The Murdaugh Murders Timeline Explained

For over a century, the Murdaugh family maintained a position of respect and power in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Since 1910, when Randolph Murdaugh Sr founded a law firm in the town of Hampton, his descendants have been tightly bound to the levers of law and government in the community. Per People, Murdaugh after Murdaugh served as solicitor for the 14th judicial circuit, where the family's legal work — and power — won them admirers and inspired fear in turns.

By the time Alex Murdaugh's trial for murder began in January 2023, his family's political and social fortunes were in ruins. Murdaugh was, by then, well-practiced in appearing in court as a defendant; myriad charges of financial crimes had plagued him for years (per AP). But now he stood accused of killing his own wife and son — the latter of whom had been set to face charges related to an accidental death in 2021 (per AP) — and the course of the investigation had implicated the Murdaugh family in deaths stretching back as far as 2015.

2015: Stephen Smith is killed in a hit-and-run

In July 2015, according to the Hampton County Guardian (via Bluffton Today), 19-year-old Stephen Smith was driving home from an Orangeburg-Calhoun Tech night class when he ran out of gas. He attempted to make it the rest of the way on foot when he was apparently struck by another vehicle, specifically the mirror of a truck. The accident killed him; the driver ran off.

This, at least, was the initial conclusion around Smith's death. It's one his mother never accepted. She believed her son, a gay man, had been taken from his car and murdered by a group of fellow students, including an individual Smith had been in a brief relationship with. His mother did not name those she suspected, but she told the Guardian she was sure of their identity and their guilt. She did insinuate that there were prominent figures in the local community involved, necessitating help from outside Hampton County.

Six years later, Smith's death became tied into the Murdaugh family's story, as the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) began its own investigation. According to The Augusta Chronicle (via Bluffton Today), rumors about a member of the Murdaugh clan being involved in Smith's death, and a possible cover-up, had run through the community since 2015. Evidence found while looking into the deaths of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh prompted SLED to revisit Smith's case, though as of January 2023, no charges were filed.

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2018: The Murdaugh family's housekeeper dies in their home

In February 2018, a call was placed to 911 from the Murdaugh family home in Islandton, South Carolina (via Island Packet). Maggie Murdaugh reported that their housekeeper and nanny, Gloria Satterfield, fell walking up the brick steps up to the house and was bleeding from her head. An ambulance was dispatched, but by the time Satterfield reached a hospital, she was pronounced dead (per People).

News Nation reported that the Murdaugh family blamed the fall on one of their dogs, but there was no report from the coroner nor any autopsy performed. Alex Murdaugh advised Satterfield's sons to sue him with a handpicked attorney to reach a settlement of $505,000 from insurance. The sons never received the money, prompting a civil suit against Murdaugh in 2021. A year later, Murdaugh confessed that the Satterfields were due $4.3 million from him, money he had conspired to keep from them (per ABC News 4). It was part of the pattern of financial crimes he had perpetuated for years — laundering settlement money for victims to serve his own ends.

2019: Murdaugh's son was implicated in a boating crash

The Murdaugh family's fall from grace, so far as the national public knew, began in 2019. On the night of February 24 that year, Paul Murdaugh — the younger son of Alex and Maggie Murdaugh — was involved in a boating accident. According to Live 5 News, Paul and a group of his friends were drinking underage when they took the Murdaugh family boat out for a high-speed spin. Paul, driving the boat, crashed into a bridge. The boat split apart, and one of the passengers went missing. A week later, 19-year-old Mallory Beach was found dead.

A flurry of lawsuits followed, including one by Beach's family against Paul, another by the same family against the liquor store that sold Paul the alcohol, and one by Paul's friend Connor Cook against Alex Murdaugh — whom he claimed tried to frame him to cover up Paul's culpability. Paul also faced indictments on three charges, to which he pleaded not guilty, but his murder in 2021 happened before the case could go to trial. Prior to being accused of the murders himself, Alex suggested the boating incident as a possible motive for someone wanting to kill his son.

As Alex's trial for that murder began, a settlement was reached concerning the accident. Per ABC News 4, Maggie Murdaugh's estate was split between her surviving son Buster, Beach's family, and the survivors of the crash.

May 2021: Maggie Murdaugh allegedly saw a divorce lawyer

About one month before her death, Maggie Murdaugh allegedly approached a divorce lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina, with a mind to leave her husband Alex and get a clearer picture of the family's finances. This, at least, was the story according to People, several months after Maggie had been murdered. The Murdaugh family strongly disputed this characterization of Alex and Maggie's marriage in a statement run by the Hampton County Guardian (via Bluffton Today). They branded such claims a distraction from investigations into the death of Maggie and her son Paul.

People was not the only outlet to report on marital strife between the Murdaughs, however. The Daily Mail claimed, via anonymous sources, that husband and wife had routinely argued over money and that Maggie had confronted Alex over his drug use. The same source also claimed that Maggie worried for Paul's future. Already facing charges over the 2019 boating accident he had caused while drunk, Paul's summer vacation was approaching, and Maggie feared he would fall back into bad habits. She allegedly sought to keep him near her as she minded the family dog kennels, so that she could keep tabs on him.

June 7, 2021: Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were murdered

On June 7, 2021, Alex, Maggie, and Paul Murdaugh were at the family hunting lodge in Colleton County. At around 10 that night, Alex placed a frantic call to 911 (via FITS News), reporting that his wife and son had been shot. The next day, authorities confirmed that Maggie and Paul had been killed near the dog kennels on the property, both having been shot multiple times. According to The Augusta Chronicle (via Bluffton Today), the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) immediately began an investigation.

Information about Maggie and Paul's deaths was initially tightly controlled, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act per The Post and Courier. With no named suspects and no indication of whether there was a larger threat to the nearby area, tensions in Colleton County ran high. The coroner's report (via The Post and Courier) was released several weeks after the murder, and confirmed that mother and son had been killed by two separate firearms.

June 25 2021: the Murdaugh family offered a reward over the murders

The initial public response by the Murdaugh family to the murder of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh was a statement of gratitude to well-wishers, issued through the law firm of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED) that the family had helped to found, per The Augusta Chronicle (via Bluffton Today). As national attention in the case intensified, two members of the family went on ABC News (via WJCL 22). Randy and John Murdaugh, uncles to Paul and brothers to Maggie's husband Alex, shared their grief and appeared to suggest that a possible motive for the murders was anger at Paul over his 2019 boating accident.

Alex Murdaugh and his surviving son Buster did not go before the cameras. But they did issue another statement on June 25, 2021. They declared they were prepared to offer $100,000, through PMPED, to anyone who provided information leading to the arrest of the murderer, as reported by The Augusta Chronicle (via Bluffton Today). The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) created a special hotline for any tips pertaining to the case.

September 3, 2021: Alex Murdaugh resigned from his law firm

Only a few months after the murders of his family made national news, Alex Murdaugh's long history of shady dealings began coming to light.

It started, according to WJCL 22, when a questionable check was found on Murdaugh's desk at the law firm of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED) on September 2. The next day, the results of an investigation showed that Murdaugh had been siphoning funds from the firm into a bank account for a nonexistent organization. The Island Packet reported that the amount pilfered came to millions of dollars, and that much of it was used by Murdaugh to fund an addiction to oxycodone.

Confronted with evidence of his crimes, Murdaugh offered a prompt resignation from PMPED, and the firm moved to reimburse those cheated by him. But the extent of Murdaugh's fraud was still unclear by October. The law firm his family had helped to create sued Murdaugh on October 5, seeking actual and punitive damages.

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September 2021: Murdaugh was shot in the head in a staged event

On September 4, just one day after he had resigned from the law firm he had swindled, Alex Murdaugh pulled off a Hampton County road to change a tire. As reported in The New York Times, a truck came up behind him as he worked and asked about his car. The driver then drew a gun, shot Murdaugh in the head, and drove off.

According to WJCL 22, the officer at the scene initially reported Murdaugh as having no injuries, a note later amended after Murdaugh objected that he had a fractured skull. But just over a week later, Murdaugh confessed that the shooting had been set up: He had arranged for a drug dealer, Curtis Edward Smith, to kill him. Had the scheme worked, Murdaugh's life insurance would have awarded his surviving son, Buster, $10 million.

Smith was arrested in connection with the attempted suicide, but he was quick to challenge Murdaugh's claims. He told the New York Post that they were cousins, that he never supplied Murdaugh with drugs, and that he never shot Murdaugh or anybody else. Smith's story is that he was called by Murdaugh, who had also been Smith's lawyer at one time, from the roadside for help. When Smith arrived, Murdaugh had a gun and seemed as if he might kill himself. In a tussle over the weapon, it went off, and Smith said he fled in a panic.

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September 2021 through April 2022: Murdaugh faced multiple days in court

From the initial discovery of pilfered funds by his law firm in September 2021, the charges against Alex Murdaugh continued to mount. Per WJCL 22, a warrant was issued for his arrest in September for insurance fraud, stemming from his failed attempt at suicide to get a payout for his son. Murdaugh voluntarily surrendered, was freed on a $20,000 bond, and went out of state for treatment for drug addiction. But after completing rehab in Florida in October, Murdaugh was arrested by local authorities and extradited to South Carolina to face additional charges, related to a settlement over his housekeeper's death on his property (per WJCL 22).

Fresh indictments against Murdaugh and Curtis Edward Smith, the man alleged to have assisted Murdaugh in his attempted suicide, came in November. WJCL 22 reported that both were charged with conspiracy and attempts to falsely claim payment, with Murdaugh facing additional charges of filing a false police report, and Smith accused of assault and battery related to assisted suicide.

A new year brought Murdaugh no relief. By April 2022, Forbes reported that he faced 27 total charges pertaining to money laundering and forgery, among others. New claims regarding the settlement for his housekeeper were raised, as was a scheme to defraud a former patrolman. The picture of Murdaugh's financial crimes painted by these charges indicated they went as far back as 2015.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

July 12, 2022: Murdaugh was disbarred

As the extent of Alex Murdaugh's misdeeds became known, his holding a license to practice law seemed increasingly tenuous. But before Murdaugh suffered any blows to his claim to the profession, his longtime friend paid the price for helping him.

In October 2021, AP reported that Cory Fleming had his law license temporarily suspended. Fleming had known Murdaugh since college and had been recommended by him in several cases related to the Murdaugh family. It was Fleming who Murdaugh suggested the family of Gloria Satterfield use to obtain a settlement over her death, and Fleming who a survivor of Paul Murdaugh's 2019 boating accident was told to use. The connection between Fleming and Murdaugh went unsaid and later led to lawsuits against Fleming.

Murdaugh's turn came on July 12, 2022, after a small avalanche of charges related to his financial crimes and attempted suicide had fallen on him. Per ABC News, he had already admitted to some of these charges, and he and his attorneys were aware he was facing accusations of murder next. Based on what he had already admitted to, the South Carolina Supreme Court moved to disbar Murdaugh from practicing law.

July 14, 2022: Alex Murdaugh was charged with murder

By the summer of 2022, Alex Murdaugh was a disgraced man. He'd been disbarred from practicing law, compelled to resign from the law firm his family had founded, been found out as a swindler due to his drug addiction, and slammed with a long list of indictments. The investigation into his financial crimes had reopened the old wound of his housekeeper's death on his property, and the murder of his wife and son had prompted a fresh look at the death of a local teenager. But on July 14, per AP, Alex Murdaugh faced a new charge: the murder of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.

Initial reporting did not immediately reveal why prosecutors had decided to target Alex for the murders, and AP reported (via NBC News) that he immediately pleaded not guilty. Indeed, even as his other misdeeds became exposed and he offered admissions to them, Murdaugh maintained throughout the years that he played no part in his wife and son's deaths. But by December (per NBC News), prosecutors were arguing that those murders were a calculated act by Alex — to win sympathy and divert attention from impending exposure of his duplicitous finances.

January 2023: the murder trial begins

Alex Murdaugh went on trial for the murder of his wife and son on January 23, 2023, with a target end date of February 10. Per NPR, he faced judge and jury in Walterboro, South Carolina, territory where his family had long served as legal counsel. The family's long presence in the community posed some challenges to the proceedings. A portrait of Murdaugh's grandfather, one of several from the family who had been solicitor for the 14th Circuit, had to be removed, and the pool of potential jurors included individuals with some legal or personal connection, good or bad, to the Murdaughs.

Murdaugh maintained his innocence of murder, if nothing else, in his opening statement (per CNN). The prosecution argued that the killings were a consequence of Murdaugh's long history of financial crimes, which faced exposure by 2021. Killing his family would provide Murdaugh with a distraction and breathing room from scrutiny. The prosecution alleged that his alibi — that he was visiting his parents — was questionable, and that audio from Paul Murdaugh's phone would confirm his father's presence on the scene just before the murders. The defense dismissed the idea of dodging white-collar crimes through murder as ridiculous and reminded the jury of the principle of "innocent until proven guilty."

March 2, 2023: Alex Murdaugh found guilty

Alex Murdaugh's murder trial lasted for over a month. His defense maintained that the prosecution's claim that Murdaugh killed his family to distract from his financial crimes was absurd, and they accused law enforcement of jumping to him as the prime suspect without considering other possibilities. They also seized upon the lack of any direct evidence, like a witness or DNA, in the case.

In response, the prosecution called 61 people to the stand to illustrate Murdaugh's long history of deceit and the absence of any other plausible suspect. They reiterated for the jury that the crime was committed on Murdaugh's property, with guns owned by the Murdaugh family. And during the course of the trial, it was confirmed that Murdaugh was down at the kennels with his wife and son shortly before the murders. A video recorded on Paul Murdaugh's phone at the scene caught his father's voice in the background. On the witness stand, Murdaugh admitted he had repeatedly lied to investigators and his own family about his whereabouts at the time. He blamed the lies on his opioid addiction and maintained his innocence.

Murdaugh's confession about his whereabouts, legal commentators told CNN, was what likely confirmed his guilt in the minds of the jury. In a unanimous verdict, Alex Murdaugh was convicted of murder on March 2, 2023. The jury was out less than three hours. The next day, he was sentenced to two life sentences without parole.