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Murders, fraud, a hitman plot: Alex Murdaugh’s spectacular fall from grace

Murders, fraud, a hitman plot: Alex Murdaugh’s spectacular fall from grace
Alex Murdaugh is expected to be indicted on murder charges for the slaying of his wife and son this week. It marks just the latest twist in a tale of unexplained deaths, hitman plots and multi-million-dollar fraud schemes, writes Rachel Sharp

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. The son of a powerful legal dynasty that dominated a local South Carolina community for almost a century and a family man with a wife and two adult sons.

But over the last 13 months, Murdaugh has had a spectacular fall from grace, culminating in him facing potential charges for the savage double murder of his wife and son.

On Tuesday, the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) met with surviving members of the Murdaugh family and notified them that the 53-year-old will be charged with Maggie and Paul’s murders.

In two days’ time, evidence of the killings will be presented before a grand jury.

It’s 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 a fraudster who embezzled millions of dollars from his clients.

He allegedly paid a hitman to shoot him dead so that his surviving son would land an insurance windfall; he’s an opioid addict who left his family’s finances in tatters; and he’s mysteriously surrounded by multiple 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 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”.

<p>Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were killed at their Islandton estate in June 2021 </p>

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

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

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

It later emerged that two different weapons – a rifle and a shotgun – were used to kill the victims.

For the last 13 months, no arrests have been made in the murders of the mother and son. No suspects named and no charges 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, John Murdaugh told The Post and Courier that he had been told his brother would now be charged with the killings.

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

SLED spokesperson Renée Wunderlich told The Independent in a statement that the agency’s investigation into the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh is “still active and ongoing” and that no additional information will be provided at this time.

No motive is known.

At the time of their deaths, Maggie was reportedly living apart from her husband at the time of her murder and had been speaking with divorce attorneys.

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.

<p>Curtis Smith is accused of shooting Alex Murdaugh in a botched hitman plot </p>

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

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.

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.

<p>Gloria Satterfield died in a ‘trip and fall’ at the Murdaugh home in 2018</p>

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

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 79 charges from 15 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.

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.

<p>The entrance to the family estate where Maggie and Paul were killed </p>

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

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 when he is charged over his mother and brother’s murders.