Murdaugh decided to end his life, his attorney Dick Harpootlian told NBC’s “Today Show,” but he believed his life insurance policy had a suicide exclusion and the scheme “was an attempt on his part to do something to protect” his only living son.
But that’s not even the half of it.
To be clear, no one has been arrested for any of these deaths, and no one has been found guilty of any of the alleged crimes. There is much the public still doesn’t know, although this hasn’t prevented a great many people from theorizing and pontificating.
The story is a fascinating one on its face. But it’s made all the more captivating because of who the Murdaughs are: a powerful family that ran a prosecutor’s office in South Carolina for generations, and whose reach and influence have long been vast and deep.
Did any of that influence figure into previous cases related to the family?
How, exactly, did Alex Murdaugh — a personal injury lawyer who surely knew how to read contracts and understand insurance rules — misunderstand his own life insurance policy rules such that he believed his own suicide would disqualify his son from receiving a payout?
America remains enthralled with true crime. Millions of people devour based-on-a-true-story police procedurals, download endless murder podcasts, and play online sleuth on Reddit forums and Facebook pages. The stories that seem to fascinate us most aren’t the ones about commonplace crimes, or even the crimes we are most likely to be victimized by, but the ones that are aberrant: those that involve the powerful, wealthy or beautiful; those that are layered with mystery, deceit and too-convenient coincidences.
Some of our true crime obsession is no doubt about an impulse to face our most primal fear — the fear of no longer existing — in the safer context of the highly unusual murders we are unlikely to ever experience. And some of it likely comes from seeking even a false sense of control. If we can imagine all of the worst things happening, perhaps we can be better prepared for them.
The Murdaugh saga triggers something different: morbid curiosity to be sure, and a simple need to discern the truth out of a complicated set of facts. But there’s also a desire to see some moral come out of this sordid story.
Depending on where you stand, the interest in this story is either pure rubbernecking or a pure wish to see justice done for Mallory Beach, Stephen Smith, Gloria Satterfield, and Margaret and Paul Murdaugh; or at the very least, to figure out who, if anyone, is responsible for each death. If it’s truly the latter, then followers of the Murdaugh story should buckle up for a long ride, because the thorough investigations and fair trials that beget real justice take time.
Justice also requires real accountability, including of the police, prosecutors, and townspeople who lived and worked alongside members of the Murdaugh family and likely felt the long reach of their power. And that is one area where the true-crime obsessives following this case should keep their focus: Not on digging up the truth themselves through theory and conjecture, but on making sure that the people vested with that power do their jobs.