Buster Murdaugh has made his first public statement since his father Alex Murdaugh was found guilty of murder to deny allegations that he was involved in the death of 19-year-old classmate Stephen Smith, whose badly injured body was found 15 miles (24 km) from the home of the now-infamous family.
Investigators reopened the inquiry into Smith’s 2015 death after Alex Murdaugh, a prominent figure in his South Carolina community, was arrested for the 2021 slayings of his own wife and son, Buster’s mother and brother.
The Murdaugh family murders have captured international attention — thanks in part to a Netflix documentary — and have been the subject of intense speculation, especially in regard to a series of other mysterious deaths in the family’s orbit.
“I have tried my best to ignore the vicious rumours about my involvement in Stephen Smith’s tragic death that continue to be published in the media as I grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother,” Buster said Monday. “I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family.
“I am requesting that the media immediately stop publishing these defamatory comments and rumours about me.”
On July 8, 2015, Smith was found dead in the middle of Sandy Run Road in Hampton County. The death of the 19-year-old, who was an openly gay nursing student, was ruled a hit-and-run — but his family, and others, had doubts.
The teen’s body was found about two to three miles (three to five km) from his car, which had run out of gas, and there was no broken glass or debris around him that may have indicated a car crash. Smith was found still wearing loose-fitting sneakers, which would have likely fallen off his feet if he had been run down. These details fuelled speculation that foul play was involved in Smith’s death.
Investigators with South Carolina’s highway patrol said they received tips that Buster may have been connected. Sources in the Netflix documentary Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal alleged that people in Hampton County believed Smith and Buster were in a romantic relationship, and that the Murdaugh family wanted to cover it up. The two reportedly graduated from high school together in 2014.
Last week, Smith’s mother announced that a GoFundMe for her son had raised enough money to exhume his body and conduct an independent autopsy.
“Thank you for not allowing Stephen’s story to be swept under a rug. We will pursue the exhumation immediately and provide updates along the way,” the organizer wrote on the campaign page. “You have made this possible, and it means the world to us. This is Stephen’s year.”
The campaign has raised almost US$70,000 as of press time, far exceeding the initial goal of US$15,000.
Also last week, state investigators said they had “made progress” in its investigation into Smith’s death, which “remains active and ongoing.”
Investigators are also looking into other deaths that surrounded the Murdaugh family, including the deaths of family housekeeper Gloria Satterfield and 19-year-old Mallory Beach, who died in a 2019 boating accident that stirred allegations against slain Murdaugh son Paul.
State investigators said they will exhume Satterfield’s body as part of their investigation.
On March 2, disgraced lawyer Alex Murdaugh was convicted of murder in the shooting deaths of his wife and son in a case that chronicled the unravelling of a powerful Southern family with tales of privilege, greed and addiction.
The jury deliberated for less than three hours before finding Alex Murdaugh guilty of two counts of murder. The next day he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Prosecutors said the former lawyer killed his wife and son to evoke sympathy to buy time to cover up alleged financial crimes that were about to be discovered.
Alex Murdaugh has appealed the conviction and maintains his innocence.
Buster attended each day of his father’s six-week long murder trial, alongside his girlfriend and uncle. He testified in his father’s defence on Feb. 21, telling the jury that his father had called him “heartbroken” when he found the bodies of his wife and son.