The fall from grace of the prominent Murdaugh family
Mar 3, 2023, 6:00 AM | Updated: 3:04 pm
( Provided to CNN)
(CNN) — For 87 years, the Murdaugh family name came to represent a legal dynasty in coastal South Carolina, where three successive generations controlled the local prosecutor’s office.
But now, the family has been closely connected to a bloody tragedy, allegations of embezzlement and a bizarre murder-for-hire plot to score millions in life insurance.
The allegations center around the actions of Alex Murdaugh, 54, who stood trial for the 2021 murders of his wife and son. He was found guilty in March 2023 in a closely watched case that comes with a potential life sentence.
In addition, Murdaugh, an attorney who has since been disbarred, has been charged with 99 financial crimes related to a wide-ranging scheme to bilk his law firm, clients and the government out of about $9.3 million, according to the state attorney general.
So what were the twists and turns that led to this point? Here’s a timeline of everything we know about the Murdaugh family saga:
Over three generations, a member of the Murdaugh family has served as the 14th Circuit Solicitor, which leads prosecutions for Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties in the southern part of South Carolina.
Randolph Murdaugh Sr. was elected to the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office in 1920 and served in the position until his death in 1940.
His son, Randolph Murdaugh Jr., then took over the position and served until his retirement in 1986.
Murdaugh Jr.’s son, Randolph Murdaugh III, was then elected to the role in 1987 and served through the end of 2005.
Murdaugh III’s son, Alex Murdaugh, works as an attorney at the law firm Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick, known as PMPED.
In 2006, then-Gov. Mark Sanford appoints attorney Duffie Stone to serve as the 14th Circuit Solicitor, making him the first non-Murdaugh in the position. He has been elected to the position four times since, most recently in 2020, according to the solicitor’s website.
Gloria Satterfield, a longtime housekeeper for the Murdaugh family, dies in what is described as a “trip and fall accident” at the Murdaugh home, according to attorney Eric Bland, who is representing her estate.
After Satterfield’s death, a $500,000 wrongful death claim was filed against Alex Murdaugh on behalf of her estate, Bland said.
A boat crashes at a bridge near Parris Island in Beaufort County, South Carolina, on February 24, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach, according to the South Carolina Attorney General in documents obtained by CNN.
Six people were on board the boat at the time of the crash, including Alex Murdaugh’s 19-year-old son, Paul. Murdaugh owns the boat.
Stone, the solicitor, recuses himself from the case because of personal connections.
Paul Murdaugh is indicted in April on charges of boating under the influence (BUI) causing great bodily harm and causing death in connection to the crash, court records show. He pleads not guilty.
June 7: The chief financial officer at Alex Murdaugh’s namesake law firm PMPED confronts him about $792,000 in missing funds.
That night, Murdaugh calls 911 and reports he found his wife Margaret (known as Maggie), 52, and son Paul, then 22, shot dead outside of their home in Islandton, a small community about an hour north of Hilton Head Island, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
Murdaugh tells officers on the scene he was not at the crime scene that night. He says he had visited his ailing mother in Almeda and returned to find his wife and son dead.
June 10: Randolph Murdaugh III dies peacefully at his home at age 81, according to his obituary.
June 15: SLED releases basic information about the June 7 killings, saying Alex Murdaugh called 911 at 10:07 p.m. and investigators collected evidence that night and the next morning.
June 17: Alex Murdaugh’s brothers, John Marvin Murdaugh and Randolph “Randy” Murdaugh IV, speak to “Good Morning America” about the killings. They say Alex called them “distraught” with the news that his wife and son had been shot. They say they do not believe their brother is involved.
June 22: SLED reopens an investigation into the unsolved death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith, whose body was found on the road in 2015 in Hampton County. The agency says the probe is being reopened based on information gathered while investigating the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
June 25: Alex Murdaugh and his other son, Buster, announce a $100,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons responsible for the killings of Maggie and Paul.
July 22: SLED releases redacted audio of Alex Murdaugh’s 911 call the night of the killings. In the audio, a distraught Murdaugh advises dispatchers his wife and son had been shot, are on the ground and are not breathing.
August 11: An investigator with SLED sharply questions Murdaugh and intimates he is a suspect in the killings. Murdaugh again denies killing them.
Stone, the solicitor, writes a letter to South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson saying he intends to recuse himself from the Murdaugh death investigations, CNN affiliate WCSC-TV reports.
September 3: Alex Murdaugh resigns from the law firm PMPED, according to the firm.
September 4: Murdaugh calls 911 and reports he was shot early Saturday afternoon on a road in Hampton County, according to a SLED spokesman. He was taken to a hospital in Savannah, Georgia, where he was treated for a “superficial gunshot wound to the head,” the statement said.
September 6: Murdaugh releases a statement through his attorney, Dick Harpootlian, to WCSC saying he is resigning from the law firm and entering rehab. Murdaugh’s other attorney, Jim Griffin, says his client has an opioid addiction.
September 7: The law firm says Murdaugh resigned “after the discovery by PMPED that Alex misappropriated funds in violation of PMPED standards and policies.”
September 8: The South Carolina Supreme Court issues an order suspending Alex Murdaugh’s license to practice law in the state.
September 10: A family spokesperson issues a statement about Alex Murdaugh’s shooting that indicates the injury was more serious than a superficial wound. The spokesperson also says an unknown person was to blame.
“Alex pulled over after seeing a low tire indicator light. A male driver in a blue pickup asked him if he had car troubles, as soon as Alex replied, he was shot,” the statement said.
September 13: SLED releases a statement announcing it has opened an investigation into Alex Murdaugh for allegedly misappropriating funds at his law firm.
September 14: Court documents allege Murdaugh’s roadside shooting was part of an arrangement in which he hired a former client to kill him so that Murdaugh’s surviving son could collect a life insurance payout of about $10 million.
Curtis Edward Smith, 61, who allegedly shot Murdaugh, was charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, according to SLED.
September 15: SLED announces it is opening a criminal investigation into the February 2018 death of Gloria Satterfield, a housekeeper for the Murdaugh family, and the handling of her estate.
September 16: Alex Murdaugh is arrested in connection to an insurance fraud scheme that court documents say involved Murdaugh arranging for his own killing. He is charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report, according to a law enforcement statement.
September 22: Connor Cook, a survivor of the 2019 boat crash, files a lawsuit against Murdaugh claiming the former attorney attempted to orchestrate a campaign to falsely blame him for the crash. Cook also alleges that Murdaugh should have been aware that his underage son, Paul, had alcohol issues and should not have been allowed to use his boat.
September 26: The PMPED law firm issues a statement claiming Murdaugh “lied and stole from us.” The firm says no member was aware of “Alex’s scheme” or his drug addiction.
September 28: The children of Gloria Satterfield, the Murdaugh family housekeeper who died in 2018, file a motion for Murdaugh’s arrest and detention until the money he allegedly embezzled from her estate is returned. The estate has not received any of the money owed as the result of a 2018 civil settlement, the estate’s attorney says.
October 6: Murdaugh’s law firm announces it is suing him to recover funds he allegedly stole from clients for his own personal use, according to a statement from the firm.
October 14: After being released from a drug rehabilitation center, Alex Murdaugh is arrested in Orlando, Florida, on suspicion of misappropriating settlement funds in connection with Gloria Satterfield’s 2018 death, authorities said.
He is charged with two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, according to SLED.
October 16: A pair of affidavits are released that allege Alex Murdaugh coordinated with the family of Gloria Satterfield, his former housekeeper, to sue himself for insurance money that he then pocketed for himself.
October 26: Attorneys for the estate of Gloria Satterfield, the Murdaugh’s housekeeper, say they’ve reached a settlement with his former law firm.
November 12: Alex Murdaugh cites privilege against self-incrimination in declining to respond to allegations by his former law firm that he converted firm and client money to his own personal use, according to court filings.
November 19: South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson’s Office announces a state grand jury has issued five indictments with a total of 27 charges against Alex Murdaugh alleging he defrauded and laundered almost $5 million.
The indictments include four counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent; seven counts of obtaining signature or property by false pretenses; seven counts of money laundering; eight counts of computer crimes; and one count of forgery.
December 10: Seven indictments with another 21 criminal charges are filed against Murdaugh for allegedly defrauding victims of millions of dollars, according to the state attorney general.
December 14: Murdaugh agrees to a $4.3 million settlement with the family of Gloria Satterfield, his former housekeeper, according to family attorney Eric Bland.
January 21: Alex Murdaugh is charged with 23 more crimes in four new indictments returned by a grand jury, the state attorney general said.
The fresh indictments allege Murdaugh stole more than $2.2 million meant for four clients. The new charges include 19 counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent and four counts of computer crimes.
March 16: Murdaugh is indicted on four more crimes, including conspiracy and false statement or misrepresentation in an insurance transaction, related to a scheme to defraud multiple insurance companies, according to the attorney general.
June 3: South Carolina law enforcement officials announce they sought and received permission from the family of Gloria Satterfield, Murdaugh’s housekeeper, to exhume her remains.
The exhumation stems from a Hampton County coroner’s request that led to the state law enforcement division opening a criminal investigation into Satterfield’s death.
“The decedent’s death was not reported to the Coroner at the time, nor was an autopsy performed. On the death certificate the manner of death was ruled ‘Natural,’ which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident,” the coroner’s request to the law enforcement division said.
June 28: Murdaugh and former acquaintance Curtis Smith are indicted on two counts of criminal conspiracy by a state grand jury, according to the attorney general. The indictment alleges Murdaugh gave Smith hundreds of checks over a number of years totaling about $2.4 million.
Smith is also indicted on charges of money laundering, forgery, drug trafficking and drug possession, the attorney general’s office says.
July 12: The South Carolina Supreme Court disbars Alex Murdaugh, according to an order released by the court.
July 14: Alex Murdaugh is indicted on two counts of murder and two weapons counts in connection with the 2021 killings of his wife and son, according to authorities.
July 20: Murdaugh pleads not guilty to murder.
August 19: Murdaugh is indicted by a grand jury on nine charges, including four counts of obtaining signature or property by false pretenses, three counts of money laundering and two counts of computer crime, the attorney general says.
December 16: Murdaugh is indicted on nine counts of tax evasion for failing to report more than $6.9 million in income he earned through illegal acts, the attorney general says.
January 25: Murdaugh’s trial for the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul begins in Walterboro, South Carolina.
In opening statements, prosecutor Creighton Waters says Murdaugh killed his family as a “gathering storm” was set to expose his vast financial crimes. Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian says the state’s accusations are filled with “theories” and “conjecture.”
February 1: Prosecutors play video taken by Paul Murdaugh on the night of the murders in which Alex Murdaugh’s voice can be heard in the background, contradicting his claim that he was not at the crime scene that night.
March 2: After weeks of testimony in the murder trial, jurors deliberated for less than three hours before returning guilty verdicts on all four charges Murdaugh was facing — two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon in the commission of a violent crime.
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