The Washington Post

Police: S.C. attorney admits suicide-for-hire plot

- BY KATIE SHEPHERD AND JESSICA LIPSCOMB katie.shepherd@washpost.com jessica.lipscomb@washpost.com

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 spent about five hours in jail before being issued a $20,000 bond and being released on his own recognizan­ce, the Associated Press reported. Prosecutor­s had asked for a higher bond and GPS monitoring. The three felony charges against Murdaugh, 53, include insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report, the AP reported.

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-yearold 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.

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 AP 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 he 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.

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.

He turns himself in after grazing from gunman; other deaths get scrutiny

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