Two years later, Paul and his mother Maggie were shot dead on the family estate and with Paul’s father, Alex Murdaugh, currently on trial for the double murder, there’s a lot to unpack in this ongoing web of events.
Featuring “first-hand accounts from those on the boat that fateful night” and a story of how “a century of corruption, power and cover-ups in the Low Country is brought to light”, here’s everything you need to know about the true story behind Murdaugh Murders and the latest news on the ongoing trial.
Who was Mallory Beach?
Mallory Beach was a 19-year-old from South Carolina who was killed in a fatal boat crash in February 2019.
The boat was allegedly crashed by her friend Paul Murdaugh, according to CBS News, a 19-year-old who came from a family of prominent lawyers in South Carolina who “dominated the legal landscape in the southern part of the state for 100 years“.
On 23rd February 2019, Mallory and her boyfriend Anthony Cook planned to spend the night at a house party but first met at ‘Murdaugh Island’ – the river property owned by Paul Murdaugh’s family – with the couple, Paul, his girlfriend Morgan Doughty, Anthony’s cousin Connor Cook and his girlfriend Miley Altman deciding to take the Murdaugh boat there.
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According to CBS, all of the teenagers were drinking alcohol and went to the party at 7pm. Altman said that when they then left the party at midnight, “Paul insisted on driving to a bar in downtown Beaufort”.
Leaving the bar at 1am, the group boarded the boat – however Murdaugh was “acting rash” and kept leaving the wheel to fight with his girlfriend, according to Doughty’s testimony. The boat then crashed at 2:20am into the Archers Creek Bridge and Beach fell into the water.
The authorities spent eight days searching for Beach’s body and on 3rd March, volunteers found her five miles from the crash scene. Murdaugh was later indicted and charged with three felony counts of boating under the influence and causing the death of Mallory Beach as well as seriously injuring two other passengers.
Murdaugh pleaded not guilty and was awaiting his trial on bond when he was murdered on 7th June 2021, along with his mother Maggie.
According to The Post and Courier, after Murdaugh’s death, questions were raised over alleged “law enforcement missteps” in the early stages of the investigation into Beach’s death.
“Attorneys for one of the passengers asked in a recent court filing to question a group of responding officers about a possible effort to shift blame away from Murdaugh, a member of a powerful Lowcountry family,” the publication wrote in August 2021. “A state grand jury was also empaneled to examine how officers investigated the crash.”
While a conversation between a Department of Natural Resources officer and Anthony Cook showed that Cook immediately told them that Murdaugh was driving the boat, the report on the crash did not contain that piece of information and instead, according to The Post and Courier, said that Cook “wasn’t sure who was driving”.
A Beaufort deputy Jack Keener, who spoke to Murdaugh, allegedly “opted not to collect as evidence a phone Murdaugh was carrying” despite being heard saying in a recording that Murdaugh had dropped his phone in the grass, The Post and Courier also reported.
In March 2019, Beach’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Murdaugh’s, listing Paul’s mother Maggie, who allegedly knew he was drunk when he went boating, and his older brother Buster, whose ID he reportedly used to buy alcohol, according to WTOC.
A judge approved a settlement between the families in January this year, with the Beach family lawyer Mark Tinsely predicting a pay out of $700,000 (£582,000) for the victims.
True story behind the Murdaugh murders
In June 2021, Alex Murdaugh – the father of Paul – called 911 to report that he’d found his wife Maggie and son Paul shot dead outside their home in Islandton, South Carolina.
After more than a year, during which time multiple charges of financial crime were brought against Alex Murdaugh and his law licence was indefinitely suspended by the South Carolina Supreme Court, a grand jury announced an indictment against him on double murder charges for the deaths of Paul and Maggie.
While Murdaugh claimed that he returned home after visiting his mother to find Paul and Maggie’s bodies at their dog kennels, he was indicted on two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.
NBC News wrote: “Two sources close to the investigation say that authorities have cellphone video that they believe not only puts Murdaugh at the scene of the slayings shortly before they took place, but also contradicts a previous timeline of events provided on the day of the killings.”
In July 2022, Murdaugh pleaded not guilty to the murder charges and in December, state prosecutors claimed that he killed his wife and son to gain sympathy and “escape accountability” for his financial crimes, later announcing they will seek life in prison without parole.
Murdaugh’s murder trial began at the end of January 2023 at Colleton County Courthouse, South Carolina, with the prosecution claiming that mobile phone records place Alex Murdaugh at the dog kennels minutes before Paul and Maggie were shot despite telling “everyone he was never there”, according to The Independent.
The publication also reported that the prosecution claimed video footage taken of a dog by Paul minutes before his murder features three voices in the background. The prosecution argued that one of the voices belongs to Alex Murdaugh.
Meanwhile, in the defence’s opening statement, Murdaugh’s lawyer stated that the mobile phone records from that night are “incomplete” and that Maggie’s phone was thrown half a mile from the family’s estate while Murdaugh was at the property.
While the defence is arguing that Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s murders are related to the 2019 boat crash, with Alex Murdaugh telling police that Paul had been receiving threats “for months and months and months”, the prosecution is claiming that it was Alex Murdaugh who killed them.
During the trial, they’ve argued that Murdaugh accidentally confessed in a police interview in 2021, stating that audio records show he said about his son: “I did him so bad. I did him so bad.” However, doubts have been raised over what Murdaugh actually says in the recording, with it being unclear whether he says “I” or “they” before “did him so bad”.
Over the last few weeks, the jurors have heard various pieces of evidence, including Special Agent Jeff Croft’s testimony that the firearms and ammunition from the Murdaugh’s home that matched the gun and bullets used to kill Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, the defence’s theory that there could have been two shooters responsible for the killings, doubts about the crime scene’s preservation by police, video footage showing Alex Murdaugh in different clothing hours before the murders, and testimony that data is missing from Alex Murdaugh’s call log.
The jurors have also heard of Alex Murdaugh’s financial fraud, with prosecutors arguing that the crimes are key to proving a motive. Murdaugh is facing approximately 80 charges for embezzlement and other fraud, including being accused of stealing money from his clients, according to the South Carolina Attorney General. Meanwhile, Tony Satterfield, the son of the Murdaugh family’s housekeeper Gloria, who died in a trip and fall accident on the Murdaugh property in 2018, told the court that Alex Murdaugh allegedly stole nearly $4 million in a wrongful death lawsuit payout.
Meanwhile, a forensic scientist told the court that 38 gunshot residue particles were found on the inside of a blue raincoat allegedly hidden in the home of Alex Murdaugh’s parents, while a friend of Murdaugh’s testified that he lied to him about going to the dog kennels that night. The Murdaugh family housekeeper, Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson, testified that she was asked to clean the family home on the morning after the murders, and that Maggie Murdaugh had told her of her concerns over the family’s finances. Later on, a detective from Colleton County Sheriff’s Office said that no blood was confirmed on the white shirt Murdaugh was wearing on the night of the murders.
Murdaugh’s lawyers also told the court that he spent $50,000 on drugs, while the jury were shown a video of Murdaugh being interviewed by police, reportedly showing discrepancies between his alibi and witness accounts.
While the trial is currently ongoing, the judge recently ruled that jurors could hear testimony about a roadside shooting in September 2021, where Murdaugh claimed he had been ambushed and shot in the head but confessed to orchestrating the plot with his cousin Curtis ‘Cousin Eddie’ Smith as part of a life insurance scheme, The Independent reports.