HAMPTON, SC — Curtis Edward Smith, a handyman and former lumberjack, had worked odd jobs for Alex Murdog, a lawyer and descendant from one of the most powerful legal families in the South Carolina Lowcountry, over the years.
But Mr Smith said he was reluctant to do the last thing when Mr Murdoff met two men on the side of a rural road on a Saturday in September.
“I want you to shoot me in the back of the head,” Mr Smith remembered saying to Mr Murdoff. He said Mr. Murdaugh had a loaded gun in his hand.
The disturbing story gets even more awkward when, 10 days later, state law enforcement agents arrested Mr. Smith, 61, accusing him of collaborating with Mr. Murdoff in a failed plan to assassinate him. . Police said Mr Murdoff had planned to make his death look like a homicide, in the hope that his eldest son would receive a $10 million life insurance payment at a time when Mr Murdoff’s life was turning out brilliantly.
That revelation is now at the center of a vast saga of mysterious deaths – including the unsolved murders of Mr Murdaugh’s wife and young son – and allegations of multimillion-dollar fraud and abuse of trust and power. The drama sends a jolt through South Carolina, where Alex Murdoff and his family have dominated the legal profession in the state’s rural areas for more than a century.
It is rare for a small-town lawyer’s personal anguish to resonate so widely. But Mr. Murdoff, 53, was a well-connected player in the South Carolina legal world with the club for years; The family law firm, based in the small town of Hampton, has long been considered a powerhouse in the state litigant’s bar.
In recent weeks, a series of criminal investigations and civil lawsuits have surfaced, accusing Mr. Murdaugh of betraying friends, colleagues and clients. Police have opened previously closed cases, one involving the death of a former classmate of Murdoff’s son and another involving a housekeeper who was long believed to be part of the Murdoff family. Had fallen on the stairs in front of the house.
They are also investigating allegations that Murdoff stole millions of dollars from his law firm and a settlement for the homeowner’s children.
“Where do you stay?” John P., a retired professor of law and ethics at the University of South Carolina. Freeman said. “You can’t talk to someone in South Carolina who isn’t talking about this matter and isn’t amazed by what’s happening.”
Mr Murdoff, through his lawyers, has insisted that he had nothing to do with the fatal shootings in June of his wife, Margaret, 52, and their younger son, 22, Paul, whose bodies they took to the family’s 1,700 Discovered on the hunt of acres. However, last month, he was arrested on charges related to a fake suicide attempt. Before accepting the plan, Mr. Murdoff claimed he was shot by a stranger as he stopped to change a tyre, with the bullet going over his head.
On 16 September, he appeared in court before being released to await trial. His body was bowed, his trademark jolt of red hair strewn with white. His lawyer, Richard A. Harputlian, a Democratic state senator, said Murdoff was in rehab for an oxycodone addiction.
Mr Smith was also released. He insists that he was not an ally, but a convenient scapegoat—collateral damage caused by a powerful man’s mid-life out of control.
“I don’t know if there are words for whether or not he has been cheated,” said Mr. Smith recently while sitting in a love seat in his modest home outside Walterboro, SC, “I thought of him as a brother. You know, and love him like a brother. And I would have done almost anything for him. Almost.”
synonym of power
For some, the name Murdoff has represented both power and public service. For nearly 90 years and three generations, the position of chief prosecutor for the five counties surrounding Hampton was held by a Murdoff. For an even longer period, the law firm affiliated with the Murdoff family has been one of the state’s leading tort litigation firms. Its Hampton headquarters, housed in a red-brick Colonial Revival building, is second in grandeur after the nearby County Courthouse.
For some here, the name Murdoff has come to stand for dominance of the legal system, so that people, with or without justification, have asked whether it has the power to skew the trajectory of justice in favor of the family.
It’s one of the questions investigators are asking now as they investigate not only the murders of Murdoff’s wife and son, but at least three other deaths before that tragedy.
How much are investigators trying to figure out, did Alex Murdoff use his powerful ties to protect his family and amass his fortune?
One of the cases now being re-examined is the death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith, whose body was found on a rural road in 2015. He died of a blunt force stroke to the head, but there were no signs to suggest that he had been hit by a car.
Mr. Smith was a classmate of Alex Murdaugh’s eldest son, Richard Alexander Murdoff Jr., goes by Joe Buster. The Smith family told police that the brother of Alex Murdoff, a partner at the Murdoff law firm, approached and offered to represent the family for free, but it did not take them up on the offer. No ties to the Murdoff family were ever identified, although investigators say they are now taking a fresh look.
The second case under investigation happened in 2019, when witnesses said, Alex Murdaugh’s son Paul, while drunk, crashed the family boat into a bridge, leaving several of his friends overboard. The body of one of them, 19-year-old Mallory Beach, was found a week later.
A grand jury convicted Paul Murdaugh of boating under the influence of death, but was executed before he had a chance to stand trial.
Ms Beach’s family is suing Murdoff and the convenience store that sold alcohol to Paul, a minor. Paul’s lifelong friend Connor Cook, who was also on the boat, filed another lawsuit last month, accusing Murdoff and others of attempting to frame him for the boat accident. Mr Cook said Mr Murdaugh had told him to “keep his mouth shut” and to tell investigators that he did not know who was driving.
That lawsuit states that Mr. Murdoff persuaded Mr. Cook’s family to hire a lawyer named Corey Fleming, a friend of Alex Murdoff’s and former college roommate and godfather to Paul Murdoff.
After the murder of Alex Murdoff’s wife and son, investigators re-investigate another mysterious death involving the family: Gloria Satterfield, the housekeeper and nanny who worked for the Murdoff family for a quarter-century.
One morning in February 2018, Ms. Satterfield collapsed on the front steps of the Murdoffs’ isolated home. According to Eric Bland, attorney for Ms Satterfield’s two adult sons, Maggie Murdaugh found her bleeding and called 911. He said Murdoff told the family that she was stuck on her dogs.
Ms Satterfield had lost most of her ability to speak, and she died several weeks later.
Despite the Murdoff family’s account, his death was considered “natural” on his death certificate as the result of a brain bleed. No autopsy was performed and the coroner was not contacted.
Hours after Ms. Satterfield’s funeral, her sons say, Mr. Murdoff told them he would take responsibility and sent them to a lawyer who sued Murdoff’s insurers to force them to pay compensation. Will help them to file.
The lawyer was again Mr. Murdaugh’s longtime friend, Mr. Fleming – whom he later believes was not looking out for his own interests, but that of Alex Murdoff.
Mr. Fleming, the sons said in a later lawsuit, advised them to hand over management of their mother’s estate to an executive at a local bank where Mr. Murdoff did business.
Five months later, court records show, a judge approved a settlement settlement from Murdoff’s insurers to pay $2.8 million to the sons and more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees. But the sons say they never heard of the deal.
It turned out that according to copies of the checks and other documents Mr Bland had recently filed in court, Mr Fleming had sent the money to Mr Murdaugh.
The sons haven’t seen any of this yet, Mr. Bland said.
Mr Fleming said in a statement that Mr Murdaugh had betrayed him as well, and that he thought the sons would get the money. Last week, Mr. Fleming’s firm agreed to pay all attorneys’ fees derived from the settlement and its malpractice insurers agreed to pay sons the full policy limit.
But it wasn’t the only money that seemed to be missing. Last month, Mr Murdaugh’s associates at the law firm said they had learned he had duped the firm of millions of dollars, and they asked him to resign. Mr Murdoff’s lawyers said he had spent a large sum of money on addiction to oxycodone pills, but did not provide an explanation as to where the rest of the money went.
“He has fallen from grace,” Mr Harputalian said at the bond hearings last month. “If anyone wants to see the face of opioid addiction, you’re going to see it.”
a meeting on a deserted road
A day after the firm announced that she was severing her relationship with Mr. Murdaugh, she and Mr. Smith end up on the street outside the city, Mr. Smith says, seeking Mr. Murdoff’s exit from the mess of his life. about the plan. to become.
Mr Smith, who is now facing charges including assisted suicide, assault, insurance fraud and the sale of methamphetamine, said he had no plans to participate in a scheme on the sum insured. He said Mr Murdoff, who is a distant cousin, had called that morning and asked him to drive his work truck to the Hamptons, never to discuss.
Soon, he said, Mr Murdog drove off and honked his horn to make Mr Smith follow him.
Outside town, Mr. Murdoff stood by the side of the road and Mr. Smith stopped nearby. When he got out of his truck, Mr. Murdaugh produced a gun and asked Mr. Smith to shoot him.
“It’s not going to happen,” Mr Smith said as he told her. When Mr. Murdog shook like he was about to shoot himself in the head, he said, Mr. Smith grabbed his hand and turned it behind his back. The gun is gone.
Mr. Murdoff fell to the ground, Mr. Smith said, his hand on his head, his legs peeled off.
Mr. Smith grabbed the gun and left, asking if Mr. Murdoff was okay. Mr Murdoff indicated that he was.
The handyman swore to the lawyer, jumped back in his truck and fled.
Shilag McNeil and Kitty Bennett Contributed to research.