The death of Stephen Smith, a high school classmate of Buster Murdaugh whose body was found in the middle of a South Carolina road in 2015, is now being investigated as a homicide after his body was exhumed.
Smith’s death was initially ruled a hit-and-run, but after the exhumation, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) said there were no indications that is how his death could have occurred. Smith was a 19-year-old nursing student when his body was discovered in Hampton County on July 8, 2015.
Smith’s family announced last week that their son’s body would be exhumed after investigators reopened an investigation into his death based on information from the murders of Alex Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, 52, and son, Paul, 22. Authorities have not announced a connection between Smith’s death and the Murdaugh family.
Two weeks after Maggie and Paul were killed in June 2021, SLED reopened Smith’s case based on information learned from the Murdaugh case. However, they did not provide any details as to what prompted them to make that decision.
Alex Murdaugh, formerly a prominent South Carolina lawyer, was convicted of Maggie and Paul’s fatal shootings on March 2, nearly two years after their deaths in 2021, and sentenced to life in prison without parole. His trial lasted 28 days, with prosecutors focusing on powerful circumstantial evidence relating to his additional 99 financial misconduct charges as a primary motive for the murders. He has appealed his convictions.
Alex Murdaugh’s eldest son, Buster Murdaugh, 26, has strongly denied any involvement in the death of Smith.
“I have tried my best to ignore the vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith’s tragic death that continue to be published in the media as I grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother. I love them so much and miss them terribly,” Buster Murdaugh said in a statement via attorney Jim Griffin, who represented his father. “I haven’t spoken up until now because I want to live in private while I cope with their deaths and my father’s incarceration.”
“I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family,” he continued.
However, during interviews from the initial SLED investigation into Smith’s death, the Murdaugh family name is mentioned dozens of times by both witnesses and investigators, according to CNN.
“Buster was on our radar. … The Murdaughs know that,” then-trooper Todd Proctor said.
Despite the Murdaugh name being mentioned more than 40 times in the investigation of Smith’s death, no Murdaugh family member was ever questioned. The reason for the name being addressed so voluminously could be chalked up to the following evidence compiled during the investigation.
A member of the Smith family told the South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) that Randy Murdaugh, Alex Murdaugh’s brother, had contacted Smith’s father on the day of his death and said he would take on Smith’s case “free of charge,” per FITSnews.
In the same interview, the Smith family member reportedly told troopers that the first time she went to the store after Smith’s death, people approached her and alleged that Buster Murdaugh was responsible. Neither the offer from Randy nor the tip about Buster were included in the written case notes, according to the South Carolina news website.
The investigation remains active.