The mother of a South Carolina teenager found dead on a rural road in 2015 said she plans to have his body exhumed for an independent autopsy as her case finds renewed interest following the arrest and murder conviction of Alex Murdaugh.
In a GoFundMe page that quickly raised more than $43,000, enough to pay for the exhumation of teen Stephen Smith, his mother thanked supporters for «not letting Stephen’s story be swept under the rug.»
«It’s Stephen’s year,» Sandy Smith told NBC News on Friday.
The family’s attempt to get answers was triggered in June 2021 in the weeks after the murders of Margaret Murdaugh, 52, and her son, Paul, 22, on their property in Colleton County. Agents with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, announced that their investigation into the murders, which were unsolved at the time, had turned up reviews about other mysterious deaths in the area and that they had some connection to the powerful family
SLED said they were opening an investigation into Smith’s death «based on information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation.»
Researchers said in 2015 that 19-year-old Smith appeared, was struck by a vehicle while standing outside his car after he ran out of gas, reported NBC affiliate WCBD in Charleston. The incident occurred in Hampton County, about 15 miles from Murdaugh’s property known as Moselle.
Initially, Smith was found with a «defensive wound» to his hand, according to an investigator’s report. obtained by the island pack, and a murder investigation was opened. However, the case was complicated when a medical examiner later wrote in a report that Smith’s cause of death was the result of being struck in the head by a car mirror, part of an apparent hit-and-run.
But no glass or debris from a car was found where Smith’s body was located or in the immediate area, The Island Packet reported.
Meanwhile, South Carolina Highway Patrol investigators said they received tips that Paul Murdaugh’s older brother, Buster, may have been connected. An investigator attempted to contact Buster, but the extent of the conversation that took place is unclear. State investigators have refused to discuss the case.
Buster Murdaugh and Smith reportedly graduated in 2014 from the same high school in Hampton County.
No member of the Murdaugh family has been directly named as being involved in Smith’s death. His case has drawn attention with the public’s fascination with the Murdaugh saga and has been included in recent docuseries on HBO Max and Netflix.
Smith’s family and friends shared their concern for him as an openly gay teenager in a largely conservative region.
Alex Murdaugh, a once-prominent lawyer and scion of a well-connected legal family in Lowcountry South Carolina, was convicted this month of murdering his wife and son. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole and is still facing a series of financial charges related to the embezzlement of millions of dollars from clients and his family’s law firm.
His lawyers plan to appeal his double murder conviction.
Among those Murdaugh was accused of stealing was the family of his housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died in 2018 in what was initially described as an accidental fall on Murdaugh’s property.
Lawyers for Satterfield’s adult children eventually recovered millions of dollars owed to his estate.
The circumstances surrounding Satterfield’s death were questioned in 2021 by the Hampton County coroner, who requested that his case be reopened because an autopsy had not been performed.
«On the death certificate, the manner of death was ruled ‘natural,’ which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident,» the coroner wrote to state investigators.
SLED also announced in June 2022 that it would exhume Satterfield’s body as part of the investigation, which his family has said they support to definitively rule out the crime.
Sandy Smith has also maintained that what happened to her son is more than a hit and run and believes he was beaten by the way his body was found on the road.
She said Friday that she last spoke to SLED investigators about three weeks ago and that she will be getting help with her son’s exhumation from attorney Eric Bland, who also represents the Satterfield children.
Any donations left over after the exhumation and autopsy are complete will go to a scholarship fund to help college students pay for the books, Sandy Smith added. Her son was pursuing a nursing career at the time of this death.
In a statement on Friday, SLED said it had «progressed» its investigation into Smith’s death and that it «remains active and ongoing.»
Sandy Smith said she wants an independent exhumation and autopsy because she doesn’t want it done by the same medical center that initially classified her son’s death as a hit-and-run «despite there being no evidence to support it.»
«We need a fresh unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts,» he wrote on his GoFundMe page.