With Stephen Smith’s death set to finally be investigated by law enforcement after being ruled a homicide, DailyMail.com looks into the unanswered questions surrounding the suspicious death.
Buster Murdaugh faces increasing scrutiny over the death of the nursing student – despite vehemently denying any links to the teenager.
Smith was found dead in the middle of the road near the Murdaugh’s home in 2015 with several injuries investigators say were not consistent with a road traffic accident.
Murdaugh, 26, the sole surviving son of the disgraced legal scion Alex, who was found guilty of brutally murdering his wife Maggie and younger son Paul, was named in several police reports at the time as having a relationship with his classmate.
All three of the men in the Murdaugh family, Buster, Alex, and Paul, have now been accused of having a hand in the death of someone in their hometown of Collerton County.
Stephen Smith was found dead in the middle of the road near the Murdaugh’s home in 2015 with several injuries which investigators say were not consistent with a road traffic accident
Buster Murdaugh faces increasing scrutiny over the death of the nursing student – despite vehemently denying any links to the teenager
Paul was indicted after being accused of driving a boat in a fatal collision which killed Mallory Beach, 19, in 2019. The case was never resolved before his death.
Alex’s guilty verdict and a Netflix and HBO special on the murders has sparked renewed interest in the suspected murder of Smith.
Law enforcement say they now have time to investigate following the conclusion of the double murder trial – and feel people in the small town could feel more comfortable coming forward with information.
It could have severe implications for Buster, who has never been interviewed as part of the probe into Smith’s death despite being named in several police reports.
Many are speculating that Alex could have had a hand in ‘covering up’ his son’s suspected involvement in Smith’s death – as DailyMail.com take a look at the questions that are left unanswered in the renewed murder investigation.
What is known about the death of Stephen Smith?
What is SLED?
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
The primary mission of the is to provide quality manpower and technical assistance to law enforcement agencies and to conduct investigations on behalf of the state as directed by the Governor and Attorney General.
Smith was found dead on July 8, 2015, on Sandy run Road near the Murdaugh property with a blunt-force trauma injury to the head.
Lawyers for his family say that from the torso down he had no injuries, with no car parts found at the scene.
He also supposedly walked three miles in the dark without using his phone and left his wallet in his car.
Smith’s mother Sandy said he would not have left his wallet behind and would have at least called his sister.
The teen’s death was initially ruled a hit and run, but highway patrol officers have since claimed that they did not believe the scene was consistent with a road traffic accident.
Last week, Smith’s family announced that his body would be exhumed for a private autopsy after raising $60,000.
The original incident report written by South Carolina Highway Patrol investigators on the scene and contained in the Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation (MAIT) case file obtained by DailyMail.com states: ‘He pointed out the wound to be a gunshot wound and showed me the entry point.
Stephen Smith (right), the 19-year-old former classmate of Buster Murdaugh, was found dead in July 2015 on rural Sandy Run Road in Hampton County, near the Murdaugh property
Pictured: Stephen Smith’s car found along Sandy Run Road in Hampton, South Carolina in 2015
Files from the 2015 investigation stated Smith was found in the middle of Sandy Run Road with some sort of blunt force trauma to the head and that there was ‘no vehicle debris, skid marks, or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle’
‘Assistant Coroner Kelly Greene then began to show me photographs they took, again pointing to the entry point to the head and also a defensive wound to the hand.’
Written by a James B. Tallon III the notes state: ‘Originally HCSO had notified the South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) in reference to this being a possible hit and run.
‘After further investigation it was believed that the victim had been shot in the head.’
And EMS worker is noted as having, ‘stated that a projectile wound was located on the victim’s head.’
And the notes state: ‘A hole in the skull was located above the victim’s right eye.’
But when the autopsy was conducted at MUSC Health University Medical Center, the manner of death was listed not as homicide but ‘undetermined,’ and it was ruled a hit and run.
It is unclear when Smith’s body is set to be exhumed, but investigators say they are now focused on the probe.
Stephen Smith (right) and his mother Sandy (left). His family have long believed he was murdered – as Stephen’s body allegedly did not have any injures from the torso down, and no car parts were found at the scene
The original incident report by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety dated July 8, 2015 found that there was ‘no evidence to suggest the victim was struck by a vehicle’
Why has Buster Murdaugh been linked to the death – despite denying involvement?
In June 2021, Dailymail.com revealed that police investigating the teen’s suspicious death probed witnesses over any relationship the dead boy may have had with the heir to a powerful South Carolina legal dynasty.
Since then, Netflix and HBO documentaries have alleged rumors had swirled in the small town that Buster and his late younger brother Paul were potentially involved in Smith’s death.
On Monday, Buster released a statement denying the ‘vicious rumors’ that he was involved in Smith’s death.
Smith’s mother Sandy has always maintained that her son, who was gay, was the victim of a hate crime and the murder covered-up.
Initial investigators found no evidence of any vehicle accident, were convinced that the victim had a gunshot wound above his right eye, and received tips questioning whether Smith had a relationship with Buster.
The 26-year-old surviving son of double-murderer Alex Murdaugh released a statement Monday saying speculation ‘has gone on far too long
SLED reopened the investigation into Smith’s death in 2021, citing new evidence that was uncovered while investigating murders of Buster’s mother Maggie Murdaugh and brother Paul
The case was investigated as a hit and run with cops pursuing a variety of lines of investigation and numerous tips.
Among those tips, and reported by FITSNews, was an anonymous one naming Paul and his brother ‘Buster.’
In records seen by DailyMail.com it is noted that a tipster raised the question of whether, ‘Stephen and Buster Murdaugh ever had any type of relationship.’
But when investigators followed up with the person who had called in, he said he was just repeating ‘rumors.’
Investigative notes also show that officers quizzed one subject about whom they had received a tip-off.
The tip-off which came via anonymous email stated that, ‘Dontereo Aiken along with another black male and a white male (Murdaugh) are the ones involved in the death.’
Investigators followed up on this and spoke with Aiken about his knowledge of, ‘anyone with the last name Murdaugh.’
An investigation log note from August 2015 shows one investigator informing another of a tip questioning whether Stephen and Buster Murdaugh ‘ever had any type of relationship’
Another note shows investigators received an anonymous tip months later stating ‘Dontereo Aiken along with another black male and a white male (Murdaugh) are the ones involved in the death’
Police later quizzed Aiken about his ties to Buster Murdaugh to which he stated he ‘never hung out with him or went to any parties hosted’ by the family
Aiken said that ‘he knew one that graduated with the victim.’ But when questioned, he himself denied being friends with any Murdaughs on Facebook and then appeared to indicate he was unsure.
Officers subsequently found that Aiken was Facebook friends with Buster Murdaugh.
When pressed, he ‘stated he never hang (sic) out with him or went to any parties hosted by the Murdaugh subjects.’
In another curious inclusion, an officer noted a tip called in on December 18 by a man claiming that his stepson had named a local guy as the one who ‘struck and killed Stephen Smith.’
The tipster then failed to return any calls and when finally reached, ‘stated that the reason that he was passing this information on was because Randy Murdaugh told him to call.’
Buster, who supported his doomed father every day during his trial last month, said he wanted privacy to ‘grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother’
In another curious inclusion, an officer noted a tip called in on December 18 by a man claiming that his stepson had named a local guy as the one who ‘struck and killed Stephen Smith’
Randy is Paul and Buster’s uncle, patriarch Alex Murdaugh’s brother. He offered to take Smith’s case pro-bono at the time of his death.
Since then, two documentaries by HBO and Netflix have aired rumors that Buster was involved in a romantic relationship with Smith.
Smith’s sister Stephanie said that Alex Murdaugh’s brother Randy Murdaugh called the family the day Smith was found dead informing him that he wanted to take the case free of charge.
A Netflix documentary explored their alleged relationship, though at the time Buster refused to give a comment.
More than half of the people interviewed during the investigation mentioned hearing about rumors of Buster Murdaugh’s possible involvement in Smith’s death – but was never brought in for questioning.
Buster is currently thought to be holed up at his lawyer girlfriend’s property in Hilton Head, and was spotted walking dogs at the property several times during the trial.
In the statement Monday, shared by Alex Murdaugh’s trial lawyer Jim Griffin, Buster called the claims as ‘baseless’
Why has the case been reopened – and what could happen next?
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division revealed on Tuesday that they did not need to exhume Smith’s body to convince them his death was a homicide.
Bland Richter Law Firm, which is representing Smith’s family, made the announcement on Tuesday after a call with SLED Chief Mark Keel.
SLED officials said they will ‘be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen’s body to gather more evidence.’
Bland Richter co-founder Eric Bland said SLED is committed to combining efforts and resources as the state moves forward with exhuming Smith’s Body.
‘We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do just that,’ said Bland.
On Tuesday, Attorney Ronnie Richter told TMZ Live there are a ‘number of facts that clearly point to murder’.
Paul (right) 22, and mom Maggie (left) 52, were found shot dead near the family’s hunting estate on June 7. Paul is thought to have been the intended target of the shooting
Smith’s family announced they will exhume his body following renewed attention on the case after Alex Murdaugh was found guilty of murdering his wife and son. There have been rumors that Murdaugh’s son Buster (pictured) was involved in a romantic relationship with Smith
Investigators re-opened the case into his death in 2021 following their probe into the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
But according to Bland, SLED officials said they were waiting until Murdaugh’s double murder trial was over to make this announcement because of their concern over witness testimony.
Alex Murdaugh, Buster’s father, was convicted last month of killing his wife, Maggie , 52, and his son, Paul, 22, and sentenced to life in prison.
Buster’s mother and brother were found brutally shot to death near the kennels at their sprawling Moselle hunting lodge in Islandton on June 7, 2021.
A GoFundMe for Stephen Smith, who died in 2015, has surpassed its target
Two docuseries about the Murdaugh murders released in recent months revealed new details and allegations about five deaths in six deaths possibly connected to the powerful family
The spotlight on the double murders shed new light on Stephen Smith’s case.
‘SLED officials have revealed that they did not need to exhume Stephen Smith’s body to convince them that his death was a homicide.’ Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter said in a joint statement.
‘However, they will be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen’s body to gather more evidence.
‘We are committed to finding out what really happened, and getting the peace and justice the Smith family deserves.’
It could see Buster Murdaugh speak to investigators as part of the enquiry – even if it is just to rule him out as a suspect.
DailyMail.com reached out to Murdaugh family lawyer Jim Griffin to ask if investigators had been in touch with Buster and if he would cooperate with the investigation but did not immediately receive a response.
Could Alex Murdaugh become embroiled in the latest homicide investigation close to the family?
Cops have yet to single-out any suspect over Smith’s murder. Buster Murdaugh has denied rumors it was him.
Alex Murdaugh has shown he’s capable of cold-blooded murder, and is currently serving life behind bars.
But cops have not commented on whether they believe Alex was also involved in killing Smith or covering-up his death.
If so, he could potentially take the rap for the killing – as he’s already serving life behind bars for murdering son Paul and wife Maggie.
Murdaugh was accused in 2021 of allegedly covering up his Paul’s involvement in a fatal boat crash in February 2019 – as well as staging his own death in an insurance-fraud scheme.
A new mugshot shows Alex Murdaugh with his head shaved smiling in yellow prison overalls after his conviction
Mallory Beach (pictured ) was killed in a 2019 boating accident allegedly caused by Paul before his death
It was a Netflix documentary, released around the same time as the double murder trial of disgraced legal scion Alex Murdaugh, that revived attention to the 2015 case
According to a lawsuit filed by Connor Cook, (pictured right ) prominent South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh, 53, allegedly tried to pin a boating crash Cook, who was 19 at the time
A lawsuit filed in 2021 on behalf of Connor Cook says Murdaugh allegedly attempted to ‘shift the blame’ from his son Paul, who initially was charged in the crash prior to his murder.
According to the lawsuit, the former South Carolina lawyer allegedly tried to pin the incident on Cook, who was 19 at the time and one of six individuals on the boat.
Cook, now 23, said Murdaugh allegedly told him to ‘keep his mouth shut’ and lie to authorities that he was unaware who was driving the boat, despite knowing it was Paul.
He added that Murdaugh and others were ‘orchestrating a campaign’ to have him ‘held criminally and civilly responsible’ for the incident.
‘Murdaugh … negligently or intentionally attempted to shift the blame for the boat accident, causing the intentional and/or reckless infliction of severe emotional distress,’ the lawsuit reads.
Alex Murdaugh, 54, was sentenced last week to two consecutive life sentences for the murders of his wife, Maggie, 52, and son, Paul, 22
Netflix and HBO documentaries revealed rumors had swirled in the small town that Buster and his younger brother Paul were potentially involved in Smith’s death
Paul and Maggie’s bodies were said to be found near a dog kennel on the family’s property above
By ‘attempting to steer the criminal investigation away from Paul Murdaugh, ‘ the suit claims that ‘the methods used, proximately caused Plaintiff Cook severe emotional distress.’
On Feb. 24, 2019, prosecutors alleged that Paul drunkenly crashed his dad’s 17-foot into a bridge after an oyster roast.
The boat was carrying five additional passengers, and at least three were launched into the water due to the crash.
Mallory Beach, 19, was among those who went overboard and was found dead a week later by two fishermen about five miles from where the boat crashed.
According to a police report, all passengers on the boat were ‘grossly intoxicated’ despite being under the legal drinking age.
Beach’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Murdaugh’s and the liquor store that sold the alcohol to the teenagers.