The 7 most shocking revelations from Netflix's docuseries "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal"

The three-part showcase explores the prominent Murdaugh family's abuse of wealth, power and privilege

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published February 23, 2023 7:04PM (EST)

Alex Murdaugh from "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal" (Netflix)
Alex Murdaugh from "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal" (Netflix)

In Hampton County, South Carolina, the Murdaughs were once a famous family name with a shining pedigree. But that name has now turned to notoriety.

Known as "one of South Carolina's most prominent legal families," the Murdaugh family consisted of generation after generation of district attorneys, who tackled criminal cases in the state's 14th circuit district, dubbed "Murdaugh Country." In 1910, the family founded a nationally recognized civil litigation law firm, presently known as P.m.p.e.d. Law Firm, that specializes in personal injury litigation. Simply put, the Murdaughs were the "law and order" in town and the epitome of wealth, privilege and power.

That all changed in 2021, when the Murdaughs became an infamous household name due to their horrifying crime saga. In 2014, the local murder of a Hampton County student was tied to the Murdaughs. In 2018, the death of the Murdaughs' longtime housekeeper was tied to them. In 2019, the death of another Hampton County student was tied to the family. And in 2021, the death of Alex Murdaugh's son Paul and wife Margaret "Maggie" was tied to the now-disgraced former attorney, who currently stands trial for the June 7 killings.

The Murdaughs and their astounding abuse of power and privilege is explored in Netflix's latest true crime series "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal." The three-part showcase — from "Fyre Fraud" and "LulaRich" filmmakers Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason — chronicles the downfall of the family's dynasty through interviews with the Murdaughs' former acquaintances, law enforcement, attorneys and the journalists who investigated Alex Murdaugh's bizarre accusations.

Here are the 7 most shocking revelations from the series: 

Raising kids to act above the law
Murdaugh Murders: A Southern ScandalAlex Murdaugh, Morgan Doughty and Paul Murdaugh from "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal" (Netflix)

For years, the Murdaugh family ran the biggest law firm in Hampton County. It all started with Randolph Murdaugh Sr., who then passed the firm to his son Randolph "Buster" Murdaugh Jr. and then to Randolph Murdaugh III — Alex Murdaugh's father. 


The Murdaugh men all worked as solicitors, or lead prosecutors, which made them "law and order" in Hampton County for over a century, according to Michael Dewitt, an editor at The Hampton County Guardian.


"They ran both sides of the legal ledger, from civil cases to criminal cases," Dewitt continued. "They had a network that varied from judges and lawyers, to law enforcement to sheriffs, to the average man on the street who served on the jury. They were the law in this area."


"And at times, they were above the law."


The Murdaugh family abused their wealth and privilege, and son Paul especially learned early on that he could get away with extreme and dangrous behavior. Morgan Doughty, the ex-girlfriend of Alex's son Paul, recounted that Alex would buy Paul and his underage friends alcohol. As for Paul, he frequently put himself and Morgan in dangerous situations when he was severely intoxicated. One time, when coming home from a Christmas party, Paul drove his pickup truck — which was well-stocked with beer cans and guns — into a ditch while under the influence. Paul also grew increasingly violent and abusive towards Morgan.

The fatal boating accident 
Murdaugh Murders: A Southern ScandalMallory Beach and Morgan Doughty from "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal" (Netflix)

On February 23, 2019, Morgan and her friends — Miley Altman, Connor Cook, Anthony Cook and Mallory Beach — along with Paul went to a friend's oyster roast party. After a night of eating oysters and drinking, the friends traveled back home via the Murdaugh family's speedboat. Things took a turn for the worse when a very drunk Paul took control of the boat and began speeding.


"Anthony was getting extremely pissed," Morgan said. "Paul is yelling at me and he's like, 'Why don't you have my back?' And I was like, 'Why would I have your back? You're screaming at us and you're not making sense. You're acting crazy.'"


She continued, "And he looked at me and he said, 'You know what's crazy? Your father not making enough money to support your family.' I started crying and that's when Paul got in my face and he just started screaming and that's when Paul slapped me."


The boat eventually crashed into a nearby bridge, sending everyone into the water. Mallory, however, was nowhere to be found, which caused everyone to panic. Paul was said to be unresponsive and surprisingly calm.


"Once we were actually on our way, Paul called his grandad and was like, 'Yeah we were in a boat accident,'" Miley said. "Like, 'Oh yeah, they can't find Mallory.' And was just like, 'It was Cotton Top that did it.' Cotton Top is Connor's nickname.'"


Mallory was eventually found seven days later, dead.

The Murdaughs' sinister cover-up
Murdaugh Murders: A Southern ScandalRenee Beach from "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal" (Netflix)

During the investigation into her daughter's disappearance, Renee Beach said she was not able to see the boat or the scene of the accident, despite pleading with law enforcement. However, both Randolph and Alex's wife Maggie were allowed to go to the scene with no pushback.


"That's when I started to realize the Murdaughs, they were more worried about a cover-up than they were tryin' to find Mallory," Renee said.


The Murdaughs were hellbent on blaming the accident on Connor and threatened Connor and his father to stay mum about Paul's involvement. Their entire scheme was later revealed by Mark Tinsley, the Beach family's civil attorney, who found that the Murdaughs were close acquaintances with several high-up officials working on the investigation. Michael Brock, who was assigned lead investigator for the first 24 hours by the Department of Natural Resources, had close connections with the Murdaughs. It's believed that Michael tampered with the police audio recordings when a recording of Anthony confessing that Paul killed Mallory was nowhere to be found. Another officer and known DNR agent, Michael Paul Thomas, was described as "Alex Murdaugh's b***h" because he helped Paul get out of trouble in the past. Michael Paul Thomas was also Alex's brother, John Marvin Murdaugh's, best friend.


Phone records showed that John Marvin Murdaugh made numerous calls to Michael Paul Thomas on the night of the boat crash and the days after. John Marvin Murdaugh also made numerous calls to Austin Pritcher, the officer who interviewed Morgan, Miley, Anthony and Connor at the hospital following the crash. Not a single call was made to Renee or Mallory's father Phillip.  


Per Tinsley, employees of the hospital also described "a real concerted effort by Alex to manipulate what was happening."


"Alex wasn't worried about finding Mallory," Tinsley added. "He was only worried about creating confusion, making sure that nobody talked, that everybody kept their mouths shut, and if they did, they wouldn't be able to establish who was drivin' the boat."

The harrowing deaths of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh
Murdaugh Murders: A Southern ScandalPaul Murdaugh from "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal" (Netflix)

On June 7, 2021, Alex called 9-1-1 to report that his son and wife had been murdered on their Moselle estate. According to Valerie Bauerlein, a Wall Street Journal reporter who covers small-town America, Maggie was shot multiple times in the chest and back. She was also positioned "almost like she's running away from something or someone."


Paul, on the other hand, was shot just once in the chest and then again at the neck and the head. They were made by shotgun, many of which were found in abundance at the Moselle property. His mother, however, was shot with an AR-15-style rifle chambered in a type of bullet called "Blackout 300." Turns out, the Murdaughs also owned that specific gun, which was not turned over to investigators for ruling out as the murder weapon.

Other deaths tied to the Murdaugh family
Murdaugh Murders: A Southern ScandalBuster Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh from "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal" (Netflix)

Just being in the Murdaugh family orbit could be seen as a risk.


On July 8, 2015 — six years before the murders of Maggie and Paul — Stephen Smith, a fellow classmate of the Murdaugh boys, was found dead in the middle of a rural highway in Hampton County. 


Per police recordings obtained by FITSnews journalist Will Folks, Stephen had mechanical problems with his vehicle and ran out of fuel while on his way home. He was walking on the isolated highway in search of help before he died. He was found lying in the middle of the road with severe head trauma. His shoes were still on his feet, his cellphone was still in his pocket, and his clothes were intact.


Upon closer inspection, Folks discovered that the police recording and the evidence at the scene of the crime did not add up: "If someone's going to be the victim of vehicular strike, you're probably not going to find them in the middle of the road. You're probably not going to find them with loose-fitting shoes still on them. You're probably not going to find them with the blood patterns the way they found the blood patterns. Probably not going to find them, again, positioned the way he was positioned."


A police report suspected foul play was involved, but there was no further investigation and the case was dropped. The report also named Buster Murdaugh, Alex's eldest son, whom many suspected was in a romantic relationship with Stephen. Buster and his brother Paul were both possible suspects in Stephen's case. 


"As soon as the Murdaugh name was tossed into the mix, of having something to do relationship-wise with Stephen, I feel like the view on his case changed entirely," explained Olivia, a close friend of Stephen's. "It went from finding justice for Stephen to defending the Murdaughs and making sure that everyone knew they had nothing to do with it."


That same year, the Murdaugh family's housekeeper and nanny, Gloria Satterfield, died after suffering a head injury. Per the Murdaughs, Gloria came to the family's hunting lodge to pick up her check when the family dog jumped on her at the top of a flight of stairs, causing her to fall head-first. According to investigative reports, Alex said he spoke with Gloria moments after her fall. But it was later learned that that was false as Alex wasn't even there.


Alex later approached Gloria's sons, Tony and Brian Satterfield, at her funeral and encouraged them to sue him for insurance money. The effort, which was initially seen as helpful, turned out to be a scam when the Satterfields did not receive any of the $4.3 million that was promised to them.


The Satterfields' legal team eventually received a confession of judgment from Alex for the entire sum of money. Alex was subsequently disbarred by the South Carolina bar and his numerous money schemes soon came to light. Alex was misappropriating money from his clients and he was also forced to resign from the firm.

Alex's failed "hit man suicide" plot
Two humans in a gun fightTwo humans in a gun fight (Getty Images/Hélène Desplechin)

Three months after Paul and Maggie's deaths, Alex made a 9-1-1 call, claiming he was shot in the head while changing a flat tire. Additional police reports and statements from Alex's lawyer, however, portrayed a different story.


Alex's attorney admitted that Alex asked his former client and drug dealer, Curtis Edward Smith, to shoot him, so that his surviving son, Buster, would be able to collect $10 million in life insurance money. Alex and Curtis were subsequently accused of conspiracy and insurance fraud along with several other charges.


Alex's attorneys also suggested that Alex was using the money he stole from clients to purchase opioids. A closer look at Alex's money spending revealed that he was writing over $160,000 in incremental checks to Curtis from October 2020 to May 2021 in an attempt to frame him for his "murder" and the murders of his son and wife.

Alex currently stands trial for murder
Close up of judge holding gavelClose up of judge holding gavel (Getty Images/naruecha jenthaisong)

Prosecutors accused Alex of killing Paul and Maggie to distract from his 88 criminal charges for embezzlement and other fraud, including breach of trust, money laundering, computer crimes and forgery. Alex pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and two weapons charges in the June 2021 killings.


On Thursday, Feb. 23, Alex took the stand to testify in his own defense, asserting that he did not kill his wife and son. He admitted that he lied to investigators about his whereabouts on the night of June 7, 2021 — Alex said he took a golf cart to the family's dog kennels after dinner, returned back to his house where he laid on the couch and then visited his mother. He blamed the lies on his drug addiction, which he said "caused me to have paranoid thoughts."


After finding the dead bodies of his son and wife, Alex said he grabbed a gun because he "didn't know if somebody was still out there." He also alleged that he tried to call his brothers Randy and John, along with his friend Rogan Gibson after calling 9-1-1.

"Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal" is currently available for streaming on Netflix. Watch a trailer for it below, via YouTube:


By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Alex Murdaugh List Murdaugh Family Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal Netflix True Crime