The trial of a prominent US lawyer for the murder of his wife and son has prompted the reopening of investigations into other deaths.
Alex Murdaugh, 54, is accused of shooting dead his wife Margaret, 52, and their youngest son Paul, 22, on their estate in South Carolina.
Prosecutors say the lawyer carried out the killings after he was caught stealing from the family firm.
A jury’s verdict is expected soon.
The Murdaughs feature in a Netflix documentary series called Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal. In it, residents in their hometown of Hampton County question the family’s influence, historically, over local law enforcement.
Following the murder charges against Murdaugh, police have begun reinvestigating the death of the family’s housekeeper.
Fresh inquiries are also being made into the 2015 death of a former classmate of Murdaugh’s oldest son.
The Murdaugh story is one anchored among South Carolina’s wealthy and well-heeled.
Before he was disbarred, Murdaugh was a personal injury lawyer – distinguished and high-earning in a powerful legal dynasty founded by his forebears in the Low Country region of South Carolina.
But now the dynasty, and he, will forever be associated with the horrific events of the evening of 7 June 2021.
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Murdaugh shot wife five times and son twice, prosecutors say
On the family’s hunting estate, prosecutors say Murdaugh shot his wife five times with an automatic rifle.
His son was shot twice with a different weapon, a shotgun, in the head and chest.
The prosecution claims Murdaugh changed the guns used to create the appearance of an ambush.
It was Murdaugh who made a 911 call, sobbing as he told the dispatcher “my wife and child have been shot badly”.
Subsequently, he told police he had been to visit his mother and had returned to find his wife and son dead by the kennels on the estate.
The boating tragedy
Officers who first attended the scene found Murdaugh in distress. Upon their arrival, he quickly provided a theory behind the killings, suggesting it was a reaction to a boating tragedy that took place in February 2019.
Murdaugh’s son Paul, then 19, had crashed the family boat whilst three times the legal alcohol limit.
A number of people were thrown overboard, including Mallory Beach, 19, who was killed.
Murdaugh might have been promoting the boating incident as part of his legal defence – in the event, it featured in the prosecution case.
The family of Ms Beach are suing Murdaugh as the owner of the boat involved in their daughter’s death.
Murdaugh was defrauding law firm, chief financial officer says
The murder trial has heard from his law firm’s chief financial officer, who gave evidence that Murdaugh had been defrauding the company and putting the money in his wife’s bank account to shield it from the lawsuit brought by the dead girl’s family.
She told the court that she had confronted him about a missing $792,000 (£655,000) on the day of the double shooting.
It plays into the prosecutor’s argument that Murdaugh was driven to murder by a fear that his financial crimes were about to be exposed, and that his wife and son were shot to elicit sympathy and stymie investigations.
Snapchat recording casts doubt over alibi
A Snapchat video recorded by Murdaugh’s son, Paul, has also been played in court to bolster the prosecution case.
It shows footage of a brown labrador at the kennels where the shooting took place.
Paul filmed it approximately five minutes before he was shot dead and witnesses have said one of the voices heard on the video is that of Murdaugh. Prosecutors point out that doesn’t square with his initial alibi that he hadn’t seen his wife or son for 90 minutes before coming across their dead bodies.
In addressing the contradiction in court, Murdaugh admitted in evidence that he had lied. His explanation was that he had an opioid addiction stretching back 20 years which made him paranoid and distrustful of police.
Investigations into other deaths
As the murder trial progresses, so do new investigations into other deaths in Murdaugh’s orbit.
Gloria Satterfield was their long-term housekeeper until her death in 2018. Its cause was originally thought to have been an accidental fall on steps at the front of the Murdaugh home. Suspicion of a different explanation has been given traction by Murdaugh’s subsequent financial dealings.
Following Ms Satterfield’s death, he secured an insurance payout on her sons’ behalf worth more than $4m (£3.3m) but pocketed the cash himself.
Only when they pursued him through the courts, did he agree to a $4.3m (£3.6m) settlement.
Fresh investigation launched
The murder charges against Murdaugh have also coincided with a fresh investigation into the death of Stephen Smith, 19, who was found dead on a road around 10 miles from Murdaugh home. He had suffered a head injury and, at the time, it was deemed to have been a hit-and-run incident.
The teenager was a classmate of the Murdaughs’ oldest son, Buster. Whilst enquiries are ongoing, law enforcement officials haven’t publicly acknowledged any connection to the Murdaugh family.
99 other charges
As well as putting Mr Murdaugh on trial for murder, the South Carolina Attorney General has laid 99 other charges against him for financial crimes dating back several years. He’s accused of swindling more than $8m (£6.6m) from unsuspecting clients.
The jury at Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, has also heard of a bizarre ‘suicide attempt’ by Murdaugh three months after the death of his wife and son.
Having been picked up by an ambulance crew from the side of the road with a head injury, he told them he had been changing a tyre when someone stopped to help him and then shot him in the head.
He later admitted to investigators that he concocted the episode with a drug dealer in an effort to secure a $10m (£8.3m) life insurance payout for his son Buster. The dealer in question, Curtis Edward Smith, was subsequently charged with a number of offences, including assisting suicide, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
If convicted of the double murder, Murdaugh could face 30 years to life in jail. Prosecutors in South Carolina chose not to pursue the death penalty.