How Alex Murdaugh's trial divided Walterboro – and captivated America
Is Murdaugh family behind three other mysterious deaths? As Alex is jailed for horrific executions of his wife and son rumors abound in the sleepy South Carolina town of Walterboro – and locals say ‘most people don’t believe he is the killer’
- Murdaugh was today jailed for life after brutally murdering his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, at the family’s 1,800-acre estate in Moselle, South Carolina
- The locals all know the Murdaughs, a family which has dominated the law and the land in the counties of Colleton and Hampton for three generations
- But now his life is in tatters after he stole millions from his firm, tried to lie his way out of a ruinous lawsuit and even asked his drug dealer to shoot him
Driving into the sleepy South Carolina town hosting Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial the billboards felt pertinent.
Personal injury lawyers tout their trade, ‘In a collision, easy decision’, youngsters are warned ‘Underage drinking can block your dreams’, while another sign advertises the nearby crematorium.
At the time of his wife and youngest child’s brutal murders, Murdaugh was facing a ruinous lawsuit over the death of a 19-year-old girl in a drunken boat crash in which his slain son Paul was driving.
‘Now I’m not saying Paul deserved it but the apple don’t fall far from the tree,’ my server Ed at Walterboro’s local diner Cracker Barrel tells me with a nervous laugh.
The locals all know the Murdaughs, a family which has dominated the law and the land in this corner of the Lowcountry for three generations. In the courtroom where Murdaugh was sent down for life a portrait of his prosecutor grandfather, Randolph ‘Buster’ Murdaugh Jr., had to be removed ahead of the trial, with the space left eerily vacant.
But now his reputation and his life are in tatters after the court heard how he stole millions from clients, tried to lie his way out of the boat wreck case and even recruited his opioid-dealer cousin to shoot him in the head three months after the murders in a botched life insurance scam designed to net his surviving son Buster $12m.
Alex Murdaugh speaks to his attorney Dick Harpootlian at his sentencing hearing at the Colleton County courthouse in Walterboro on Friday
Maggie, Paul, Alex and Buster Murdaugh with their dog Bubba in a new family photo obtained by DailyMail.com
The main house at the sprawling 1,800-acre Moselle hunting property. Murdaugh shot dead his wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, at the kennels on the estate on the night of June 7, 2021
The Colleton County courthouse in Walterboro where his fate was decided is a half-hour drive from the sprawling 1,800-acre hunting estate in Moselle that became a murder scene on the night of June 7, 2021.
‘No trespassing’ signs are pinned to the shuttered gates of its overgrown driveways.
Two trial enthusiasts, David and his wife Kathleen, were taking photos at the entrance to the kennels, 150 yards down from the main gates, two weeks ago.
‘That’s where he shot them,’ David said. Hailing from nearby Clarendon, they seemed well-versed in the case. ‘This is the gate which the family used,’ he said, unconvinced by Murdaugh’s claim he drove in-and-out of the main entrance that night.
Yards from where we spoke, the bodies of Maggie, 52, and Paul, 22, had soaked the pine-needle strewn grass with blood.
Three bullets struck Maggie before she collapsed on her hands and knees. A fourth round tore through her left breast and entered her brain and then a fifth was fired into the back of her head execution-style as she lay face down on the ground beside the kennels. She was already dead.
Paul was standing just feet away from where his mother’s dead body was found when a 12-gauge buckshot ripped across his chest. The 22-year-old staggered his way towards his father who then fired a second-point blank shot which ‘exploded his head like a watermelon,’ spraying blood and brains across the feed room at the kennels.
That graphic description came from his father’s own defense lawyer, Democratic State Senator Dick Harpootlian, who opened the trial by expressing that it was his ‘honor to represent’ the killer.
Murdaugh killed the pair because he was facing a ‘gathering storm,’ prosecutor Creighton Waters said. On the day of the killings, he’d been confronted over $792,000 that had gone ‘missing’ from his firm. After Maggie and Paul’s deaths it would be discovered that he had stolen more than $10m since 2011. His victims included orphaned children and quadriplegics.
Later that week, he was due in court to face a financial disclosure hearing in the boat case. He was claiming he was broke as he frantically shifted stolen funds from his firm into the personal accounts of his wife and associates.
Murdaugh stood shackled on Friday as Judge Clifton Newman told him it had been ‘one of the most troubling cases’ he had ever presided over – not just for the savagery with which he butchered his wife and child – but because he was a pillar of the legal community who had even ‘practiced law before me.’
The murders have rocked the town of Hampton where the law offices of Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick stood proudly for more than a century. It is where the Murdaughs brought up their children before moving to Moselle.
A 23-year-old man who went to school with Paul and was coached basketball by his father said last week he hoped Murdaugh would ‘beat the case’, saying there were ‘plenty of people who think like me.’
He fondly remembered how Murdaugh ‘gave us life lessons, he was great to us,’ recalling how the father-of-two once convinced him not to quit the team, telling him ‘if you quit now you’ll be a quitter forever.’
Maggie had moved far from Hampton County before she was killed. Around 70 miles away, along winding roads overhung by bending oaks covered in Spanish moss, is the Murdaugh’s stunning beach property on Edisto Island, which sits at the end of a cul-de-sac by the water’s edge
An offer of $3.9million was accepted on Moselle in December 2022 when the sale was allowed on condition that the proceeds be held in trust until their division be decided in court
The dog kennels where Maggie and Paul were found shot to death is pictured
Alex and Maggie Murdaugh pictured together in a photo from her Facebook page
The murders have rocked the town of Hampton where the law offices of Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick stood proudly for more than a century. It is where the Murdaughs brought up their children before moving to Moselle
The young man who refused to be named said he used to go over to their house after school with Paul where they would ride around on ATVs and swim in the pool.
‘They was actually the first white family that let me in they house. They gave me freedom in they house,’ the young man said.
‘I got a lot of white people round here that I really love and the Murdaughs was one of them.’
He said he believed Murdaugh ‘loved Paul, because Paul was always with him.’
He described Maggie as ‘very happy all the time.’
‘Every time she ride by at the stop sign here she gone’ put the window down wave and speak,’ he said.
‘She might stop on the side of the road. And that’s every time, she ain’t gone’ ride by and not stop or wave.’
But Maggie had moved far from Hampton County before she was killed.
Around 70 miles away, along winding roads overhung by bending oaks covered in Spanish moss, is the Murdaugh’s stunning beach property on Edisto Island, which sits at the end of a cul-de-sac by the water’s edge.
A neighbor who gives his name only as Richard pointed over to the pastel blue wooden house and called it ‘Maggie’s home’. ‘I don’t remember ever seeing Alex,’ he added.
Indeed, it was here that Maggie was staying when the killer lured his wife of 27 years to their Moselle property with the emotional tug that his father, Randolph III, was dying of cancer.
Maggie was disappointed as she drove to the mosquito-infested swamplands, complaining about it to her housekeeper Blanca Simpson and her sister Marian Proctor on the way there. The doting mother was overseeing renovations at Edisto and planning her Fourth of July party.
The Edisto neighbors said the Murdaughs kept themselves to themselves and would host their own crowd of friends at the home, not local beach folks.
Richard said: ‘We didn’t really know the Murduaghs … SLED (state law enforcement) came around here when they were searching the house and I told them the same thing.’
‘Maggie was a dog lover though,’ the man in his 50s added. ‘My wife actually helped her to take care of some puppies she brought up here.’
As he spoke, a car pulled up by the Murdaugh home and a phone appeared at the window. ‘Selfies,’ Richard sighed. ‘That’s what we get now.’
Jurors heard how the Murdaugh marriage had been tested by Murdaugh’s addiction to opioids, by the threat of ruinous lawsuits and, according to Maggie’s sister Marion Proctor who testified as a witness for the prosecution, by suspicions that he had been unfaithful
Friend and housekeeper, Blanca Simpson, told the court that she had found Maggie’s wedding ring under a seat when she cleaned out her Mercedes SUV
Sheniqua Riley, a hair stylist who lives less than a mile from Murdaugh’s old Hampton home, said the family were good people.
‘They always gave a lot to the community and everyone here knows them. Lots of people that I know grew up and went to high school with them,’ she said.
Asked whether she thought he would be convicted, Riley shook her head, stating: ‘He’s a lawyer.’
Another neighbor who asked not to be named said he didn’t think Murdaugh killed his wife and son.
‘Most people in Hampton don’t believe he is the killer,’ the local government official said.
‘He was a family man, he was very close with his wife and children. I just don’t see how he could have done it.’
Isaac Smith, a Vietnam veteran and former county councilor, said: ‘It’s amazing and I’ve said since it happened, you don’t want this for your town. Quiet community, nobody knew nothing about Hampton, South Carolina, prior to this, nobody know a whole lot about Walterboro in Colleton County, until now. And this is not the thing you want to be known for, but I think it’s brought a lot of tourists in.
‘I think he’s gone’ beat the murder rap. But because of the other charges against him, he’ll never see daylight. He stole from his partners, he stole from his clients – black and white – he stole from poor people, he stole from his lawyer friends. That firm is named after his grandfather.
‘Folks don’t care about you killing somebody but don’t steal their money. I hate to put it that way, but you can get away with murder – you can’t get away with stealing $10million.’
But those who doubted his guilt are perhaps less vocal now Murdaugh is doomed to spend the rest of his life in a cell.
At the center of the State’s case was a video taken by Murdaugh’s son at the kennels just moments before he was shot dead along with his mother. It proved the disbarred attorney’s undoing as he’d told cops he was never at the crime scene.
Last week he took the stand to claim he was only lying because his drug addiction made him paranoid. Murdaugh desperately changed his alibi to fit the damning evidence, claiming he went down to the kennels only briefly before going back up to the main house and then drove out to visit his ailing mother. But the prosecution used cell phone data to prove his wife and son were already dead.
On the witness stand the flood gates were opened for the State to grill the ‘master liar’ about his decade of financial crimes against clients and partners, as well as his opioid addiction.
Among the most egregious cases was Hackeem Pickney who Murdaugh stole around $1m from after he was left paralyzed in a car wreck. The 21-year-old died just four days after Murdaugh reached the settlement.
The court also heard how he stole from the sons of his housekeeper who died in a fall at the Murdaugh family home – a death which remains mysterious.
He promised Tony Satterfield and his brother Bryan, a vulnerable adult, he would ‘take care’ of them at their mother Gloria’s funeral. But he went on to steal more than $4.3million without giving them a cent.
The State also told jurors of his botched roadside suicide attempt three months after the killings. Murdaugh survived with a surface wound and initially told police he had got a flat tire and someone stopped to offer help before shooting him.
Only later did he admit asking his drug dealer cousin, Curtis ‘Eddie’ Smith, to shoot him in the head to earn his son Buster a multi-million dollar life insurance payout.
In fact, as Murdaugh’s defense lawyer said Friday morning, the only scandal linked to the family not to make its way into the trial during the trial is the mysterious death of a young boy Stephen Smith – which has even been discussed in true crime docuseries’ on Netflix and HBO.
Following six weeks of blockbuster testimony, it took jurors less than three hours to find Murdaugh guilty.
The following morning, the judge questioned the killer during the sentencing, perhaps just as mystified as anyone, and offered the legal scion a final chance to admit the killings.
‘Remind me of the expression you gave on the witness stand. Oh, what tangled web we weave. What did you mean by that?’ Newman asked as he stared into Murdaugh’s eyes.
‘I meant when I lied, I continued to lie,’ he replied as matter-of-factly as he had on the stand just days before.
‘And the question is when will it end? When will it end?’ The judge admonished him, reminding him that ‘you continue to lie and lied throughout your testimony.’
Alex Murdaugh broke down in tears as the prosecutor ended his explosive grilling with proof that the alleged double murderer lied to cops about his alibi
Buster, 26, hunched over with his hand over his face as he listened to his father describing how he found his younger brother Paul with his brains spattered across the walls of the kennels at the family’s hunting estate in Moselle, SC, on June 7, 2021
Buster Murdaugh leaves court with his Aunt Lynn and other members of the family after the verdict on Friday. They were flanked by sheriff’s deputies
The judge added: ‘But within your own soul, you have to deal with that.’
The room fell utterly silent as Newman faced the murderer, speaking to him as if it were just the pair of them.
‘And I know you have to see Paul and Maggie during the nighttime when you’re attempting to go to sleep. I’m sure they come and visit you, I’m sure,’ the judge said.
Murdaugh replied: ‘All day and every night.’
The judge wondered as he looked down at Murdaugh if that night ‘it might have been the monster you become’ after devouring up to 60 opioid pills in a day.
Newman said: ‘I have seen that before. The person standing before me was not the person who committed the crime, though it is the same individual.’
In that sentiment echoed the words of the more than 70 witnesses who testified and the townsfolk of Hampton and Walterboro who painted a picture of a man who patently nobody knew.
The legal scion, who for weeks sobbed throughout his trial, was stony-faced as the verdict was read out last night and this morning as he was sentenced.
‘Nobody knew who this man was,’ prosecutor Creighton Waters told jurors.
‘He’s fooled them all and he fooled Maggie and Paul too and they paid for it with their lives. Don’t let him fool you too.’
For many, the unanimous decision by five women and seven men to find him guilty as charged offers a glimmer of hope for the legal system Murdaugh so badly tarnished – and proves once and for all that absolutely no one is above the law.
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