Alex Murdaugh, a fourth-generation lawyer whose family has long held power and influence in a rural swath of South Carolina, was charged Thursday with killing his wife and one of his sons at the family’s secluded hunting estate in a mysterious murder that remained unsolved for more than a year.
Murdaugh, 54, was indicted on two counts of murder, with prosecutors saying he fatally shot his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, with a rifle and his son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, with a shotgun on June 7, 2021. Alex Murdaugh had called 911 that night from the family’s estate in Islandton, about 65 miles west of Charleston, claiming he had returned home to find his wife and son dead near his dog kennel.
State police and the South Carolina attorney general, who are investigating the case, did not release any new details or motive in the murder, which stunned the state’s legal community and captivated the attention of amateur sleuths across the country. Murdaugh’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had each served as the top prosecutor in a vast region at the southern end of the state known as the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Murdaugh’s lawyers said in a statement Tuesday that Murdaugh was innocent of the crimes and loved his wife and son “more than anything in the world.”
“Alex wants his family, friends and everyone to know that he did not have anything to do with the murders of Maggie and Paul,” the lawyers said. They said police had prematurely narrowed in on Murdaugh and that he had no motive to kill them.
The killings immediately put scrutiny on the Murdaugh family and the deaths of several people associated with them. Police began to reexamine the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old man who was found along a road about 10 miles from the Murdaughs’ home and who was thought to have been hit by a truck, as well as the 2018 death of Gloria Satterfield, a housekeeper who worked for the Murdaugh family and died after falling on their house’s front steps.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh had been facing charges of drunkenly crashing a boat carrying several of his friends, killing a 19-year-old passenger, Mallory Beach.
Soon after the 2021 killings, Alex Murdaugh’s life began to unravel as those around him began to accuse him of years of financial corruption. The law firm where he worked, which was founded by his great-grandfather more than a century ago, said in September that Murdaugh had stolen millions of dollars from the firm.
The day after he was forced to resign from the firm, police said he asked one of his distant cousins to kill him on the side of the road and stage the act as if it were a murder so that his other son, Buster, could collect on his life insurance policy. The plan failed — Murdaugh was apparently wounded in the shooting but not seriously hurt — and he and the cousin, Curtis Edward Smith, were charged with several crimes in the scheme.
In the months that followed, Murdaugh was charged with a series of financial crimes, including pocketing $2.8 million in settlement funds that were supposed to go to relatives of Satterfield’s in a wrongful-death lawsuit over her fall on Murdaugh’s property. He admitted last month that he owed her sons $4.3 million.
This month, Murdaugh and Smith were indicted on conspiracy charges for what prosecutors said was years of money laundering related to distributing oxycodone. Murdaugh said last year that he suffered from a drug addiction and he checked himself into a drug detox center in Florida, but he was arrested at the center in October over financial crimes related to the settlement funds in the case of Satterfield. He has been in jail in South Carolina since.