The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has reportedly identified two persons of interest in the unsolved 2015 death of a teen whose body was found near the Murdaughs’ property.
SLED opened its own investigation into Stephen Smith’s death in 2021 after reviewing Highway Patrol’s Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team report — which led the agency to conclude that the 19-year-old was not hit by a car and that his body was dumped on a road in Hampton County. FITS News reported that two men who are being investigated as persons of interest in Smith’s death have ties to the Murdaughs.
According to FITS News, the stepfather of the first suspect contacted authorities five months after Smith’s death. The stepfather reportedly stated that his stepson said the second person of interest struck and killed Smith.
According to FITS News, the Highway Patrol wrote in their case notes, “the reason he [the stepfather] was passing this information on was because Randy Murdaugh told him to call.” Randy Murdaugh is Alex Murdaugh’s older brother.
The two persons of interest reportedly live near where Smith’s body was found in Hampton County.
A month after Smith’s death, Randy represented someone who filed a motor vehicle accident lawsuit against the second suspect. Less than a year later, another lawyer linked to the Murdaughs reportedly filed a separate lawsuit against the first person of interest. That suit also pertained to a motor vehicle accident. Both cases were eventually dismissed in court, according to FITS News.
Smith’s boyfriend alleged that around the time of Smith’s death, they had an argument about provocative posts Smith put on Craigslist. The boyfriend claimed that information about Smith’s work as an escort is on an iPad in his sister’s possession and that his sister would handle his calls pertaining to his escort work.
Smith’s boyfriend said that on the day Smith died, he mentioned two “rednecks” in a pickup truck who had harassed him on Highway 63 between Walterboro and Varnville. The boyfriend also stated that Smith sounded drunk or “on something” and that Smith felt he was being followed, FITS News reported.
“The last time we talked that night – before the phone went down — and I said to him, ‘are you walking or not?’… I know at one point I heard big mud tires, big mud tires. They’re like coming toward him or going past because they sounded loud, and they were getting louder. And that, I believe was the last time I talked to him,” Smith’s boyfriend said.
According to FITS News, Smith’s sister denied allegations that Smith was an escort. However, she reportedly admitted that she had no idea who Smith was seeing or where he was going in the two weeks preceding his death. Further, FITS News reported that police interviewed a man who claimed he had a sexual encounter with Smith after Smith placed an ad on Craigslist.
In 2016, Smith’s mother wrote to the FBI about the Murdaughs’ possible involvement in her son’s death. Smith attended high school with Buster Murdaugh, who is Alex’s surviving son.
“Stephen had on more than one occasion mentioned to friends and his twin sister that he was involved romantically with someone from a prominent family in the county who was hiding his sexuality. He said it would shock people to know this person was gay. We suspect this could be the young man Stephen was referring to, though he never named him,” she wrote.
However, sources told FITS News that SLED has evidence showing that the Murdaughs were not present when Smith was killed.
Earlier this month, SLED said Hampton County Sheriff’s Office and the South Carolina Highway Patrol did not ask them to investigate Smith’s death in 2015. According to the agency, it reexplored Smith’s case after agents “received information” and reviewed the highway patrol’s investigative file. At the time, it was unclear what information they got, where or who it came from, and why it led to them reviewing the case.
“From SCHP case notes it was apparent that the SCHP did not believe Mr. Smith’s death was a hit and run by a motor vehicle,” the statement read. “SLED’s investigation into the death of Mr. Smith was never closed – it remains a homicide investigation. Progress has been made, and SLED’s investigation is active and ongoing.”
In March, Smith’s family established a GoFundMe to have Smith’s body exhumed. The fundraiser quickly met its goal and amassed over $100,000 in less than a month.
Smith’s family said that they were seeking an independent autopsy in light of the investigation into Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s 2021 murders. The slayings occurred nearly two weeks before SLED revisited Smith’s case. At the time, SLED said information it uncovered while investigating the Murdaughs’ murders prompted them to look again at the case.
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[Featured image: Stephen Smith/Facebook]