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Alex Murdaugh surrenders in alleged suicide-for-hire plot as police launch new probe into housekeeper’s death

Alex Murdaugh, right, is accused of hiring a hit man to shoot him dead so his son could collect a life insurance payout, investigators say. (WCSC)
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The patriarch of a South Carolina legal dynasty at the center of multiple police investigations turned himself in Thursday to face charges related to insurance fraud.

Richard Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh, a prominent attorney in the Lowcountry region, is accused of hiring a hit man to shoot him dead so his son could collect a $10 million life insurance payout, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED). The agency also announced on Wednesday that it has opened a separate investigation into the 2018 death of a housekeeper at Murdaugh’s home.

The same agency is investigating the killings of Murdaugh’s wife and younger son, who were shot to death outside the family’s Islandton, S.C., home in June.

Murdaugh pulled up to the Hampton County Law Enforcement Center on Thursday morning. He is expected to have a court hearing in Hampton County, S.C., on Thursday.

Police said Murdaugh confessed on Monday to “the scheme of having [a hit man] murder him for the purpose of his son collecting a life insurance policy.” Murdaugh had hoped that his surviving son, 25-year-old Buster Murdaugh, would receive $10 million after his death, according to an affidavit.

But the plan went awry, and Murdaugh survived. He called 911 after a bullet grazed his head on Sept. 4, telling police he had been changing a tire on the side of the road when an unknown gunman fired at him from a truck.

Three months after his wife and son were shot dead, S.C. attorney is injured in separate unsolved shooting

SLED arrested 61-year-old Curtis Edward Smith of Walterboro, S.C., on Tuesday and charged him with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Smith was jailed at the Colleton County Detention Center, police said.

“Mr. Smith admitted to being present during the shooting of Mr. Murdaugh and to disposing of the firearm afterwards,” police said in an affidavit.

According to court records, Murdaugh had represented Smith in a 2013 speeding case, the Associated Press reported. Police said Murdaugh provided the gun that Smith used in the Sept. 4 shooting.

Court records do not list an attorney for Smith.

An attorney for Murdaugh said the 53-year-old had struggled with opioid addiction for 20 years, during which time some people “took advantage of his addiction and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs,” according to a statement shared with The Washington Post on Wednesday.

“One of those individuals took advantage of his mental illness and agreed to take Alex’s life, by shooting him in the head,” Murdaugh’s attorneys said in the statement. “Fortunately, Alex was not killed by the gunshot wound.”

The lawyers added that Murdaugh is cooperating with state investigators.

A series of tragic events involving the Murdaugh family began in 2018, when their longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, died at the home in an apparent slip-and-fall accident. But Satterfield’s death certificate indicated she died of natural causes, and the death was not reported to the local coroner’s office, according to SLED, which added that no autopsy was performed. Her estate later filed a wrongful death claim against Alex Murdaugh and settled for about $500,000, CNN reported.

Then, on Feb. 24, 2019, Murdaugh’s teen son Paul Murdaugh allegedly slammed a boat carrying five friends into a piling near a bridge over Archers Creek. One of the passengers, 19-year-old Mallory Beach, disappeared below the water in the chaos of the crash and was found dead a week later.

Paul Murdaugh faced three felony charges, including boating under the influence causing death, but a trial was never scheduled.

Three generations of Murdaugh men had served as elected prosecutors in South Carolina’s Lowcountry region for 87 consecutive years. The family’s ties to the law enforcement community spurred concerns that the case against Paul Murdaugh had been mishandled. His family said Paul Murdaugh received online death threats after the wreck.

The boating incident also revived questions about the 2015 hit-and-run death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith, who was found dead on a rural road about 10 miles from the Murdaugh family’s home.

According to the Augusta Chronicle, rumors circulated that there was a coverup in the case and that the Murdaughs were allegedly involved. The family denied those accusations, calling them “unfortunate fabrications and unfounded comments,” the newspaper reported.

The most recent string of investigations began June 7, when Alex Murdaugh said he found his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and Paul Murdaugh shot dead outside their home in Islandton. Police have not yet made any arrests or named any suspects in connection with the deaths.

SLED opened in late June an investigation into Stephen Smith’s death “based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh,” a spokesperson told the Augusta Chronicle.

In the aftermath of the death of his wife and son, Alex Murdaugh stepped down from the law firm where he was a partner amid allegations that money had gone missing. A day later, Curtis Edward Smith allegedly shot Murdaugh.

As Murdaugh drove along Old Salkehatchie Road near Varnville, S.C., on Sept. 4, the hired gunman followed close on his trail, according to investigators.

Eventually, police said Murdaugh pulled over, and Smith fired a shot that grazed the attorney’s head, leaving him with a nonfatal wound. Smith drove away from the scene of the shooting and disposed of the gun, police said.

Murdaugh then called 911 and received medical treatment at a nearby hospital before checking into rehab for an unspecified “dependency” issue last week.

“On September 4, it became clear Alex believed that ending his life was his only option,” Murdaugh’s attorneys said. “Today, he knows that’s not true.”

A prosecutor’s son got threats after fatal accident, his family says. Then he and his mom were shot to death.

SLED announced on Monday that the agency had opened an investigation into the “misappropriated funds” that Murdaugh allegedly took from the law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, where he was a partner. By Tuesday, police had arrested Smith and allegedly obtained a confession from Murdaugh admitting to the insurance fraud plot.

“Alex is not without fault but he is just one of many whose life has been devastated by opioid addiction,” his attorneys said in a statement.

The most recent development came Wednesday, when SLED announced it was also investigating the death of Satterfield, the Murdaugh family’s housekeeper. The Hampton County coroner requested that the law enforcement agency look into her death amid the other investigations.

“On the death certificate the manner of death was ruled ‘Natural,’ which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident,” the coroner’s request said.

WCSC reported that Satterfield’s sons filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Murdaugh and other defendants involved in the settlement, saying the family had yet to receive the money.

Officials expect to make additional charges in the multiple investigations involving the Murdaugh family.

“I continue to urge the public to be patient and let this investigation take its course,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said in a statement Monday. “Investigative decisions we make throughout this case and any potentially related case must ultimately withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice process.”