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Murder and mystery in South Carolina: A timeline of the Murdaugh family killings

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By Eric Levenson, CNN

For 87 years, the Murdaugh family name came to represent a legal dynasty in coastal South Carolina, where three successive generations controlled the local prosecutor’s office.

But in recent years, the family has been closely connected to bloody tragedy. There was a fatal boating crash in 2019, the killings of two family members in June, the shooting of a family member last week and allegations of misappropriated funds and drug abuse.

Here’s a timeline of what we know about the Murdaugh family’s illustrious history, the killings of Margaret Murdaugh and her son Paul, the shooting of Alex Murdaugh last week and the course of the investigation throughout.

1920-2006:

Over three generations, a member of the Murdaugh family serves as the 14th Circuit Solicitor, which leads prosecutions for Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties in the southern part of South Carolina.

Randolph Murdaugh Sr. is elected to the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office in 1920 and serves in the position until his death in 1940.

His son Randolph Murdaugh Jr. then takes over the position and serves until his retirement in 1986.

His son Randolph Murdaugh III then is elected to the role in 1987 and serves through the end of 2005.

In 2006, then-Gov. Mark Sanford appoints attorney Duffie Stone to serve as the 14th Circuit Solicitor, making him the first non-Murdaugh in the position. He has been elected to the position three times since, most recently in 2016.

2019:

A boat crashes at a bridge near Parris Island in Beaufort County, South Carolina, on February 24, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach, according to the South Carolina Attorney General in documents obtained by CNN.

Six people were on board the boat at the time of the crash, including 19-year-old Paul T. Murdaugh. His father, Alex Murdaugh, a local attorney and the son of Randolph Murdaugh III, owns the boat.

Stone, the 14th Circuit Solicitor, recuses himself from the case because of the personal connections.

Paul Murdaugh is indicted in April on charges of boating under the influence (BUI) causing great bodily harm and causing death in connection to the crash, court records show. He pleads not guilty.

June 7, 2021:

Alex Murdaugh, 53, calls 911 and reports he found his wife Margaret, 52, and son Paul, then 22, shot dead outside of their home in Islandton, a small community about an hour north of Hilton Head Island, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

Colleton County Sheriff’s deputies determine both victims had multiple gunshot wounds.

June 10:

Randolph Murdaugh III dies peacefully at his home at age 81, according to his obituary.

June 15:

SLED releases basic information about the killings on June 7, saying Alex Murdaugh had called 911 at 10:07 p.m. and investigators collected evidence that night and the next morning.

“We continue to pursue all leads and the investigation is certainly active and ongoing at this time,” the agency said. “We will continue to submit all forensic evidence to SLED’s forensic lab. SLED is committed to conducting a professional and thorough criminal investigation to bring justice in the deaths of Paul and Maggie.”

June 17:

Alex Murdaugh’s brothers, John Marvin Murdaugh and Randolph “Randy” Murdaugh IV, speak to “Good Morning America” about the killings. They say Alex called them “distraught” with the news that his wife and son had been shot. They say they do not believe their brother is involved.

“My brother loved Maggie and loved Paul like nothing else on this earth, just like he loves (his other son) Buster,” Randy told “GMA.” “So there’s no possible way he could have anything to do with this, I can assure you.”

June 21:

SLED acknowledges the interest in the case and asks the public to withhold judgment until the investigation is complete. The division also releases redacted copies of supplemental incident reports from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office.

“This case is complex, and we will not rush this or any investigation. Investigative decisions we make throughout this case must withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice process. SLED agents continue to interview possible witnesses, collect and process potential evidence, and investigate every lead with the same diligence we devote to every case,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said in a statement.

“SLED agents are working tirelessly with our partners to build a case against any person responsible for the murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh to ensure that justice is served,” Keel added.

Stone, the 14th Circuit Solicitor, releases a statement saying it is “neither prudent nor proper” to comment on the case and says that his office will act “promptly and ethically” if conflicts of interest arise in the case.

He notes there is no clear suspect in the double killing and contrasts that with Paul Murdaugh’s 2019 boating case.

“That was not the situation when I recused my office in the aftermath of the 2019 boating crash for which Paul Murdaugh was eventually charged,” Stone said in the statement. “In that case, it was immediately apparent Mr. Murdaugh would be a suspect, that his father owned the boat in which those involved were travelling and that other passengers were related to employees of my office. Thus, any comparison of these cases simply is not apt.”

June 22:

SLED reopens an investigation into the unsolved death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith, whose body was found in the road in 2015 in Hampton County.

The agency says the probe is being reopened based on information gathered while investigating the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.

June 25:

Alex Murdaugh and his other son, Buster, announce a $100,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons responsible for the killings of Margaret and Paul.

July 22:

SLED releases redacted audio of Alex Murdaugh’s 911 call the night of the killings. In the audio, a distraught Murdaugh advises dispatchers his wife and son had been shot, are on the ground and are not breathing.

August 11:

Despite his earlier statement, 14th Circuit Solicitor Stone writes a letter to South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson saying he intends to recuse himself from the Murdaugh death investigations, WCSC reports.

He writes that the request comes “considering the events of today in SLED’s investigation” but does not provide further details.

Friday, September 3:

Alex Murdaugh resigns from the law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED), according to the firm.

Saturday, September 4:

Murdaugh calls 911 and reports he was shot early Saturday afternoon on a road in Hampton County, according to a statement from SLED spokesperson Tommy Crosby. He was taken to a hospital in Savannah, Georgia, where he was treated for a “superficial gunshot wound to the head,” the statement said.

“At this time no arrests have been made,” the statement said.

Monday, September 6:

Murdaugh releases a statement through his attorney, Dick Harpootlian, to CNN affiliate WCSC saying he is resigning from the PMPED law firm and entering rehab.

“The murders of my wife and son have caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret,” he says in the statement. “I’m resigning from my law firm and entering rehab after a long battle that has been exacerbated by these murders. I am immensely sorry to everyone I’ve hurt including my family, friends and colleagues. I ask for prayers as I rehabilitate myself and my relationships.”

Tuesday, September 7:

The law firm says Murdaugh resigned “after the discovery by PMPED that Alex misappropriated funds in violation of PMPED standards and policies.”

“This is disappointing news for all of us. Rest assured that our firm will deal with this in a straightforward manner. There’s no place in our firm for such behavior,” the law firm says in a statement. PMPED says it plans to retain a forensic accounting firm “to conduct a thorough investigation” and has contacted law enforcement and the South Carolina Bar.

Wednesday, September 8:

The South Carolina Supreme Court issues an order suspending Alex Murdaugh’s license to practice law in the state.

According to the court, his license “is suspended until further order of this Court.” The 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office also confirms to CNN that Murdaugh has been stripped of his privilege of prosecuting cases as a volunteer.

Randy Murdaugh IV, Alex Murdaugh’s brother and also an attorney at PMPED law firm, releases a statement about the resignation.

“I was shocked, just as the rest of my PMPED family, to learn of my brother, Alex’s, drug addiction and stealing of money,” Randy Murdaugh writes in the statement.

“I love my law firm family and also love Alex as my brother. While I will support him in his recovery, I do not support, condone, or excuse his conduct in stealing by manipulating his most trusted relationships,” Murdaugh says. “I will continue to pursue my client’s interests with the highest degree of honesty and integrity, as I always have.”

Thursday, September 9:

Attorney Jim Griffin specifies that Alex Murdaugh has an opioid addiction. Griffin says his client is in the early stages of treatment at an undisclosed location.

Friday, September 10:

A family spokesperson issues a statement about Alex Murdaugh’s shooting that indicates the injury was more serious than a superficial wound.

“After the shooting, Alex had an entry and exit wound, his skull was fractured and it was not a self-inflicted bullet wound,” according to the statement.

The spokesperson also added more details about what led up to the incident.

“Alex pulled over after seeing a low tire indicator light. A male driver in a blue pick-up asked him if he had car troubles, as soon as Alex replied, he was shot,” the statement said.

“We know that SLED is continuing to work diligently to find this person and the person or people that murdered Maggie and Paul Murdaugh,” the statement said.

Monday, September 13:

SLED releases a statement announcing it has opened an investigation into Alex Murdaugh “based upon allegations that he misappropriated funds in connection to his position as a former lawyer with the Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, & Detrick (PMPED) law firm in Hampton, South Carolina.”

“As Chief of SLED, I continue to urge the public to be patient and let this investigation take its course. Investigative decisions we make throughout this case and any potentially related case must ultimately withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice process,” said Chief Mark Keel.

“As with all cases, SLED is committed to conducting a professional, thorough, and impartial criminal investigation, no matter where the facts lead us.”

Tuesday, September 14

Authorities say they have charged a man in Murdaugh’s shooting in what they allege was a conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

According to the affidavit filed to support the charges, Murdaugh allegedly conspired with Curtis Edward Smith in the shooting on September 4, providing him with the firearm and instructing Smith to shoot him in the head.

The purpose, according to the affidavit, was for Smith to kill Murdaugh so that his son could collect a life insurance payout of approximately $10 million.

Smith, 61, has been charged with assisted suicide; conspiracy to commit insurance fraud; pointing and presenting a firearm; and assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, according to authorities.

Murdaugh is described as a co-defendant in the affidavit, although no charges have been announced against the attorney.

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CNN’s Melissa Alonso, Dakin Andone, Angela Barajas, Caroline Kenny, Gregory Lemos, Shawn Nottingham, Rebekah Riess and Martin Savidge contributed to this report.

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