That's a Lot of Dead People and Crime
September 16, 2021 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Let Me Say This With As Much Sensitivity As I Can: Wow, That’s a Lot of Dead People and Crime. Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate on the long, strange history of disgraced South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh's family.
posted by goatdog (50 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ooof. I don't love how I feel about this story: it's really easy to get sucked into it as if it's your favorite prestige drama about the deadly secrets of a tight-knit family with picturesque regional attributes. And I guess I don't want to be entertained by this genuinely pretty awful story. It's gross and it's sad, and it makes me wonder how many other rich people are getting away with murder because nobody cares until they kill someone of their own social class and not just the housekeeper and the local queer kid.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:43 PM on September 16 [33 favorites]


Also, before people start making jokes, the family's surname is pronounced Mur-doch, not Mur-der or Mur-dahhhhh, the way some journalists are pronouncing it.
posted by all about eevee at 12:48 PM on September 16 [6 favorites]


I assume that Dick Harpootlian is pronounced as it reads?
posted by jonathanhughes at 12:56 PM on September 16 [29 favorites]


Also, before people start making jokes, the family's surname is pronounced Mur-doch, not Mur-der or Mur-dahhhhh, the way some journalists are pronouncing it.

Which is mildly disappointing as the classic pronunciation of "murder" in the Lowcountry is actually pretty close to "Mur-dahhhhh."
posted by thivaia at 1:00 PM on September 16 [7 favorites]


I'm relieved it's not just me who finds the whole thing both repellent and riveting. OMG, what happened to that poor housekeeper? It's easy to imagine the family in question has been a toxic mess for several generations.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:36 PM on September 16 [9 favorites]


Yeahhhh I guess I love my Southern gothic horror to be fictional and not... this. :/ But as I say that, I'm most likely going to follow it because... Southern gothic horror.
posted by rogerroger at 1:37 PM on September 16 [5 favorites]


I feel bad for everyone: it looks like addiction and money and lying and...just every bad thing is rolled up into this.

It may look like a Story, but it's someone's real life and that's sad to me because I can't stop thinking about those two kids. And the mom. And the housekeeper, and the dude hired to pull the trigger. And and and -- the ripples of misery keep spreading outwards.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:41 PM on September 16 [14 favorites]


Okay, I know I'm just a stranger on the Internet, but as soon as the story broke that Alex Murdaugh had called 911 to report he'd been shot in the head "while changing a flat tire on his car", I bet my wife that this was some crazy life insurance ploy and the guy he had hired to kill him had botched it. And I was right! I should go buy some lotto tickets!

However, putting that aside, ArbitraryAndCapricious's comment is the credited response. I do feel a little ill at gawking at something that involves several violent deaths and a lot of criminal activity, no matter how repellent the central figures are. I have always struggled with true crime stories because of the perceived voyeurism, as if I was slowing down to watch the aftermath of a fatal car wreck.
posted by fortitude25 at 1:45 PM on September 16 [7 favorites]


Also, excellent FPP. Thanks, goatdog!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:45 PM on September 16 [3 favorites]


Everything I read about this keeps getting weirder. Like the Wagner family, I expect this bizarre story will be a true crime mini-series on some streaming channel by the end of the year.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:58 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]


When the first bits of this story were breaking, I said, "There's a lot more here. And there's already more than enough!" I wasn't expecting the housekeeper allegations, though. How awful.
posted by praemunire at 2:42 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]


Buster Murdaugh sounds like a name from a really bad mystery novel.
posted by orange swan at 2:49 PM on September 16 [4 favorites]


It's cool that people are being thoughtful of the real victims here, but it's also true that there's a much-celebrated literary genre that this slots into very neatly. (See also: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:54 PM on September 16 [6 favorites]


Yes, this is so "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." What is it about the South that generates this kind of generational train wreck? Or does it exist everywhere, and we just pay more attention to the South because they're a kind of cultural Piñata that we keep whacking away at and hoping for an explosive shower of lurid candy
posted by mecran01 at 2:59 PM on September 16 [25 favorites]


I saw the Slate headline "most gripping current crime" and thought it was about Gabby Petito. depending if the other murdered couple in Moab is connected or not., that will probably will a standard 1 hour Dateline epidsode. The Murduaghs definitely sound like they will get there own series.
posted by CostcoCultist at 3:01 PM on September 16 [3 favorites]


metafilter: a kind of cultural Piñata that we keep whacking away at and hoping for an explosive shower of lurid candy
posted by lalochezia at 3:13 PM on September 16 [19 favorites]


Still hoping for tigers ....
posted by mbo at 3:27 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]


What is it about the South that generates this kind of generational train wreck?


I think some guy named Bill Faulkner had some thoughts on that.
posted by mikeand1 at 3:32 PM on September 16 [21 favorites]


about the South that generates this kind of generational train wreck? Or does it exist everywhere


Certainly everywhere, but especially where power has accumulated without a countervailing institutional force. Kinda like that small town in CA run by a single syndicate. These kinds of things are all over the US and I'm sure most other countries have them too.

It would be nice if someone like the FBI would take an interest in corruption and start...oh what's that you say?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 3:44 PM on September 16 [8 favorites]


@Reasonably Everything Happens - the funny part about SoCal is that it's littered with these tiny little towns that are so corrupt and greedy that they'd make your average corrupt small town (whether Southern or elsewhere), blush at their audacity.

Vernon's not even the worst - it just happens to be the closest to the city.
posted by drewbage1847 at 3:51 PM on September 16 [3 favorites]


Incidentally, Lurid Candy is the name of my new Southern Goth Rock band.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:09 PM on September 16 [11 favorites]


Refreshing some of the details of the double murder at FITSNEWS.com which has done a fearless job reporting this story, I didn't realise that the murders took place three days before a hearing about the boat accident was due to be held in which the judge was going to rule whether Alex Murdaugh had to disclose his financial records. (The family of the Mallory Beach was suing him as well as other parties). That hearing was cancelled but now we're told he embezzled millions from his law firm.

And "stopped to change a flat tire" when that model Mercedes does not have a spare because it's equipped with run-flat tires.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:16 PM on September 16 [12 favorites]


And "stopped to change a flat tire" when that model Mercedes does not have a spare because it's equipped with run-flat tires.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:16 PM on 9/16


Wow. I remember some armchair internet detectives talking about how it was a “classic hitman move” to flatten a tire and try to hit the guy a few miles down the road. Seems like the answer is just more desperate and stupid.

This story is a welcomed distraction, I have to say. Yes, people have died tragically and I’m not saying it’s gleeful, but it’s just nice to have a story everyone can agree on for once.
posted by glaucon at 4:19 PM on September 16 [3 favorites]


This world is so far from mine it might as well be treated as fiction, and if anything can be called a juicy murder mystery, this is it. Someone has to die, it's been like this for thousands of years! It doesn't have to be the cheerleader prom queen, but it helps.
posted by rhizome at 4:52 PM on September 16


Vernon's not even the worst - it just happens to be the closest to the city.

If you have other links to stories of Vernon-level corruption elsewhere, I'd love to read them.
posted by ensign_ricky at 5:30 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]


What is it about the South that generates this kind of generational train wreck?

As the proverbial caboose on at least two southern multi-generational trainwrecks, I tend to blame it on denial, delusion, magical thinking, racism and, I dunno, maybe carbs? Also, at least in my case, in certain towns, at least half of everyone is related to you.
posted by thivaia at 5:43 PM on September 16 [13 favorites]


Certainly everywhere, but especially where power has accumulated without a countervailing institutional force.

In my little corner of the world, the entire School Board of Los Lunas, NM, was suspended for law violations.
posted by Silvery Fish at 6:26 PM on September 16 [3 favorites]


I'm reminded of Sarah Taber's threads about how downright feudal many rural/farming areas of the US are. The family has apparently been killing people with impunity for years, and I imagine if there are that many murders that got ignored that there's plenty of rape and other crimes.
posted by tavella at 8:57 PM on September 16 [6 favorites]


"South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum." — James L. Petigru
posted by kirkaracha at 9:51 PM on September 16 [7 favorites]


As TFA notes, “Wouldn’t that present potential conflicts of interest and generally create a situation in which everyone in a five-county radius was either indebted to, allied with, or subject to prosecution by one family? Yes.”
posted by Bella Donna at 12:47 AM on September 17


That was one of the best parts of the article for me. The question and answer format was perfect because I had so many similar questions as bits of the story came out. It’s not a common format but I thought it was perfect for the tone and approach and I enjoyed it very much.

I don’t love that people have died or that people are suffering. But I know who normally suffers most, and it’s not usually the wealthy people in power. Also, thanks for the flat-tire detail, TWinbrook8. I had not read that elsewhere. It’s such a perfect detail, especially coupled with the fact that the family patriarch had no fucking clue, in theory, how his life insurance worked.

I do hope those responsible for each death are brought to justice, as they say. I skip true crime novels in favor of fictional detectives. Real life crime is normally too creepy for me. For whatever reason, this developing story has been an exception.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:00 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


Damn. I need a family tree, an org chart, a flow chart and all sorts of other visual aids to parse this out. What a story.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:02 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


Lotta True Crime [Penelope Scott]
posted by chavenet at 3:18 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


about the South that generates this kind of generational train wreck? Or does it exist everywhere

I think the big difference is that outside of major urban areas these kind of crime stories fly completely under the radar until they suddenly don't. They have to cross an absurd tipping point before they become national news. Meanwhile things like the corruption in and around Chicago, New York or LA are in the news in all the time with a trickle here and and a trickle there so nobody is really shocked by it when the full story comes out.
posted by srboisvert at 3:23 AM on September 17 [9 favorites]


Well, if we're piling on, there's Front Royal, Virginia, where the entire town council was arrested, the Sheriff committed suicide, and a whole lot of money went missing in a very skeevy development scheme.
posted by Naberius at 5:16 AM on September 17 [6 favorites]


I live not too far from (and have often vacationed in) the area where this is taking place, so it has been big news here, but I haven't heard all of the latest details. It first made the news here in June, when Murdaugh's wife and son were murdered. That was obviously pretty fishy, but none of the news reports really got that deep into the case and it just kind of faded away. But with the latest events and the new (to me) information about Gloria Satterfield and Stephen Smith, who knows where it will end. In terms of both deaths, prominent legal family involvement, and bizarre plot twists, this reminds me of the Bitter Blood series of murders in neighboring North Carolina.
posted by TedW at 6:04 AM on September 17 [5 favorites]


What is it about the South that generates this kind of generational train wreck?

In college, I had a professor who was originally from Alabama who used to clip newspaper stories about horrible weird things that happened in the north. He brought some in and read them to us when we studied Faulkner's A Rose for Emily. (I feel that in the current climate, I should say that he was a delightful person and not some kind of Confederate apologist. He was a fiction writer, and his southern characters were often weird and horrible. He just didn't like the idea that such things were exclusively southern.)
posted by FencingGal at 6:21 AM on September 17 [10 favorites]


I expect this bizarre story will be a true crime mini-series on some streaming channel by the end of the year.

Eponysterically right you are, tsHBO:
Murdaugh Family Murders Explored In Campfire-Produced Doc Series In The Works At HBO Max, Deadline, Peter White; September 8, 2021

EXCLUSIVE: The murders of two members of a prominent family of South Carolina lawyers and the mysterious events that followed are to be explored in a multi-part doc series for HBO Max.

The streamer is developing Murdaugh Family Mysteries (w/t) with Campfire Studios, the company behind Hulu doc WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47B Unicorn.

The series will investigate the mysterious, still-unraveling events surrounding the murders of a mother and son from a prominent family of lawyers in small-town South Carolina….
Of course, no news of a ‘rich and famous’ scandal is complete without the latest research from the bestest scandal sheet, The Daily Mail: Shackled Alex Murdaugh is granted $20K bail but must return to rehab after being charged in 'suicide hitman plot' to defraud $10m in life insurance: Attorney reveals he is BROKE and has been addicted to opioids for 20 YEARS.
posted by cenoxo at 6:24 AM on September 17 [2 favorites]


All the news we read is history. Wikipedia > Murdaugh family gives a more concise (and less breathless) account.
posted by cenoxo at 6:40 AM on September 17


In college, I had a professor who was originally from Alabama who used to clip newspaper stories about horrible weird things that happened in the north. He brought some in and read them to us when we studied Faulkner's A Rose for Emily.

Color me intrigued; do you remember any? (I've generally gotten the impression that serial killers are more of a northern thing.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:07 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


It is weird to read a gothic murder news story in the format of Platonic dialogue.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:09 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


The processes of the South Carolina General.Assembly and other governmental bodies are lightly covered by the media, but we get blow-by-blow, breathless accounts of the meth head misadventures in Hampton and Colleton Counties.
posted by Public Corruption? at 9:50 AM on September 17 [2 favorites]


(I've generally gotten the impression that serial killers are more of a northern thing.)

I think California and the west actually wins out for “most serial killers…”

Off the top of my head: Bundy (Washington, Utah, Colorado, Florida - but FL was his “last hurrah”), Green River Killer (WA), Toybox killer (NM), Night Stalker aka Richard Ramirez (CA), Golden State Killer (CA), Ed Kemper (CA), Zodiac Killer (CA), Hillside Stranglers (CA)….there are more

I remember finding an article once that pointed out how many California serial killers there were and mentioned the easy access to highways, high population, lots of people coming in and out for good weather and commerce, police practices being extremely poor (but that was nationwide - sometime in the 80’s the FBI established a national database for tracking murders so it’d be easier to find associated crimes based on common patterns in weapon, suspects, style of murder, etc…)
posted by glaucon at 12:23 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]


Eponysterically right you are, tsHBO

Nice!
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:03 PM on September 17


Looking at the number of known serial killers in an area doesn't necessarily give you a good idea of how many actual serial killers there are, all it does is give you a lower bound. It's quite possible that the state of California, just by virtue of its extensive size and large population, does a better job linking together distinct crimes and uncovering serial killers than smaller states do, where nearby borders mean crimes committed in different jurisdictions might not be linked by anyone except the FBI.

Wikipedia's list of unidentified serial killers seems to show a pretty broad distribution across the country; without doing any actual analysis, it looks a bit like the broader an area a killer is active in, the more chance they may have of escaping capture, though.

Just another cost of the weirdly parochial way we approach policing in the US.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:02 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]


I assume that Dick Harpootlian is pronounced as it reads?

He says it about 27 seconds into this October 2018 YT ad for his (D) South Carolina State Senate election: to my ears, the “t” is almost silent. More about Harpootlian at Wikipedia and his law firm’s website. He endorsed Bernie Sanders for President in 2016.

Current client Alex Murdaugh’s law firm donated $2800 to Joe Biden in 2020. Scandal knows no personal or political bounds.
posted by cenoxo at 3:58 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]


“Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. "

Flannery O'Connor
posted by tumbling at 12:38 AM on September 18 [5 favorites]


Some minor updates as of the last few days...

Curtis Smith, who—according to Alex Murdaugh—allegedly shot Murdaugh as part of an insurance-fraud-by-suicide scheme, has publicly stated that he was set up, was not in on any fraud scheme, and did not intentionally shoot Murdaugh at all:
“I get a call from Alex that Saturday afternoon to come to where he was and I thought it was maybe to fix something,” Smith said to the Post. “I had no idea what he wanted, I just went over there.”

“I run over and we wrestled a minute together, me trying to get the gun away from him,” Smith said. “Then the gun kind of went off above his head and I got scared to death and I ran to my truck and took off.”

Smith said he took Murdaugh’s gun and threw it away. He did not say where.

“I wound up with the gun,” Smith said. “It was plain stupid, just plain stupid.”

When asked by the Post if any bullet actually struck or grazed Alex’s head, Smith shook his head.

“I don’t know,” he told the New York Post. “I just got out of there.”

There were no visible marks nor any bandage on Murdaugh’s head at his Wednesday bond hearing, though his lawyers have said he may have suffered a minor skull fracture and minor brain bleeding.

When asked if he shot Alex Murdaugh on the road or if he killed Maggie and Paul, Smith shook his head and said “no.”

“I never did nothing,” he told the New York Post.

According to the Post, Curtis said Murdaugh should not mess with him further.

“I wouldn’t advise him to try to set me up. I’d strongly advise him against that.”
Meanwhile, Connor Cook, a passenger in the fatal 2019 boating accident that killed Mallory Beach, has filed a suit against Alex Murdaugh, "alleging [Alex Murdaugh] orchestrated a 'whisper campaign' to deflect blame for a fatal boat crash in 2019 from his son and put it on [Cook]."
“Murdaugh.., negligently or intentionally attempted to shift the blame for the boat accident, causing the intentional and/or reckless infliction of severe emotional distress,” the lawsuit states.

“The actions of the [Murdaugh] in attempting to steer the criminal investigation away from Paul Murdaugh and towards Plaintiff Cook and the methods used, proximately caused Plaintiff Cook severe emotional distress, especially given the Murdaugh family’s significant connections with prosecutors, law enforcement, and judges,” it adds. [...]

The suit states that, after the crash, Murdaugh told Cook, who was 19 at the time, to “keep his mouth shut” and tell authorities he did not know who was driving the boat at the time of the crash—even though he knew it was Paul. In accordance with Murdaugh’s request, Cook “gave vague explanations of the accident” to law enforcement before going into surgery for the injuries he sustained in the crash.

Afterward, the lawsuit states, Murdaugh “encouraged and instructed” Cook and his family to retain Cory Fleming, whom he claimed was the “best” attorney for the teenager. As The Daily Beast previously reported, Fleming is said to be Murdaugh’s college roommate and best friend—and has been accused of helping the attorney quietly handle the estate of his late housekeeper, whose own death is under new investigation.
So far no new bodies, at least.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:56 PM on September 21


Murdaugh Murders: Why Hasn’t Alex Murdaugh Been Arrested In The Satterfield Scandal? FitsNews, Mandy Matney; October 7, 2021. The search for the guilty continues, multiple law firms enter the fray, no new murders, arrests or punishments. Alex Murdaugh remains free on bail (apparently in rehab), and is accused by his family’s law firm (and other parties) of stealing million$. Details in the article.
posted by cenoxo at 8:29 PM on October 7


That's behind a paywall for me.
posted by tavella at 9:40 AM on October 8


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