Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder and former CEO of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.
A murder mystery deepens after Alex Murdaugh, 53, a prominent lawyer in South Carolina, was allegedly shot in the head just months after the murders of his wife and son.
News of the murders of Paul Murdaugh, 22, and his mother, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, led to national news headlines on June 7, 2021.
Along with the headlines of the brutal slayings of a mother and son, two other deaths surfaced that were not so well known. The deaths of Mallory Beach on February 24, 2019, and Stephen Smith on July 8, 2015.
There are those who believe both deaths are tied to the Murdaugh family.
On Saturday, September 4, 2021, Alex Murdaugh called 911 and claimed he had been shot in the head by someone in a truck that had first passed him, then returned and shot at him while he was changing a tire on his vehicle.
Alex was flown to a hospital in Georgia for treatment and the wound was considered superficial.
Then, in a surprise announcement, Alex put out a statement that he was quitting his law firm and entering rehab:
“The murders of my wife and son have caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I have made a lot of decisions I truly regret. I’m resigning from my law firm and entering a rehab that has been exacerbated by these murders. I am immensely sorry to everyone I’ve hurt, including my family, friends, and colleagues. I ask for prayers as I rehabilitate myself and my relationships.”
What Alex did not mention in his statement was that he had been asked to leave the firm, Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth Detrick on Friday, September 3, 2021, for misappropriating funds.
In a quick fall from grace, on September 8, 2021, the South Carolina State Supreme Court issued an order to suspend Alex’s law license until further notice.
The Murdaugh family are considered royalty in the South. Over 100 years ago, residents of South Carolina’s rural low country elected Randolph Murdaugh as their first prosecutor, elevating him to the region’s most powerful law enforcement offices and thus began a dynasty.
According to the The New York Times, for more than 80 years, until 2006, three generations of the Murdaugh family prosecuted crime across five counties.
Alex Murdaugh, who is an attorney, is the great-grandson of Randolph Murdaugh, who was highly respected in the state of South Carolina and the longest-serving elected prosecutor. His company became a multimillion-dollar practice with firms in three counties.
Wealthy and powerful, the Murdaugh family has ties to law enforcement going back decades.
On the night of June 7, 2021, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh and her son Paul Murdaugh were shot to death on the grounds of the family’s 1,770-acre hunting lodge on Moselle Road in Islandton, Colleton County. A 911 call was made at 10:07 p.m. from the property.
During the eight-minute 911 call, Alex was very distraught, telling dispatchers that his wife and son had been shot and were not breathing. He begged dispatchers to hurry.
“I need the police and an ambulance immediately,” Alex tells the dispatcher. “My wife and child were just shot badly.”
Colleton County Coroner Richard Harvey reported that both victims were shot multiple times in the face and found on the ground in front of the dog kennels on the property. Harvey stated the deaths occurred between 9 and 9:30 p.m.
Two members of such a wealthy and prominent family were found murdered with no arrests and no suspects, but the rumors and theories were plentiful, drawing the likes of locals and amateur crime sleuths alike.
“Big family, old money, new drama,” local farmer Joe Grainger told People. “Everybody has a theory about who did it.”
Some believe the Murdaughs are the “salt of the earth,” while others believe they have used their power and influence against their enemies, according to one local attorney who also talked to People.
Death of Mallory Beach
Some people believe the Murdaugh family tried to use their power and influence in the aftermath of the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
Mallory had gone out with her boyfriend and friends on the evening of February 24, 2019. One friend was Paul Murdaugh.
Paul Murdaugh was driving his father’s 17-foot boat while drunk and crashed into a bridge piling that connects the main entrance of the U.S. Marine base at Parris Island, South Carolina. All occupants of the boat were ejected. Mallory was thrown into the churning water when the boat hit the piling. A week later her body was found in a marsh after being carried by the currents.
Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office released over an hour of raw dashcam footage of the fatal boat crash.
At the time of Paul Murdaugh’s death, he was facing three felony "boating under the influence" charges in connection with the death of Mallory.
While the criminal investigation into Mallory’s death ended when Paul was murdered, authorities continue to investigate obstruction of justice allegations involving his powerful family members, possibly even Alex.
Austin Pritcher, an investigator with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, is accused of manipulating reports that were initially made by Mallory’s boyfriend, Keith Anthony Cook.
Apparently, when Pritcher asked Keith who was driving the boat, Keith told Pritcher that Paul was driving when the boat crashed. Pritcher did not enter this into his report, however.
Instead, he wrote that Keith “did not know” who was driving the boat.
In an audio recording, Keith can be heard telling Beaufort County Attorney Steven Domino (who was fired for drug use last year) about the tragic accident.
“Listen man, my mom works for SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division),” Keith said. “I need to call her.”
“Y’all need to come to Beaufort quick … we hit a bridge in the boat,” Keith told his mother. “Connor’s messed up bad, we can’t find Mallory (sobbing). Morgan’s messed up bad … we can’t find Mallory, mom. We can’t find Mallory.”
Read More From CrimeWire
While Domino was on the phone with Keith’s mother, Paul Murdaugh walked by the police car.
“Get the motherf*cker right there away from me,” Keith yelled and pointed to Paul.
“That motherf*cker needs to rot in prison,” Keith said. “He ain’t gonna get in no trouble.”
Intoxicated and wearing only his boxers, Paul then allegedly smiled at Keith.
“YOU F*CKING SMILING LIKE IT’S FUNNY?” Keith screamed at Paul. “MY F*CKING GIRLFRIEND’S GONE!”
Clearly, the Murdaughs have friends in high places, along with some enemies too. It has been discovered that several responding officers had direct ties to the Murdaugh family.
Staff Sergeant Jason Malphrus, who supervised the Beaufort County Sheriff’s response, was being represented by Alex Murdaugh at the time of the accident and Keener had been previously represented by Murdaugh’s law firm, winning a $2.5-million settlement.
Corporal Jack Keener was one of the first responders to the scene. Despite two people identifying Paul as driving the boat, Keener wrote in his report that it was “unclear” who was driving.
In addition, the night of the boat crash, two men arrived at the hospital, telling officers they were attorneys. It was Paul Murdaugh’s father and grandfather. They stopped all interviews and prevented the officers from conducting sobriety tests.
Despite being grossly intoxicated, Paul Murdaugh was never given a field sobriety test at the scene. According to other officers at the scene, Paul was never arrested despite his clear intoxication.
Authorities waited several weeks to arrest Paul. Even after his guilty plea, he was not handcuffed or processed through the Beaufort County Detention Center—which is normal protocol.
The investigation continues.
Reopening 2015 Murder
Based upon information obtained during the double murder of Maggie and Paul, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), reopened their investigation into the death of Stephen Smith that occurred in 2015.
The Murdaugh name had come up over 40 times during the initial investigation. Like Mallory’s death investigation, suspicions of incompetence and investigative interference seemed to derail the investigation early on.
Stephen was found dead just before 4:00 am on July 8, 2015, in the middle of Sandy Run Road, in Hampton County, South Carolina.
His car was found three miles away on Bamberg Highway with the gas cap off. Apparently, he had been walking to his home on Joe Miley Road after running out of gas on Highway 601.
His loosely tied shoes were found on his feet, his head was misshapen and bruised from blunt force trauma, and his shoulder partially dislocated.
His clothing had been left at the funeral home before they were examined by investigators, breaking the chain of custody.
In addition, investigators argued that the death was caused by a possible hit and run or a gunshot further delaying the investigation into his murder. An autopsy pathologist, Dr. Erin Presnell, ruled death by a hit-and-run. However, the coroner disagreed.
The case went cold until 2021 when it was finally taken over by SLED.
FITSNews obtained the case information and interviews investigators conducted with a witness.
Investigator Todd Proctor interviewed a young man named Jack, who is the only person to be interviewed twice during the investigation.
Proctor: I met with (Kevin) this morning, I’m sure you’re aware, he kinda told me his side of it, and I gotta keep working this rumor backward if it's rumors or truth whatever it may be. Tell me the version of the story you heard.
Jack: I was with friends one night and out of the blue with my friend (“Monica”) said that — we already knew he got hit or whatever but we didn’t know who did it. We just heard Buster did it. Everybody knows who Buster is and his family and all that... and it was kinda shocking and all that. And I guess we kept talking about it and spreading it around.
Jack: (Monica) told me this. She’s my classmate. She was like ‘you won’t believe who did it. And she said his name and I was like really?’ She heard it from ‘Kayla,” whose father works in law enforcement.
Proctor: The story I got is that Buster and one or two other people were driving around and saw Stephen’s car. Looped around. Saw him on the road. Struck something outside of the vehicle and it hit him. Is that the story you heard?
Proctor: Like I told (Kevin) this morning, Buster Murdaugh was on our radar long before we ever got this information, I’m calling you about now. It’s not like somebody is going to say (Kevin) or (Jack) are the ones that put it on Buster. My office is out of Charleston. I don’t work around Hampton. I know the Murdaughs are high falutin and some people say have a lot of power. That name doesn’t mean anything to me. My job is to find out… you don’t have to agree with Stephen’s lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean he gets to be killed and nobody gets to find out that happened.
Jack: He was a cool person, honestly. We were all in class with him. It was shocking.
No arrest has been made in Stephen’s murder. SLED continues to investigate the case and can be reached at 803-737-9000.
Mother Speaks Out
Stephen’s mother, Sandy Smith, calls her daughter each night to talk to her while she drives home from college classes. She calls her daughter because she says she can’t bear the thought of another one of her children not making it back home to her at night.
Stephen was a straight-A student and graduated from Wade Hampton High School. He was pursuing a career in nursing at OC Tech. He had been on his way home from classes that fateful evening.
While Stephen’s autopsy states he died after being hit in the head by a truck's side mirror in the hit and run, that's an explanation his mother is not accepting.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me. He was struck in the head by a truck mirror? I just can’t see that happening, he would have got out of the way. The report states he was walking in the middle of the road and was found 2.7 miles away from his car,” Sandy told the Augusta Chronicle. “The way he was lying in the road, with his arm dislocated and bent back behind his body, I just don’t think he was struck by a mirror of a vehicle.”
No broken glass or plastic was ever found near the scene, failing to support the claims of the pathologist that his death was a result of a hit-and-run.
Sandy says rumors have swirled around the town of his brutal death and questions about his sexual preferences. Hearing the rumors has ripped her heart out again and again as she waits for justice.
“Stephen was in the process of discovering himself and his sexuality,” Sandy told the Chronicle. “He was gay. One rumor is that he may have had a man stalking him, the authorities asked me about that, but there are others I believe more.”
She doesn’t believe one person is responsible for her son's death, as he was strong and would have fought. She does think it may have been a hate crime due to Stephen being gay.
“He was laid out in the road like a snow angel. His head was crushed,” Sandy said.
Stephen was buried in his scrubs. A new pair had arrived in the mail the day before he was killed. It represented his wish to help others.
“He was so excited about being a nurse. He loved to read, he loved school, he loved his mom and he was inseparable from his twin sister,” Sandy told Inside Edition. “He just had his fun and was so playful.”
It’s clear, despite this senseless tragedy, the cold-blooded murderer, or murderers, could not erase Stephen's peaceful loving spirit, nor the courageous spirit of his mother who will continue to fight for justice for her son.
© 2021 Kym L Pasqualini