Content warning: This article contains references to murder some may find upsetting. Reader discretion is advised.
Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were murdered by father, husband, and ex-lawyer Alex Murdaugh who was recently sentenced to life in prison for their deaths. But fans of the Murdaugh Murder Netflix series know that there are two other unexplained deaths highlighted in the show. The deaths of the Murdaugh family's housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, and Stephen Smith, a teenager who was found dead in 2015 have both been connected to the troubled family.
Stephen Smith was 19 years old when his body was discovered in the middle of a Hampton County Road on July 8, 2015, just 15 miles away from the Murdaugh house. The initial incident report declared that he passed away due to severe head trauma from being hit by a car, but nearly eight years after his death, in April 2023, Stephen's body was exhumed for a second autopsy.
Forensic expert Kenneth Kinsey, who was hired as a private investigator by Stephen's mother, Sandy Smith's legal team, gave NewsNation an optimistic update about the condition of Stephen's body and whether or not pathologists were able to discover new evidence to help determine a true cause of death. While the final autopsy has not officially been released, Kinsey told NewsNation, "I do know it was a success."
According to Kinsey, "They [the pathologists] said they did collect evidence. It was very good documentation, and everybody was upbeat about the information that was collected." The Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Department forensic expert, who has led over 700 homicide cases and testified in Alex Murdaugh's trial, believed the latest findings were very encouraging because "That's not always the situation when you exhume someone after so many years, but they said they have everything they need."
In March 2023, SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) spokesperson Renée Wunderlich confirmed that the teen's 2015 death would officially be investigated as a homicide. According to People, attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter shared in a joint statement that they waited to announce Stephen's death being investigated as a homicide until after Alex Murdaugh's trial "out of concern that witnesses would not be as forthcoming under the Murdaugh sphere of influence." They also noted in their statement that SLED officials will "participate in any exhumation of Stephen's body to gather more evidence" and are backing Sandy Smith in her "efforts to find out what really happened to her son. They have expressed their condolences to the Smith family and will continue to work diligently to bring those responsible for Stephen's death to justice."
In addition, Wunderlich explained that SLED has been looking into the details since 2021 when the case was reopened "based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh" according to NBC.
While they did not expand on what that additional information was, we do know that a private investigator hired by Stephen's mother Sandy Smith discovered that he was linked to Buster Murdaugh (the oldest Murdaugh son, who is still alive). Buster was reportedly in a covert relationship with Stephen, who was openly gay, and the secret nature of their connection was due to the Murdaughs not wanting it attached to their family name. However, the rumor mill continued to run despite their reported desires to cover things up, and CNN noted that initial South Carolina Highway Patrol case files for Stephen's death showed dozens of mentions of the Murdaugh name (including Buster) by both witnesses and investigators.
Buster Murdaugh has not been charged with Stephen Smith's death, but he recently made a statement about his rumored involvement. "I've tried my best to ignore the vicious rumors 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," he said. "These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false. I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death. My heart goes out to the Smith family."
Private investigator Steven Peterson weighed in on these comments, saying to Fox, "I wish his heart went out to the Smith family a couple of years ago when I first got involved and tried to interview Buster and I was told by the law firm that they were not submitting to any interviews."
Peterson continued, "They weren't talking to anybody. So, we could have eliminated all that, at least in 2021, but leading up to that, you figure Stephen was found dead in 2015 and no one ever interviewed Buster. So, I don't understand that either."
Hannah is the Assistant Fashion & eCommerce Editor at Seventeen and covers all things style, shopping, and money. Seventeen taught her how to get dressed when she was younger, and she now spends her working hours passing down her expertise.