Our story tonight takes place in the area of South Carolina known as Low Country. According to a Hilton Head tourism site,” Its unique climate, landscape, and slow, Southern pace of life is appealing to many, making it a favorite place to live and also wildly popular with tourists from all over the world. WIth visions of shrimp boats, palmetto trees, big front porches with rocking chairs and pitchers of sweet tea; what’s not to love about the SC Lowcountry?!”
Historically speaking, this area of the south made most of its money from plantations, so we know that a lot of the “rich history” people speak of is steeped in traditions meant to exclude those not of the same social class. Whether they were people of color, people with different sexual preferences, or even just people without the kind of old money that ran the upper class circles, it’s really clear that not everyone who grew up in lowcountry had the same experiences.
One prominent family in Beaufort County takes center stage in our story tonight- The Murdaughs. Randolph Murdaugh Sr. was born in Hampton County SC in 1887 and by 1910, the ambitious man had started his own law firm in his hometown: PMPED, which stood for Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, and Detrick. As the Murdaugh family grew, so did the law firm eventually expanding to 3 different counties. He employed his son Randolph Buster Murdaugh Jr until his retirement in 1987, who went on to employ his son Randolph Randy Murdaugh III, who went on to employ his sons Randolph Murdaugh the IVth and Alexander Murdaugh. The firm had a huge reach, and was most known for multi million dollar settlements with its specialty being injury and wrongful death lawsuits.
Certainly that’s enough notoriety and money to make you a family with a lot of influence in your community, but the Murdaughs had an even bigger sphere of influence because for nearly a century, one of the many Randolph Murdaughs has sat as the 14th Circuit Solicitor. In South Carolina, a Solicitor as a position that’s comparable to our district attorney, and the 14th circuit covers the counties of Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper- a total of 3,730 square miles of SC’s low country which prosecutes an average of 5,000 cases per year.
Maybe this goes without saying, but as a result of the generations of hard work, the Murdaugh family were not people who seemed to have to worry about finances. Most of the members of the family owned multiple properties, lots of cars, and enjoyed lives full of travel, adventure, and toys.
Randy Murdaugh the III’s son Alex met his wife Margaret Bransletter in the late 1980’s at the University of South Carolina. She’d grown up in Kentucky, and Alex was her first serious boyfriend. When they took their relationship to the next level, Maggie had to move to rural Hampton with Alex so that he could serve his civil attorney duties for the family firm. Maggie’s parents lived not too far away, and they all remained very close as they added sons Buster and Paul to the family.
Maggie was described as a loving friend, but above all else a doting mother. Her kids never wanted for anything, and she was always the first to volunteer for school functions. Though Buster was described as pretty easy-going growing up, Paul’s reputation was not as stellar. As a boy, Paul Murdaugh was described as a handful at best. In retrospect, family members say that Paul ran that house but they also say that Alex and Maggie ran the town- Consequences were not much a thing around the Murdaughs.
On February 23rd, 2019 the consequences of terrible decision making would finally begin to catch up with Paul with a heartbreaking tragedy. It was a typical Saturday night for rich kids in lowcountry, and 19 year old Paul and his girlfriend Morgan Doughty had plans to attend an oyster roast on Paulkie Island. The young couple invited their good friends Anthony Cook and his girlfriend Mallory Beech, as well as Anthony’s cousin Connor Cook and his girlfriend Mallory Altman. The 6 met up at a property they called “Murdaugh Island”, the riverfront property belonging to Paul’s parents, with plans to take the family boat to the event.
The teens were all underage and packed a cooler of alcohol with them on the boat as they headed out on their adventure. Surveillance footage from a local convenience store earlier that day confirms that Paul Murdaugh used his brother Buster’s ID in order to purchase the booze for himself and his friends. They could be seen celebrating getting away with it in the parking lot, boat in tow behind their vehicle.
They left for the party around 7pm that night where they enjoyed the house party for several hours, drinking and having a good time. Around midnight the 6 leave the party and head back out on the boat. The girls report being tired and wanting to go home, but at that time Paul and Connor wanted to stop for a few shots along the way. The group docked at a riverfront bar around 12:45 am, and Paul and Connor went in with their fake ids. Surveillance footage confirms the two boys taking shots at the bar while their friends shuffled impatiently outside, waiting for their boat ride back to dry land. Anthony had stayed outside with the girls, and so the surveillance footage also shows him sharing a tender snuggly moment with his girlfriend Mallory on the dock- a special memory which would unfortunately become their last.
Around 1am, the footage showed Paul and Connor returning to the dock after their drinks. Paul looked visibly intoxicated and was stumbling around, looked to maybe be yelling some things. One thing I noted on this footage was that Paul was seen putting his arms out to the side on the recording. This is actually really significant because Paul’s social circle would later report that this was his tell tale sign that he was drunk. He’s put his hands out to his sides, and switched into an alter-ego that the group called “Timmy”
“Timmy” had a different name because Paul’s friends say that when he got to that level of intoxication, he morphed into a completely different person. He has allegedly slapped girlfriends, disrobed and run around naked, started plenty of arguments, and more… but for Paul, or Timmy, or whoever he was that night, the worst of these mistakes was still to come.
At around 1:15am, the group finally headed out away from the dock. According to Paul’s girlfriend, Paul began driving the boat in circles and acting dangerous and erratic. They begged Paul to let Anthony drive, and he refused, saying over and over that it was his boat. They begged Paul to pull over and let them out at the next dock, and he refused. The group says that Paul kept leaving the wheel to argue with his girlfriend, and they all felt terrified of what he would do next. The GPS in the boat confirms that the boat began picking up speed until 2:20am when it crashed into the Archers Creek Bridge.
The chilling 911 call that came next revealed that Mallory had been thrown from the boat, and the other five could not find her. They can be heard screaming her name in the background while Connor tries to report his location to the emergency operator.
When the Beaufort County Sheriff’s office arrived on scene, Anthony was distressed and pacing, going back and forth between trying to find his girlfriend, and trying to get to Paul. Connor, Miley, Morgan, and Paul were rushed to the hospital to have their injuries treated, but Anthony refused to leave the scene without his girlfriend for some time. Dashcam footage from the responding officer shows Anthony referencing Paul’s culpability in the crime saying “Do you know who his family is? Good luck”
At the hospital, Connor was treated for a broken jaw, which explains his speech if you hear the 911 tape yourself. Morgan’s hand was also badly injured. But Paul was completely uncooperative, and he had to be secured to the bed- not as a criminal, or under criminal investigation, mind you- just to get him to cooperate with the medical work. It’s also really important to note that THIS is when Paul’s tested for his intoxication, despite all of his friends announcing that he was drunk, and despite all of his behavior at the scene of the crash indicating that he was drunk. When hospital staff finally took Paul’s blood alcohol content SEVERAL HOURS after the crash, it was at .24- three times the legal limit.
Paul’s father Alex (who remember is a prominent civil attorney) and grandfather Randy (who remember is the retired solicitor) rush to the hospital to be by Paul’s side. Hospital staff have since reported overhearing phone conversations where Alex said “She’s gone, don’t worry” and the other kids on the boat have reported that he came to their rooms to try to get all of their stories on the same page. Connor has said in retrospect that he felt Alex was trying to make him take the blame for the crash, and has since filed a lawsuit against Alex to that end.
For 8 days the community searched for Mallory while the Beech family held their breath. On March 3rd, 2019 her body was found 5 miles up the river from the crash site. Mallory’s family, though stricken with grief, realized immediately that they could not let Paul’s dangerous behavior go unpunished. They bravely filed a wrongful death suit against the son of the family who ruled the law in the lowcountry.
Perhaps fueled by public scrutiny from the Beech lawsuit, on April 18th 2019, Paul Murdaugh was officially charged with three felony counts of boating under the influence leading to the death of Mallory Beech and serious injury of the other passengers. It would have been Mallory’s 20th birthday that day.
Paul pleaded not guilty to all of these charges and was out on bond awaiting trial. The Beech family, Paul’s former friends, and many members of the community felt increasingly frustrated at the loose lifestyle Paul continued to enjoy while he was waiting for trial. He was given almost no restrictions so that he could carry on with his college education, and life carried on pretty seamlessly for him during the long investigatory period.
Until June 7th, 2021 at 10:07pm when 911 received yet another phone call about Paul Murdaugh.
Paul and his mother Maggie had been shot multiple times. They were both dead.
Call to Action:
We will be back next week to finish up with what we know about Life and Death among the Murdaughs, and believe me, things get a lot weirder. We’ll get into some of the theories behind this still yet unsolved double homicide, plus reveal the secret life, and more deaths uncovered during the investigation. More suspicion, murder, a suicide attempt, and many many charges will follow for the Murdaughs.
In the meantime your Call for Action tonight is a little bit different. Mallory Beach LOVED animals and a nonprofit charity has been started in her memory called Mal’s Palz. We’ll link it here if you’d like to make a donation in her honor:
If you know anything about the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, please call the anonymous tip line at (803) 896-2605