Murdaugh mystery deepens as murder cold case with ties to family reopens

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The mother of a young South Carolina man — whose mysterious 2015 death is being newly investigated in the wake of the June 7 double murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh — said she’s suspicious of how the Murdaugh case is being handled.

“I think they’re setting up a fake crime scene just like they did with my son,” Sandy Smith, mother of the late Stephen Smith, told The Post from her home in rural South Carolina. “I’m not buying it. I seen how they handled what happened to Stephen.”

Smith was referring to an apparent flurry of activity on the part of surviving Murdaugh family members and Hampton, SC, authorities, after law enforcement initially went silent in the wake of the double murders, claiming there was no risk to the public.

Maggie Murdaugh was shot to death near the dog kennels on the grounds of the family’s hunting lodge. Also gunned down was her 22-year-old son, Paul, who was facing criminal and civil charges in the boating death of a 19-year-old woman at the time of his murder.

Paul’s father, Alex, found the bodies around 10 p.m. on June 7. The victims were shot multiple times, the coroner said, ruling the deaths a double homicide.

In recent days, police and the Murdaughs have set up a tip line, announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer — and leaked to local news outlets that Maggie’s cellphone was allegedly found on a rural roadway a day after the murders.

“They’re trying to make it seem like it was some outside job,” Smith said. It remains unclear who was responsible for the killings and investigations are ongoing.

State Enforcement Division (SLED) spokesman Tommy Crosby said it was not true that anything in the overall investigation is being made up.

Meanwhile, investigators for SLED told Smith last week they were reopening the cold case of her son’s death, which had been handled previously by the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

Smith’s son Stephen, who was gay, was found dead in the middle of a rural road outside Hampton, SC, early in the morning on July 8, 2015. His skull was partially crushed, there was a hole in his forehead and his shoulder had been dislocated, according to documents in the case and photos his mother saw.

Based on those discrepancies, Smith believes her son’s body was deliberately placed in the road after he was murdered to make it look like a hit-and-run accident — and that there may have been a conspiracy among local officials and possibly the Murdaugh family to cover up Stephen’s death.

She also drew a comparison to the handling of the Murdaugh murders, pointing to the unusual revelation about Maggie’s phone being found on the road.

Both Smith and former Highway Patrol investigator Todd Proctor, who oversaw the Smith case, previously told The Post that they believe Stephen may have been murdered — though the death was originally ruled a hit-and-run accident — and that someone from the Murdaugh family may have been involved.

Proctor said that he believes the young man was beaten to death by someone who then placed the body on the deserted roadway.

“If you kill someone and put [their body] on the roadway and a car hits the body, you’ve just destroyed the [original] evidence,” Proctor said. “No one will look any further. Now you get away with it. If you hide a body, there’s always the chance it’ll be found. In this case, though, a car came by but didn’t hit the body. The driver got out to see what it was instead.”

Many locals are loyal to the Murdaughs, especially Maggie, and feel her reputation has been besmirched as a result of the media frenzy around her and Paul’s murders.

“She is the victim, having lost her son, being part of the slaughter at the farm, and [having] her world turned upside down,” one woman who claimed to know Maggie told The Post. “Have [people] ever thought of the terror she faced that night being dragged through the dark to the dog kennels to see the carnage?”

The woman said it is impossible to “understand Southern women” if you are from the North.

“The silent grieving will soon end and there will be an eruption like Mt. Vesuvius … mark my words,” she added.

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