The Daily Beast. The indictment went into further detail to explain the illegal activity and said, "Murdaugh drew the checks on accounts under his control at multiple banks, and made the checks payable to various versions of Smith's name, as well as to close associates of Smith. In some instances, Smith forged the endorsement of his close associates without their knowledge or consent, then endorsed the checks himself."

Paul Murdaugh was a physically abusive boyfriend

Before the horrible death of Mallory Beach due to Paul Murdaugh's actions, the worst aspect known to the public about him was his cruel treatment of his girlfriend, Morgan Doughty. In the docuseries, "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal," Morgan went into gruesome detail about Paul's abusive behavior, which was covered by The Mirror. Murdaugh was not only a cruel partner with words, but he even got physically violent with her sometimes as well, especially after drinking heavily. Unsurprisingly, this very dark side of him showed itself right before the devastating boat crash when he slapped and spit on Morgan during a fight.

Nor was that the first time Paul had abused Morgan. There were previous moments that were glaringly red flags for her to leave him, with one of the most extreme instances occurring after the family celebrated Buster Murdaugh's graduation. When recalling the frightening experience, she cried and said, "We were staying at a hotel. He had been so intoxicated. We finally got into bed and for some reason, Paul kept kicking me. I yelled at him and then he got on top of me and I just remember him screaming, 'I told you to shut up!' He was holding down my throat. I just remember that he punched me really hard in the knee."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Alex Murdaugh was indicted for tax evasion

The last of the numerous charges that Alex Murdaugh faces in court seem minor, but are, nonetheless, serious offenses as well. In 2022, Alex was indicted in nine counts of tax evasion for the failure to report $6.9 million of income between 2011 and 2019, as reported by CNN. The fact that the income came from money that he stole was of no consequence to the prosecutors, for the indictment states, "The funds derived through Murdaugh's ongoing illegal activity were converted to personal use, and as such, are considered earned income."

The additional charges bring the total from all lawsuits up to nearly 100, which could still lead to severe punishments for Alex even if he is found to be guilty of only a fraction of them. So, the new counts did not alter the circumstances in any major way, but the $486,000 he owes in state taxes is not nothing.

The Murdaughs provided liquor to young teens

In the first episode of the Netflix docuseries, "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal," Morgan Doughty provided a shocking revelation about the Murdaugh parents and said, "They were ok with us drinking. They'd always get us alcohol." She went into further detail to describe how Alex Murdaugh not only gave out hard liquor to Paul and his friends from his office at the law firm but there was also plenty of it stocked up and available in their home as well. This allegedly all began as early as their freshmen year in high school for the teens.

Maggie Murdaugh also did not seem to care about the excessive drinking when Morgan tried to talk to her out of concern for Paul. On the other hand, Morgan's father, Bill, strongly disapproved of that sort of behavior but was not aware of how bad it had gotten at the time. Years later, he came to the chilling conclusion that Paul must have lived through a terrible experience and said, "You drink like that to escape something."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Paul Murdaugh had a dark alter ego when intoxicated

Those who knew Paul Murdaugh most intimately were well aware that he had a dark side, which became far more apparent when he drank heavily. In fact, the youngest Murdaugh behaved so differently, and frighteningly strange at times, that his best mates even came up with the name Timmy for his intoxicated alter ego.

In their testimony, one member in his circle of friends gave a brief glimpse of how they all reacted around Paul when he was too inebriated and said, "When they can tell he's drunk, somebody will say, 'All right. Here comes Timmy. We got to go,'" as reported by The New Yorker. Clearly, no one wanted to be around Paul when he was in that state of mind, which makes the fatal boat crash in 2019 even more disturbing since he had reached that disastrous level of drunkenness and there was no safe way to escape from him before it became too late.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).