The sons of a 57-year-old housekeeper who died after a mysterious fall at the home of prominent South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh four years ago are “shell-shocked,” their attorney tells Fox News, after Murdaugh was let out of jail on a $20,000 personal recognizance bond and allowed to travel to an out-of-state rehabilitation facility without GPS monitoring.
The Murdaugh family’s prosecutorial influence in South Carolina’s Low Country stretches back three generations and at least 111 years. Because of that, it’s taken courage for the sons of Gloria Satterfield to come forward and file a lawsuit against Alex Murdaugh and others for allegedly conspiring to keep a $505,000 insurance payout related to the housekeeper’s death a secret from them, Ronnie Richter, an attorney representing Michael “Tony” Satterfield and Brian Harriott, told Fox News.
“They’re shell-shocked. They’re glad that an investigation is finally going to take place, but they learned of the investigation the same time that you did,” Richter said Friday.
On Wednesday, the same day the sons’ civil lawsuit was filed in Hampton County, the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) opened a criminal investigation into the February 2018 death of Gloria Satterfield and the handling of her estate at the request of the Hampton County coroner.
By Thursday, Murdaugh, 53, turned himself in on charges relating to an alleged plot to have himself killed so that his surviving son, 26-year-old Buster, could cash out on a $10 million life insurance policy.
Murdaugh had been fired from the personal injury law firm his great grandfather founded in Hampton, South Carolina, for allegedly embezzling money from the firm. His wife Maggie and their 22-year-old son Paul were also murdered in June, and no one has been arrested in the case.
“Their mom died in 2018, and they were assured by Alex, by Corey, that they were being taken care of. They didn’t even learn of the $500,000 settlement until it was reported in the press earlier this year,” Richter told Fox News of Satterfield’s sons. “So since that time, it’s been a whirlwind for them. They’re not the kind of folks who are going to make waves, and the Murdaugh family are not the types of folks you make waves against in Hampton County. They’ve been scared, betrayed. I think finally enough daylight has hit this that they’re finding their resolve to fight for the answers.”
Gloria Satterfield fell in the home of Alex Murdaugh and died at a hospital weeks later on Feb. 26, 2018 without ever regaining consciousness. After her funeral, Murdaugh introduced Satterfield’s grieving sons to his good friend Corey Fleming, so that Fleming could assist the sons in filing legal claims against Murdaugh for the wrongful death of their mother, according to their lawsuit filed in Hampton County’s Common Pleas Court. The sons did not know at the time that Fleming was Murdaugh’s college roommate and the godfather of his younger son Paul.
With the assistance of a banker friend, Chad Westendorf, claims were purportedly brought against Murdaugh, who “stipulated that he was at fault for the death of Gloria Satterfield,” and his insurance company paid $505,000 to settle the claims, the lawsuit says.
But to date, Satterfield’s sons “have not received the first dollar,” according to the suit.
Richter told Fox News that Murdaugh, Fleming and Westendorf, who is vice president of Palmetto State Bank, might have cashed out even more than the initial $505,000 over Satterfield’s death. A copy of the lawsuit obtained by Fox News says Murdaugh’s residence “was insured by one or more
carriers, including Lloyds of London.”
“That settlement carved out the right to pursue other settlements from other insurance policies,” Richter said. “And we have it on good information that other recoveries were made for which they also received no money. So we think that $500,000 is the tip of the iceberg.”
Fleming’s firm, Moss, Kuhn & Fleming, which is based in Beaufort, did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
Hampton County Coroner Angie Topper has asked SLED Chief Mark Keel to open an investigation because Satterfield’s death certificate ruled the manner of death as “natural,” which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip-and-fall accident. The death was also not reported to the coroner at that time and an autopsy was never performed.
“What is part of our case is the not-knowing part. That the only person that reported what happened is Alex Murdaugh, and obviously he’s proven himself to be less than a reliable source of information,” Richter said. “Then subsequently, there was no investigation – her death was described as of natural causes, and falling to your death at somebody’s house is not exactly what I would call a natural cause.
“I don’t know how or why a death resulting from a fall in a home was considered natural causes and not investigated at all.”
Murdaugh surrendered Thursday to fraud and other charges related to his alleged botched suicide plot. Hampton County Magistrate Judge Tonja Alexander set his bond at $20,000, and he was released on his own recognizance.
During the hearing, defense attorney, Dick Harpootlian, argued that Murdaugh’s longstanding opioid addiction had worsened following the murders of his wife and son. Both were found shot multiple times on the family’s land in Colleton County near Islandton, and Alex Murdaugh was the one to find the bodies and call 911.
Murdaugh was fired from the law firm, PMPED, where he was a partner. State investigators say Murdaugh gave 61-year-old Curtis Edward Smith, his former legal client and longtime drug dealer, a gun and they headed to Old Salkehatchie Road. Smith fired once, only grazing Murdaugh’s head.
Smith’s bond was set higher Thursday at $55,000, and he was later released.
Harpootlian denied that Alex Murdaugh was responsible for the murders of his wife and son, and told reporters outside the Hampton County Detention Center on Thursday that Murdaugh has received no insurance payouts related to Maggie and Paul.
At the time of his murder, Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial after being indicted for boating under the influence, causing the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach in February 2019. Based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie, SLED in opened an investigation into the death of 19-year-old Stephen King, whose body was found in the middle of a rural road in Hampton County in 2015.