Based on information gathered during the Murdaugh double homicide investigation in Colleton County, the S.C. Law Enforcement Division has reopened a separate death investigation in Hampton County, home of the prominent family’s law firm.
Just under six years ago, the body of 19-year-old Stephen Smith was found in the middle of a road in Hampton County.
No arrests were made in Smith’s death, and police ruled it a hit-and-run accident. Rumors floated around town that Smith was killed because he was gay and that people knew who did it, his mother told news outlets at the time. Sandy Smith is speaking up again now with other local outlets, saying her son deserves justice.
Nearly six years later, Paul Murdaugh, 22, and his mother Maggie, 52, were found shot to death outside their home.
New information from sources close to the Murdaugh investigation have said Maggie’s phone wasn’t at the crime scene when police arrived. Investigators later found her phone on a road off the property.
MAGGIE’S CELLPHONE FOUND ON ROAD
Wednesday, 2:01 p.m.: The Island Packet and State newspapers exclusively report that Maggie Murdaugh’s cellphone was found on the road outside of the family’s 1,700-acre property the day after she and Paul were shot to death, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Although Maggie’s phone had been moved, Paul’s cellphone was found near him when investigators arrived the night of June 7.
Maggie’s phone was taken into custody by SLED, the lead investigating agency.
A SLED spokesperson declined to comment on specifics of the case Wednesday, including details about Maggie’s phone.
- Lana Ferguson, John Monk, Kacen Bayless
MURDAUGH LAW FIRM STATEMENT
Wednesday 9:36 a.m.: Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, the Murdaugh family’s law firm founded in Hampton in 1910, posted a photo to its Facebook page.
The image reads: “We’d like to thank the legal and local communities for the outpouring love and support we’ve received in the wake of the recent tragedies.”
The post offers nothing further.
- Lana Ferguson
‘HE WAS LOVED JUST LIKE ALL THE REST’
Tuesday, 11 p.m.: “We’ve been waiting on this forever,” Stephen Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, tells ABC News 4 in Mount Pleasant in a phone interview that first aired Tuesday night.
Earlier that day, SLED informed Sandy Smith that it was reopening her son’s 2015 death investigation.
“Stephen’s always been put on a back burner,” she said. “It’s like nobody’s looking for answers.”
She said her son has had no justice.
“It’s like he’s a nobody because we’re poor people,” she said “It’s like his name meant nothing.”
She said she wants justice for Mallory Beach’s family, but she always wants justice for her own.
“He was loved just like all the rest,” she said.
She told reporters she believes he was killed somewhere else before his body was placed on Sandy Run Road.
- Lana Ferguson
DEATH INVESTIGATION REOPENED
Tuesday evening: SLED acknowledges it is reopening the 2015 investigation into Smith’s death. The agency said the decision was based on information gathered during the Murdaugh double homicide investigation.
No official statements have connected the Murdaugh family to Smith’s death, but SLED’s decision to reopen the case raises questions about whether the family is connected to Smith.
Investigators previously determined Smith was the victim of a hit-and-run accident, despite police reports showing no evidence of that.
“There would never be justice for Stephen in Hampton County,” Sandy Smith, the teen’s mother, previously told The State Media Co. in 2019 after a boat crash killed Mallory Beach and implicated members of the Murdaugh family.
- Lana Ferguson, Kacen Bayless, Jake Shore
WHO WAS STEPHEN SMITH?
1996 to 2015: Stephen Smith was born in Lexington County in central South Carolina.
He graduated from Wade Hampton High School in 2014 and then attended Orangeburg–Calhoun Technical College. He was studying to become a registered nurse, his obituary said.
On July 8, 2015, Smith’s body was found on Sandy Run Road near Hampton. His death was ruled a hit-and-run accident, despite lack of evidence.
Months after his death, his mother Sandy Smith did an interview with Hampton County’s local newspaper, the Hampton County Guardian.
“I know when Stephen was born, but I don’t know exactly when he died. I know what his first words were, but I need to know what his last words were. I want to know who took my son from me,” she told the newspaper. “People need to realize that these murderers are still out there and it could be their child next.”
In the article, Smith says she believed her son was killed because he was gay. She also alleged he was killed “by several local Hampton County youths from prestigious families which she believes have sworn to protect their children, no matter what heinous crime they committed.” Although she would not name who she thought was responsible in her son’s death, she told the Hampton County Guardian she knew who did it.
She said Smith was a straight-A student who was always smiling. She didn’t know he had any enemies.
Smith’s death investigation and the rumors surrounding it regained traction in 2019 after a boat crash killed another Hampton County teen. Paul Murdaugh was charged with three felonies, boating while under the influence. The case was pending at the time he was found dead.
- Lana Ferguson
Follow our previous coverage here.