Tales far beyond the watermelon patch

Published 5:20 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2022

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What does Hertford County, NC and Hampton County, SC have in common?

Well, other than the obvious…both starting with the same letter of the alphabet….each county takes pride in growing watermelons and conducting a festival to salute that juicy red fruit.

Last month (June), Hampton County celebrated their 80th annual Watermelon Festival. Next month (August), the town of Murfreesboro will host its 37th annual North Carolina Watermelon Festival.

However, Hampton County is home to an attraction they would perhaps much rather forget, and it’s capturing the national spotlight more and more with each passing day.

As a carnivore for news, I learned of the Alex Murdaugh case sometimes last year. He is part of the powerful Murdaugh family that until 2005 ruled the Solicitor’s Office in that rural area of South Carolina for the better part of 85 years. A Solicitor is similar to what a District Attorney does in our state…they are the lead prosecutor for criminal proceedings.

Alex Murdaugh never held the title of Solicitor. Rather, he worked alongside his brother and his father as lawyers in a family-owned practice. His life began to unravel when his wife and son were shot to death. But since that story broke, there were other extraordinary details within other deaths that involved a Murdaugh.

First, let’s deal with the most horrendous of these cases….the June 7, 2021 murders of Maggie (age 52) and Paul Murdaugh (age 22). Alex Murdaugh called 9-1-1 to report the shooting, which took place on hunting property belonging to the family. Alex Murdaugh told investigators he went to the property after visiting with his ailing father and discovered the two bodies.

On Thursday of last week, a grand jury handed down indictments against Alex Murdaugh and he was arrested on two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

The twisted tale of Alex Murdaugh begins long before the murders of his wife and youngest son.

In early July of 2015, a young man by the name of Stephen Smith is found dead on a back road in Hampton County. There was some confusion about where the 19-year-old was the victim of a hit-and-run as he walked at night down that road or if he was shot at another location and the body taken to that road and positioned in a way that made it look like a hit-and-run.

I later read that there were no tire/skid marks in the vicinity of where the body was found or no physical evidence, such as broken glass or a part from a vehicle lying about. No arrest was ever made in the case, but six years later the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced they were reopening the investigation into Smith’s death, citing information gathered during the murder investigation into the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. The Smith investigation is ongoing.

On the second day of February in 2018, Gloria Satterfield falls at the Alex Murdaugh home. Satterfield, age 57, had worked as a housekeeper and nanny for the family for over 20 years. It was reported that Satterfield lost her balance on the steps of the home, allegedly when the family dog or dogs were at her feet. She suffered trauma to her head and died three weeks later.

In September of 2021, Satterfield’s sons filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Alex Murdaugh. The lawsuit alleges that Murdaugh said he was at fault for Satterfield’s death and that his insurance company would pay more than $500,000 to her survivors. The family claimed to have never received one dime of that insurance claim.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced it was opening a criminal investigation into Satterfield’s death and the handling of her estate. A settlement was finally reached in that case in October of last year. Additionally, the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended the law license of attorney Cory Fleming, accused of helping Alex Murdaugh funnel money from Satterfield’s wrongful death settlement.

For his part, Murdaugh was indicted on nearly 30 criminal counts in connection with Satterfield’s wrongful death settlement.

Nearly one year after Satterfield’s death, a boating accident near Parris Island, SC claimed the life of 19-year-old Mallory Beach. It took a week to locate her body.

It was determined that Beach was out with friends that night and they took a boat ride. One of the friends was Paul Murdaugh. He was allegedly operating the boat when it struck the pilings of a bridge, throwing Beach into the water.

The Beach family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Murdaugh, along with the owners of a convenience store that allegedly sold alcoholic beverages to the underage occupants of the boat.

In April of 2019, Paul Murdaugh (then age 20) was indicted on charges of boating under the influence causing death and two counts of boating under the influence causing great bodily injury. He pled not guilty to all charges.

In early August of 2021, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office drops all charges against Paul Murdaugh in the death of Mallory Beach due to his own death.

And just when you thought that nothing else could lead to a story about Alex Murdaugh, he is confronted on Sept. 2, 2021 by those within his law firm, accusing him of taking money from the business as well as from clients. He resigned the very next day.

Twenty-four hours later (Sept. 4, 2021), Alex Murdaugh is shot in the head while changing a flat tire on his car. It’s a superficial wound that was fired by a man who claims that Murdaugh offered him money to kill him. Authorities say Murdaugh admitted that the scheme was set up so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy.

Over the next few days, Murdaugh entered a drug rehab program. Meanwhile, the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended his law license.

Since this sad saga began, Alex Murdaugh has been the subject of 16 indictments totaling 81 charges. He is accused of schemes to defraud victims of nearly $8.5 million.

It’s my best guess that in the very near future, there’s a made-for-TV movie or perhaps a NetFlix series waiting to be filmed in Hampton County, SC. It’s also my best guess that it will not be about watermelons.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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