VARNVILLE, S.C. — Embattled South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh, whose wife and son were gunned down at the family’s hunting lodge this summer, turned himself in Thursday morning to face allegations that he plotted his own murder for $10 million in insurance money.
Murdaugh, 53, of Hampton, was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
Video footage showed Murdaugh being escorted, in handcuffs, into the Hampton County Jail shortly before 11:30 EDT. A judge set a $20,000 personal recognizance bond during an afternoon court hearing.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, requested that Murdaugh not be allowed to leave the state and that he be required to wear a GPS ankle monitor. The judge in the case declined and set the personal recognizance bond, which meant Murdaugh had to put up no cash to be released.
He was ordered to surrender his passport to SLED investigators. Within an hour, Murdaugh was out of jail and headed back to the out-of-state drug rehab facility where he’d been for more than a week before turning himself in Thursday morning.
The personal injury lawyer and former part-time volunteer prosecutor has denied any involvement in the June 7 murders of Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and the couple’s younger son, 22-year-old Paul Terry Murdaugh. Authorities had previously named him a “person of interest” in the double homicide.
Murdaugh, a scion of one of South Carolina’s most prominent legal families, is accused of asking a former client, who was also his drug dealer, to shoot him in the head Sept. 4 so Murdaugh’s only remaining son could collect his life insurance. The gunshot failed to kill Murdaugh, however, and he received a superficial wound, according to authorities.
Murdaugh’s alleged shooter, Curtis Edward Smith, 61, of Walterboro, was in court Thursday morning for a bail hearing. His bond was set at $55,000.
“I can assure you that SLED agents will continue working to bring justice to anyone involved with any criminal act associated with these ongoing investigations,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said in a statement. “The arrests in this case are only the first step in that process.”
The failed assisted suicide occurred the day after Murdaugh resigned from his family’s 111-year-old law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick. The firm has accused Murdaugh of pilfering funds.
One of Murdaugh’s lawyers said Wednesday that the majority of the stolen funds, which reportedly added up to about $5 million, went to feed Murdaugh’s longtime addiction to pain pills.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating the allegations regarding the money.
According to affidavits filed with Murdaugh’s arrest warrants, Murdaugh claimed he had pulled over Sept. 4 on Old Salkehatchie Road in rural Hampton County to change a flat tire. Murdaugh told detectives he was shot in the head by an unknown shooter in a pickup truck.
He admitted that he’d lied in a police interview on Monday, the documents state.
Murdaugh also admitted to slashing his own tire with a knife and providing Smith, who he’d previously represented in a traffic case, with the gun used in the shooting. On Tuesday, Smith admitted to shooting Murdaugh and disposing of the gun afterward.
Smith is charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. He is being held in the Colleton County Detention Center.
Read the warrants and affidavits below.
News of Murdaugh’s involvement in his shooting came on the same day that the SLED announced a probe into the death of Gloria Harriott Satterfield, the Murdaugh family’s longtime housekeeper and nanny.
Satterfield died Feb. 26, 2018, after a supposed fall at the Murdaugh home. Hampton County Coroner Angela Topper requested an investigation Wednesday after she found inconsistencies in the way Satterfield’s death was handled.
“The decedent’s death was not reported to the coroner at the time, nor was an autopsy performed,” Topper wrote in a letter. “On the death certificate, the manner of death was ruled ‘natural,’ which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip-and-fall accident.”
Topper concluded by stating that in light of the inconsistencies, she felt it was “prudent to pursue an investigation” into Satterfield’s demise.
Satterfield’s sons have sued Murdaugh, claiming the family was not made aware that a settlement had been reached in a wrongful death suit against Murdaugh. The men allege they have not seen any of the $505,000 settlement.
Murdaugh’s life has turned upside down since the night of June 7, when he told authorities he found his wife and son shot to death at the family’s hunting lodge, Moselle. Their bodies were found a few yards apart from one another near some dog kennels on the property.
Paul Murdaugh was shot in the head and upper body with a shotgun. His mother was slain with an assault-type rifle, according to reports.
Alex Murdaugh was described as a “person of interest” in the murders, but family members have said Murdaugh was taking his father, Randolph Murdaugh III, to the hospital at the time of the slayings. The elder Murdaugh 81, died of natural causes three days after the murders.
Randolph Murdaugh III was the last in a three-generation line of solicitors for the 14th Judicial Circuit. His grandfather, Randolph Murdaugh Sr., was the first person named to the solicitor’s post in 1920.
Randolph Murdaugh Jr. took over the post in 1940, when Murdaugh Sr. died in a train collision, and served until 1987, at which point Murdaugh III took office. Randolph Murdaugh III retired in 2005.
Alex Murdaugh was a volunteer prosecutor in the same office.
Following news of the embezzlement allegations, he was stripped of his authority as a prosecutor. He also resigned from the family law firm, and the Supreme Court of South Carolina has indefinitely suspended his license to practice law.
Satterfield’s death is not the only one getting a second look because of the investigation into the Murdaugh murders. SLED investigators have also reopened the probe into the cold case of Stephen Smith, who was found dead on a Hampton County road in 2015.
Smith, 19, of Brunson, reportedly died of blunt force trauma, and authorities suspected a hit-and-run crash.
Smith’s mother believes he may have been the victim of foul play, The Associated Press reported. Sandy Smith has told multiple news outlets over the years that she believes her son was beaten to death.
She has also said she believes Paul Murdaugh could have been involved. The Island Packet reported that Smith graduated in 2014 from Wade Hampton High School with Paul Murdaugh’s older brother, Richard “Buster” Murdaugh.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial in the high-profile 2019 boating crash that killed his cousin’s girlfriend, 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
According to authorities, Murdaugh was intoxicated when he smashed his family’s boat into the pilings of a bridge, ejecting several of his passengers.
Beach’s body was recovered a week after the crash.
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