How Alex Murdaugh's web of scandal came crashing down

The closely watched case is the subject of a new "20/20."

March 3, 2023, 1:59 PM

Disgraced South Carolina former attorney Alex Murdaugh has been convicted of murdering his wife and son and sentenced to life in prison in the closely watched double murder trial involving a shocking web of scandal that quickly began to unravel in the summer of 2021.

On June 7, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and Paul Murdaugh, 22, were found dead with multiple gunshot wounds near the dog kennels at the family's estate Moselle in Islandton, South Carolina. Alex Murdaugh, who reported the discovery to police, was charged with their deaths 13 months later.

A new "20/20" airing March 3 at 9.p.m. ET delves into the high-profile case, covering Alex Murdaugh's alleged financial crimes, an alleged assisted suicide attempt, opioid addiction and a deadly boating accident involving his son Paul in 2019.

A prominent legal family with deep roots in South Carolina's Lowcountry, the Murdaughs helped found a Hampton County law firm that's more than a century old. Several generations have worked as top prosecutors in the area.

"In the area, the Murdaughs weren't above the law, they were the law," Pilar Melendez, a Daily Beast reporter who covered the case, told ABC News.

PHOTO: The entrance to the kennels at the Murdaugh Moselle property is seen during a visit to the crime scene on March 1, 2023, in Islandton, S.C.
The entrance to the kennels at the Murdaugh Moselle property is seen during a visit to the crime scene on March 1, 2023, in Islandton, S.C.
(Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the state's top police agency, led the double homicide investigation.

Alex Murdaugh told investigators early on that he was not down by the kennels the night of the murders and had last seen his wife and son at dinner before finding their bodies upon returning home from visiting his mother, who has dementia.

But Alex Murdaugh's voice can be heard on a video taken by his son at the kennels several minutes before the victims were believed to be killed, according to witnesses called by the prosecution at trial. It took investigators months after the deaths to get into Paul Murdaugh's locked phone and find the video. With a lack of physical evidence tying Alex Murdaugh to the crime, it became a key piece of evidence in the prosecution's case.

While testifying on the stand, Alex Murdaugh admitted to lying to investigators about his whereabouts that night, but denied that he committed the brutal murders. When asked why he lied about the last time he saw his wife and son, Murdaugh blamed his 20-year addiction to opioids, which he said caused "paranoid thinking." On the stand, he claimed he had been clean for 535 days.

"On June the 7th, I wasn't thinking clearly. I don't think I was capable of reason and I lied about being out there and I'm so sorry that I did," Murdaugh said.

The defense portrayed Alex Murdaugh as a loving husband and father and argued that police ignored the possibility that anyone else could have killed them.

"I would never hurt Maggie. ... I would never hurt Paul," Alex Murdaugh said.

In the months following his wife and son's murders, Alex Murdaugh left his law firm, which sued him for allegedly embezzling money from clients and the law firm for years. He also said he entered a rehab facility.

A major twist came when Alex Murdaugh said he was shot in the head while changing a tire on the side of the road on Sept 4, 2021. He was transported to a hospital for treatment of a superficial wound to the head, investigators said. Murdaugh later claimed in an affidavit that he had asked the alleged gunman to assist him in dying by suicide, so his remaining son, Buster Murdaugh, could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. The alleged gunman denied shooting Murdaugh and claimed he wasn't aware of any alleged insurance fraud scheme.

Less than two weeks after the shooting, Alex Murdaugh surrendered to police on charges of insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report.

Alex Murdaugh was also charged with misappropriating settlement funds in the death of his former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died in the Murdaugh family home after a falling accident in 2018.

PHOTO: Alex Murdaugh sits with his attorneys before he takes the stand in his trial for murder at the Colleton County Courthouse on Feb. 23, 2023 in Walterboro, S.C.
Alex Murdaugh sits with his attorneys before he takes the stand in his trial for murder at the Colleton County Courthouse on Feb. 23, 2023 in Walterboro, S.C.
Joshua Boucher/The State via AP, Pool

At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial in connection with a deadly 2019 boating accident. Paul Murdaugh was accused of crashing the boat while under the influence, resulting in the death of his friend Mallory Beach.

Beach's family and others in the community argued that Paul Murdaugh was being given special treatment due to his family's legal connections.

Authorities said that the Murdaugh family name had no sway on their investigation.

The resulting wrongful death lawsuit filed against Alex Murdaugh by Beach's family, who alleged he allowed his underage son to drive under the influence, one was factor in bringing years of alleged theft from his law firm and clients to light.

Before Maggie and Paul were killed, Mark Tinsley, a lawyer for the Beach family in the lawsuit, was pushing for access to Alex Murdaugh's financial records after Murdaugh's lawyer told Tinsley that he didn't have the money to pay for a potential judgment.

"If you claim that you're broke, I want to see your bank accounts, cause I don't trust what you're going to say," Tinsley told ABC News.

Three days before a court hearing was set for a judge to rule if Alex Murdaugh would have to hand over his financial records in the Beach wrongful death lawsuit, his wife and son were murdered.

In their reply to the wrongful death lawsuit, Murdaugh's attorneys denied all wrongdoing and even that Paul was driving the boat the time of the crash.

Prosecutors argued that Alex Murdaugh killed his wife and son to gain sympathy and distract from his alleged financial wrongdoings that were starting to go public.

The murder trial catapulted the Murdaugh family name into the national spotlight and has been called "South Carolina's trial of a century."

"In the entire history of this newspaper, this is the biggest, most impactful story that we've ever covered," Michael DeWitt, managing editor for the Augusta Chronicle, told ABC News.