'Big Family, Old Money, New Drama': Inside the Powerful S.C. Family at Center of Murder Mystery 

The dramatic family saga that has gripped the S.C. low country and the nation reached a crescendo Thursday when Alex Murdaugh was charged in connection with an alleged botched suicide-for-hire plot

Murdaugh Family
The Murdaugh family. Photo: Maggie Murdaugh/Facebook

After a series of bizarre events following the June murders of his wife and son, prominent South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh turned himself in to authorities in connection with an alleged suicide-for-hire plot gone wrong.

Well-known in the Palmetto state for being part of a longtime legal dynasty, Murdaugh exploded onto the national scene after June 7, when he came home to find his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and their son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, shot and killed on the grounds of their 1,770-acre hunting lodge in Islandton.

As police investigated the murders — and theories ricocheted around the state and nation about who killed two members of the powerful family — Murdaugh, 53, made headlines again over Labor Day weekend when he called 911 to report that he himself had been shot in the head on the side of the road.

murdaugh property
Entrance to the Murdaugh property. FitsNews.com

After Murdaugh's tire went flat, a truck drove by and then circled back before someone inside fired shots at him, one of Alex's lawyers, Jim Griffin, said at the time, adding that he got the information from Murdaugh's older brother, Randy Murdaugh, The Island Packet reports.

Murdaugh sustained a "superficial gunshot wound to the head," the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said the day after the shooting. He was airlifted to a local hospital.

Locals, amateur true-crime sleuths, and others across the nation who have been following the case were reeling from the shocking turn of events, wondering what this meant and asking: Was someone targeting Alex's family — and if so, why?

On Sept. 6, just two days after the family released a statement asking for privacy, Murdaugh released a statement saying he was resigning from the law firm his great-grandfather had founded and "entering rehab after a long battle that has been exacerbated by these murders."

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Later that day, The New York Times reported that Murdaugh had been pushed out of his law firm — Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED) — because he had allegedly "misappropriated funds."

More than a million dollars is missing from the firm, a source told The Island Packet, while a source told FITSNews that "millions" are missing.

"This is disappointing news for all of us," PMPED said in a statement obtained by The Island Packet, noting that the firm had cut all ties with Murdaugh.

Griffin told PEOPLE in a statement that "Alex resigned from the firm after being accused of diverting lawyer fees. These allegations prompted him to confront his dependency and he voluntarily checked into an in-patient substance abuse rehab facility after being discharged from the hospital Monday."

"I think the top's getting ready to blow on this story!" another local told PEOPLE at the time.

An Alleged Suicide-for-Hire Plot Goes Sideways

The alleged details about what happened on Sept. 4 came spilling out on Tuesday, when SLED announced that it had arrested Curtis Edward "Eddie" Smith, 61, of Walterboro, and charged him with assisted suicide, aggravated assault and battery, and insurance fraud in connection with the Sept. 4 shooting.

On Wednesday, one of Murdaugh's attorneys, Dick Harpootlian, said on NBC's Today show that the June 7 murders and the death of his father, Randolph Murdaugh, 81, of cancer three days later, had left Murdaugh in a "massive depression."

On the day of the shooting, Murdaugh was in the midst of a withdrawal from opioids, Harpootlian said.

Murdaugh, who had been accused the day before of stealing funds from the law firm, "clearly knew what he's done was wrong," Harpootlian said.

Harpootlian told Today Murdaugh had wanted his son to claim life insurance monies, but "believed that $10 million policy had a suicide exclusion."

On Thursday, SLED announced that it had arrested Murdaugh "in connection to a shooting incident on Sept. 4 in which he conspired with Curtis Edward Smith to assist him in committing suicide for the explicit purpose of allowing a beneficiary to collect life insurance," the state's highest law enforcement agency said in a news release.

Murdaugh is charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, and filing a false police report.

Alex Murdaugh
Alex Murdaugh Mugshot. Hampton County Detention Center/AP/Shutterstock

Murdaugh pulled up in an SUV when he turned himself in at the Hampton County Law Enforcement Center, CNN reports. He is expected to be released on bond, according to CNN.

Murdaugh's attorney and spokesperson did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's requests for comment.

His former law firm sent PEOPLE a statement saying, "PMPED is focused on representing our valued clients. Alex Murdaugh is no longer associated with our firm in any manner. Questions related to Alex's arrest should be directed to the appropriate law enforcement agencies."

A Family in Turmoil

Before the double murders thrust the Murdaughs into the national spotlight, they were well known in South Carolina low country, a lush stretch of land known for its tall, marsh grass-lined waterways and Palmetto trees.

"Pretty much everyone in the low country has heard of the Murdaughs," one resident told PEOPLE previously. "They are very powerful around here."

For more than a century, the Murdaughs dominated the legal landscape in the area. In 1910, Randolph Murdaugh Sr. started his own law firm in Hampton, which grew into a multimillion-dollar practice with offices in three counties where generations of Murdaughs have worked ever since.

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As a result of his success as a local lawyer, starting in 1920, he became the first of a succession of Murdaughs to serve as Solicitor in the 14th Judicial Circuit, prosecuting criminal cases in four counties.

Many say the family has done a lot of good. They are "salt of the earth," attorney and CNN political analyst Bakari Sellers, a longtime friend of the family, told PEOPLE for the August cover story. "They've helped so many people."

According to others, they're also feared.

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murdaugh family cover

"You don't cross the Murdaughs," says one local attorney. "Or if you do cross them, you don't let them find out that it was you who crossed them. Because they'll come down on you, hard. And they'll come down on you with all that they've got. They have a lot of influence and power, and they'll use it against their enemies."

Many have said they wonder if the family used its influence when Paul was arrested and charged in the Feb. 24, 2019, death of Mallory Beach, who was killed when he was allegedly driving his family's boat into a bridge piling, drunk.

Earlier this summer, raw dashcam footage from the Feb. 24, 2019, crash scene was released by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and obtained by FITSNews.

On the recordings, Beach's boyfriend, Anthony Cook, can be heard yelling at Paul, who tells police Paul was driving the boat when it crashed and Beach was thrown into the swirling current.

"That motherf----- needs to rot in f---ing prison," Anthony said about Paul. "He ain't gonna get in no f---ing trouble."

When Paul allegedly smiled at Anthony, Anthony erupted, screaming, "You f---ing smiling like it's f---ing funny? My f---ing girlfriend's gone!"

Beach's body was found a week later.

Recently released court documents allege Alex Murdaugh prevented police from interviewing his son on the night of the crash.

Paul was never given a field sobriety test at the scene of the crash, which led to speculation about whether or not he received special treatment.

Maggie Murdaugh; Paul Murdaugh
Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. Maggie Murdaugh Facebook

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources recently released his blood alcohol content, which was allegedly .286 percent — three times the legal limit for motor vehicle drivers at the time of the crash.

He was charged with one felony count of boating under the influence causing death and two counts of boating under the influence causing injury. He pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial when he was killed.

"Paul made mistakes," Sellers said when he spoke to PEOPLE in August. "I don't think anybody would doubt that, but he was owning up to them, and living through it."

Sellers noted, as some in the family have, that "there's been so much misinformation and disinformation" out there about the family since news of the murders broke.

"Paul was a child," Sellers said. "Maggie had a huge heart and didn't deserve anything that happened to her."

The Housekeeper's Death Now in Question

On Wednesday, SLED announced that it was opening an investigation into the 2018 death of the Murdaughs' housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died after a "trip and fall" accident at the family's home in Hampton, which they have since sold.

Satterfield's sons are suing Murdaugh and others, claiming they never received any of a $505,000 insurance payout in connection with their mother's death, court documents obtained by PEOPLE show.

Summing up the story, local farmer Joe Grainger told PEOPLE previously, "Big family, old money, new drama."

With reporting by STEVE HELLING and CHRISTINE PELISEK

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