SLED ‘making progress’ on Stephen Smith case; Family still in the dark
Though no suspects have ever been officially named, a family friend says the Murdaugh family is mentioned 40 times in investigative documents
HAMPTON, S.C. (WCSC) - It’s been more than seven years since a driver passing by on Sandy Run Road discovered 19-year-old from Hampton County lying dead in the road.
The body was later identified as Stephen Smith.
Smith is remembered as shy but a jokester and always willing to lend a helping hand. Smith was an openly gay teen in the rural South Carolina town he grew up in.
“One of my favorite quotes that he always said to his mom was ‘God doesn’t make mistakes. I am who I am, and God did not make a mistake,’” family friend Susanne Andrews said.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division re-opened the case in June 2021, shortly after the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh based on information discovered during that initial investigation.
In the year and a half since, no new details have come to light but SLED reports it has “made progress” and the case remains “active and ongoing.”
“After a year and a half...I just don’t understand why there are not any more answers out of SLED,” Andrews said.
Smith’s body was discovered around 4:20 a.m. on July 8, 2015.
The blunt force trauma to his head appears as a possible gunshot wound to the first responders on the scene but the coroner’s office later rules his death a hit-and-run.
He also had injuries to his left arm and left hand.
Murdaugh family ties
No suspects have ever been officially named in the teen’s death but the Murdaugh family name comes up several times in investigative files.
The connection between the two remains murky but Andrews says that in the documents related to the case she has, the name is mentioned 40 times.
“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,“ Andrews said. “There has to be something to it, whether indirectly or directly there has to be some kind of tie to that.”
SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases
Documents also show investigators fielding tips about the Murdaugh family in the days and months following his death.
The first tip comes in early August, suggesting swirling rumors of a relationship between Smith and Buster Murdaugh, Alex Murdaugh’s eldest and now only surviving son.
Another rumor claims Buster Murdaugh and two other boys were responsible for the crime.
An investigator also fields another tip about another possible suspect.
That tipster tells them he passed along the information at the request of a well-known family Patriarch, former solicitor Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh, Alex Murdaugh’s father and Buster Murdaugh’s grandfather.
No interviews are recorded with any member of the Murdaugh family during the initial investigation.
Inside the initial investigation
The family has rejected the hit-and-run theory and Highway Patrol’s investigation also contradicts the coroner’s findings.
They found “no vehicle debris, skid marks, or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle.”
A heated discussion between Trooper Todd Proctor and pathologist Dr. Erin Presnell reveal that the cause of death was ruled this way because Smith was found in the road.
Small blue paint chips are found on Smith’s clothes but cannot be traced to a specific make or model.
Smith’s car was found about three miles away on Bamburg Highway. It wouldn’t start but investigators found his wallet inside.
The gas cap is also left unscrewed.
His family reported he would have never left the car calling him “skittish.”
His twin sister, Stephanie, also told authorities that her brother had become “very secretive about two weeks prior to the incident.”
Asking for answers
The investigation and lack of answers have weighed on the family in the years since.
“It’s draining. It’s frustrating. It’s maddening to say the least,” Andrews said. “Sandy has said she knew the first moments of Stephen’s life and every movement he made, but she has no idea about the last moments of his life,” she added.
Andrews, who first got involved in the Standing for Stephen non-profit, has taken on a role closer to that of a private investigator for the family.
“Somebody out there knows something,” she said. “At this point these kids are in their mid-20s probably have children of their own. Put yourself in Sandy’s shoes as a parent, and that it being your child. Do the right thing and come forward.”
She hopes this year will be the year the family will finally find closure.
Andrews says that anyone with information can contact either SLED or her directly, and anonymously at firstname.lastname@example.org
“They don’t care what name is attached. They just want to know why and who,” Andrews said.
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