A caller from a passing car who witnessed embattled South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh covered in blood and begging for help at the side of a rural road told a 911 dispatcher that they didn’t pull over because the scene looked staged.
“We are on Salkehatchie Road and there is a male on the side of the road with blood all over him and he’s waving his hands. He’s fine – he looks fine. but it kinda looks like a set-up so we didn’t stop,” a woman says in 911 calls released on Friday by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division from the 4 September incident.
Mr Murdaugh, 53, is the “scion” of a South Carolina legal family that has “ruled the criminal justice system in five swampy counties for 86 years over three generations”, longtime area journalist and editor David Lauderdale wrote in a Saturday column for The Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette.
But the Murdaugh family is now as well known for death and intrigue as it is for its storied Southern past – repeatedly hitting the headlines in recent years amidst tragedies that wouldn’t be out of place in a Faulkner plot.
Mr Murdaugh’s bloody roadside appearance last month was just the latest in a string of bizarre and violent incidents involving his family. In addition to the sceptical phone call by the passerby who didn’t pull over, the lawyer himself called authorities and spoke at length about how he’d been strangely attacked.
“I stopped, I got a flat tire, and I stopped and somebody stopped to help me,” Mr Murdaugh says on the tapes. “And when I turned my back, they tried to shoot me.”
He says he’s “okay” but “can’t drive” and is “having trouble seeing and I’m bleeding a lot ... somewhere on my head.”
When asked about his attacker, he tells the dispatcher it was a “white fella” who was “a fair amount younger than me” with “really short hair”.
It was far from his first interaction with police.
In 2018, the family housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, died after allegedly tripping over the Murdaugh dogs at the wealthy clan’s home. The following year, Mr Murdaugh’s son, Paul, was charged in connection with an under-the-influence boating crash that killed a 19-year-old girl and injured at least two others.
The younger Murdaugh was awaiting trial in June 2021 when he and his mother, 52-year-old Maggie, were shot to death outside their Colleton County estate.
Alex Murdaugh – Paul’s father and Maggie’s husband – allegedly found the bodies. Fast-forward three months, and then he is found bloody and waving down strangers on a country road with a fantastical story.
It turns out Mr Murdaugh – who comes from generations of prosecutors – has a long-running opioid addiction, he and his legal team told authorities. He was booked into treatment and, while he continues to deny involvement in the deaths of his wife and son, faces multiple serious other charges.
Some of those have prompted even more surprising explanations from the well-known lawyer.
He admitted to authorities that he tried to arrange his own death to get millions in life insurance money paid out to his surviving son. To do so, he says, he enlisted the help of a friend, Eddie Smith – who has adamantly denied both shooting Mr Murdaugh and supplying him drugs - on the day of the September roadside spectacle.
Last week, a judge denied Mr Murdaugh bond because his “considerable resources and mental instability appear for now to make it too risky to allow him to await trial outside of jail on charges he stole $3.4million in insurance money meant for the sons of his housekeeper,” AP reported.
The lawyer allegedly pocketed money earmarked for Ms Satterfield’s children, but his former law firm – founded by his great-grandfather – has also accused him of stealing possibly millions of dollars.
The Associated Press, after a Tuesday hearing, wrote that “prosecutors hinted ... that Murdaugh has turned over all his affairs to his surviving son and in recent weeks sold a boat and property in Beaufort County in what they said might be an attempt to hide money from at least three ongoing lawsuits.
“In addition to all of the other cases, state police are looking into whether Murdaugh has connections to a 2015 hit-and-run death and whether he or other family members tried to obstruct the investigation into a boat crash involving Paul Murdaugh that killed a 19-year-old woman in 2019,” AP reported.
Journalist Lauderdale, in his column on Saturday, wrote that the “Murdaugh madness is like a familiar old South Carolina Lowcountry scene.
“You come into the kitchen in the middle of the night, flip on the light, and the hissing Palmetto bugs scurry for the cover of darkness.
“Suddenly, the eyes of the world are focused 24/7 on a long string of sensational horrors – a fatal boat crash, a double homicide, a so-called botched suicide, alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars, two suspicious deaths,” he wrote, arguing that “South Carolina’s flawed version of justice” and classism was being unveiled by the ugly underbelly of an established, well-heeled family.
Mr Lauderdale’s column concluded by noting that South Carolina authorities were “now conducting six investigations into the Murdaugh madness.
“Whatever they find will get turned over to the good-old-boy prosecutors, lawyers and judges. Backs will be slapped. Wrists will be slapped.
“But SLED Chief Mark Keel said recently that his agency ‘will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of those who were victimized by Alex Murdaugh’ ... Now that the lights are on, we’ll see.”