A few have so much, many so little - Keith Roulston editorial
When the Alex Murdaugh murder case finally made brief headlines on Canadian television stations, it didn’t get much attention. Then we happened to notice on Netflix a series on the Murdaugh murders, and, after watching it, got a lesson in a world that seems impossible for Ontario residents to believe.
It’s been a familiar theme, over my long years of watching movies and television, of the southern U.S. family so powerful that the law didn’t apply to them. I can’t remember seeing real-life examples until the Murdaugh case.
Alex Murdaugh was a member of a family that had been prominent in South Carolina law for more than a century. They had to take a photograph of his grandfather off the wall of the courtroom before Alex was tried. The Murdaugh magic had worked in his county for over a century.
Back in 2015, Stephen Smith, the close friend of his oldest son Buster, who was gay, died mysteriously when hit while walking on a South Carolina road late at night. Eventually, the case just faded away with no charges laid, though the case “reeked of insider interference”, according to one local newspaper.
Then in 2018, Gloria Sutterfield, the family’s maid who had worked for the family for more than 20 years and virtually raised the Murdaugh’s two sons, died at the family estate. The claim was that she had been tripped up by the family’s dogs but that had always been a mystery for those outsiders in the community.
In 2019, Paul Murdaugh, one of the sons of Alex Murdaugh, was involved in a crash of the family’s expensive motorboat. The boat was filled with his high school friends, and one, Mallory Beach, went into the water and her body was only found after a days-long search. The family tried to make it seem like one of the other boys was driving the boat, but eventually the truth came out that Paul was driving, although he was plastered and under age.
Meanwhile, Alex became addicted to drugs, and money became a bigger and bigger problem. He carried out a lawsuit against his own family for Gloria Sutterfield’s family and won, but the family didn’t get the $4.3 million settlement. Somehow, Alex misappropriated it.
His activities finally drew his family’s attention and he was removed from the family law firm. His wife Maggie consulted a divorce lawyer and was living apart from Alex.
Then, on June 7, 2021, Alex called the police from his cell phone at 10:06 p.m., saying he had discovered the bodies of Maggie and Paul near the dog kennels at the family’s hunting lodge, in Islandton, South Carolina. He reported that, at the time of the killings (later determined to be about 9 p.m.), he had been visiting with his mother, who had dementia.
Police reports indicate that Alex had called Maggie to meet him at the lodge. He also proposed that the two of them would travel together from there to see his father, Randolph, who was terminally ill. Maggie did not want to go to the lodge and suggested they meet at a public place. Maggie texted a friend, saying Alex sounded “fishy” and was “up to something”. Nevertheless, at Alex’s insistence, she drove to the lodge. After parking her car at the house, she walked to the dog kennels, where she found her son Paul. This was where Maggie and Paul Murdaugh’s bodies were later found.
Alex was arrested in July, 2022. When the trial began on Jan. 25, 2023, the prosecution revealed that Paul’s phone showed Alex’s voice in the background at the lodge, at a time he said he had visited his mother.
The case drew national U.S. attention when Alex himself took the stand in his own defence. Some observers felt he had created sympathy for himself, even as he confessed his own history of lying, claiming his drug dependency caused it. However, when the jury was given the case, it took them only about three hours to decide he was guilty. He was sentenced the next day to two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Meanwhile the Stephen Smith case has been reopened by police investigators.
It was somewhat sickening to watch how generations of wealth and influence had spoiled this prominent family. They got used to being able to impose their own “law” and manipulate police into supporting them.
I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched this series, about the millions of people in Africa and elsewhere who are wandering, searching for food. Then there are the thousands who are crowding leaky boats trying to migrate to Europe or the ongoing confusion at the U.S./Mexico border of desperate people trying to seek “freedom” in the U.S.
So many people are desperate, in this world, where a few have lost the thread of life because of years of privilege.