The mysterious 2015 death of Stephen Smith, initially ruled as a hit-and-run accident, has resurfaced in public discourse, interwoven with the high-profile Murdaugh family murder case. Smith, a 19-year-old found dead on a rural road in South Carolina, is at the center of an investigation that has taken numerous twists and turns over the years.
Initial Investigation and Inconsistencies
On July 8, 2015, Stephen Smith’s body was discovered under perplexing circumstances. The South Carolina Highway Patrol initially treated the scene as a hit-and-run incident. However, the lack of typical vehicular collision signs, such as skid marks, debris, and the nature of Smith’s head wound, led to doubts about this theory. An autopsy later concluded that Smith had succumbed to blunt head trauma, contrary to initial suspicions of a gunshot wound.
The Murdaugh Connection
The case gained renewed attention following the June 2021 murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. Investigators from SLED, while probing the Murdaugh case, uncovered information leading them back to Smith’s unsolved case. This revelation brought to light a rumor involving Buster Murdaugh, the eldest son of Alex Murdaugh, a prominent attorney with deep roots in the local legal community.
On July 17, 2015, Highway Patrol was tipped off about Buster Murdaugh’s alleged involvement. The rumor suggested that Buster, along with others in a car, had struck Smith. Despite the circulation of these rumors, no public evidence has been presented linking Buster or any other Murdaugh family member to Smith’s death. Buster Murdaugh has categorically denied these allegations, expressing his condolences to the Smith family.
Other Leads and Lack of Progress
In addition to the Murdaugh rumor, other leads emerged. In December 2015, Darrell Williams informed the Highway Patrol about a conversation involving his stepson, Patrick Wilson, and Shawn Connelly. Wilson reportedly heard from Connelly that he might have hit something, possibly a deer, while driving drunk on the night of Smith’s death. Attempts to interview Wilson and Connelly were unsuccessful, leaving this lead unexplored.
Former Highway Patrol Lieutenant’s Perspective
Former Highway Patrol Lieutenant Thomas Moore, who supervised the initial investigation, has expressed his belief that Smith’s case was not a mere hit-and-run but rather a murder. Moore has pointed out that the Highway Patrol lacked the resources and expertise for a homicide investigation, contributing to the case going cold.
Renewed Efforts by Smith’s Family
Sandy Smith, Stephen’s mother, tirelessly sought answers for her son’s untimely death. In 2016, she reached out to the FBI, leading to the unlocking of Stephen’s phone and uncovering significant information. However, this lead did not result in further action by local or state agencies.
Impact of the Murdaugh Family Murders
The June 2021 murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh brought Stephen Smith’s case back into the limelight. SLED’s announcement about reopening Smith’s investigation, based on findings from the Murdaugh case, gave Sandy Smith renewed hope for justice.
Legal Support and Second Autopsy
In March 2023, attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter announced their representation of Sandy Smith. They assisted in exhuming Stephen’s body for a second autopsy, conducted by Dr. Michelle DuPre. DuPre confirmed blunt trauma as the cause of death and dispelled the initial assumption of a gunshot wound.
Continuing Investigation and Scholarship Fund
As of September 2023, SLED’s investigation into Stephen Smith’s death has not yielded significant public updates. Despite this, Sandy Smith remains hopeful, offering a $30,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Additionally, she established the Stephen Nicholas Smith Memorial Scholarship to support students pursuing higher education.
The Stephen Smith case, intertwined with the Murdaugh family’s legal saga, underscores the complexities of small-town investigations and the challenges faced in unraveling the truth behind such mysterious deaths. As investigations continue, the community and the Smith family await concrete answers and hope for justice in a case that has captured regional and national attention.
Anyone with information on Stephen Smith’s death is encouraged to contact SLED at email@example.com.