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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, May 25, 2024

‘Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal’ and why you should or shouldn’t watch it

Caution tape is pictured.

Unless you have been holed up in your dorm room or Tisch Library studying for the past six weeks, you’ve probably heard about disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh, who was on trial for the murders of his wife, Maggie, and younger son, Paul, back in the summer of 2021. On Thursday, the prosecution and defense finished closing arguments and the jury was given instructions for deliberation. What many expected to take a few days, if not over a week, took a little less than three hours, with Murdaugh found guilty of two counts of murder and two counts of possessing a weapon with dangerous intent. On Friday, he was sentenced by Judge Clifton Newman to two life sentences. 

Netflix joined the club of networks who have released documentaries about the prominent family and deaths surrounding them alongside HBO Max and Investigation Discovery. Released Feb. 22, 2023, Netflix’s “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal” came out during Murdaugh’s trial, which was live streamed from the courtroom across local and national networks. Many longtime followers of the case were surprised by statements made by creators Jenner Furst and Jennifer Willoughby Nason, who made the documentary “Fyre Fraud” (2019), as they uncovered evidence of new crimes while interviewing people close to the Murdaugh family and the victims of Alex Murdaugh’s financial schemes.

Only three episodes long, the Netflix series spends far more time on the many suspicious deaths surrounding the family over the years than the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. Mallory Beach died in February 2019, after Paul Murdaugh crashed his father’s boat into a bridge while intoxicated. The story is told through interviews with the other boat passengers: cousins Anthony and Connor Cook, Morgan Doughty and Miley Altman, along with their parents. Doughty, who was Paul Murdaugh’s girlfriend until the fatal crash, shares her experiences with the family and the trauma she’s been left with from her teenage relationship and loss of one of her best friends. Beach was 19 years old when she died tragically. The investigation into the accident and her death was suspicious from the beginning, with ties between law enforcement and the Murdaughs leaving many questions still unanswered four years later. Her parents watched as the Murdaughs were allowed close to the scene of the accident while the Beaches were kept away during the ongoing search for Mallory, who was missing for a week following the crash.

Beach is just one of three suspicious deaths highlighted in the series, along with the deaths of Gloria Satterfield and Stephen Smith. Smith was found dead in the middle of a road early in the morning of July 8, 2015, under unknown circumstances. His death was ruled to be due to a car accident despite the lack of evidence to back up the cause of death. The South Carolina Highway Patrol was put in charge of the investigation. During this time, the name Murdaugh was mentioned often in gossip; Buster Murdaugh was rumored to have been dating Smith at the time of his death. 

Gloria Satterfield, the Murdaugh’s housekeeper, passed away in 2018 following an accident in which she tripped over the family’s dogs. Alex Murdaugh proceeded to help her sons sue him and claim insurance money, more than $4 million, and keep it for himself. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has reopened the investigation into Smith and Satterfield’s deaths.

The Netflix series includes interviews with far more people surrounding the family than the series released by HBO, and presents the deaths of Beach, Smith and Satterfield with an equal focus to those of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. However, the series has received criticism for representing some rumors as evidence while these rumors were either discounted in the recent trial or never mentioned. The series was released just one day before Alex Murdaugh took the stand in his own defense, which could prove to harm the audience reception of the show. The series couldn’t have predicted that the former attorney would admit under oath that he had lied to investigators for two years about the last time he saw his wife and son. The evidence that sealed Murdaugh’s fate, which seems to be mostly from his vehicle and cell phone, would have changed Netflix’s presentation of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh’s murders significantly had they waited until after the trial. Yes, the editing was done prior to these revelations but the date of the court case, starting at the end of January, has been public knowledge for months.

“The Murdaugh Murders Podcast,” hosted by Mandy Matney and Liz Farrel, does a much better job exploring the minutiae of this case, the Murdaughs’ financial crimes and the local attitudes towards the Murdaugh family name than Netflix’s three-part series. If Netflix releases a part two following the events of the trial and the evidence now made public, they could improve the quality of “The Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal” significantly.

Summary A great introduction to this captivating true crime story, this series falls flat largely due to the timing of its release. The editing and emotional interviews will lead to any curious viewer down the rabbit hole that is the Murdaugh family
3.5 Stars