Alex Murdaugh is charged with murdering his wife and kid.

While the most captivating real crime stories take us into the darkest regions of the soul, cases seldom expose the nation’s, terrible heart. The tangled patient known as “the Murdaugh killings” feels like it could only happen in America – a tale of generational power and corruption. This is a Southern Gothic morality drama about a wealthy but declining Southern family whose vast fortune and influence fuelled a mind-boggling binge of irresponsibility, greed, and murder.

Image source – CNN

According to one report, the Murdaugh (pronounced “Murdock”) family has gained influence and money in South Carolina for over 100 years. However, that century of power has crumbled in less than a half-decade due to a long list of financial crimes and five suspicious deaths that began in 2015: an alleged homophobic hate crime, a deadly boating accident; a mysterious fall and insurance scam; the double murder of the family matriarch and favourite son; and a bizarre roadside incident that may have been another insurance scam.

The entire twisted chain resulted in the recent indictment of the struggling patriarch, Alex Murdaugh, in a South Carolina county court for the 2021 murders of his wife and son, raising the total number of counts he is facing to above 80.

Meet the Alex Murdaugh

Since Randolph Murdaugh Sr. established his legal firm in Hampton County in 1910, the Murdaughs have exerted control over South Carolina’s “Lowcountry,” the lush, mossy wedge at the state’s bottom.

His son, Randolph Jr., and grandson, Randolph III, eventually built the company into a prominent practice. From 1920 through 2006, all three men served as a solicitor (also known as a prosecutor) for South Carolina’s 14th Circuit Court. The Murdaughs’ 86-year tenure as circuit solicitors was the longest of its kind in US history. As one might expect, this gave the family tremendous power and influence over Hampton County and the other four counties within the circuit’s authority.

Randolph IV and Alex, two of Randolph III’s sons, followed in their father’s footsteps and became attorneys. Because South Carolina later forbade attorneys from acting in the conflicting twin duties of the public prosecutor and private attorney, the men did not serve as solicitors but as “volunteer” prosecutors aiding their father while continuing the family’s legal firm.

The solicitor’s office eventually fired Alex, and the family law firm changed its name earlier this year from Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick, usually abbreviated to PMPED, to Parker Law Group, most likely to avoid the growing stigma of the Murdaugh name —, mainly its association with Alex Murdaugh.

The death of Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old Hampton student, called his mother on July 8, 2015, to inform her he’d run out of petrol. Later that night, he was discovered dead in the middle of the road, miles from his truck. He died due to blunt force trauma, and his corpse was “laying out in the centre of the road like a snow angel,” according to his mother.

The South Carolina Highway Patrol first concluded Stephen was the victim of a hit-and-run after he exited his truck and walked to obtain petrol. The investigation was closed accordingly, despite multiple police observations that showed Smith’s death was a homicide. After the fact, however, officials noted that the scene was staged, and rumours spread that Smith, supposedly dating Buster Murdaugh, had been the victim of a hate crime or that the Murdaugh brothers were involved in his killing.

While the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, began investigating the other Murdaugh family killings, officials reopened the inquiry into Smith’s death in June 2021, making a statement insinuating they were somehow connected. So yet, no charges or indictments have been announced. Still, the investigation remains active, and Smith’s mother has indicated that the most recent accusations in the other deaths give her “hope that we will receive justice.”

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