(NewsNation) — Many point to an exact date on the calendar when the downfall of the Murdaugh dynasty started.
Feb. 24, 2019, more than two years before the double murder: It’s the day a teenager with an ever-present smile lost her young life.
NewsNation senior national correspondent Brian Entin investigated the case and its impact.
It was a chilly, damp night on the coast in South Carolina, one that mixed underage drinking and boating in the fog into a recipe that left deadly consequences —and a family of immense power flexing its muscles.
Mallory Beach, 19, went missing after a night out on the boat with friends.
The recent high school graduate was jettisoned from her boyfriend’s arms when a 17-foot Sea Hunt center console boat plowed into a piling in Beaufort County, South Carolina. More than a dozen first responders and an army of volunteers searched for a week. Prayer chains to find Beach alive turned to an unbearable wave of grief. The store where she worked and modeled clothing posted a public tribute.
But privately, the Murdaugh machine was at work.
It was the Murdaughs’ boat, and the family’s youngest son Paul was at the helm. Or was he?
Paul’s friend Connor Cook was onboard as well that night, and his attorney says it wasn’t long before Alex Murdaugh was telling all five survivors to stay quiet on who the captain was. What was clear immediately, though, is that copious amounts of alcohol were being consumed by the underage boaters.
The police report said all were grossly intoxicated, and yet no one’s blood alcohol levels were checked at the scene.
“Same thing as everybody is standing around a car,” Robert McCullough of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said. “You don’t know who is driving that car. It’s not against the law to be standing around it intoxicated.”
However, Beach’s boyfriend, Anthony Cook, is said to have told authorities immediately that Paul Murdaugh was the captain. Paul left a trail of photos around town and parked his pickup at the pump, but not for gas. His friends say he used his big brother Buster’s ID card to buy beer and malted drinks at the store. The 20-year-old raised his purchases triumphantly before they were loaded into his vehicle. Afterward, while drinking with parents present at an oyster roast, the group continued boating to dodge known DUI roadside checkpoints.
Back in the boat, Paul and Connor did more drinking. One friend testified that Paul was belligerently drunk, slapping his girlfriend, spitting in her face and refusing to give up the wheel – until the deadly crash.
Members of the Murdaugh family served nearly a century consecutively as the area’s solicitor, meaning they prosecuted cases, putting them in close working relationships with officers, deputies, and state agents on this case and others.
It would take nearly two months for Paul Murdaugh to be criminally charged, and he raised eyebrows with his release that same day on a $50,000 bond and surrender of his passport.
His former friend Connor was eventually cleared.
The case also brought an ongoing bevy of civil suits from Beach’s mom, Anthony Cook, Connor Cook and the other young women, demanding Alex Murdaugh’s financials.
Three days before the killing of Paul Murdaugh and Maggie, Alex’s wife, that mediation to end the Beach suit failed – meaning the case would go to trial and the family’s finances would be put on full display.
The criminal case against Paul ended with his death.
Beach’s family, and three of the friends, have reached a settlement in their case against Buster Murdaugh and Maggie Murdaugh’s estate.
It was due to be paid with the sale of the Moselle family house and property.
But Alex Murdaugh’s former partner says he’s owed money first, before anyone from the boat.
In the meantime, Anthony Cook’s civil suits are still ongoing.