Keeping up on the spectacle of South Carolina’s Murdaugh murder case is like riding a land rocket without steering.
The rural killings of the wife and a son of a father later accused of plotting his own shooting to reap an insurance payout has more twists and turns than three television shows filmed in the Palmetto State: “Southern Charm,” “Outer Banks” and “The Righteous Gemstones.”
This is an ongoing reality show taking place in Hampton and Colleton counties that already has at least two major podcasts as well as reporters from The New York Times and national television networks scrambling to get the latest. And you know what’s ahead: books and made-for-TV movies.
Along the lower part of coastal South Carolina, the Murdaugh family has been a legal dynasty for 100 years. Three generations of lawyers served as the area’s top prosecutor.
Alex Murdaugh, a prominent Hampton County lawyer who is the son of the third generation prosecutor, surrendered to authorities Thursday on charges related to an alleged plot to orchestrate his death over Labor Day weekend. That came just a few weeks after the killings of his wife and son, who was indicted in April on charges related to a 2019 boating death. Alex Murdaugh was released on a $20,000 personal recognizance bond Thursday on a condition that he return to a rehab facility where he reportedly is trying to kick a 20-year opioid addiction.
Trying to keep up with the number of investigations going on is dizzying. First there’s the state probe into the June deaths of Margaret and Paul Murdaugh at the family’s rural Colleton County retreat. Authorities are also looking into the shooting of Alex Murdaugh in which he first told authorities someone tried to kill him as he was changing a flat tire. Later authorities accused him and another man in a $10 million insurance fraud and shooting scheme. Next, there’s an investigation into missing money at the law firm from which Murdaugh resigned to go into rehab as the state Supreme Court suspended his law license.
This year’s investigations prompted authorities to look into past cases, including the 2019 boating death in which Murdaugh’s son was implicated and a 2015 hit-and-run death of a 19-year-old man in Hampton County. And this week as Murdaugh was making plans to turn himself in, news came that authorities were also looking into the 2018 death of a housekeeper at the Murdaugh home. And now, a lawyer associated with that case believes there might be yet another investigation going on that involves federal authorities.
People have become addicted to the developing story. They feel like they’ve jumped into a rabbit hole from which they can’t (and don’t want to) escape.
“It starts really small,” said Charleston triathlete Kayla Edwards. “The more that you know, the more you want to know. It’s like following a really good Netflix series, but you can’t jump to the next episode.”
Even Will Folks, whose muckraking FITSnews blog has been on the story like white on rice (his news editor’s Murdaugh Murders is the nation’s top podcast now), concurred. He told the Charleston City Paper: “The whole thing was already a huge parlor game before we had the bizarre roadside shooting that sort of set everything off. So, it was already at a pretty high energy level, and then we had this Labor Day weekend situation that just shot it into another stratosphere.”
Michael DeWitt, the managing editor of the Hampton County Guardian, described the Murdaugh story as a “never-ending nightmare” for people who live in the county, which has been mostly known for its annual watermelon festival.
“Now people will know us for the Murdaugh killings,” he said. “It’s very disheartening. It’s embarrassing for some. For some it’s tragic.”
If anything good comes from the drama, he points to crimes that have been exposed and the good-old-boy system that has been ripped apart.
“The media should be proud of its work on staying on top of this story … shedding the light on what’s been going on for quite some time,” he said.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to: feedback