New details have emerged in the Paul and Maggie Murdaugh double-homicide that has led state authorities to open a 2015 hit-and-run investigation of Stephen Smith.
The horrifying double-murder in Colleton County has shaken the small southern town to its core. And new details in the homicide investigation have sparked state authorities’ interest to re-investigate the 2015 hit-and-run death of Stephen Smith –– citing the possibility that new details may link Paul Murdaugh to the young man’s tragic death, Inside Edition Digital has confirmed.
“Based on the information gathered during the murder [investigation] fof Maggie and Paul Murdaugh” the SLED will be investigating the death of Stephen Smith, a spokesperson told Inside Edition Digital this week. No additional details were provided.
The Death of Stephen Smith and All the Unanswered Questions That Have Followed
The Smith family has been quietly aching ever since they got the call that their beloved boy, Stephen, was found dead in the middle of a rural road one summer night nearly six years ago.
Authorities responded to a call relating to a “traffic fatality” on Sandy Run Road in Hampton on July 8, 2015, according to a police report.
When officers arrived at the desolate road just before 5 a.m., they found 19-year-old Stephen Smith sprawled out in the middle of the street with his head bashed in. He was alone and his car was about two to three miles down the empty street, according to police records. His car was out of gas, and the gas cap was left open. The coroner found his car keys, wallet and his cellphone in the pocket of his pants.
Investigators from the South Carolina Highway Patrol scoured the scene and initially deemed it hit-and-run, according to documents obtained by Inside Edition Digital.
Detectives speculated that a truck side-swiped Smith as he was walking down the roadway after his car had run out of gas.
“The gas tank door was open and the gas cap was hanging on the side of the vehicle,” crime scene notes said.
Running out of gas was often something Stephen Smith mistakenly did, his family told Inside Edition Digital. But, they added, if he were stranded he would call his family for help and wait in the trees on the roadside. Which is why they had trouble imagining their son would stand out in the middle of the road this time.
Smith was found with injuries on his left arm, left hand and head. He had a gaping hole in his skull above his right eye. His right arm was also covered in blood.
As night turned to morning, investigators on the scene had begun questioning whether Smith’s injuries were more consistent with a homicide, and not a hit-and-run as they initially thought.
One police report indicated that there was “no evidence to suggest the victim was struck by a vehicle,” according to a South Carolina Department of Public Safety incident report.
Members of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Crime Scene were requested to the scene by Chief Billy Jarrell of the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office to assist in what they thought could be a murder investigation.
After an autopsy was performed by the Medical University of South Carolina the day of his death. Pathologist Dr. Erin Presnell deemed Smith was struck by a car.
His cause of death was determined to be due to blunt head trauma caused by a motor vehicle collision as Smith appeared to be walking on foot.
When Investigator Todd Proctor spoke with Presnell, he wrote that she said that the evidence was consistent with a hit-and-run “because he was found in the road,” according to South Carolina Highway Patrol case notes.
Proctor probed Presnell, asking if it could be possible that Smith was struck by someone with a baseball bat in a moving car.
In records from the South Carolina Highway Patrol, Proctor wrote that Presnel told him, “well I guess it’s possible,” and then added it was “his job to find out what struck him, not hers.”
Detectives had begun pursuing an anonymous tip that was sent to the SLED on Dec. 15, 2015, that named brothers Paul and Buster Murdaugh as possible persons of interest, according to SCHP documents.
At the time, there were reportedly multiple persons of interest but there have never been any arrests. Neither Murdaugh brother have ever been named suspects in the case, nor were they ever charged.
Sandy Smith, Stephen’s mother, wrote a letter to the FBI Headquarters dated Sept. 28, 2016, with the opening sentence, “my family needs your help.”
Smith also wrote to the Attorney General’s office pleading for assistance in her son’s death.
By late 2016, the case went cold and the Smith family was left without any closure.
But years later, there was another death in the town.
Another Death in the Small Town Puts Murdaughs in Spotlight
In February 2019, Paul Murdaugh and five friends were out drinking at an oyster roast near their coastal South Carolina town.
The group had been out drinking all night and ended up taking a boat back home, driven by Paul Murdaugh and belonging to his father, Alex.
While aboard the 17-foot cruiser, the group began arguing about whether they should continue drinking or go home for the night.
In an alleged drunken outburst, Paul accelerated the boat “full throttle” and all six passengers, including Paul, were ejected from the boat.
Five were able to make it safely back to shore but 19-year-old Mallory Beach was nowhere to be found.
A week later her body resurfaced.
Paul Murdaugh was charged with three felony counts of boating under the influence causing injury or death. He did not serve a single day in jail and was released on bond.
Paul and His Mother Maggie Are Found Slain at Family Home
On the evening of June 7, prominent attorney Alex Murdaugh found his son and wife fatally shot at their family’s sprawling home in Islandton.
Paul had suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the head and torso and his mother, Maggie, was also shot with an assault rifle.
In the days following the murders, scant information was released to the public.
But after multiple public information requests regarding incident reports from the day the bodies were found, the SLED has been more forthcoming with the public and released an 18-page redacted investigative report.
The SLED Will Open 2015 Hit-and-Run Death Investigation Based on Information Gathered in Murdaugh Homicide Case
News of the SLED investigation is a major stepping stone for the Smith family, who had been left thinking that all of the doors were closed.
“No one cared about Stephen’s death,” his aunt, Connie, said in a phone interview with Inside Edition Digital. “Stephen mattered too.”
Stephen Smith was studying to be a nurse at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College in Orangeburg.
His twin sister, Stephanie Smith, spoke with Inside Edition Digital this week about the last time she ever saw her brother.
“He called me because his car wouldn’t start,” she recalled the afternoon on the day of his death. “His battery terminals were loose. I had to come jump start it.”
She said that her brother always had car troubles, so she didn’t think anything of it. But she does remember Stephen acting a bit on edge –– she felt he thought he was being followed.
“I’m excited about this new investigation, but a little hesitant, too,” she continued. “I won’t get my hopes up because it can always go cold like it did last time.”