Police investigating a 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, DailyMail.com can reveal.
Stephen Smith, 19, was found dead in the middle of a country road 15 miles from the Murdaugh family’s Islandton hunting lodge on July 8, 2015.
Now, police investigating the shooting deaths of mother and son, Maggie, 52, and Paul Murdaugh, 22, have re-opened the investigation into Smith’s death.
Smith’s death was ruled a hit-and-run, but his mother Sandy has always maintained that her son, who was gay, was the victim of a hate crime and the murder covered-up.
Now, DailyMail.com can exclusively reveal that 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 Paul’s older brother, Richard ‘Buster’ Murdaugh, 26.
Stephen Smith, 19, (pictured with his mother Sandy) was found dead in the middle of a country road 15 miles from the Murdaugh family’s Islandton hunting lodge on July 8, 2015
The Murdaughs are one of South Carolina’s most prominent legal families, with family members heading up the 14th Circuit solicitor’s office dating back almost a century. Pictured from left to right: Paul, Margaret, Alec and Buster.
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
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: ‘The victim was found in the middle of Sandy Run Road deceased from some sort of blunt force trauma to the head. Responded to the scene. I saw no vehicle debris, skid marks, or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle.’
The report continues: ‘The shoes were loosely tied, and both were still on. After consulting with MAIT we see no evidence to suggest the victim was struck by a vehicle.’
A second incident report signed by two deputies from Hampton County Sheriff’s office who responded to the first reports of a body stated: ‘I spotted a person laying in the middle of Sandy Run…The person was a white young male with a severe head wound.’
It continues: ‘After inspecting the body, it appears the victim had been shot.’
A third narrative written by a MAIT officer who is not named and was called at 5:35am on the morning of July 8, 2015, states that after initially being advised of a ‘possible Hit & Run fatality’ he arrived on the scene to be told by Hampton County Coroner Ernie Washington that it was a homicide.
The report reads: ‘He pointed out the wound to be a gunshot wound and showed me the entry point. 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.’
It states: ‘I asked for clarity if they were sure, it was a homicide, and their response was yes.’
Earlier this week, police announced they have gathered information in the Murdaugh double-murder investigation that has led them to reopen the case into Smith’s death
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’
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’
In a narrative in the MAIT case file obtained by DailyMail.com, an officer recounts how he was told Stephen Smith’s death was a homicide, was shown the victim’s gunshot wound by people on the scene, and also describes his confrontation with the doctor who performed the autopsy that converted it into a hit-and-run investigation
Later the officer notes, ‘MAIT also inspected the body…for any evidence and injuries. There were no visible injuries to the deceased, other than his head and a small amount of road rash on both arms. He had no broken bones and no injuries whatsoever on his torso or lower extremities.’
Crime Scene Notes from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Crime Scene Department are similarly clear.
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.
Clearly perplexed, the MAIT officer, who had attended the scene and spoken with Hampton County Coroner Dr. Washington, took the step of calling the doctor who conducted the autopsy and recorded being told: ‘It was not a gunshot wound and no bullet or fragments were found during the x-ray and that in her opinion that since the body was found in the roadway, she could only theorize that it had to be a motor vehicle that caused the death.’
When investigators followed up with the person who called in the tip about Buster (left) and Stephen’s (right) possible relationship, he said he was just repeating ‘rumors,’ according to the report
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
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 officer asked the doctor why she was ruling it as a motor vehicle accident and wrote: ‘She told me it was not her job to figure that out, it was mine.’
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.’
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial on charges relating to a fatal boating accident in 2019. He had been indicted and released on a $50,000 bond
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.’
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.’
Mallory Beach (pictured ) was killed in a 2019 boating accident allegedly caused by Paul. Questions around a possible tie between her boating death and last week’s murders continue to mount as the state attorney general is refusing to close the case into the boat crash despite the death of the man accused of being culpable
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.’
Randy is Paul and Buster’s uncle, patriarch Alex Murdaugh’s brother.
He and the third Murdaugh brother, John, appeared on GMA last week appealing for any information regarding Maggie and Paul’s brutal deaths.
Their bodies were found near dog kennels on the family’s vast hunting estate on June 7.
DailyMail.com revealed that the family had moved out there following a fatal boating accident in 2019 for which Paul was awaiting trial when he died.
He had been charged on three felony counts – two of boating under the influence and one of causing bodily harm and death.
He was allegedly ‘highly intoxicated’ when he plowed his boat into a piling in Archers Creek on a misty February night. He and five friends had been returning from a crab roast on Paulie Island.
Randy and John – the brothers of Alec – told Good Morning America Paul was receiving threats before his death
Paul and Maggie’s bodies were said to be found near a dog kennel on the family’s property above. Cops said Tuesday that information gathered during the investigation into their double murders has led them to reopen the case into Smith’s death
All were thrown from the vessel and all but 19-year-old Mallory Beach made it to shore.
Her body was found several days later, and her family is pursuing a wrongful death suit against the store that sold Paul alcohol as well as his father and brother whose ID he used to purchase the alcohol that night.
Earlier this month DailyMail.com reported that all four of the boat crash survivors and Beach’s family had voluntarily provided DNA samples and spoken to officers investigating the Murdaugh murders.
SLED spokesman Tommy Crosby confirmed on Tuesday that the agency had reopened the case into Stephen Smith’s death but would not say why or give any reason as to how it might be pertinent to their investigation into Maggie and Paul Murdaugh’s deaths.
Speaking to FITSNews, Smith’s mother Sandy told how SLED had contacted her and said that they were looking into any possible family involvement in the recent murders.
She described it as ‘a slap in the face,’ after years of demanding justice for her son.