HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. — South Carolina detectives have opened an investigation into the 2018 death of the Murdaugh family’s housekeeper, one day after revealing that patriarch Alex Murdaugh is accused of trying to orchestrate his own murder for millions in insurance money.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced the new probe into Gloria Harriott Satterfield’s death Wednesday afternoon. SLED officials said Hampton County Coroner Angela Topper formally requested the investigation earlier in the day.
Satterfield, 57, died Feb. 26, 2018, following an alleged fall at the Murdaugh family’s Hampton home. The housekeeper and nanny, who worked for the Murdaughs for more than 20 years, “loved (them) as her family,” according to her obituary.
Topper wrote in a letter to SLED Chief Mark Keel that she found inconsistencies in how Satterfield’s death was handled.
“The decedent’s death was not reported to the coroner at the time, nor was an autopsy performed,” Topper wrote. “On the death certificate, the manner of death was ruled ‘natural,’ which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip-and-fall accident.”
Topper concluded by stating that in light of the inconsistencies, she felt it was “prudent to pursue an investigation” into Satterfield’s demise.
The Post and Courier reported that the SLED probe was announced hours after Satterfield’s sons filed a lawsuit against Murdaugh over the handling of their mother’s estate. The lawsuit alleges that the Satterfield family has never seen a dime of a $505,000 wrongful death settlement negotiated in her death.
The filing states that Murdaugh told Satterfield’s family that he was going to “take care of the boys” by filing the wrongful death lawsuit against himself. He introduced her sons, Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriott, to attorney Cory Fleming, who represented them in the case.
The Satterfields allege they were never told Fleming was Murdaugh’s former college roommate and godfather to one of his sons. They also allege they were kept in the dark about the negotiations over the settlement.
The men’s lawsuit claims they were unaware a settlement had been reached until they read news reports following the June 7 murders of Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and 22-year-old Paul Terry Murdaugh.
“It’s our hope this is all one big misunderstanding and that the funds are being held beneficially for them somewhere, but we’re going to find out,” Ronnie Richter, an attorney for the brothers, told the Post and Courier.
Read the Satterfield lawsuit in its entirety below.
The Satterfield investigation is the latest twist in a complex case that began when Murdaugh, 53, of Hampton, discovered his wife and son dead from multiple gunshot wounds at Moselle, the family’s hunting lodge in Islandton. Alex Murdaugh called 911 that night after he said he found their bodies lying near outdoor dog kennels on the property.
Murdaugh has been called a “person of interest” in the homicides, despite media statements from his brothers stating that Murdaugh found his wife and son dead when he returned from bringing his father, Randolph Murdaugh III, to the hospital. The elder Murdaugh, 81, died of natural causes June 10, just three days after the double homicide.
The brutal slayings kicked off a cascade of developments that has tarnished the name of one of South Carolina’s most prominent legal families. In the three months since the murders, Alex Murdaugh has allegedly admitted to an opioid addiction and to stealing money from his family’s 111-year-old law firm.
On Monday, he also admitted to asking a former client — from whom he bought his drugs — to fatally shoot him so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy, police officials said.
Curtis Edward Smith, 61, of Walterboro, was charged Tuesday night in Murdaugh’s Sept. 4 shooting. Smith is charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.
Smith is being held at the Colleton County Detention Center.
Murdaugh had not been charged with a crime as of Wednesday evening, but South Carolina Law Enforcement Division officials said that additional charges are expected in the botched suicide case.
An affidavit in Smith’s case describes Murdaugh as a co-defendant.
A lawyer for Murdaugh told the “Today” show Wednesday morning that he does expect Murdaugh to be charged in the assisted suicide attempt. Attorney Dick Harpootlian said Murdaugh’s addiction to pain pills, along with a deep depression over the murders of his wife and son, led to the plot.
He said his client was in opioid withdrawal when he decided to end his life.
Smith is also charged with marijuana possession and distribution of methamphetamine, authorities said.
Murdaugh issued a statement last week blaming his family’s murders for the “incredibly difficult time in (his) life.”
“I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret,” Murdaugh said last week in the statement, which was obtained by WCBD in Charleston. “I’m resigning from my law firm and entering rehab after a long battle that has been exacerbated by these murders.
“I am immensely sorry to everyone I’ve hurt, including my family, friends and colleagues. I ask for prayers as I rehabilitate myself and my relationships.”
The Supreme Court of South Carolina has indefinitely suspended Murdaugh’s license to practice law.
Murdaugh is still considered a “person of interest” in the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. Both mother and son were slain near some dog kennels on the property.
Sources within the investigation told the Hilton Head Island Packet that both a shotgun and a semi-automatic assault-style rifle were used. Paul Murdaugh was shot in the head and upper body with the shotgun, the newspaper reported.
Maggie Murdaugh was killed with the rifle.
No arrests have been made in the double homicide, though SLED officials previously said the public was not at risk.
Harpootlian said Wednesday that there was no connection between the murders and Alex Murdaugh’s suicide attempt.
“Clearly he is distraught about their deaths. He did not murder them,” Harpootlian said.
Murdaugh has been in an rehab facility since earlier this month, when he resigned from his position in his family’s law firm. Aside from his personal injury work with Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, Murdaugh until recently served part-time as a volunteer prosecutor with the 14th Judicial Circuit.
He is the fourth generation of Murdaughs to work in that office, beginning with his great-grandfather, Randolph Murdaugh Sr., being named to the solicitor’s post in 1920. Alex Murdaugh’s late father served as solicitor until 2005.
His brother and surviving son both work for the family firm.
Representatives with the firm released a statement last week accusing Murdaugh of “misappropriating” funds. Though no numbers have been made public, a source close to the case told The State in Columbia that the amount of missing money is about $5 million.
Harpootlian told “Today” that his client spent the “vast majority” of the funds on drugs.
SLED officials announced Monday that its investigators had opened a probe into the allegations against Murdaugh.
Murdaugh resigned from the firm the day before his Sept. 4 shooting, which took place on the side of Old Salkehatchie Road in rural Hampton County.
According to initial reports, Murdaugh claimed he was on his way to Charleston that afternoon when his Mercedes-Benz SUV got a flat tire. He said he was attempting to change the tire when a man in a truck fired a gun at him.
Read the affidavit for Curtis Smith’s arrest below.
Murdaugh was flown to a hospital in Savannah, Georgia, where he was treated for a superficial wound to the head, authorities said.
The affidavit in Smith’s arrest alleges that Murdaugh and Smith conspired to commit the shooting. Murdaugh provided the gun with which he was shot.
Murdaugh detailed his involvement in the plot when questioned Monday, according to authorities.
“Mr. Murdaugh provided a statement to SLED admitting to the scheme of having Mr. Smith murder him for the purpose of his son collecting a life insurance policy valued at approximately $10 million,” the affidavit states.
Smith allegedly confessed Tuesday to shooting Murdaugh and disposing of the gun.
“He believed that $10 million policy had a suicide exclusion,” Harpootlian said of his client. “Suicide exclusions are only good for two years, and he didn’t realize that. So, he arranged to have this guy shoot him.
“It was an attempt on his part to do something to protect his child.”
Harpootlian said that Murdaugh decided to come clean about his shooting after detoxing from the opioids in rehab.
“He didn’t want law enforcement spending time on this fake crime instead of focusing on solving the murders of Maggie and Paul,” the attorney said.
Murdaugh’s attorneys also said in a written statement that “people feeding his addiction,” like Smith, contributed to the suicide attempt.
“These individuals took advantage of his addiction and his ability to pay substantial funds for illegal drugs,” the lawyers’ statement said. “One of those individuals took advantage of his mental illness and agreed to take Alex’s life by shooting him in the head.”
The attorneys said Murdaugh has been addicted to opioids for 20 years. They did not address how the addiction began.
“Alex is fully cooperating with SLED in their investigations into his shooting, opioid use and the search to find the person or people responsible for the murder of his wife and son,” the statement read.
Along with Satterfield’s death, the Murdaugh murders have called attention to other past troubles involving the family.
Paul Murdaugh was killed as he awaited trial in a high-profile 2019 boating crash that killed his cousin’s girlfriend, 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
According to authorities, Murdaugh was intoxicated when he smashed his family’s boat into the pilings of a bridge, ejecting several of his passengers. Beach’s body was recovered a week after the crash.
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigators have also opened an investigation into the cold case of Stephen Smith, who was found dead on a Hampton County road in 2015. Smith, 19, of Brunson, reportedly died of blunt force trauma, and authorities suspected a hit-and-run crash.
Smith’s mother believes he may have been the victim of foul play, The Associated Press reported. Sandy Smith has told multiple news outlets over the years that she believes her son was beaten to death.
She has also said she believes Paul Murdaugh could have been involved. The Island Packet reported that Smith graduated in 2014 from Wade Hampton High School with Paul Murdaugh’s older brother, Richard “Buster” Murdaugh.
State police officials said information gathered during the Murdaugh homicide investigation led to the fresh look at Smith’s case, WCSC reported in June.
Authorities have not said how, or even if, the two cases are otherwise connected.
Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, issued a statement Wednesday saying her family has no connection to Curtis Smith.
“For the record my children nor I are related to any Smiths in the state of South Carolina,” she said in a statement to the independent FITSNews site. “Our Smith name comes from Miami, Florida. Some of you people are crazy for even asking me that. We want justice not vengeance.”
©2021 Cox Media Group