Murdaugh murders: Son, matriarch of prominent S.C. legal family gunned down at hunting lodge

ISLANDTON, S.C. — Authorities in South Carolina are investigating the double murder of a prominent family matriarch and her 22-year-old son, both of whom were fatally shot at the family’s hunting lodge last week.

Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, of Hampton, and her son, Paul Terry Murdaugh, died June 7 of multiple gunshot wounds. Alex Murdaugh, the husband and father of the victims, found their bodies, according to police.

No arrests have been made and little information has been released in the high-profile case, which involves one of the most prominent legal families in South Carolina. Police officials have said, however, that the public is not at risk, fueling speculation in Colleton and Hampton counties, where Alex Murdaugh serves part-time as a prosecutor for the 14th Judicial Circuit.

Murdaugh is also a personal injury lawyer with his family’s law firm of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick. According to the Post and Courier, the firm has been a powerhouse in the legal community since it was founded in 1910.

Tommy Crosby, a spokesman for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, acknowledged Tuesday that both questions and rumors about the case have been abundant. He said, however, that authorities cannot jeopardize the case by prematurely releasing details of the investigation.

“SLED is committed to conducting a professional and thorough criminal investigation to bring justice in the deaths of Paul and Maggie,” Crosby said. “SLED is further committed to transparency and will release any additional information, including additional information provided during the 911 call, at the appropriate time.”

Alex Murdaugh’s job as a prosecutor is somewhat of a family tradition: Murdaugh is the fourth generation of Murdaughs to work in that office, beginning with his great-grandfather, Randolph Murdaugh Sr. The elder Murdaugh was the first person elected to the position in 1920.

When Randolph Murdaugh Sr. died in a train collision in 1940, his son, Randolph Murdaugh Jr., was elected to take his place. Randolph Murdaugh III, who is Alex Murdaugh’s father, took office upon his father’s retirement in 1987.

In a tragic twist, Randolph Murdaugh III, 81, died June 10, three days after the killings of his grandson and daughter-in-law. The Associated Press reported that the longtime prosecutor, who served as solicitor until 2005, died following a lengthy illness unrelated to the murder case.

A shocking crime

According to state police officials, Alex Murdaugh called 911 at 10:07 p.m. June 7 to report that he’d returned to the family’s hunting lodge, Moselle, in Islandton and found his wife and son dead near a dog kennel on the property.

“Colleton County sheriff’s deputies immediately responded to the location, where it appeared that Paul and Maggie had both sustained multiple gunshot wounds,” state police officials said Tuesday. “The Sheriff’s Office secured the scene and contacted SLED at 10:28 p.m. to request SLED’s assistance in conducting this double murder investigation.”

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The Colleton County coroner confirmed that both mother and son died of multiple gunshot wounds but declined to say where each victim was shot. According to WCSC in Charleston, Coroner Richard Harvey estimated that the pair were killed sometime between 9 and 9:30 p.m.

Details about the weapons used have not been officially made public, but sources within the investigation have told the Hilton Head Island Packet that both a shotgun and a semi-automatic assault-style rifle were used. Paul Murdaugh was shot in the head and upper body with the shotgun, the newspaper reported.

Maggie Murdaugh was killed with the rifle. The use of two weapons could be an indication of multiple suspects.

State investigators have not offered anything further about the crime except to announce the establishment of a 24-hour, dedicated tip line to handle calls regarding the case. Anyone with information about the double homicide should call 803-896-2605.

The prominence of the Murdaugh family — along with a pending felony criminal case against Paul Murdaugh — has brought closer scrutiny than usual to the slayings in South Carolina’s Lowcountry.

At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial in a February 2019 boating crash that killed his cousin’s girlfriend. Mallory Madison Beach, 19, of Brunson, died after the boat they and several other teens were traveling in slammed into a bridge in Beaufort County.

The charges against Murdaugh were dropped after his killing.

The brutality of Paul Murdaugh’s killing has given rise to speculation that he was the target of the attack. The Island Packet reported that its sources confirmed that is a potential theory in the case.

Alex Murdaugh’s brothers, Randolph “Randy” Murdaugh IV and John Marvin Murdaugh, spoke Thursday morning to Good Morning America, providing the first comments from the family on the murders. The men said their nephew had received “bothersome” online threats following the fatal boat crash but nothing they took as a credible threat.

“I don’t know of anybody that would truly be an enemy or truly want to hurt them,” said Randy Murdaugh, who works alongside Alex Murdaugh at the family’s law firm.

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Both Randy and John Murdaugh said in the segment that they received frantic calls from their brother the night of June 7, saying that his wife and son had been hurt.

“I missed some phone calls from him. I was outside with the dogs,” Randy Murdaugh said. “When I came in, he was calling my wife’s phone. And it was the worst phone call because of his voice, the fear. He was just distraught. I didn’t know if something was still happening. He was only able to tell me it was very, very bad. He said he thought they were dead.”

Watch the Good Morning America segment below.

Randy Murdaugh, who lives in Hampton, arrived at Moselle about 15 minutes later to see first responders and the bodies of his nephew and sister-in-law sprawled on the ground under white sheets.

Alex Murdaugh stood, sobbing, at a distance from the crime scene, he said.

“He would try to talk and then he would break down,” Randy Murdaugh said.

Because Alex Murdaugh was unable to, Randy Murdaugh called the couple’s other son, Buster Murdaugh, of Rock Hill, to tell him the grim news about his mother and brother.

John Murdaugh also traveled to the scene from his home in Okatie, about 30 minutes away. The brothers remained at the scene until they convinced Alex Murdaugh to leave with them.

“He didn’t want to leave them out there,” a tearful John Murdaugh said.

Both brothers believe Alex Murdaugh is innocent of any involvement in the fatal shootings.

“My brother loved Maggie and loved Paul like nothing else on this Earth, just like he loves Buster,” Randy Murdaugh said.

John Murdaugh said his grieving brother wants the case solved.

“I can tell you he was willing, and still is willing, to do anything that’s asked of him,” he said.

Just what Alex Murdaugh and his family and friends might have been willing to do following Paul Murdaugh’s Feb. 24, 2019, boating crash has fueled some of the speculation about both that case and the murders.

Undue influence?

Police reports obtained by the Island Packet indicated that Paul Murdaugh, then 19, and his passengers were all underage and intoxicated at the time of the early morning crash. Murdaugh’s cousin later told authorities he begged his cousin to let him take the helm because Murdaugh was so inebriated.

Beach was thrown from the boat during the crash. Her body was recovered a week later.

Duffie Stone, solicitor for the 14th Judicial Circuit, recused himself from the case the day after the boat crash, citing Alex Murdaugh’s role in his office. According to the Island Packet, three of the people on the boat when Beach died were Murdaugh family members.

Stone’s recusal came weeks before Paul Murdaugh was charged with boating under the influence in Beach’s death and the injury of two other passengers.

In the double murder case, however, Stone and his staff remained part of the investigation this week, the Post and Courier reported. The fact that Stone has not recused his office has added fuel to the speculation on the crime.

Robert Wilcox, a professor of legal ethics, told the newspaper that the Murdaugh connection to the solicitor’s office has not yet crossed a line in the murder case. According to Wilcox, without a suspect or arrest, the solicitor’s office has a limited, primarily advisory role.

“That mere fact that the Murdaugh name is closely associated with the solicitor’s office doesn’t cause me any concerns at this point,” the professor said. “We have no idea who the solicitor will ultimately be engaged in prosecuting.”

The Colleton County Sheriff’s Office remains involved in the case but asked SLED to take the lead the night of the murders due to Alex Murdaugh’s ties to the legal community.

Mark Tinsley, an attorney for Beach’s family, has alleged that the police officials who investigated Beach’s death two years ago improperly tried to influence the probe, according to the Island Packet.

Though the charges against Paul Murdaugh have been abandoned, the state attorney general’s office announced after the murders that the probe of the boating crash remains open. A spokesperson for the office did not say why.

Randy and John Murdaugh denied allegations that anyone in their family used their influence to help their nephew.

“I see words like ‘dynasty’ used, and ‘power,’” Randy Murdaugh said in Thursday’s interview. “But we’re just regular people that are working hard and trying to do right.”

The Beaches, who have a pending lawsuit in Mallory Beach’s death, said through their attorney that they stand behind the attorney general’s investigators.

“The Beaches have every confidence and are hopeful that the attorney general’s office will continue to investigate and prosecute any improprieties related to any attempts by any member of law enforcement to influence the original criminal investigation related to the boat crash,” Tinsley wrote in a statement.

Beach’s family issued a statement after the double murder urging anyone with information about the shootings to come forward.

“The Beach family extends its deepest and warmest sympathies to the Murdaugh family during this terrible time,” the statement read, according to the AP. “Having suffered the devastating loss of their own daughter, the family prays that the Murdaughs can find some level of peace from this tragic loss.”

In her obituary, Maggie Murdaugh was described as a woman who lived her life to the fullest.

“Maggie had a heart of pure generosity and loved welcoming friends and family into her home on any given occasion,” the obituary read. “She adored her family and cherished spending time on the boat with her two sons.”

Randy and John Murdaugh described their sister-in-law as the “rock of their family.” Alex Murdaugh, they said, was smitten with her from the start and “truly doted on her.”

They described Paul Murdaugh, who was a junior at the University of South Carolina, as a “people person” and carefree spirit.

“Paul grew up with a love for the outdoors and particularly enjoyed hunting at their lodge in Moselle with his father, Alex, and brother, Buster,” his obituary read. “Paul never met a stranger and had an abundance of friends.

“He was always eager to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. No one was more loving and genuine than Paul, and because of this, his personality was one-of-a-kind.”

Randy and John Murdaugh pleaded for anyone with information on the murders to step forward.

“We need help finding who did this,” Randy Murdaugh said. “The person that did this is out there.”

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