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A Lawyer Asked A Former Client To Kill Him To Collect $10 Million In Life Insurance For His Son, Police Say

Alex Murdaugh, a prominent South Carolina lawyer whose wife and son were fatally shot in June, plotted to have a man kill him so that his other son could collect a $10 million insurance payout, authorities said.

Last updated on September 15, 2021, at 5:08 p.m. ET

Posted on September 15, 2021, at 2:27 p.m. ET

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The Murdaugh family: Buster Murdaugh (left), Maggie Murdaugh, Paul Murdaugh, and Alex Murdaugh

After his wife and son were fatally shot in June, yet another tragedy appeared to strike Alex Murdaugh, the head of a prominent and powerful legal family in South Carolina.

On Sept. 4, a day after Murdaugh resigned from his own law firm for allegedly misappropriating millions of dollars, he was shot in the head on a rural road, but he survived the shooting after the bullet only caused a superficial wound. Murdaugh and his lawyers claimed that he was standing on the side of the road changing a flat tire when a man in a pickup truck pulled up and shot him.

But authorities have now revealed that Murdaugh himself allegedly asked one of his former clients to kill him so that his surviving son could collect a $10 million insurance payout.

The client, Curtis Edward Smith, 61, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery, and insurance fraud in connection to the shooting, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) said.

Murdaugh, 53, provided a statement to SLED on Monday “admitting to the scheme” of having Smith kill him so that his son, Buster, could collect the life insurance policy payout.

Murdaugh has not yet been charged in connection to his own shooting, but SLED named him as a codefendant in an affidavit and accused him of conspiring with Smith. Murdaugh allegedly provided Smith with the gun that was used to shoot him. Authorities said additional charges in the case were expected soon.

Murdaugh’s shooting took place nearly three months after his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and his son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, were shot to death at their family hunting lodge in Islandton.

In a 911 call released by authorities, a sobbing Murdaugh is heard telling the dispatcher that he found their bodies near the property's kennel and that neither of them was breathing.

At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial after being charged for drunk driving his father’s boat that crashed and killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach in 2019.

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Alex and Maggie Murdaugh

Three generations of Murdaughs have served as state prosecutors spanning eight decades, and the increasingly bizarre twists to this case have brought scrutiny to their legal dynasty. Some accused the powerful and well-connected Murdaugh family of trying to protect Paul Murdaugh from legal consequences. No one has been charged so far in Paul and Maggie’s deaths.

After he survived his plotted shooting, Murdaugh released a statement saying he had resigned from his law firm and entered a drug rehabilitation facility after a “long battle” that was “exacerbated” by the killings of his wife and son. He said he regretted a lot of decisions he had made and apologized to his family, friends, and colleagues.

A day before Murdaugh’s shooting, the law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED), asked him to resign after they uncovered his alleged misuse of millions of dollars, most of which he spent on buying opioids, according to Murdaugh’s lawyer. SLED said it was investigating these allegations. Murdaugh’s law license was also suspended on Sept. 8.

Murdaugh’s lawyer, Richard “Dick” Harpootlian, told NBC’s Today show that Murdaugh decided to “end his own life” after he tried to stop abusing oxycodone and suffered from “massive depression” following the deaths of his wife and son, as well as the death of his father from cancer three days later.

“Most people couldn't go through that… he went through it with the use of opioids,” Harpootlian said.

He said that after Murdaugh’s law firm pushed him out, he tried to stop abusing opioids and realized that “things were going to get very, very bad.”

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Alex Murdaugh

Harpootlian said that Murdaugh mistakenly believed that his son, Buster, would not receive the $10 million policy if he died by suicide.

So “he arranged to have this guy shoot him,” Harpootlian said. “It was an attempt on his part to do something to protect his child.”

Harpootlian did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.

Murdaugh told police that he used to buy oxycodone from Smith, who has also been charged with distribution of methamphetamine and possession of marijuana, authorities said.

Murdaugh “clearly knew what he had done was wrong,” Harpootlian said, adding that his client was cooperating with authorities.

However, the lawyer denied that Murdaugh had anything to do with his wife and son’s deaths. Harpootlian claimed that he and another of Murdaugh's lawyers were investigating individuals with a “personal” motive who may have been involved in the killings.

"[Murdaugh] was in a dark, dark place and wanted to help his remaining son, Buster, in any way he could and thought this was the only way he could leave him with anything,” Harpootlian said.

In yet another twist, the SLED announced on Wednesday that it was opening a criminal investigation into the death of the Murdaugh family's housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, who died in 2018 in an alleged "trip and fall accident."

Authorities said the new inquiry was based on a request from the Hampton County Coroner and information related to other investigations involving Alex Murdaugh. In a letter to SLED Chief Mark Keel, coroner Angela Topper said that Satterfield's death was not reported to her office at the time and that her death certificate lists the manner of death as natural, "which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident."

South Carolina news site FITSNews reported that Satterfield's sons filed a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging civil conspiracy and stolen funds in connection with a 2018 settlement over her death.

According to the news site, Satterfield, 57, died on Feb. 26, 2018 after allegedly tripping on the steps at the Murdaughs' home in Hampton. Her sons were told the family's dogs caused her trip and that she suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the fall.


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.