Murdaugh Murders: Tracing the Steps of a Desperate Man

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Reuters

It was just about noon on June 7, 2021, when South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh burst through the doors of his family’s prominent personal injury firm. It was a balmy early summer day and the tall 53-year-old was in Lowcountry business casual garb: khakis, a sea-foam polo, and a blue sport coat.

His midday arrival that Monday did not faze his colleagues because Murdaugh was known in the office as a “frenetic” employee who kept different hours than the other attorneys. Murdaugh had a “good clientele” list, but co-workers felt the key to his success was his “gift of the gab” and not his work ethic or organizational skills.

“I refer to Alex as the Tasmanian Devil,” Murdaugh’s long-time paralegal, Annette Griswold, would later say. “He has always been hard to sit still and get answers from. He was rarely there and when he was, the door was closed.”

What happened that June 7 in Colleton County—at the Murdaugh family hunting estate, not the law office—would fling open a lot of closed doors in the coming months. His wife, Maggie, and son Paul, 22, were shot to death near dog kennels—and prosecutors say he was the killer, bent on diverting attention from his financial crimes.

The elder Murdaugh—who has since been disbarred and admitted to staging a hit on himself so his surviving son would get an insurance payout—is now on trial for the two murders. Testimony in the case, along with other evidence revealed in court, has allowed The Daily Beast to piece together his movements on a day that began with his frenzied arrival at the law office and ended in pools of blood at his homestead.

Aerial view of the Murdaugh estate

Colleton County Court

The defense team has told jurors that Murdaugh had no reason to murder his “wonderful” family.

But prosecution witnesses have painted a portrait of a man who was riddled with worry about a lawsuit that threatened to wreck his reputation in the community and expose a secret two-decade addiction to opioids.

Griswold, the paralegal, testified that she first noticed a change in Murdaugh’s demeanor in 2019, after Paul allegedly drunkenly crashed a boat, resulting in the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach. (At the time of his murder, Paul was facing charges in connection with the crash and his father had been named in a wrongful death lawsuit that sought information about his finances.)

“He was just harder to reach, and there were a couple [of] instances in which I referred to him as having his ass on his shoulders,” Griswold testified. “He just wasn’t himself with us anymore… He came in and would yell our names, and just didn’t treat us the same as before the boat accident.”

The family’s long-time housekeeper, Blanca Turrubiate-Simpson, testified that the boat crash also weighed heavily on Maggie. She said that Maggie had once admitted she believed her husband wasn’t telling her the truth about “what was really going on” with the lawsuit.

“We don’t have that kind of money,” Turrubiate-Simpson recalled Maggie telling her through tears.

Jeanine Seckinger, who said she knew Alex Murdaugh in high school and is in charge of bookkeeping for the law firm, told jurors he was so preoccupied with the suit that he confided he was moving money under Maggie’s name to hide assets.

”We were very concerned that he was trying to do that, and we didn’t want to be a part of it,” Seckinger said.

That concern prompted Seckinger to corner Murdaugh outside his office on June 7, 2021, and demand to know the whereabouts of almost $800,000 in missing legal fees for a case he handled. The conversation was cut short when Murdaugh got a call and said his ailing father had received bad medical news and that he was needed at the hospital.

Hours later, around 4 p.m. Murdaugh approached Seckinger in the office asking for information about his 401k, explaining that he was working on his financial records for an upcoming hearing in the boat lawsuit scheduled for later that week. It’s not clear exactly when Murdaugh left the office for the day, but Turrubiate-Simpson said he was not home by the time she left the estate after 6 p.m.

Earlier that day, after seeing Murdaugh off to work, Turrubiate-Simpson said she received a text from Maggie saying that she and Paul had been summoned to their hunting estate that evening.

“Maggie told me she had to go to a doctor’s appointment, and she said…in the text she said ‘Alex wants me to come home,’” Turrubiate-Simpson testified on Friday. “She kind of sounded like she didn’t want to come home.”

Turrubiate-Simpson said she cooked cubed steak with white rice, gravy, and green beans before texting Maggie to let her know dinner was left on the stove and that she was leaving.

At around 7:56 p.m., Paul sent a Snapchat to at least one of his friends that showed Alex Murdaugh looking at a small tree that was falling under its own weight. In the background, Paul can be heard laughing and muttering something to Murdaugh. Friend Will Loving testified that Paul and his dad were extremely close and that relationship was often featured in Paul’s Snapchat videos.

Maggie finally arrived at the house at around 8:15 p.m. and she ate a quick dinner with Paul and Murdaugh. By 8:30 p.m., according to cell phone data detailed by prosecutor Creighton Waters, Paul had walked over to the dog kennels.

Around 8:40 p.m., Paul chatted with his friend Rogan Gibson about his chocolate Labrador who was staying at the Murdaugh family’s dog kennels and possibly had an injured tail. After a four-minute and four-second phone conversation with Gibson logged on his phone, Paul recorded a video at 8:44 p.m. trying to capture the dog’s tail. Prosecutors and several witnesses say Alex and Maggie can be heard in the background.

“He’s got a bird in his mouth,” a woman believed to be Maggie is heard saying in the 50-second video sent to Gibson. “Come here, Bubba!” the man’s voice responds. “Come here, Bubba!”

Murdaugh later told investigators that at the time this video was recorded, he was asleep in the main house.

Paul’s video of a friend’s dog in the kennel, shortly before he was killed.

Colleton County Court

Lt. Britt Dove, who works in the computer crimes center for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, testified that Maggie’s phone data showed that the last text messages she read came before 8:49 p.m. Among those was a group text from her brother-in-law, John Marvin Murdaugh, asking if the family was going to see her ailing father-in-law the following day.

Prosecutors allege that about a minute later, around 8:50 p.m., Murdaugh killed his son with a rifle, then fatally shot his wife. Authorities say Paul had two gunshot wounds and Maggie was shot six times with a weapon prosecutors believe to be a .300 Blackout semi-automatic. Neither weapon has been recovered.

“Neither Paul nor Maggie had any defensive wounds—as if they didn’t see a threat coming from their attacker,” Waters said last month in court. “Both Maggie and Paul were both shot at very close range.”

One of the shell casings found after the murders

Colleton County Court

Cell phone data presented to jurors by several law enforcement agents show the steps Murdaugh allegedly took to cover up the crime and establish an alibi. Starting around 9 p.m., he began calling people close to him, including his ailing father, several friends, and even his dead wife.

At 9:06 p.m., data from Murdaugh’s 2021 Chevy Suburban reported that the vehicle drove for about 16 minutes, FBI electronics engineer Dwight Falkofske testified this week. Prosecutors say Murdaugh was driving to his ailing mother’s house in Almeda, calling friends and family along the way.

“Going to check on M. Be right back,” Murdaugh texted Maggie around 9:08 p.m. that night, referring to his mother, according to Dove.

Chris Wilson, one of Murdaugh’s former close friends and law school roommate, told jurors that in a brief call around 9:11 p.m., he told Murdaugh he was working on a broken pool pump while he and his wife watched The Bachelor on their porch. Wilson added that at 9:20 p.m., he called Murdaugh back, who said he had just arrived at his mother’s house and would call back.

The visit to Murdaugh’s mom, who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, is the crux of the defense claim that he did not kill his family. Mushell “Shelley” Smith, who was the caretaker for Murdaugh’s mother, found it unusual that he came to visit that evening because he normally would come during the day. FBI electronics engineer Dwight Falkofske said that Murdaugh’s SUV data suggests he arrived at the house at 9:22 p.m.

Murdaugh “was fidgeting” during the 20-minute visit and then abruptly left, Smith told jurors. Later, she testified, Murdaugh told her that if anyone asked, she should say he had been at his mother’s house for about 30 to 40 minutes.

At 9:43 p.m., Falkofske said Murdaugh’s SUV was taken back out of park—correlating with other data and testimony that he left his mother’s house and drove back home. Along the way, data shown in court reveals, Murdaugh was again texting and calling friends and family.

“Call me babe,” Murdaugh texted his wife at 9:47 p.m., cell data shows.

At around 9:52 p.m., Murdaugh texted Wilson to “call me if you’re up.” Wilson testified that he called back his friend immediately and eventually got Murdaugh on the phone. He said Murdaugh told him he had just visited his mom and was almost on his way home.

A schematic of the Murdaugh property and where the bodies and other evidence were found.

Colleton County Court

In a police interview, Murdaugh said he originally went straight to the main house before he noticed that Paul and Maggie were not home and drove down to the dog kennels to find them. Falkofske says his SUV data correlates with this story, showing that the car went in and out of park several times before 10:06 p.m. Because Murdaugh’s phone was connected to his car, the SUV also logged the two 911 calls he made at that time after he claimed he found his wife and son not breathing.

“I’ve been up to it now. It’s bad,” Murdaugh said in a seven-minute 911 call played in court.

Several first responders recounted to jurors that they saw an upset—but not teary-eyed—Murdaugh at the dog kennels. In body-camera footage played in court, Murdaugh almost immediately tells a law enforcement officer that he believes the motive for the murders is retaliation for the boat crash.

By this time, several of Murdaugh’s closest friends, family, and co-workers had descended upon the estate. In his first police interview about three hours after he called 911, Murdaugh became extremely emotional about losing his family while detailing to officers that he was nowhere near the kennels at the time of the murder.

“I pulled up and I could see them, I knew it was something bad,” Murdaugh said on the tape before breaking down in tears.

Alex Murdaugh sits in a car for his first police interview after the murders.

Colleton County Court

Witnesses have detailed the days that followed the double homicide that sent shockwaves through the Lowcountry. Griswold told jurors that she and others in the office immediately went into “momma bear mode” around Murdaugh, and Wilson stressed that friends and family never left his friend alone out of fear he would “try to kill himself.”

The murders also did exactly what prosecutors say was one of Murdaugh’s main motivations: stop all questions about his financial shenanigans.

“Alex was distraught, upset, not in the office,” Seckinger testified. “We didn’t want to harass him.”

In the coming days, jurors will hear testimony about how Murdaugh’s reprieve was short-lived. By Labor Day 2021, he had lost his job, admitted to his addiction, and attempted to stage a bizarre coverup.

“I don’t think I ever really knew him,” Seckinger said. “I don’t think anybody knows him.”

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