Local Link to National Frenzy
Reporter, Hart Co. News-Herald
On March 2, 2023, a jury in Colleton County, South Carolina found Alex Murdaugh guilty of murdering his wife and son.
In the days and weeks leading up to the verdict, it seemed like everywhere you turned, people were talking about the Murdaugh Trial, also known as the Murdaugh Murders. From breakfast discussions at local restaurants to social media posts, many people were following along with what turned into a national frenzy.
But who are the Murdaughs?
It may surprise some people to know the victim at the center of the investigation, Margaret “Maggie” Kennedy (Branstetter) Murdaugh, is the daughter of 1962 Caverna Graduate Terry Branstetter and 1962 Munfordville High School graduate Kennedy (Ken) Branstetter.
Kennedy’s mother (Maggie Murdaugh’s maternal grandmother), Marian Hubbard, was married to Garland Hubbard, and she taught at Munfordville Elementary School.
Terry’s mother (Maggie Murdaugh’s paternal grandmother and namesake), Margaret Branstetter, was married to Paul Terry Branstetter (namesake of Paul Terry Murdaugh), who can be remembered by many as a barber in Horse Cave. Margaret lived in Cave City, worked as a nurse for Dr. Keene Hill in Horse Cave, and attended Cave City United Methodist Church until she moved to South Carolina to be with family. She passed away on December 13, 2017.
Less than four years later, the tragic murders of her granddaughter “Maggie” and great-grandson, Paul Terry Murdaugh, would leave a nation appealing for their justice.
On June 7, 2021, at 10:06 p.m., a phone call came into 911 by Alex Murdaugh. His wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and his son, 21-year-old Paul Terry Murdaugh, had been shot on the 1,700-acre property of the family’s hunting lodge, near their dog kennels.
Paul had sustained two shotgun blasts, one to the chest and one to his head through his arm. Maggie had sustained multiple gunshot wounds with a semi-automatic rifle.
Law enforcement arrived, secured the scene, and requested the coroner. By 10:28 p.m., the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) was contacted by the CCSO.
Alex initially wasn’t listed as a suspect. Claiming that he had taken his father to the hospital that day and then checked in on his mother, who suffered from dementia, before returning to the hunting lodge, Alex painted a picture that he came home to find the bodies of his wife and son.
Alex later admitted he lied about being at the kennels around the time of the murders and also lied about the last time he saw his wife and son, even stating on the stand, “I would never intentionally do anything to hurt either one of them.”
Shelley Smith, the caretaker of Alex’s mother, claimed Alex attempted to get her to say he was at his mother’s for longer than he was and, in return, he offered to pay for her wedding.
A Snapchat video posted by Paul placed Alex at the scene of the murders within minutes of when they occurred.
When asked why he lied and continued lying, Alex stated, “What a tangled web we weave.” He also admitted to misappropriating money from clients and his own law firm, which had left him facing legal ramifications.
Because of his prominent family, many believe that Alex felt he was above the law. His grandfather had started the family’s law firm in 1910, and from 1920 to 2006, the patriarchs had served as an unbroken chain of chief prosecutors in Colleton County, South Carolina.
Through the whirlwind trial, which was riddled with conflicting details, accusations of liquidating assets, speculation regarding the management of the crime scene, misappropriations of money, legal troubles, and additional questions, the nation was captivated by what appeared to be a dynasty under fire.
The murders were tragic, senseless, and cold-blooded. To know that there is a local link and that many in the area still vividly remember Paul, Margaret, Terry, Kennedy, and/or Maggie, almost doesn’t seem possible.
Murdaugh is still charged with 99 counts of embezzlement, computer crime, money laundering, and conspiracy, as the estimated total of the money he misappropriated climbs to $9.3 million. He also faces charges in his own shooting from September 2021, in which he allegedly hired a hitman to carry out an arranged suicide.
Murdaugh is currently in the Kirland Correctional Institution, where he will reside for approximately one month while he’s being processed and evaluated. He will then be moved to a long-term facility, where he will serve two consecutive life sentences.
His legal team has already filed appeals, so it appears that the saga might not be over just yet.