The Murdaugh family is one of the most prominent families in South Carolina, with a long and storied history of influence and power.
A member of the Murdaugh family had served as solicitor — or district attorney — in the region for an uninterrupted 85 years, from 1920 to 2005. Even now, the family’s wealth and power continues, with the family running a prolific law firm and owning several other businesses in Hampton, S.C.
“These people have power and money,” a resident told PEOPLE for this week’s cover story. “Everyone knew the Murdaughs.”
Now, local residents are talking about a heinous double murder — and how it might be connected to other mysterious and sudden deaths in the region possibly connected to the family.
Paul Murdaugh, 22, and his 52-year-old mother, Maggie, were shot and killed on their 1,770-acre property in Islandton on June 7. Paul’s father, Alex Murdaugh, a prominent South Carolina attorney, found their bodies shortly after 10 p.m.
Paul was shot in the head and chest with a shotgun and his mother was killed with an assault rifle. Police classified the killings as “execution-style” killings
At the time of his death, Paul, 22, was awaiting trial for charges of one count of boating under the influence (BUI) causing death and two counts of causing great bodily injury in connection with a February 2019 boating accident that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
Connor Cook, a passenger in the boat who suffered a broken jaw in the crash, recently filed a civil petition alleging investigators initially tried to steer the investigation away from Paul. In recently-released audio and video footage from the crash scene, Cook’s brother is heard telling a police officer that Paul was driving at the time of the crash. But FITSNews.com reports the officer wrote down in his official report that the brother said he “did not know” who was driving.
Paul pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on bail.
But there are other deaths that could be connected to the family, including the 2015 death of 19-year-old Steven Smith, who was found dead in the middle of a rural road in Hampton County, three miles from where his car had run out of gas. Authorities said it seemed like he had been the victim of a hit-and-run.
A statement from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) last month said that the agency “has opened an investigation into the death of Stephen Smith based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.”
Another death connected to the Murdaughs was that of their family housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield who died in 2018 as a result of a “trip and fall” accident, according to documents obtained by FITSNews.
While the 57-year-old woman’s death was classified as an accident, the Murdaugh family reportedly settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $500,000.
As authorities untangle the cases surrounding the Murdaugh family, residents of the area have mixed emotions about the double-murder case.
“This family is the salt of the earth,” Murdaugh family friend Bakari Sellers tells PEOPLE. “They are not being given the grace they deserve.”
But other residents are watching the case unfold like a soap opera. “Murder and mayhem,” says another resident. “That’s all anybody is talking about.”