What to Know About Netflix’s Murdaugh Doc

Four years ago, in the dark hours of a February morning, a boat crashed into a bridge on a chilly river in South Carolina’s lowcountry. Three of its six passengers were launched into the water. One of them, 19-year-old Mallory Beach, never surfaced.

Beach was one victim of a string of violence surrounding the prominent Murdaugh family in Hampton County. Over the span of six years—from 2015 to 2021—five deaths became inextricably linked to the Murdaugh name. Two of them were Murdaugh family members themselves.

In 2022, a three-part HBO docuseries, Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty, chronicled the family’s sinister legacy. The deaths and the connections between them—as well as the special privilege that the Murdaughs wielded over the legal system and to shape their public image—have been the subject of much coverage and conversation over the years.

Alex Murdaugh, 54, is currently on trial for the murders of his wife, Maggie, and younger son, Paul. He took the stand to testify in his own defense for the first time on Thursday, when he admitted to lying to police about never having been with his wife and son on the night that they were killed, blaming his longtime addiction to painkillers. “What a tangled web we weave. Once I told a lie—then I told my family—I had to keep lying,” he said. He continued, however, to maintain that he did not kill them.

The defense claims that the investigation and crime scene were mishandled, while the prosecution is arguing that Alex killed Maggie and Paul to stop investigations into his finances—he has since been charged with embezzling about $8.8 million—and garner public sympathy.

This week, Netflix released a three-part docuseries of its own, Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal, which delves into the unraveling of one of South Carolina’s most powerful families.

What to Know About Netflix's Murdaugh Doc

Who are the Murdaughs?

For over a century, the Murdaughs served as solicitors in the 14th circuit of South Carolina. They ran the biggest law firm in Beaufort, and their name became synonymous with law and order in the area.

“They ran both sides of the legal ledger, from civil cases to criminal cases,” says Michael Dewitt, a Hampton County Guardian journalist, in the show. “They had a network that varied from judges and lawyers to law enforcement to sheriffs to the average man on the street who served on the jury. They were the law in this area. And at times, they were above the law.”

Paul Murdaugh—who was driving the boat when it crashed, with a blood alcohol content three times the legal limit—is the son of Alex Murdaugh, the main focus of the docuseries. Alex worked for the family law firm, as did his father, Randolph Murdaugh III, his grandfather, Randolph Murdaugh Jr., and his great-grandfather, Randolph Murdaugh Sr.

“Paul confided in his grandfather Randolph so much,” says Morgan Doughty, a close friend of Mallory Beach and Paul Murdaugh’s former longtime girlfriend, in the show. “Any time Paul got into any trouble, he would call his granddad. And from there, Randolph would call Alex, and then they’d come up with a storyline, basically. When I tell you it was like you snap your fingers and it was gone, that’s how it was.”

After the boat crash, four of the passengers, including Doughty and Paul, were sent to the hospital. Alex and Randolph Murdaugh showed up almost immediately, obstructing law enforcement from interviewing Paul and trying to convince another passenger, Connor Cook, to tell the authorities that he had been driving the boat.

“I’ve always heard that the Murdaughs would, like, just make someone disappear,” Cook says in the show.

Who are the victims?

The Beach family hired the attorney Mark Tinsley, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit. (The lawsuit had not yet gone to trial at the time the series finished filming.) According to Tinsley, after the crash, there were roughly 20 law enforcement officers on the scene. None of them questioned Paul Murdaugh about what had happened.

“It is not an indication that there was incompetence, because you couldn’t have that much incompetence,” Tinsley says in the show. “What you don’t realize in that moment is the connections that those people had to the Murdaughs and to Alex.”

Immediately after the crash, Anthony Cook, Mallory Beach’s boyfriend, told the lead investigator that Paul Murdaugh had killed his girlfriend, but the audio recording of that statement is not in evidence. Phone records from that night and the days following show that the investigators repeatedly called members of the Murdaugh family. No calls were made to Mallory Beach’s parents.

In June 2021, two years after the boat crash, Paul and his mother, Maggie Murdaugh, were murdered. The case went strangely quiet. Then, almost a year later, in 2022, FITSNews, a local independent media outlet, first reported on two pieces of evidence that shattered Alex Murdaugh’s alibi and linked him directly to the scene of the crime. A couple of months later, he was charged with the murder of his wife and son.

“In the past—10, 15 years ago—say there was something bad that involved the family, it might’ve gone away quietly,” says Wall Street Journal reporter Valerie Bauerlein in the show. “The double homicides of Maggie and Paul really changed everything.”

Two weeks after the double homicides in 2021, state investigators reopened a separate investigation from 2015 into the death of Stephen Smith, in connection with the murders of Maggie and Paul. Smith was rumored to have been in a relationship with Alex’s older son, Buster Murdaugh. Buster Murdaugh was also widely rumored to have been involved in Smith’s death.

In 2018, Gloria Satterfield, who had been a housekeeper for Alex and Maggie Murdaugh for decades, died at Moselle, the family’s 1,700-acre hunting estate. Her family was told that she tripped over the Murdaughs’ hunting dogs on the stairs, fell backward, hit her head, and died.

It was later discovered that Alex Murdaugh took out a commercial insurance policy on Moselle a month before Satterfield died on the property. He collected over $4.3 million from the insurance claim related to her death.

“Every one of these dead bodies has got a story that Alex Murdaugh tells that suits his needs, that maintains that empire that they built,” says Will Folks, a FITSNews journalist, in the show.

What happened to Alex Murdaugh?

Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, attorneys for the Satterfield family, discovered that Alex Murdaugh had filed a lawsuit and recovered money from the insurance claim after Satterfield’s death, which the family never received. They then filed a lawsuit to get subpoena power to obtain more documents, which revealed that Alex Murdaugh had been embezzling from his clients for years.

“You don’t lose your virginity at $4.3 million,” says Richter in the show. “Alex Murdaugh has misappropriated millions and millions of dollars, and it’s a fraud that began in 2015, and was the vehicle to steal the Satterfields’ money in 2019.”

Bland and Richter met with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and contacted the FBI, which led to criminal charges against Murdaugh. In October 2021, Alex Murdaugh appeared before a judge and was denied bail—an outcome no one expected.

“That was the point Alex Murdaugh realized, ‘Wait a minute, this system that’s been enabling me,’” says journalist Will Folks in the show, “Suddenly they can’t count on it anymore.”

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