The body of a South Carolina teen killed in what had been deemed an unsolved hit-and-run in 2015 will be exhumed after law enforcement officials said this week that his death is now being investigated as a homicide—and the news that the body will be exhumed has thrust Buster Murdaugh, the eldest son of the once-powerful lawyer handed two life sentences this month for killing his wife and younger son, right back into the spotlight.
Stephen M. Smith, 19, was found dead in the middle of the road in Lowcountry, the South Carolina area that has become synonymous with the stunning downfall of its most prominent legal family, the Murdaughs, who have been mired in a series of murders and scandals. On the night he died, Smith had car trouble while on his way home from nursing classes on July 8, 2015; he was found dead not far from his stranded vehicle, which had run out of gas.
The Murdaugh name was repeatedly mentioned by Smith’s friends and family, but as legal scions in the region both as defense attorneys and prosecutors, it seemed that any lead that moved toward them went nowhere—until Smith’s mother Sandy began pushing for an independent autopsy. She asked for “a new, unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death, based on facts,” of her son’s remains and started a GoFundMe page this month that has raised nearly $90,000 as she searched for the truth about Stephen’s death.
“Our family is so very grateful to all of you who came together to help us in our fight for justice for Stephen,” she wrote on the page. “This is Stephen’s year.”
Despite his mother’s pleas for justice, Smith’s case was designated as a “vehicular homicide” and went largely ignored until Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were shot to death eight years later, in a case that garnered massive attention. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division reopened the investigation into Smith’s death the same month the Murdaugh son and matriarch died, a spokesman for the agency said.
“We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do just that,” said Eric Bland, the attorney that has championed a new investigation into Smith’s death.
Rumors of Buster Murdaugh’s romantic involvement with Smith were repeated in media reports following his mother and brother’s murder. He broke his silence on the unsubstantiated reporting and whispers that have swirled around his family and any relationship he allegedly shared with the dead teen.
“These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false. I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family,” he said.
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