What Happened To Stephen Smith? The Murdaugh Family Mystery Continues
Buster Murdaugh, the son of disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh, has denied having anything to do with the July 2015 death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith, which has now officially been ruled a homicide.
On March 20, 2023, the attorneys for Buster Murdaugh, the son of convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh, issued a statement refuting any rumors that Buster was involved in the death of his classmate 19-year-old Stephen Smith. The next day, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced Smith’s death is now officially being investigated as a homicide.
The circumstances of Stephen Smith’s death
In the early morning hours of July 8, 2015, Smith’s body was found in the middle of a rural road in Hampton, South Carolina, around 15 miles from the home of the prominent and powerful Murdaugh family. Smith’s cause of death was initially ruled a hit and run, but the state of his body along with the circumstances surrounding his death cast doubt on that ruling.
Smith, a nursing student from Hampton, was discovered lying in the middle of the road three miles away from where his car had apparently run out of gas. He had deep gashes on his forehead, and police officers initially thought he had been shot before it was ruled that Smith had died from blunt head trauma sustained from being hit by a vehicle.
The case was reopened in 2021
In June 2021, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced they were reopening a probe into Smith’s death based on information learned while investigating the killings of Alex Murdaugh’s wife and son, CNN reported.
Although rumors swirled in the town that Buster Murdaugh and his younger brother were potentially involved in Smith's death, no charges were brought against anyone in the family, and no suspects were named. According to reporting by FITSnews, the Murdaugh family was first mentioned in relation to Smith's death on July 17, 2015 and brought up "more than 40 times” throughout the course of the investigation.
Authorities have not disclosed any connection between Smith’s death and the Murdaugh family, CNN reported.
Stephen Smith’s family pushed for the investigation to continue
In March 2023, the same month that Alex Murdaugh was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the double murder of his wife and son, Smith’s family announced they are seeking to exhume his body in an attempt to receive answers about what led to his death. Smith’s mother and her attorneys announced they would petition a court to have his body exhumed for a private autopsy to seek “a new, unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts.”
The family has raised over $80,000 on GoFundMe to put towards the exhumation and a private autopsy.
On March 21, a week after the GoFundMe page launched, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced that Smith’s death has officially been ruled a homicide.
On April 2, Eric Bland, Sandy Smith's attorney, announced that Smith was exhumed for a second autopsy.
"We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do just that," said Bland, PEOPLE reported.