A 2015 police investigation of Stephen Smith’s death mentions the Murdaughs multiple times

·3 min read

The Murdaugh family name appears at least nine times in S.C. Highway Patrol notes during the investigation into the 2015 death of Hampton teen Stephen Smith, according to the agency’s investigative report obtained by The Island Packet.

Smith, 19, was found dead along the rural Sandy Run Road near Hampton on July 8, 2015. In the wake of the June 7 double homicide of Paul Murdaugh and his mother, Maggie, Smith’s mysterious death has renewed interest.

Although rumors have circulated for years about the Murdaughs’ possible connection to Smith’s death, no one from the legal powerhouse family was ever implicated in the case.

On Tuesday, more than two weeks after the double homicide, the S.C. Law Enforcement Division reopened its investigation into the 2015 death.

Highway Patrol officers initially reported to the scene where Smith’s body was found, because first responders thought the death was a hit-and-run incident. The case was later handed to SLED because of suspicions that foul play may be involved.

The Murdaugh family was among several names mentioned in the investigators’ report, but none has gained as much attention.

A photo of the senior photo of Stephen Smith in the 2014 Hampton Wade High School “A Devil in Every Crowd” yearbook.
A photo of the senior photo of Stephen Smith in the 2014 Hampton Wade High School “A Devil in Every Crowd” yearbook.

MURDAUGHS MENTIONED IN INVESTIGATION

The first mention of the Murdaugh family in the investigative file is of Paul’s older brother, Buster, on Aug. 15, 2015. The note says investigators received a tip that someone asked “if Stephen and Buster Murdaugh ever had any type of relationship.”

When the investigator talked with the person inquiring about the relationship, he told police it’s “what he heard from others. Just rumors,” the notes say.

Smith was openly gay, and his mother, Sandy Smith, would later tell the local newspaper that her son’s death may have been a hate crime.

In the same interview, she said she knows who killed her son and that the young adults come from “prestigious families.”

From left, Richard Alexander Murdaugh, Margaret “Maggie” Kennedy Branstetter Murdaugh, Paul Terry Murdaugh and Richard Alexander Murdaugh (Alex) before a formal event in 2019.
From left, Richard Alexander Murdaugh, Margaret “Maggie” Kennedy Branstetter Murdaugh, Paul Terry Murdaugh and Richard Alexander Murdaugh (Alex) before a formal event in 2019.

On Dec. 7, 2015, investigators received an anonymous tip stating three males were involved in Smith’s death, one of whom was “a white male (Murdaugh).” The notes do not specify which Murdaugh the tip was referring to.

On Dec. 18, 2015, a man called investigators saying his stepson told him the name of who “struck and killed” Smith.

The man “states that the reason that he was passing this information on was because Randy Murdaugh told him to call.”

Paul and Buster’s uncle, Randolph Murdaugh IV, goes by “Randy.”

On June 13, 2016, investigators spoke with a Varnville resident identified by one anonymous tip as playing a role in Smith’s death. During the interview, the investigator asked “if he was friends with anyone with the last name Murdaugh.”

The man initially said he graduated with a girl who had that last name, but also knew a boy with the last name who graduated with Smith.

The man said he wasn’t connected with any Murdaughs on Facebook, but investigators later discovered he and Buster Murdaugh were friends on the social media platform.

The final Murdaugh-related question was if the man ever attended parties “hosted by any Murdaugh subjects.” The man said he didn’t.

REOPENING THE INVESTIGATION

No arrests were made in Smith’s death, and the case grew cold.

Rumors of the Murdaugh family’s connection to the death regained momentum in 2019 after Paul Murdaugh was charged with three felony counts of boating under the influence in the crash that killed another Hampton teen, Mallory Beach. But the Smith case went untouched.

The same rumors resurfaced after Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s killings June 7, but this time SLED investigators discovered information that prompted them to reopen the case.

No official statements have linked the family to Smith’s death, though.

“We’ve been waiting on this forever,” Smith’s mother told a Charleston-area TV station Tuesday, after the case was reopened.