This case has all the makings of a tv special or a movie, without a doubt. The case has saturated the media, in large part due to the high profile family that is linked to the case, but also do to a pending trial involving the son of the Murdaugh family, Paul, as well as the mysterious death of a young man in 2015.
It will be interesting to follow the developments of this case, and when there are updates (aka "arrests") I'll be sure to post a follow up to the episode. In the interim, enjoy this episode, and be sure to post your comments and questions on Instagram and/or Facebook!
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Transcribed Episode / S2 EP17: The Murdaugh Murders
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[Intro Music Begins / Fades]
A prestigious law firm with a legacy spanning over a hundred years, a mysterious cold case, a fatal boating crash, and the murder of a wealthy mother and her son. All the elements of a mystery novel or even a movie perhaps.
In this episode, I’ll be giving you some insight into the world of the elite of South Carolina, where everything may not always be what it seems on the outside, where secrets are kept and families are protected...sometimes at all costs. So hold onto your hats, because we’re going to take a wild, winding road into the Murdaugh family and the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh…
Colleton County, South Carolina lies in the southernmost part of the coastal state, also called the “lowcountry” with a population of about 38,000. Within Colleton is a small town called Islandton, about 65 miles west of Charleston. When you hear the name “Island-ton” I’m sure you’re picturing beachy landscapes and palm trees swaying in the wind right? Well not exactly...Islandton is a mainly unincorporated, rural area, speckled with trees and farmland and home to less than 70 people. The homes in Islandton range from simple mobile homes to lavish estates, usually hidden behind rows of trees.
If you’re in the county of Colleton and you happen to mention the name “Murdaugh,” everyone immediately knows who you’re referring to. The Murdaugh family is a prominent family and practically an institution in the state, with three generations of Murdaughs having served as solicitor in the South Carolina fourteenth judicial circuit since 1920 through 2006. During this episode I’ll be using the term “Solicitor” quite often - a solicitor in South Carolina is essentially the same as a District Attorney in all the other states, South Carolina just likes to be a bit “extra” in its prosecutorial titles.
The State of South Carolina is divided into sixteen judicial circuits or districts. These are basically separate court systems that cover certain jurisdictions or areas in the state, and there is one resident judge appointed to each circuit. If you google “judicial circuits in South Carolina” and select “images” you will actually see that the 14th circuit is at the southernmost tip of the state, and it encompasses five counties: Colleton, Allendale, Hampton, Beaufort and Jasper counties.
The law firm of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick in Hampton South Carolina is the dominant firm in the 14th circuit, not to mention one of the most powerful firms in the entire state -- and this is exactly where the Murdaughs history is entrenched and why they are viewed as a legal dynasty.
The firm has accumulated an impressive roster of 17 attorneys and has extracted a dozen multimillion dollar payouts from companies such as Ford, Nissan and CSX. For a long time, it held a reputation for suing large corporations, particularly railroads.
Richard Alexander or “Alex” Murdaugh was the son of Randolph Murdaugh III, also a prosecutor turned consultant. Randolph Murdaugh passed away on June 10, 2021 at the age of 81 after suffering from extended health problems. Alex - following in his father, grandfather and great-grandfather’s footsteps - works at the family law firm as a personal injury lawyer alongside his brother Randolph Murdaugh IV. Alex also works part-time as a solicitor for the 14th Judicial Circuit and occasionally assists fellow 14th circuit solicitor Duffie Stone’s office on some of their cases.
As you’ll find throughout this episode, the Murdaughs love keeping their names in the family, almost as much as they love law.
Now that we’ve got the history of the Murdaughs somewhat covered - let’s talk about Richard “Alex” Murdaugh. Alex, born in 1968, met Margaret “Maggie” Kennedy Branstetter, also born in 1968, while they both attended the University of South Carolina in the late 1980’s.
The couple eventually married and had two sons, Richard Alexander “Buster” Murdaugh Jr. in 1996 and Paul Terry Murdaugh in 1999. The boys were raised in Hampton, South Carolina, where the family enjoyed boating on their 17 foot Sea Hunt Powerboat, and spending summers at their beach house in Edisto. Following high school, Buster and Paul both became students at the University of South Carolina. The Murdaugh’s also had a 1770 acre estate in Islandton where they had a hunting lodge, and a “river” house on the Chechessee River in Beaufort County. The locals dubbed the hunting lodge property “Moselle” as it was located on Moselle Road. Maggie preferred to stay at the lodge where her two sons liked to go hunting.
Property records list the owner of the Islandton land as being Margaret B. Murdaugh. The land sits on two counties, Hampton and Colleton counties with about 870 acres in Hampton and less than 900 acres in Colleton. The property includes two buildings, one one-story single family home and one two-story single family home. Several smaller buildings, a dog kennel and sheds are also at the property.
Alex and Maggie Murdaugh’s notorious family was well known in their community - but not always for being on the right side of the law.
On February 23, 2019, Paul Murdaugh planned a group date night with five of his friends: Paul’s girlfriend Morgan Doughty, his friend Anthony Cook with his girlfriend Mallory Beach, Anthony’s cousin Connor Cook and his girlfriend Miley Altman.
Their plans that afternoon included taking Paul’s father’s 17 foot Center Console Fishing Boat to a friend’s oyster roast on Paukie Island and then heading to spend the night at Paul’s parent’s river home in Beaufort County which the group called “Murdaugh Island.”
It was a cool and foggy evening, with temps in the upper 50’s, so not necessarily the ideal night for a boat ride, but the group concluded that if they planned to drink that night, it was better to take the boat to the oyster roast - which was 18 miles away - than to drive to it, because there was going to be an alcohol checkpoint along the route. As it was going to be dusk by the time they would be on the water, the group planned to bring along flashlights for visibility, as the boat didn’t have working lights.
Although each member of the group was between the ages of 18 and 20 and under the legal drinking age of 21, they were all planning on enjoying some alcohol that evening.
Prior to meeting his friends and heading out on the water, Paul made a stop at Parker’s 55 Gas Station in Ridgeland at around 5:30pm. He picked up some White Claw, Natural Light, and Michelob Ultra. The clerk asked Paul for his license, and when Paul produced it, the clerk glanced quickly at it, didn’t question Paul about his age, and completed the transaction. A witness at Parker’s recalled seeing Paul with the alcohol at the counter and thinking that Paul looked “too young to be drinking.” Paul paid for the item and the clerk - who knew of Paul’s family and of them having a law firm - told him “Y’all be careful tonight.” Another one of Paul’s friends - a female - had also purchased alcohol from Parkers that same day, using a fake ID she’d purchased online from “ID God,” a fake ID website.
Paul then packed up the alcohol in coolers in the Parker’s parking lot and drove with his friend Connor Cook to the Lemon Island Bridge where they met the others and boarded the boat.
When the group arrived at the house party on Paukie Island, witnesses stated that the group had already been drinking. The party was at the home of Kristy and James Wood, who were present during the party. The three couples stayed at the party for about five hours, drinking the alcohol that they had brought with them.
Several adults at the party, including Mallory Beach’s boyfriend Anthony Cook who was the oldest in the group - urged them to get an Uber due to the amount of alcohol they’d consumed. One member of the group said that everyone at the party was talking about how they shouldn’t be driving the boat back in their condition. The adults that were present at the party did not provide alcohol to Paul or his friends.
When the group left the party, Paul was adamant about driving the boat, even though he was heavily intoxicated.
Paul then decided that he wanted to stop at Luther’s Rare and Well Done, a bar in downtown Beaufort, to get another shot. So he drove the boat to the Beaufort Waterfront, with only a flashlight lighting the way.
While at Luthers, Paul and Connor each bought two rounds of shots - a Lemon Drop and one “Cup” of Jägermeister. Paul began to get belligerent, becoming what his friends referred to as his drunk alter ego “Timmy.” His eyes got wide, and he began to do erratic movements with his arms, almost getting into a fight with another patron and starting throwing chairs. After being in the bar for only about 10 minutes, the pair left and got back on the boat with the others.
The boat left downtown Beaufort around 1am eastern time with Paul at the helm. Paul was still in “Timmy” mode, and it was obvious to his friends that he shouldn’t be driving. Paul started off driving the boat very slowly, almost too slow. He then began taking his clothes off and acting strange, like he was on drugs or something. Paul would be driving the boat, then leave the wheel to walk to the front of the boat to yell at Morgan, while Connor would take over the wheel. This happened about three times.
By this time, tensions were getting high among the group - four members of the group had not wanted to stop in Beaufort and just wanted to go home. Paul’s erratic driving, sometimes even driving in circles, and his belligerent behavior irritated the group. They were all trying to talk Paul into letting Anthony drive, but Paul said no.
Mallory told Anthony that she was scared and Paul told her to shut up which got Anthony angry with Paul, and the two began arguing. Paul then walked up to the front of the boat and pushed, spit on and slapped Morgan, his girlfriend, in the face. Mallory and Anthony had enough of it, and Mallory yelled at Paul to STOP.
Paul turned and pointed at Mallory, about to tell her something, when Anthony told him “not to make that mistake.” Paul turned around and walked back to the wheel. Paul then accelerated the boat rapidly, entering Archer’s Creek.
Anthony was sitting on the bottom of the boat, holding Mallory in his lap, trying to comfort her. Just seconds later, a little after 2am, the boat struck a piling near Archer’s Creek Bridge, just outside of Parris Island. All six passengers were flung into the dark, cold water. Each member of the group surfaced and crawled their way out of the water….all except for Mallory. One of the friends jumped back in the water, trying desperately to find Mallory to no avail. Another person called 911 while the others tended to their wounds on the shoreline:
[911 CALL, FEBRUARY 24, 2019]
911 Where's your emergency? Hello? Police, fire or ambulance? Hello?
We're in a boat crash on Archer's Creek.
Where, whereabouts on Archer's Street?
On Archer's Creek, the only bridge on Archer's Creek.
Archer's Creek. Archer's Creek...
Authorities were called to the scene of the crash and began their search for Mallory. Each member of the group was described by law enforcement as being “grossly intoxicated.” Two of the responding deputies had ties to the Murdaugh family’s law firm. Media reports state that Paul was not given a breathalyzer test because his father and uncle arrived at the hospital and prevented it, however blood was taken from him when he arrived at the hospital.
Mallory’s body was found 7 days later by two boaters, five miles from the crash site. The cause of her death was blunt force trauma and drowning.
Mallory’s father Philip Beach, had this to say about Mallory’s sudden death:
[ABC NEWS SEGMENT: PHILIP BEACH]
"There's moments that we have that things remind us of Mallory...and we break down at times, like that's normal, that's part of the grieving process. I never knew nothing like, I never knew what it would be like to go through something like this."
On April 18th, 2019 - ironically the day that Mallory would’ve turned 20 years old - Paul Murdaugh was charged with one count of boating under the influence causing death and two counts of boating under the influence causing great bodily harm. In May of 2019, he pled not guilty to all charges and was released on bond awaiting trial. His case was being tried by South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson. If he was convicted and found guilty of all charges, Paul faced up to 40 years in prison.
Following the crash, the Murdaugh family, with their political and law connections, was thrust into the spotlight. The crash dominated headlines for months throughout the state of South Carolina. Critics questioned whether Paul had received preferential treatment due to his family’s influence in the region.
Alex Murdaugh was not excluded from that spotlight...sources confirmed to Fitsnews.com that there was “an open inquiry into the fallout from the boat crash … (one) which involves Alex Murdaugh and possibly other members of his powerful family.”
As an example of how deep the Murdaugh’s ties to the judiciary run, when a civil lawsuit was filed in Hampton County by Mallory’s mother Renee Beach in March of 2019 in relation to the boat crash, the judge that it was assigned to recused himself and passed the case to another jurist, who also recused herself. The state Supreme Court ultimately gave it to a judge from York County, on the other end of the state.
The civil case accuses Parker’s 55 Gas Station in Ridgeland, S.C. of selling alcohol to Paul Murdaugh, who was underage, in the early evening hours of Feb. 23, 2019. Witness statements have alleged that Paul used a fake ID that should’ve been flagged by the cashier before the transaction but passed due to poor training by Parker’s Corporation. The lawsuit frames up Parker’s as an enabler - that if they wouldn’t have illegally sold the alcohol to Paul, the crash likely would’ve never occurred. The lawsuit also names Kristy and James Wood for enabling the teenagers and that they should’ve known they were underage and taken action to protect the inebriated teens from driving or boating that evening.
Renee was also seeking damages from Randolph Murdaugh III (Alex’s father), “Buster” Paul’s brother, as well as from Paul’s father Alex Murdaugh, alleging that both of them facilitated his underage drinking and Buster allowed Paul to use his ID to purchase alcohol the day of the crash.
The civil suit followed shortly after Alex Murdaugh had settled another wrongful death claim. On February 26, 2018, 57-year-old Gloria Satterfield, died as a result of a “trip and fall” accident in Hampton County. Court documents didn’t exactly state where Gloria had died. Her family settled the lawsuit with Alex Murdaugh for $505,000, with $177,500 of that going to the law firm Moss, Kuhn & Fleming.
Gloria’s obituary stated that she “loved Alex and Maggie Murdaugh and their family."
With the impending trial for Paul on the horizon, things were not going well for the Murdaughs...but nothing could have prepared them for what would happen next.
On the night of June 7, 2021, 52 year old Maggie and 22 year old Paul were at their hunting lodge in Islandton. Alex Murdaugh had left to take his elderly father to the hospital and then was going to check on his mother before returning to the lodge. By the time Alex got home, it was just after 10pm. He walked towards the lodge when he came upon a horrific scene. Maggie and Paul’s bodies were lying on the ground...and both had been shot multiple times. Alex called 911 at 10:07pm to report his wife and son had been shot.
[ABC NEWS SEGMENT]
News Anchor, Robin Roberts
A mystery in South Carolina where a mother and son from a prominent family were found dead. Eva Pilgrim is there in South Carolina with the latest.
Field Reporter, Eva Pilgrim
Robin this is where the murder happened. The Murdaugh property is remote, it spans hundreds of acres. And the feeling in the community, whoever killed the Murdaughs didn't end up here by accident, or randomly.
Double murder mystery. This morning investigators trying to find who killed two members of one of South Carolina's most prominent legal families.
22 year old Paul Murdaugh and his 56 year old mother Maggie found shot to death near the dog kennels outside the family's hunting lodge last week. County investigators turning the case over to state law enforcement. Paul Murdaugh had been awaiting trial, accused of being under the influence in 2019 while crashing a boat, killing 19 year old passenger Mallory Beach. Murdaugh had pleaded not guilty in the case.
After Alex called 911, he called his brother John Marvin Murdaugh, telling him to ‘Come as fast as you can. Paul and Maggie have been hurt.’
Upon receiving the 911 dispatch, the Sheriff’s office arrived at the Murdaugh residence. Sgt Daniel Green wrote the initial report at the scene, and he called for backup upon arrival. Additional officers began arriving at 10:25pm and at least 11 officers from the Sheriff’s office were on scene.
SLED, the State Law Enforcement Division, was contacted at 10:28pm to assist with the investigation. SLED Lowcountry Regional agents arrived at 11:47pm and began immediately working with deputies to evaluate the scene and take the lead on the investigation.
SLED crime scene agents then arrived at 12:07 a.m., and worked through the night and early morning of June 8th, collecting evidence at the property. Adding to the difficulty, it began raining that night, causing investigators to use tents to preserve the evidence surrounding the bodies.
The shootings occurred sometime between 9:00 and 9:30pm that Monday night. Paul’s cell phone was located near his body at the scene, but Maggie’s cellphone wasn’t found. Interestingly, the next day on June 8th, a family member used their phone to “ping” Maggie’s cellphone, locating it on his digital phone map and found the cellphone on the road just outside the property.
Since the murders occurred, SLED has released very little information on the investigation. What we do know is that Maggie and Paul were both shot multiple times and possibly - although not confirmed by SLED or the medical examiner - with two different firearms: a shotgun and a military-style rifle. The police hav