On Thursday evening, a 12-person jury convicted Alex Murdaugh of the murders of his wife and son — a conviction that punctuated the spectacular fall of the Murdaugh family dynasty that dates back to Alex’s great-grandfather’s founding of an influential law firm in 1910.
In Netflix’s new limited series, Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal, South Carolina journalist and historian Michael M. DeWitt Jr. detailed what he has learned about the eerie death of Randolph Murdaugh Sr., in 1940, after his firm became preeminent in the state’s Lowcountry region.
As reported by Gillian Brockell in The Washington Post, a decade after the firm’s founding, Murdaugh Sr. was married with kids and had been elected solicitor, which is the same position as a prosecutor, in South Carolina’s fourteenth judicial circuit, which is made up of five counties — thus beginning the Murdaugh’s family reign: For the majority of the next 86 years, a Murdaugh would hold that position.
“Nobody in any of those counties got elected or appointed without the Murdaughs’ approval,” a source close to the family told FITSnews.
In the months before Murdaugh Sr.’s untimely death, he was battling an unknown illness, but on the evening of July 18, 1940, he was able to leave his home to visit a friend, DeWitt Jr. reported for Greenville News, citing newspaper clippings. Around 1 a.m., when he was returning home, his car mysteriously stopped at a railroad crossing and within minutes, a freight train slammed into his car, killing him instantly. He was 59.
The Washington Post also sheds light on a report in the Hampton County Guardian, which stated that according to the driver of the train, Murdaugh Sr. waved at the train as it was speeding toward him. The Hampton County Guardian reported at the time that Murdaugh Sr.’s lifeless body was found 150 feet away from the crossing.
Many historians have wondered if the death was alcohol-related or possibly a suicide, but neither theory has been proven, The Washington Post reported, and his death was eventually ruled an accident.
After Murdaugh Sr.’s death, his son and Alex Murdaugh’s grandfather, Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh Jr., became the new solicitor, and the Murdaugh family sued the railroad company, Charleston & Western Carolina Railway Co., over the accident.
Murdaugh Jr. asked for $100,000 from the railroad company, according to Greenville News, citing court records from Sept. 1941. In 1941, $100,000 was equivalent to more than $2 million in 2023, given inflation rates. The case was privately settled and Murdaugh Jr. received an undisclosed amount of money.
Four generations later, untimely deaths still surrounded the Murdaugh family. In 2019, Paul Murdaugh was at the center of an alleged drunk boating accident that took the life of 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
Two months after the deadly accident, Paul was arrested and later indicted on charges of one count of boating under the influence causing death and two counts of causing significant bodily injury. Before he could attend his trial, Paul, 22, was shot to death along with his mother Maggie, 52, at their hunting lodge in Islandton, S.C.
Three days later, Murdaugh’s father, 81-year-old Randolph Murdaugh III, died. Then, three months after the murders, on Sept. 4, 2021, news broke that Alex Murdaugh, 54, had been shot in Hampton County, S.C. However, less than two weeks after the shooting, authorities revealed that Murdaugh had allegedly hired Curtis Edward Smith to shoot him in a suicide-for-hire plot.
Authorities alleged Murdaugh attempted to arrange his shooting death in order for his surviving son Buster to receive a $10 million life insurance payout.
In July of 2022, Murdaugh was indicted for the murders of his wife and son, and on March 2, 2023, he was found guilty of murdering them. The jury deliberated for less than 3 hours. He was sentenced to two life sentences.
Murdaugh still faces dozens of charges for alleged financial crimes, including misappropriating money from his law firm, defrauding clients of funds and computer crimes. A trial for those charges will be held at a later date.
Authorities allege that he also defrauded the family of his former housekeeper out of a $4.5 million insurance settlement after she died in what was initially deemed a trip-and-fall accident at his home in 2018. However, in 2021, several months after the murders of Maggie and Paul, authorities announced they were reopening the investigation into Satterfield’s death.