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What Are the Murdaugh Murders? A Tragic Story of Extreme Privilege and Corruption, Explained

Two redheaded young adult/teen brothers smile with water behind them.

In June 2021, one elite family’s long history of alleged corruption and impunity escalated into a double homicide in what would become one of the most convoluted and strangest true crime cases in recent times. The Murdaugh family is a prominent legal family with a long history of wealth, influence, and power in South Carolina. Their history of power in the state goes back 100 years, with multiple members of the family consecutively holding the title of 14th circuit solicitor and maintaining a firm grip on the legal system covering five of the state’s counties.

The family attained a small fortune and also established a powerful law firm that gave them further influence in South Carolina’s legal system. The wealth and affluence were passed down several generations to Alex Murdaugh, who served in his family’s law firm and volunteered in the 14th circuit solicitor’s office. He met his wife Maggie at the University of South Carolina and they had two sons, Richard Alexander “Buster” Murdaugh Jr., and Paul Terry Murdaugh.

Before the 2021 murders, the family’s alleged corruption had begun to show, as did their connection to several deaths. Gloria Satterfield, the family’s long-time housekeeper, died in 2018 in what was classified as a “trip and fall” accident. A year later, in 2019, 19-year-old Mallory Beach was tragically killed when a then-19-year-old Paul allegedly drunkenly drove and crashed a boat with his friends on board. After the latter incident, many suspected the family would use their power to obstruct justice in Paul’s case. However, just days before a hearing for a civil case brought by the Beach family, Alex called 911 to report he had found Paul and Maggie shot to death at the family’s hunting lodge in Islandton, South Carolina. Two years later, Maggie’s husband and Paul’s father, Alex, is on trial for their murders.

Who is Buster Murdaugh?

On February 21, 2023, Alex’s surviving son, Buster, took the stand to testify in defense of his father. With the media attention being largely centered on Alex, Paul, and Maggie, not much is known about Buster. His testimony was actually his first time speaking out since the murder of Maggie and Paul in 2021. On the stand, he emotionally described his family as being very “close-knit” and revealed that he talked to each family member on a nearly daily basis. He also revealed that his father had called him immediately before and after the murders and was allegedly “heartbroken” by the deaths. While listening to a recording of his father in a police interview in which prosecutors alleged Alex said, about Paul, “I did him so bad,” Buster stated that he was saying, “They did him so bad” instead.

Buster has largely managed to distance himself from the ongoing legal struggles of the family and lead a more private life. He initially tried to follow in his father’s footsteps and enrolled at the University of South Carolina School of Law. However, by 2019, he had been kicked out after being accused of plagiarism. Alex allegedly enlisted the help of Columbia attorney Butch Powers and paid $60,000 to get Buster readmitted to the school, making the incident another example of the Murdaughs appearing to use their power to escape consequences.

Despite this, Buster hasn’t re-enrolled in the school. His last known employment was at his father’s law firm. In the wake of the double homicides, Buster settled with the Beach family and had his name removed from the wrongful death lawsuit, despite Paul having used Buster’s ID to purchase alcohol on the night of the accident. It is also believed that Buster was a close friend (and rumored boyfriend) of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old who was killed under mysterious circumstances in 2019. The case was re-opened after investigators found new information while probing the Murdaugh murders, leading many to speculate about a connection, but no charges have come from the investigation yet.

The Murdaugh murders and trial

Initially, when the murders of Paul and Maggie occurred, some believed that it was an act of vengeance by any of the many people wronged by the Murdaughs over the years. However, as time went on, several strange developments switched the focus to Alex. Months after the murders, Alex resigned from his law firm, PMPED, which was initially founded by his great-grandfather Randolph Murdaugh Sr.

Just one day after his resignation, Murdaugh called 911 claiming he had been shot at while changing a tire on the road. He was found with a “superficial” injury and released from the hospital. However, it was later revealed that what actually happened was a failed assisted suicide scheme that Murdaugh admitted he concocted to give Buster an insurance payout. He and his co-conspirer, a former client named Curtis Edward Smith, were charged with insurance fraud. Closely following this incident, dozens upon dozens of fraud and embezzlement cases were quickly piled onto Alex as more alleged victims came forward, including the sons of Satterfield and former clients Alex had represented, alleging he had stolen millions in wrongful death settlements intended for victims.

To date, he has had 90 charges filed against him, mostly related to accusations of fraud dating back to 2011. Alex has been accused of defrauding countless victims to a staggering total amount of $8,789,447.77.

By July 2022, the final piece in the Murdaugh mystery fell into place, and Alex was charged with his wife’s and son’s murders. In hindsight, Alex’s involvement in the murders was always suspected. He was at the scene of the murders and was also the one who had convinced Maggie and Paul to visit the hunting lodge, despite him and Maggie living separately at the time. The only problem was that he seemingly lacked motivation. With the fraud charges stacking up against him, investigators have posited that Alex murdered his wife and son in a desperate attempt to garner sympathy and shift the attention away from his legal woes as his years of fraud and embezzlement started coming to light. Murdaugh’s trial for the murders of Maggie and Paul began on January 25. Alex has pleaded not guilty and has testified that his fraud schemes and dishonesty with law enforcement were the result of an opioid addiction. If found guilty, Alex will most likely face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

On February 22, 2023, Netflix premiered a three-part docuseries titled Murdaugh Murders, exploring the Murdaugh family’s influence and alleged crimes.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Rachel Ulatowski is a Freelance Writer, blogger, and aspiring author. As a Freelancer Writer she hopes to give readers the same comfort and enjoyment that she finds in all things nerdy and noteworthy, as a blogger she enjoys snarking on YouTubers and reality stars, and as a future novelist she hopes to raise awareness for child abuse through literature.