(NewsNation) — As Alex Murdaugh heads to trial for the murder of his wife and son, there is another mysterious case that has led investigators back to the Murdaugh family.
In 2015, 19-year-old Stephen Smith was found in the middle of a rural road. Police determined it was a hit and run.
But from day one, his mother said otherwise, believing her son was murdered. Accident investigators agreed. Yet, the case was left classified as a hit and run.
Now, the case is being reexamined, including why some Murdaugh family members were among those first on scene.
Stephen Smith was studying to be a nurse at the Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, hoping to eventually become a doctor. On July 8, 2015 he was on his way home from school when he ran out of gas. His car was found down a dark rural road in Hampton County, South Carolina with the gas cap off.
Three miles away, Stephen Smith’s body was found, in the middle of the road with no skid marks or other physical evidence that a car had hit him. A special accident investigation team looked at the case and determined it was a homicide, but a pathologist disagreed, saying he likely died from being hit in the face by the mirror of a passing car.
“It definitely was not a hit and run. He had blunt force trauma. And it seemed to be an intentional act, which we consider homicide,” said Michael Duncan, a retired corporal who was part of the accident investigation team.
Eric Bland, an attorney involved in several cases connected to Alex Murdaugh, said the scene didn’t fit with what Smith’s family knew about him.
“We think he was dumped there on the road. He was a very sharp kid; As a young gay man, he was cautious and so he wouldn’t have been walking down the road. He certainly knew the area. He had a cell phone, he could have called somebody for help,” Bland said.
Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, has been relentless in her quest for answers. She asked the FBI, the governor and others to keep investigating but the case went nowhere until Mallory Beach was killed on the Murdaugh boat four years later. Then people started asking questions about Stephen Smith’s case.
Cpl. Duncan said the Murdaugh family name came up in the initial accident investigation but didn’t go anywhere.
“Personally, I think there was some type of pressure or just lack of investigation upon other agencies to do anything,” he told NewsNation.
But the real break in Smith’s case came after the double murder of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. During the investigation into their deaths, new information came to light.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, also known as SLED, told NewsNation they have made progress in the death investigation of Stephen Smith, however, the investigation is active and ongoing.
The oldest Murdaugh son, Buster, was the same age as Stephen Smith and his twin sister. In a small town, the went to school together and would have known one another.
Reporter Will Folks with FitsNews told NewsNation Buster Murdaugh’s name often came up in connection with the Stephen Smith case.
“There was clearly a Murdaugh tie into the death of Stephen Smith, because if you read the investigatory reports from his death back in 2015, the Murdaugh name is mentioned dozens of times. In fact, it was one of the first files I ever received related to this story,” Folks said.
As the multiple Murdaugh cases have played out in the small community, rumors have spread. After news of Stephen Smith’s death came out, some speculated that Buster Murdaugh and Stephen Smith had some sort of relationship.
“They graduated high school together. They had friends in common and they didn’t move in the same circles. But certainly, like Buster and Stephen had played ball together when they were younger, so you can’t say there’s no connection. Nobody knows. What Stephen’s life was like, what I will say, is know of no evidence that would support any kind of relationship between Stephen and Buster,” said Michael Hemlepp, attorney for the Smith family.
What is known is that Alex Murdaugh and his brother Randy came to the scene of Stephen Smith’s death, going through the crime tape. No one is sure why the brothers were there. But inconsistencies in the initial investigation have left many wondering why his death was never investigated as a homicide.
According to Sandy Smith, Randy Murdaugh called the family following Stephen Smith’s death, offering to help however he could. However, his law firm has since disputed that, putting out a statement denying it ever happened.
“It was clear that this case was not handled correctly. Why? I can’t tell you. Maybe it was simply incompetence. Maybe it was purposeful. But I do believe that the truth is going to come out. I do believe that we’re going to get answers. I have faith in that, I’m optimistic in that. Sandy Smith, Stephanie Smith and myself, we have said all along, we would like to have justice for Stephen,” the law firm said.
Stephen Smith’s father died three months after his son. Sandy Smith said her ex-husband died of a broken heart. She said since the case has been reopened, there have been offers of a book deal and a Netflix movie but all she’s interested in is justice.