Alex Murdaugh—the attorney from a prominent South Carolina family who is suspected of committing a truly staggering number of crimes that were revealed in the aftermath of a fatal 2019 boat crash—was indicted Thursday for murder. He is accused of killing his wife Maggie and 22-year-old son Paul in June 2021. We will attempt to briefly review this very complicated and extremely tragic situation as coherently as possible.
Why did Alex Murdaugh allegedly kill his wife and son?
We don’t know yet. The documents released by authorities do not present evidence that speaks to his motive or how the murders are believed to have taken place, except to say that Maggie Murdaugh was killed with a rifle and Paul Murdaugh was killed with a shotgun. (Alex Murdaugh was the person who reported their deaths to police, saying he had discovered them dead on a 1,700-acre hunting property belonging to the family.) Murdaugh’s attorneys say he was not involved in the killings in any way and that they expect the state to turn over its evidence against him within 30 days. (See here for reporting by the local investigative site FITSNews on what some of that evidence might be.)
Why might have Alex Murdaugh killed his wife and son?
It is a long story. In February 2019, 19-year-old Mallory Beach was killed when a boat she was riding on, which belonged to the Murdaugh family, hit a bridge structure at 2 a.m. Witnesses said Paul Murdaugh was driving it at the time and that he was extremely drunk and acting belligerently. In April 2019 Paul Murdaugh was charged with operating the boat while intoxicated.
Alex Murdaugh has been accused of obstructing the investigation into the crash by pressuring witnesses not to reveal Paul’s culpability. He has also since been charged with executing multiple fraud and embezzlement schemes, which were ongoing at the time of the crash; these included an alleged attempt to commit insurance fraud in order to benefit from the 2018 death of a housekeeper at one of the Murdaugh family’s properties. FITSNews has reported that a grand jury and an attorney representing Beach’s family were seeking Alex Murdaugh’s financial records in the days and weeks before the murders. Investigators are also looking into rumors that Alex and Maggie Murdaugh’s son Buster was involved in the 2015 death of a local 19-year-old—though he has not been charged with a crime. (More on that case, and some of the others discussed here, can be found at this link.)
So one speculative possibility is that Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s killings were in some way an effort on Alex Murdaugh’s part to prevent authorities who were looking into the boat crash from discovering his elaborate web of other alleged criminal behavior. In the weeks after the double murder, it was speculated in the press that Paul and Maggie may have been killed for purposes of revenge; other members of the family—none of whom have themselves been implicated in any criminal activity, to be clear—said on TV that they believed Paul had received threats online.
Is there any further reason to believe Alex Murdaugh would do something this drastic and risky in order to avoid being held responsible for his other behavior?
Yes. In September 2021 Murdaugh told police he had been “shot in the head by an unknown assailant while attempting to change a flat tire.” The gunshot wound was only “superficial,” though, and within two weeks Murdaugh had been charged with hiring an acquaintance to carry out the purportedly random head-shooting. (It’s not clear whether it was an accident that the friend failed almost entirely to actually hit Murdaugh’s head with a bullet.) Murdaugh has been in custody since then.
Why would someone from a family wealthy enough to own multiple properties, including one that was 1,700 acres, steal a bunch of money in the first place?
Again, we still don’t really know, except that Murdaugh has said through his attorneys that he was addicted for some time to Oxycodone.
Is there anything ironic about this situation as it relates to the job that was held by multiple generations of Murdaugh family members, a job that was responsible for their prominence and, indirectly, for their wealth?
Alex Murdaugh’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all prosecutors.