Murdaugh Murder Mystery: 'Behind the Black Ties and Fancy Dresses Were Miserable People'

More details are emerging about the realities of life for the well-heeled, powerful Murdaugh family, who seemed to have it all

Maggie and Alex Murdaugh loved spending time on sunny Edisto Island, S.C., where they hosted barbecues at their airy beach house and enjoyed boating off the stunning coastline.

"You both look so happy here!" one Facebook friend wrote in the summer of 2020 after Maggie, 52, posted a picture of herself and Alex, with his arms around her, on their boat with one of her dogs at her side.

Maggie and Alex seemed blissful and carefree in photos she posted of the family at weddings, balls, and yacht club events — her in sleek gowns and her husband and sons, Buster, 26, and Paul, 22, in well-tailored tuxedos.

But appearances, especially on social media, aren't always what they seem.

Murdaugh Family
The Murdaugh family. Maggie Murdaugh/Facebook
murdaugh family
Alex and Maggie Murdaugh.

"Behind the black ties and fancy dresses were miserable people," one local who runs in the Murdaughs' social circles says in this week's issue of PEOPLE.

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Wealthy, powerful, and well-known in the lush South Carolina county where Alex's grandfather started a legal dynasty in 1910, the Murdaughs have drawn national attention in recent months after Maggie and Paul were murdered at their hunting lodge in Islandton.

On the night of June 7, 2021, Alex, 53, came home to find his wife and youngest son shot to death on the ground near the kennels that housed the dogs Maggie held so dear.

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Police are still searching for their killer or killers. They're also trying to unravel the knot of alleged illegal activity, scandal and bizarre behavior centered on Alex that surfaced after the killings.

Since June, Alex, a longtime attorney, has been fired from his job at his family's law firm, accused of embezzlement, shot in the head, gone to rehab for substance abuse and arrested and accused of hiring a hitman to help him commit suicide so his surviving son could cash in on a $10 million life insurance policy.

"It's just so messed up," says another resident.

Behind the Facade

Since the deaths of Maggie and Paul, some of the more private details of Maggie's relationship with her husband have started to emerge.

A source told PEOPLE that six weeks before her death, she met with a divorce lawyer who advised her to take a close look at the family finances.

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That included taking a look at Alex's "stake" in his firm, PMPED, the source says.

Another source says that Maggie used to visit her husband at the firm "all the time," but had stopped coming in the months before she was killed.

At the firm's Christmas party in December 2020, "she and Alex didn't talk at all," the source says.

Maggie barely spoke to her husband when they attended a University of South Carolina baseball game on June 5, two nights before she was killed, a witness tells PEOPLE.

During the game, Maggie "seemed aggravated" the source says, while Alex and her oldest son, Buster, "were having a good old time," the witness says.

"She was mad," the witness says.

While Alex and Buster went to the bar at least four times to get drinks, Maggie sat quietly next to a young blonde woman, the witness says.

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Maggie, Paul and Alex Murdaugh.

Alex brought back peanuts for Maggie "and just tossed them to her," without saying anything, the source says. "It was weird. Something was off."

A Case of Southern Discomfort

Something was definitely off on Sept. 4, Labor Day weekend, when people in South Carolina's Lowcountry region and across the nation who'd been following the Murdaugh murder case were shocked to learn that Alex himself had been shot in the head while changing a tire.

That weekend, Alex didn't say anything more about the shooting. But he announced that he had resigned from the prestigious law firm in Hampton his grandfather had founded more than a century earlier and where he himself had worked for decades, saying he was entering rehab for substance abuse.

That Monday, The New York Times reported that on Sept. 3, the day before Alex said he was shot, members of his firm confronted him about funds they allege he misappropriated, which is estimated to be more than $1 million, FITSNews and The Island Packet report.

RELATED VIDEO: Alex Murdaugh Shooting Was Allegedly Botched 'Assisted Suicide' So Son Could Get $10M in Life Insurance

The head-spinning series of events didn't end there. Alex, police said, was never shot by a passerby in a truck, as he'd initially claimed. Instead, say police, he allegedly hired a hitman to "assist him in committing suicide" so that his son would be able to claim the life insurance payout, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) said in a release.

On Sept. 16, SLED arrested Alex and charged him with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report.

After being released on a $20,000 personal recognizance bond, he returned to rehab, where he remains. He has not yet entered a plea.

Alex Murdaugh walks into his bond hearing, in Varnville, S.C.
Alex Murdaugh. Mic Smith/AP/Shutterstock

Alex is also facing a lawsuit in connection to the 2019 death of Mallory Beach, who died in a boating accident when Paul was allegedly at the wheel.

He is also being sued by the sons of his former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died in 2015 in a "trip and fall" accident at their home in Hampton. Her sons allege that $4.3 million was paid out in an insurance settlement — but that they never saw a dime of it.

Alex's attorney did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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