Alex Murdaugh has been found guilty on two counts of murder after savagely shooting dead his wife and son outside their 1,800-acre hunting estate in South Carolina.
The trial of the disgraced legal scion, 54, has engrossed America, and he is now expected to spend 30 years to life in prison.
Just after 10pm on June 7, 2021, Alex Murdaugh called 911 claiming though blubbering tears that he had discovered his wife and son gunned down outside the kennels of their estate in M, South Carolina.
However, as the jury found yesterday, Murdaugh had fired five shots at his wife with an automatic rifle before shooting his son in the head and chest with a different weapon so to make it look as though the barbaric murders were an ambush.
The lawyer initially told police he had been to visit his mother and had returned to discover his Maggie and Paul dead. As video evidence would later reveal, he was lying.
But the story that lead to the horrific 2021 killings of Maggie, 52, and younger son Paul, 22, started two years earlier. Then aged 19, Paul Murdaugh had ventured for a booze-laden cruise along the South Carolina coast with friends on the family boat, when a collision knocked three of the friends into the icy water – with only one body not surfacing, Mallory Beach.
Alex Murdaugh’s (second right) killed his wife Maggie (second left) and son Paul (left) in 2019
Mallory Beach (pictured) 19, was killed in a a boat crash in 2019 and Paul Murdaugh was charged. But the case was never came to court
Alex Murdaugh was shot in the head and injured on September 4, 2021, months after he killed his wife and son
Alex Murdaugh, who like previous generations of his family has wielded immense judicial power in the region, had allegedly attempted to pressure survivors of the accident to say his son had not been at the helm. But the young Murdaugh was soon charged with three offences including boating under the influence resulting in death.
While the case never came to court, Beach’s family filed a civil suit against Alex Murdaugh, claiming he was liable for her death because he lent his son the boat and turned a blind eye to his underage drinking.
Then, just days before the hearing for the civil case – which, crucially, would have required Murdaugh to provide a full picture of his finances, and for Maggie and Paul to testify – the wife and son were killed.
The trial of Alex Murtaugh began earlier this year on January 25, in a courtroom where a portrait of his grandfather used to hang before it was removed by a judge for the duration of the legal proceedings.
Prosecutors argued that the 54-year-old murdered his wife and son in an attempt to win sympathy and save himself from being exposed as a massive fraudster.
For Americans who have been enthralled by the trial, it seems to have everything: ruthless lawyers, claims of political corruption, multi-million-dollar fraud, a fatal boat crash involving a beautiful young woman and even an apparent assassination attempt on Murdaugh himself.
The defence portrayed him as a devoted father and husband who would never dream of butchering his loved ones. The prosecution counters that 6 ft 4 in Murdaugh committed the killings to avoid ‘personal legal and financial ruin’ by distracting attention from evidence that he had tricked millions of dollars out of clients and his own firm.
Both sides agree, however, that the story behind the murders really begins two years earlier, on the night of another tragic death. In February 2019, Alex’s son Paul Murdaugh, then 19, had taken out the family’s 17 ft-long fishing boat one night with five friends for a short booze-laden cruise along the South Carolina coast.
As they were returning home in the early hours in thick fog, the vessel hit the pilings of a bridge before running into a bank with a smashed hull. Of three passengers thrown into the icy water, only two surfaced. The body of the third, 19-year-old Mallory Beach, was found a week later in a nearby marsh.
Alex Murdaugh (left) shot his wife Maggie (right), 52, and their son Paul, 22, on the family’s land in 2021
Murdaugh is led out of the court by sheriff’s deputies after being found guilty of murdering his wife and son yesterday
Alex Murdaugh cries during the murder trial that suddenly transfixed America
His surviving son Buster appeared stony-faced and sat with his hand covering his mouth beside his girlfriend Brooklynn White who looked down at the ground yesterday
Paul Murdaugh, a wayward youth described as a ‘teenage Caligula’, was an aggressive drunk and he was allegedly steering the boat when it crashed.
Despite his influential family’s alleged attempts to pressure survivors of the accident to say Paul had not been at the helm, he was charged with three offences including boating under the influence resulting in death.
Although that case never came to court — an illustration, some said, of the power of the Murdaughs — Mallory Beach’s family filed a civil suit against Murdaugh, claiming he was liable for her death because he lent his son the boat and turned a blind eye to his underage drinking.
Just days before Murdaugh’s wife and son were killed, a future hearing for this civil case had been scheduled. Crucially, it would have required Murdaugh to provide a full picture of his finances which could have revealed he was fleecing his clients.
The lawyer bringing the civil suit had specifically requested his wife Maggie and son Paul to testify about the reportedly boozy culture on the Murdaugh hunting estate, known as Moselle, where underage teenagers were said to be allowed to stagger around drunk.
Prosecutors argued Alex murdered them not only to delay the civil suit (which the killings succeeded in doing) but also to distract attention from himself by suggesting that the Murdaughs had been targeted by people wanting to avenge Mallory Beach’s death in the boat crash.
Indeed, his trial was shown video evidence from the body cameras of police officers who attended the scene of the murders. It showed an apparently distraught Alex Murdaugh offering his thoughts about the possible motive.
‘This is a long story. My son was in a boat wreck . . . months back. He’s been getting threats,’ he said. ‘Most of it’s been benign stuff. We didn’t take it serious, you know, he’s been getting like punched. Um, I, I know that’s what it is.’
And to reinforce this idea that the murders were in fact carried out by people intent on revenge for Mallory Beach, it’s alleged that Murdaugh then faked an assassination attempt on himself.
Murdaugh is taken away by cops tonight. He will be sentenced in the morning
Maggie’s body was found a few yards to the right of a doghouse, while Paul’s was by the doorway at the end of the kennels
WHERE MAGGIE DIED: A pool of blood outside the kennels where Maggie Murdaugh was shot dead with two AR bullets to the head
WHERE PAUL DIED: Blood spatters on the floor inside the storage room at the kennels where Paul Murdaugh was shot dead. He was killed with a shot to the chest and a second to the head
Two of the family dogs – who appear to be Bubba and Maggie – based on descriptions in court – are seen in the kennels on the Moselle Road property on June 7, 2021 when Alex Murdaugh’s wife Maggie and son Paul Murdaugh were shot and killed
Three months after the double murder, he called police to say that a stranger had ambushed him while he was changing a tyre by the roadside — and that the assailant had shot him in the head. Medical reports showed that Alex was indeed grazed by a bullet but, as we will see, the man involved was far from a murderous stranger.
Unfortunately for Murdaugh, a passer-by saw the so-called ‘shooting’ and told police it was so unconvincing they thought it had been a ‘set-up’.
This all coincided with a worsening of Murdaugh’s problems when his family law firm, which goes by the acronym of PMPED, revealed it had just ousted him for allegedly stealing its funds.
Following the firm’s disclosure, Murdaugh’s lawyer went on national television to admit that, yes, his client had been stealing money — but only because he had to pay for a 20-year-old opioid addiction, for which he was now in rehab.
The lawyer also blew the gaff on the mystery person who supposedly shot at Murdaugh by the roadside, saying he had in fact been a distant cousin, Eddie Smith, who did odd jobs for him.
Murdaugh asked Smith to shoot him dead, explained the lawyer, and make it look like murder so that his surviving son, Buster, could collect an £8.4 million ($10 million) life insurance policy. Only Smith, he added, had botched it and managed merely to wound him.
The trouble was that Smith then insisted to investigators he had never agreed to kill him and that the gun only went off by accident as he struggled to wrest it from Murdaugh.
Whatever the case, sceptics believe Murdaugh never meant to die at all and simply wanted to strengthen the theory that he and his family were targets.
Murdaugh says goodbye to his defense attorney Dick Harpootlian as cops lead him out of the courtroom
Alex Murdaugh stands for sentencing at the court in South Carolina yesterday
But what of the financial crimes that, say prosecutors, Murdaugh was so desperate to keep secret that he was even prepared to murder his wife and son? These were already beginning to emerge because journalists had started to look into the family’s affairs following the fatal boat crash.
And it is here that we came to the fourth death in this grim saga. It emerged that Murdaugh’s former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, had died in February 2018 after falling down the front steps of their family home. It has been mooted that she might have been pushed, although Alex Murdaugh has insisted Ms Satterfield tripped over one of his hunting dogs.
What the journalists uncovered was that the housekeeper’s family had accused Murdaugh of tricking them out of a multi-million-dollar settlement over her death.
Old hand as he was at exploiting America’s super-litigious culture, Murdaugh actually encouraged Ms Satterfield’s brothers to sue him over her death on the grounds that his liability insurance policies would cover it. And the policies did, paying out more than £3 million — whereupon Murdaugh allegedly pocketed it all.
Only after a lengthy battle did Murdaugh, who is now disbarred, agree in late 2021 to pay the Satterfield family £3.25 million to settle their claims.
Prosecutors say many more examples of his shameless looting over a decade-long period have emerged, including the fact he once stole from a police officer injured in the line of duty, as well as from the family of a deaf man who had suffered a horrendous car accident that left him quadriplegic.
Local people say that he was able to act with impunity for so long because so many of them were intimidated by the Murdaughs, who — despite having reputedly first made their money distilling illicit alcohol, or moonshine — built strong connections with politicians and law enforcement.
‘They were powerful. They own the country,’ said Suzy Murdaugh, a relative, about how she would sometimes enlist her mighty cousins’ help.
‘If you went to court, you won. Didn’t matter what it was. Don’t think Alex, his father or his grandfather ever lost a case. He told the judge what to do.’
Even during the murder trial, Murdaugh was represented by a lawyer friend who is a senior senator and judiciary committee member in the state congress — a congress that chooses South Carolina’s judges.
For all that historical influence, the trial never appeared to be going his way, hence his 11th hour decision to take the stand.
Murdaugh has denied killing his wife and son in a trial now in its fifth week
Alex Murdaugh cries while watching a video clip on his son Paul’s phone during his double murder trial
The Murdaughs’ current housekeeper then testified how Mrs Murdaugh had told her that her husband Alex had insisted she return home from their beach house on the night of the murder.
And video evidence from son Paul’s phone then placed his father with his family minutes before prosecutors say he killed them — contradicting his previous insistence to police that he didn’t get home until much later and hadn’t seen the pair that evening until he found their bodies.
His surviving son Buster later testified that his father was ‘destroyed’ by the murders of his wife and son — so ‘heartbroken’ that he could barely speak.
His defence suggested that the double killing may have been committed by a drug gang, saying Murdaugh was spending $50,000 (£41,000) a week buying drugs from a man who was in deep debt to the gang.
Many believe Murdaugh was brought down by his own vanity, desperate to live up to the family name.
After jury decided yesterday that the tears rolling down his cheeks were not those of an innocent but of an accomplished but desperate liar, he will return for sentencing on Friday, where he faces 30 years to life in prison.