The death three years ago of a longtime housekeeper and nanny for the Murdaugh family will be the subject of a criminal investigation, South Carolina authorities announced Wednesday, yielding yet another unexpected turn in a case that has entangled a prominent legal family.
A spokesman for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said the death of Gloria Satterfield has prompted a review following a request from the Hampton County coroner and based on “information gathered” during a separate investigation involving Alex Murdaugh, the legal scion whose wife and son were fatally shot in June.
Satterfield’s death “was not reported to the coroner at the time, nor was an autopsy performed,” Hampton County Coroner Angela Topper wrote in a letter to state investigators in her request. “On the death certificate, the manner of death was ruled ‘natural,’ which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident.”
Earlier Wednesday, an attorney for Satterfield’s family filed a lawsuit in Hampton County court accusing Murdaugh and others of breach of fiduciary duty in failing to pay them as part of a wrongful death settlement.
Satterfield was 57 when she died in February 2018 from injuries sustained from a fall in the Murdaugh home, where she was employed for more than two decades. According to the suit, “the exact details of the fall remain unclear” to her two sons, Michael “Tony” Satterfield and Brian Harriott, who were supposed to get $475,000 in direct payment to “compensate them for the grief, sorrow and mourning associated with the loss of their mother.”
The home was insured through Lloyd’s of London, according to the suit. Murdaugh initially pledged that he was “going to take care of the boys,” the suit added, by suing himself to collect on personal liability insurance through Lloyd’s. But nearly two years after a partial settlement was reached with the insurance firm, a “stipulation of dismissal” was filed in October 2020, purportedly ending the estate’s claims against Murdaugh. Murdaugh also signed the stipulation, according to an exhibit attached to the suit.
“Neither Tony, nor Brian, were consulted about the dismissal, nor were they told of what, if any, additional actions had been taken on their behalves in the years following the partial settlement,” the suit said. “Tony and Brian first learned that money had been recovered from the death of their mother when it was reported in the press.”
Ronald Richter Jr., an attorney for Satterfield’s family, told NBC News they’ve received “not a dime.”
“We’re informed that the settlement was $505,000, but the net proceeds of that settlement, we’re told that they have received none of that money, although the case supposedly resolved in 2018,” he said.
Another attorney, Eric Bland, said Satterfield’s sons didn’t previously want to make waves.
“It’s hard. One of our clients is special needs, the other lives in a small Southern town … and they didn’t ask questions,” he said. They previously “tried to call their lawyers and didn’t get a response, but they didn’t take it beyond that. They were scared.”
A Murdaugh family spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The latest investigation surrounding the family comes after state investigators and lawyers for Murdaugh revealed he used a gunman to attempt to stage his own death so that a $10 million life insurance policy can be paid to another son.
The bizarre plot unraveled, however, when the lawyers said the man, Curtis Edward Smith, only grazed Murdaugh’s head with a bullet during the Sept. 4 roadside shooting, and days later, Murdaugh’s law firm accused him of misappropriating money.
Jim Griffin, one of Murdaugh’s lawyers, said that his client did not tell state investigators that he paid Smith and that Smith “willingly shot him without pay,” The Post and Courier reported. He also said Smith was the “primary” drug dealer for Murdaugh, who had been dealing with an addiction to painkillers.
Smith, 61, was charged with assisted suicide, insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and other counts, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said in a statement. Murdaugh, who was listed as a co-defendant, was not immediately arrested; another of his lawyers, Richard Harpootlian, said on NBC’s “TODAY” show that he expects charges to be filed.
Court documents show that Murdaugh had first represented Smith in a personal injury lawsuit in 2012 and then for a speeding ticket in 2013. Other details surrounding their connection, and whether the shooting might also be tied to the unsolved slayings of Murdaugh’s wife, Margaret, and son Paul remain unclear.
Harpootlian said Murdaugh was “distraught” over their deaths and overcome by emotions exacerbated by a 20-year opioid addiction, but insisted he did not play a role in their killings.
Harpootlian said they’re doing their own investigation, and “we think we’ll know this week whether the one suspect we’re looking at bears further scrutiny, and we’ll make that available to law enforcement.”
Smith was also charged with distribution of methamphetamine and possession of marijuana. Court records indicate he has traffic violations in Colleton County going back to 1995, and it was not immediately clear if he currently has an attorney.
Given what investigators and his attorneys have already said, Murdaugh himself could face numerous charges, including conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, as well as charges related to the theft of money from his law firm and the purchasing of illegal drugs, according to Kenneth Gaines, a law professor at the University of South Carolina.
“When they pull back the covers on this, there’s going to be a whole lot of things flying out,” he said.
Harpootlian said on “TODAY” that Murdaugh remains cooperative with state investigators as he seeks treatment for his drug addiction at a rehab center. He said Murdaugh also provided investigators with his bank accounts and “told them how to find out how much he spent, where it went, where the bank accounts were, what went in, what came out,” as well as “checks written to drug dealers.
The family’s powerful legal connections were in the spotlight after Paul Murdaugh was indicted in a boat crash in 2019 that left Mallory Beach, 19, dead. A police report said people on the boat were “grossly intoxicated.”
Paul Murdaugh, who had pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of boating under the influence, was awaiting trial at the time of his death.
In addition, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced in June that it was opening an investigation into the death of another 19-year-old, Stephen Smith, who was found on a rural road in Hampton County in 2015. Investigators said the case was opened after information was found while investigating the double homicide of Margaret and Paul Murdaugh.
Source: CNBC News