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First his son faced criminal charges over a fatal boating accident. © Provided by The Daily Beast Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos by Colleton County Sheriffs Office / Facebook
Then his wife and the same son were murdered outside a family estate.
Then he reported being shot in the head while dealing with a busted tire—before announcing he was going to rehab for a drug addiction and facing accusations of misusing funds from his own law firm.
Oh, and authorities decided to investigate the death of a housekeeper on his property years ago.
Now, Alex Murdaugh, a lawyer and scion of a South Carolina dynasty with long ties to the local prosecutor’s office, has been arrested in a wild assisted-suicide and insurance scheme allegedly carried out with a former drug dealer.
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Murdaugh, 53, turned himself into Hampton County Detention Center with a police escort shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday, a jail spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Beast. He was expected to have a bond hearing on several charges, including conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, on Thursday afternoon.
The remarkable development comes after his co-defendant and alleged dealer, Curtis Edward Smith, was charged late Tuesday with a slew of crimes, including insurance fraud and assisted suicide.
The case against Murdaugh marks the most stunning episode yet in a long-simmering saga featuring a double murder, a longtime housekeeper whose surviving sons say they are due cash, drug addiction, and allegations of embezzlement—all surrounding a family whose power over the Lowcountry once appeared insurmountable.
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Until the accusations of financial misconduct, Murdaugh was a partner in the firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, and Detrick (PMPED), which was founded by his great-grandfather; like his relatives, he helped prosecute local criminal cases.
For one Hampton County resident, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of professional retribution, the arrest “means the end of the family’s legal reign.”
“The Murdaughs were once seen as the law. Now they’re finally seeing the other side of it,” the resident told The Daily Beast.
Authorities say Murdaugh has admitted to orchestrating the Sept. 4 attack, which involved the once high-powered lawyer providing Smith with a gun to shoot him in the head. Murdaugh had hoped his death would lead to a $10 million insurance payout that would go to his sole surviving son, Buster, police say. Smith also admitted his role in the scheme and to getting rid of the gun, according to an arrest affidavit.
Opinion: Why America can't look away from the Murdaugh saga
Money, power and so much death -- the saga of the Murdaugh family is still unfolding, and it's no wonder so many Americans are gripped by it, writes Jill Filipovic.Money, power and so much death. The saga of the Murdaugh family is still unfolding, and it's no wonder so many Americans are gripped by it.
But Murdaugh’s lawyers insist the dizzying plot—which came just three months after their client found his wife and son fatally shot near the dog kennels of their Hampton County estate—was the result of the attorney’s opioid addiction and the influence of others. Among the individuals who took advantage of Murdaugh’s addition and mental illness, they say, was Smith, who they claim “agreed to take Alex’s life” after their client believed suicide was “his only option.”
“Alex is not without fault, but he is just one of many whose life has been devastated by opioid addiction,” Murdaugh’s lawyers, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. The lawyers also confirmed that Murdaugh has been cooperating with state authorities and said that Smith was the lawyer’s longtime drug dealer.
Griffin also told the Post and Courier that his client did not pay Smith for the scheme, claiming the alleged drug dealer “willingly shot him without pay.”
It was not clear if Smith had retained an attorney, and attempts to reach him for comment for this story were unsuccessful.
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The Murdaugh family’s woes exploded into the national spotlight in early June, when Alex Murdaugh’s 52-year-old wife, Margaret, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, were fatally shot. The murders came as Paul was facing charges over another fatal accident involving a boat he piloted that killed a teenage girl in 2019.
As authorities tried to solve the double homicide, Murdaugh’s lawyers say the attorney fell deep into opioid addiction—and hatched a plan to end his life after falsely believing his surviving son Buster would not get a life-insurance payout if he died by suicide.
On Sept. 4, Murdaugh called 911 dispatchers from a county background to report that he had been shot in the head after experiencing car trouble. The circumstances of the incident were instantly shrouded in confusion—with Murdaugh’s legal team insisting an unknown truck driver severely injured their client, while at least one law-enforcement agency said the incident only left him with a “superficial” head wound.
Amid swirling speculation, Murdaugh’s team insisted to news outlets that Murdaugh’s wounds were not “self-inflicted.” © Provided by The Daily Beast Curtis Edward Smith Colleton County Sheriff's Office
Then, just hours after Murdaugh called authorities about the shooting, the lawyer issued a surprise announcement stating he had quit PMPED—and was entering rehab.
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“The murders of my wife and son have caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret,” Murdaugh said in the statement.
Hours later, however, the firm hit back with its own statement stating that Murdaugh had actually been forced out days earlier—after they discovered that he had “misappropriated funds.” The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division is now investigating the firm’s allegations.
During Wednesday’s Today interview, however, Harpootlian appeared to admit for the first time that Murdaugh misappropriated money from the family law firm—and used it to write checks for his opioid addiction.
“It was uncovered that he had perhaps—not perhaps, he had converted some client and law firm money to his use and again spent most of that on opioids,” Harpootlian said.
Harpootlian went on to say that the “vast majority” of the money the 53-year-old allegedly took was used on drugs.
“Dick, that’s a lot of Oxy….” Melvin added.
While the law firm declined to comment on how much Murdaugh allegedly stole, two people associated with the South Carolina legal community previously told The Daily Beast that the amount was over a million dollars.
Murdaugh’s alleged financial misconduct even prompted Randolph Murdaugh IV, the eldest brother in the prominent family who also works for PMPED, to release a statement insisting he was “shocked” to hear of the drug addiction and possible theft.
“I love my law firm, family, and also love Alex as my brother. While I will support him in his recovery, I do not support, condone, or excuse his conduct in stealing by manipulating his most trusted relationships,” he added.
A Hampton County judge on Thursday set Smith’s bond at $55,000 for the charges related to the Murdaugh shooting scheme. He is also facing drug charges in Colleton County, where a judge set his bond at $5,000.
Even as they remained leery of speaking out against a family that held so much sway for so long, residents in the Lowcountry told The Daily Beast the latest scandal may not be surmountable.
Even for someone named Murdaugh.
As another resident who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the local power players put it, “I don’t see anyone hiring the Murdaughs to represent them now.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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