Murdaugh Murders Explained: The Real Life Story Behind the Netflix Series
Netflix's Murdaugh Mysteries: A Southern Scandal unpacks the many crimes of Alex Murdaugh. Here is everything you need to know about the true story.
Even though it premiered before the subsequent trials had concluded, one could argue that Netflix got into the Alex Murdaugh crime story late with its three-episode series, Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal. Many media entities had already tried their hand at explaining this shifty saga of murder, corruption, and cover-up from HBO Max’s Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty to ID’s The Murdaugh Murders: Deadly Dynasty.
By waiting just a little bit longer than its peers, Netflix hopes that it can present the definitive version of the Murdaugh murders. And the streamers’ patience may have already paid off. Murdaugh Murders filmmakers Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason (previously of Hulu’s Fyre Fraud) report that they’ve uncovered new crimes committed by Alex Murdaugh and are hoping Netflix commissions a second season so they can reveal them.
As viewers of Murdaugh Murders quickly discover, however, uncovering new crimes committed by Alex Murdaugh does not appear to be a difficult task. What starts as a relatively straightforward case of Boating Under the Influence with a touch of manslaughter, quickly balloons into a sprawling catalogue of crimes including corruption, embezzlement, and outright murder.
Simply put: the Alex Murdaugh story is a lot… like a lot. The former lawyer Murdaugh ultimately faced a grand total of 106 grand jury criminal charges! Murdaugh Murders does an excellent job of telling this massive tale but it still might be helpful to run through the real life story of Alex Murdaugh, the Murdaugh family, and the many people they hurt. What follows is our best attempt at capturing all of it.
Who Are The Murdaugh Family?
The Murdaugh family is a prominent dynasty of lawyers from the Low Country in South Carolina, with “Low Country” referring to the distinct cultural and geographical region on the southeast coast of the state. From 1920 through 2006, three members of the family served uninterrupted terms as the “solicitor” (which is known in most jurisdictions of the U.S. as a “district attorney) of South Carolina’s 14th district. The family also operates the law firm Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick, now known as The Parker Law Group.
The five county area that serves as the 14th district was the Murdaughs’ political dominion for nearly a century. Due to the family’s outsized political influence and power, there is a perception (and a correct one) that its members were able to easily escape any kind of trouble or scrutiny for decades. In 2019, that all finally started to change thanks to the actions of one dipshit Murdaugh: Alex.
Before we continue on to all the death and human suffering, it might be helpful to know that, due to their Low Country origin, both “Alex” and “Murdaugh” are not pronounced how you probably think they’re pronounced. “Murdaugh” sounds like something between “Murr-daw” and “Murr-dock,” while “Alex” sounds like “Aleck.” I hope we can all agree that this is an egregious case of Alec stolen valor.
The Death of Mallory Beach
One of the challenging things about fully understanding the scope of the Murdaugh story is comprehending its timeline. Though Alex Murdaugh and other Murdaugh family members began committing crimes in 2014 or earlier, the inciting incident for their ultimate downfall begins in 2019. This is when most folks outside of South Carolina became aware of the Murdaugh name and it’s wisely where Murdaugh Murders elects to begin its story.
On Feb. 23, 2019, a group of South Carolina teenagers decided to spend the Saturday night drinking. Included in this group was Alex Murdaugh’s youngest son Paul Murdaugh. As the night progressed, Paul and his friends decided to head to an oyster roast on nearby Paukie Island via a Murdaugh family boat. Despite being increasingly intoxicated, Paul Murdaugh insisted on driving the boat. He also insisted on heading to a waterfront bar in downtown Beaufort where he ordered two rounds of shots while his annoyed friends waited outside.
Around 1:15 a.m. the group re-boarded the boat with Paul still driving over the objections of his friends. Paul soon began driving erratically and by 2:20 a.m. the boat crashed into Archers Creek Bridge. After regaining their balance and senses the six occupants of the boat regrouped to discover that one of their own, Mallory Beach was missing. Ultimately, Mallory’s body was discovered on March 3 about five miles down river from the crash scene. On April 18, Paul Murdaugh was indicted and charged with three felony counts including boating under the influence, causing the death of Beach, and injuring his friends.
While this was a tragic enough story to begin with, what elevated it in the public eye was the influential players involved. Paul is the platonic ideal of the “spoiled rich boy” archetype and the police arriving on the scene of the accident certainly treated him as such. Despite being visibly hammered and underage, Paul was not given a field sobriety test, taken to jail for booking, or even handcuffed. Meanwhile, Paul’s equally “spoiled rich boy” father Alex immediately sprung into action after the accident. While police were still searching for Mallory Beach, Alex arrived at the hospital and went room to room to speak with the survivors. Several claim that he tried to get them all on the same page and assert that Paul wasn’t driving the boat.
As bleak as this whole state of affairs was, it still might have faded away into history as an unfortunate case of hyper local corruption. Thanks to what came next, however, the death of Mallory Beach was merely the opening salvo of a larger story.
The Killings of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh
On June 7, 2021 at 10:06 p.m., Alex Murdaugh called 911 and reported he had discovered the dead bodies of his son Paul and his wife Maggie near the dog kennels at their hunting lodge. Police later determined that both had been shot multiple times with multiple guns.
You may recognize the name “Paul Murdaugh” from three second ago when we talked about him accidentally killing Mallory Beach. Now Paul, just 22 years old and facing three felony counts, was dead. Naturally, many people began to wonder if Paul and Maggie’s murder was connected to the boating case. South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) certainly did. By October of that year, SLED had indicated that none other than Alex Murdaugh was a person of interest in the case.
By July 2022, Alex Murdaugh was indicted with several charged including two counts of murder. That’s right: Alex Murdaugh (ALLEGEDLY) murdered his estranged wife and youngest son. But why though? That’s the question that the prosecution had to answer in the State of South Carolina v. Richard Alexander Murdaugh trial. Revelations that have come out since Murdaugh’s arrest, however, suggest that Alex may have been attempting to create a distraction to forestall the collapse of the house of cards that was his life.
Alex Murdaugh’s Many, Many Other Crimes
As previously stated: though this story “begins” in 2019, Alex Murdaugh has been breaking the law for far longer. The Mallory Beach incident led to Murdaugh’s legal career coming under scrutiny by SLED, other lawyers representing Murdaugh’s victims, and Murdaugh’s own law firm. Ultimately it was discovered that Murdaugh had embezzled funds from the firm, leading to his dismissal in September 2021.
Meanwhile an attorney named Justin Bamberg began investigating Murdaugh’s finances on behalf of eight people who claim Murdaugh victimized them. Bamberg theorizes that Murdaugh may have defrauded 30-50 people to the tune of $20 million. Ultimately the 88 indictments for financial fraud amounted to around $9 million. It turns out that Alex Murdaugh had a nasty habit of winning financial settlements on behalf of his clients and then just keeping the money. Several of these clients were deceased victims of vehicular accidents who Murdaugh sued on behalf of and then never delivered the winnings to their next of kin.
Worst of all, with at least one of those deceased clients, it’s suspected that Murdaugh may have assisted with their death.
The Death of Gloria Satterfield
Gloria Satterfield was the Murdaugh family’s longtime housekeeper. On Feb. 2, 2018 she supposedly fell down the front steps of the Murdaugh’s estate, and received traumatic head injuries (including a stroke) that she later succumbed to on Feb. 26, 2018. Occurring roughly one year before the death of Mallory Beach, Gloria Satterfield’s case presents the perfect example of how the powerful Murdaugh family often received the benefit of the doubt, whether warranted or not.
Satterfield’s death was accepted as an accidental trip and fall despite several suspicious circumstances. No coroner was notified of Satterfield’s death. No autopsy was performed. And as Murdaugh Murders recounts, Alex curiously arrived on the scene before the EMTs did and loudly declared that Satterfield blamed the dogs for her fall (in the seconds between her falling and losing consciousness presumably).
Satterfield’s next of kin was supposed to receive a substantial insurance settlement due to accidental death. But Murdaugh conspired with two fellow attorneys to have the insurance payout diverted to Murdaugh’s account. With the increased scrutiny on Alex Murdaugh following the murder of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh, Satterfield’s murder is now the subject of a fresh criminal investigation.
If Alex Murdaugh did indeed contribute to Gloria Satterfield’s death, it might not be the first time that a Murdaugh killed someone and got away with it.
The Death of Stephen Smith
Like several other Alex Murdaugh documentaries before it, Murdaugh Murders brings up the curious case of Stephen Smith. Smith was a high school classmate of Murdaugh’s son Buster (not the currently deceased one) and was found dead from blunt force trauma on the side of the road in 2015. The case was ruled a hit and run and no arrests were ever made.
Smith was one of the few openly gay individuals in his school. He was a known associate and occasional friend of Buster and several interviews in Murdaugh Murders mention cite rumors that the pair had a romantic relationship. Following the deaths of Mallory Beach, Paul Murdaugh, and Maggie Murdaugh, SLED elected to re-open Stephen Smith’s case.
While SLED (and documentaries the world over) delve into the circumstances of Smith’s death, there is currently no public-facing evidence for the Murdaugh family’s involvement in his murder. Or at least no evidence as strong as the evidence in the other murders.
Alex Murdaugh’s Failed Suicide Attempt
As if this immense trail of bodies and financial crimes weren’t enough to capture the public’s attention, this story has one final “wait, what” moment to really drive things home.
In September of 2021, things weren’t going well for Alex Murdaugh. His son, wife, and housekeeper were all dead. Evidence of his prolific financial misdeeds had now come to light. He had almost single-handedly brought down his family’s shining century-long dynasty. Perhaps that’s why Murdaugh apparently attempted suicide … in a roundabout way.
On Sept. 4, 2021, Murdaugh called 911 to report that he had been shot in the head while he was changing a tire on the side of the road. Ultimately the wound was just a graze and Murdaugh was released from the hospital that day. Ten days later, SLED uncovered that Curtis Edward Smith, an associate of Murdaugh and his oxycodone dealer, had been hired by Murdaugh to kill him. Murdaugh admitted that the events had been an assisted suicide scheme so that his son Buster would still receive $10 million upon his death.
What’s Happening Now?
On March 2, 2023, Alex Murdaugh was found guilty on four counts, including murdering his wife and son. His sentencing is scheduled for March 3 at 9:30 a.m. ET. Murdaugh continues to face 99 additional counts of financial crimes. All in all, Netflix will have a lot to work with should it feel compelled to order Murdaugh Murders season 2.
All three episodes of Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal are available to stream on Netflix now.