Three days after a South Carolina mother and son from a powerful legal family were shot dead outside a house on their 1,700-acre hunting estate, countless questions remain about the pair’s violent demise.
Around 10 p.m. on Monday, deputies with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 report of two dead bodies outside a rural home. There, officers found the remains of Paul Murdaugh, 22, and his mother Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52. According to local news outlet the Island Packet, the two were shot with different weapons: one with an assault rifle, the other with a shotgun.
Attorney Richard Alexander Murdaugh Sr.—Maggie’s husband and Paul’s father—reportedly found the bodies, but told investigators he was not home at the time of the shootings. According to sources cited by local NBC affiliate News 2, the deaths did not appear to be the result of a murder-suicide and are being investigated as a double homicide.
Although there is no indication that Monday’s shooting was in any way related, Paul Murdaugh’s death came as he awaited trial for allegedly killing 19-year-old Mallory Madison Beach in a drunken boating accident.
Beach had been at an oyster roast in February 2019 with members of the Murdaugh family, and was a passenger on a boat Paul Murdaugh was operating when it collided with a bridge piling near Parris Island. The force of the impact launched Beach into the water. Her body was found a week later.
“I never imagined that I wouldn’t be able to celebrate your 20th birthday with you,” Beach’s mom Renee Beach wrote on Facebook six weeks after her daughter's death. “Happy Birthday in Heaven Mallory Madison Beach. I miss you so so much!”
When cops arrived on the scene, they found Paul Murdaugh “grossly intoxicated,” according to a police report cited by the Post and Courier. Murdaugh was later indicted for his alleged role in the crash, and pleaded not guilty in May 2019 to one felony count of boating under the influence causing death and two felony counts of boating under the influence causing injury. He was released on a $50,000 recognizance bond, and his case was still pending when he died.
“We obviously cannot proceed with the prosecution, so once we have a death certificate or other acceptable proof, we’ll officially dismiss the charges,” said a spokesman for the South Carolina Attorney General’s office.
What isn’t going away anytime soon, however, is the Beach family’s still-active civil lawsuit against the Murdaughs. In the aftermath of Mallory Beach’s death, her mother filed a wrongful death suit alleging, among other things, that Paul’s brother gave him a fake ID to buy alcohol at a convenience store. Paul Murdaugh was not named in the suit.
According to transcripts of two depositions related to the case taken in January 2020 from a friend of Paul’s as well as Anthony Cook, a cousin, weather conditions the night of the oyster roast were not good and Paul was drunk. His cousin testified that Paul insisted on taking his boat back home from the party instead of letting him call an Uber. Cook claimed Paul and his girlfriend argued aboard the boat, and that Paul slapped her before stripping down to his underwear. He then reportedly gunned the boat’s throttle, slamming the vessel into the piling a short time later.
The Murdaugh family has been a powerful force in South Carolina for more than a century. According to his bio on the family law firm’s website, patriarch Randolph Murdaugh, III “is the third generation of the Murdaugh family to serve as Solicitor of the 14th Judicial Circuit.” Randolph’s father, the late Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh, Jr., was sworn in as Solicitor for the 14th Judicial Circuit after the death of his dad, Solicitor for the 14th Judicial Circuit Randolph Murdaugh, Sr., who began practicing law in 1910. The firm he started still exists, and is now called Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick.
As one man who asked not to be named told The State newspaper, “They are the law around here.”
After Paul and Maggie were killed, the firm posted a statement to Facebook, saying: “The Murdaugh family and PMPED want to thank everyone for the many calls and condolences in the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. We ask for your continued patience and prayers through this tragic time.”
In a separate posting, a former worker who said she knew the family wrote, “I cleaned Mrs. Maggie's pool in Hampton for almost 4 years she was a very beautiful, very smart, very funny, very nice, lady! She deserves more respect than this. Rest in peace Mrs. Maggie Murdaugh”
Mark Tinsley, the attorney representing the Beach family in the civil suit, released a statement on Tuesday, the day after Paul and his mother were found dead.
“The Beach Family extends its deepest and warmest sympathies to the Murdaugh family during this terrible time,” the statement said. “Having suffered the devastating loss of their own daughter, the family prays that the Murdaughs can find some level of peace from this tragic loss. They would like the family and the community to know that their thoughts and continued prayers are with the Murdaughs. It is their most sincere hope that someone will come forward and cooperate with authorities so that the perpetrator of these senseless crimes can be brought to justice.”
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is the lead investigative agency on the case, Colleton County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Shalane Lowes told The Daily Beast. Tommy Crosby, SLED’s public information officer, did not respond to a request for comment.
A forensic autopsy on the Murdaughs was scheduled to be performed Thursday morning.