Passengers on the boat that crashed and killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach suggested that Paul Murdaugh’s father may have pressured witnesses to avoid saying Paul was driving the boat — and one man claims he was set up to be seen as the boat’s driver.
The February 2019 boat crash has come under increased scrutiny following the murder of Paul, 22, and his mother Maggie Murdaugh, who were fatally shot outside a residential building at their hunting lodge in Colleton County on June 7. Police have not named any suspects in the double homicide, but have said that the victims were killed with different firearms. Maggie’s husband and Paul’s father Alex Murdaugh first discovered the bodies and is reportedly a person of interest, though he is believed to have a strong alibi: The attorney was visiting his ailing father in the hospital on the night of the killings.
When he was killed, Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial on charges of boating under the influence. Murdaugh and other passengers on the boat were “grossly intoxicated,” police reports said at the time. Still, new documents appear to show that Murdaugh was never given a blood-alcohol test.
The Island Packet obtained deposition documents connected to a wrongful death suit brought by Beach’s family, as well as a civil petition brought by Connor Cook, one of the six boat passengers. In the petition, Cook’s lawyers alleged that unidentified people tried to frame Cook as the driver of the boat. Cook also alleged a “civil conspiracy,” accusing five police officers of knowing about attempts to interfere with the investigation. Cook additionally claimed that some evidence was missing from the scene of the crash.
The five officers “have information as to a ‘campaign’ to cloud the investigatory issues and disseminate false information in the community with the intention of misleading law enforcement and prosecution charging parties, and the public, into wrongly and falsely believing Connor Cook should be arrested and charged as the boat operator with multiple counts of Felony Boating Under the Influence,” the petition reads, according to the report.
Additional passengers, including Beach’s boyfriend Anthony Cook (it is not clear if he is related to Connor Cook) gave depositions in connection to the wrongful death suit. The deposition records show that Anthony Cook told Austin Pritcher, an officer with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources whose job was to “figure out who was driving the boat,” that Paul Murdaugh was driving it.
The report also states that Paul Murdauch denied driving the boat in his initial interview with Pritcher at the hospital after the crash, when Mallory Beach was still missing. She had been thrown from the boat, something that Paul Murdaugh did not immediately tell the dispatcher when he called 911 to report the crash, but revealed that someone was missing not long into the conversation.
“Why do you need to know who was driving[?] That isn’t going to help find Mallory,” Murdaugh reportedly said when Pritcher asked who was driving the boat. “What if it was me driving the boat[?]”
According to the report, Anthony Cook told Pritcher that Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat in a conversation that was recorded on dashcam video — but Pritcher not include this disclosure in a statement about the inquiry.
“I put in my statement that Anthony said he didn’t know, but listening to that video if he told me Paul, I would only assume that I put down that he told me Paul,” Pritcher said at the deposition, according to the Island Packet.
The records shows that Connor Cook did initially tell police he didn’t know who was driving the boat, but said in a 2020 deposition that Paul Murdaugh was driving it. He also claimed that Paul’s father pressured him not to talk.
“Well, I was told for one by Alex Murdaugh that I didn’t need to tell anyone who was driving,” Cook reportedly said in the deposition.
Pritcher also interviewed Paul Murdaugh’s then-girlfriend Morgan Doughty at the hospital, when she reportedly told the detective that Alex Murdaugh had been trying to get into her room. She initially told Pritcher that “Connor [Cook] was driving because Paul was too drunk to drive,” but a nurse wrote in a hospital record that Doughty appeared to question her statement. “… when her mom got here, she wasn’t sure if her first statement was right or wrong.”
Doughty’s mother reportedly said that her daughter would give police another statement after she got some sleep. The next day, Doughty did arrange a meeting with Pritcher over text to set up a meeting to give a new statement. But the subsequent statement was not recorded, according to the Island Packet.
During a later deposition, Doughty reportedly said that Paul Murdaugh had been driving the boat prior to the crash but that she couldn’t see who was driving the boat at the time of impact.
Miley Altman, Connor Cook’s girlfriend and another passenger, also said initially that she was not sure who was driving.
“We all of a sudden were right in front of the bridge and it came out of nowhere,” Altman wrote in her statement. “Next thing I know, we are all screaming, and I checked on my friends and my best friend [Mallory] is missing. She’s gone.”
As the report notes, she and other passengers, at the request of police, drew a diagram to show where everyone on the boat was sitting. Altman’s illustration showed Paul Murdaugh behind the wheel.
Beach’s body was found in the water a week after the crash.
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