Dateline Dark Waters Recap & Commentary
- Dateline Dark Waters Recap & Commentary
- Aired October November 4, 2022, on NBC with Lester Holt and Craig Melvin
Insiders reveal new details about the deaths and legal cases surrounding Alex Murdaugh.NBC
Let’s take the boat
We start the episode in South Carolina Lowcountry, which is the four southernmost counties in South Carolina. It’s known for its marshlands and Spanish moss. Quite the southern gothic setting.
This week’s episode is mostly about the 2021 murders of Maggie Murdaugh and her son Paul Murdaugh, but to understand this crime, we have to back to a cold February night in 2019.
On February 23, 2019, six teenagers went to an oyster roast by boat via Archer’s Creek in South Carolina. I honestly don’t know what an oyster roast is, but it sounds like a rich people thing.
On the boat were three couples, all underage:
Paul Murdaugh and Morgan Doughty
Connor Cook and Miley Altman
Anthony Cook and Mallory Beach
The six friends met at the Murdaugh home. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, the Murdaughs are a powerful and rich family. Anyway, the group went to the oyster roast.
At 2:39 a.m., the boat crashed into a bridge on their way home. Five of them made it to the shore, but Mallory Beach was no where to be seen. All of the teens were taken to the hospital except for Anthony Cook, Mallory’s boyfriend, who stayed at the scene hoping Mallory would be found.
Meanwhile, Paul Murdaugh’s father Alex Murdaugh was calling the parents of the other teens over and over. Was he checking on his son’s friends? Nope, he wanted to tell everyone that Connor had been the one driving the boat, not Paul.
This wasn’t true though. It seems like Alex wants Connor to take the fall for the crash and Mallory’s disappearance. At the hospital, Alex was trying to get the teens to get their stories straight. And by straight, I mean blaming Connor.
It’s a love story
Anthony and Mallory had one of those love stories that you see in romance movies. They had been friends all their lives, but after graduating high school, they realized there was more than friendship between them. It reminds me of Sweet Home Alabama.
Mallory did everything with Anthony including fishing and hunting and Anthony loved that. Anthony even says he had been thinking about marrying Mallory.
Underage drinking extravaganza
Before that boat ride, Paul had used his older brother Buster’s ID to buy alcohol. All the people on the boat were underage. Also Buster? I wonder if that’s his legal name or a nickname, but it’s tragique either way.
The other members of the party also brought alcohol for the night. They were drinking steadily at the oyster roast.
After leaving the roast, Paul stopped at a riverside bar on the way back. According to Anthony, Paul was the only one who wanted to do that. Everyone else wanted to go home.
Paul and Connor went inside and took shots while the rest of the party waited outside. There’s surveillance tape that shows Paul and Connor rejoining the group.
Paul was clearly stumbling in the video. I mean can’t walk straight, falling over drunk. I can’t imagine agreeing to get back in the boat with him driving in that condition, but they did.
Anthony says they tried to convince Paul to let someone else drive, but he refused. He also tells us that when Paul is drunk, he likes to strip down to his boxers, which he did once they were on the boat. Does everyone know a guy like this? I definitely do.
It seems like the group were all scared and asking Paul to slow down or let someone else drive. Paul turned and pointed at Mallory like he was about to verbally attack her. Anthony, good boyfriend he is, tells Paul he should rethink that action.
Paul turned around and hit the throttle in anger. The boat was flying down the creek. Anthony fell to the floor of the boat and he pulled Mallory onto his lap, thinking that was the safest thing.
The next thing Anthony remembers is waking up in the cold dark waters. Get it? That’s the name of the episode.
Anthony is mad
Anthony blamed Paul for the accident, rightly so in my opinion. Anthony confronted him and slammed him onto the ground. We can hear the audio from dash cam footage.
Paul was the kind of kid who never got in trouble. He was untouchable. Why? His father Alex Murdaugh was a powerful attorney and well known in the community.
Alex continued to tell Connor’s parents that Connor should take the fall. They refused but they did hire the attorney Alex recommended, Cory Fleming. Keep that name in mind.
Fleming was actually Paul’s godfather. Conflict of interest, much? Fleming advised Connor not to speak to police about what happened. This is a clear ploy by Alex to put the blame on Connor.
Days went by with search crews working day and night, but Mallory hadn’t been found. Her friends and family knew that she was likely dead at this point, but they still held out hope.
Anthony’s mother tells us that Paul’s mom Maggie Murdaugh made the comment, “what if they never find Mallory?” Weird.
By now, Anthony’s parents worried that the Murdaugh search parties would find Mallory first and cover the whole thing up.
It’s time to learn about the Murdaugh family. Their law firm was started in 1910, and several members of the family worked for the government. The family had always been wealthy, and that wealth made them believe that they could get away with anything. Which they had for a long time.
Maggie was arrogant according to the other families. She believed she was better than other people. And Paul was entitled too. He thought he could do whatever he wanted without consequence.
Mallory’s body was recovered a week after the crash on March 3, 2019. Mallory was only 19 years old at the time of her death.
Mallory’ family retained attorney Mark Tinsley and filed a wrongful death suit against Murdaughs. Alex, Paul, and Buster were all named as defendants. Buster was included because he gave his ID to Paul, which he used to buy alcohol.
Also named in the suit was Greg Parker, the owner of the convenience story that sold alcohol to Paul. Parker says his employees did everything they were supposed to. He hired a private investigator to follow Paul in hopes of catching him drinking on video. I’m not sure if I think Parker should be liable. Paul and Buster do look very similarly.
That was a civil matter, but on April 18, 2019, Paul was indicted for boating under the influence and causing death and bodily injury. Consequences finally. The fact that Paul was charged at all was a big deal.
Attorney Tinsley had requested financial records from the Murdaughs to determine how much the family could recover in the suit. The Murdaughs refused to cooperate and would not produce the documents.
Tinsley filed a motion to force the Murdaughs to hand over the information and a hearing on the matter was scheduled. But before that hearing, tragedy struck again.
On June 7, 2021, not long before that hearing was scheduled, Alex Murdaugh made a frantic 911 call to report that his wife Maggie and son Paul had been shot.
They were both outside the home but shot with different weapons. Paul was shot with a shotgun at close range, and Maggie was shot by an automatic weapon. We know who did it right?
Police immediately looked at the boat accident for motive. Had one of Paul’s friends who had been on the boat that night in February taken revenge? It seems unlikely. Anthony tells us that he had forgiven Paul, which could not have been easy. He was even sad to hear that his long-time friend had died.
Alex and his son Buster released a statement offering a $100,000.00 reward for any information about the murders of Maggie and Paul. Interesting. Can the killer pay himself a reward?
The 911 call
Armchair detectives on the internet (pot meet kettle) quickly became interested in the case.
Police began nailing down Alex’s whereabouts on the night of the murders. According to Alex, he had eaten dinner with Maggie and Paul before going to take a nap around 8:00 p.m. As a dedicated nap-taker, I immediately knew that was a lie. You don’t nap that late. That’s just bed time.
After his “nap” Alex went to his mother’s home and he arrived back at home around 10 p.m. to find the grisly scene. Officials belief the murder occurred sometime after 8:30 p.m. and when Alex made the 911 call.
So far, we have the possibly criminal accidental death of a 19-year-old girl, a dad trying to cover up for his son, and now a double homicide. Buckle up because this story isn’t close to being over.
Another attempted murder?
In September of 2021, Alex made another 911 call. This time to report that he had been shot in the head. Usually, people with head wounds can’t make phone calls, but he sounds fine on the tape.
He told the 911 dispatcher that he was bleeding profusely but we learn the wound is superficial so get your story straight, Alex.
We hear another 911 call from a woman who drove by the scene and called to report it. She said the scene looked staged. She said, “He’s fine, he looks fine, but it kinda looks like a set-up so we didn’t stop.” He looked fine lol.
The shooter turned out to be Curtis Smith who was a friend of Alex. They had met at an adult softball league.
Here’s what Curtis said happened. Alex called him and asked him to meet him on the side of that road. Alex didn’t say anything about shooting him. Curtis got there and he refused to shoot him until Alex pointed the gun at him.
He says he fired the gun but that the shot didn’t hit Alex. He took the gun and fled.
Alex later admitted that the whole thing was part of a plan to ensure that a $10 million insurance policy paid out to Buster. Alex thought that the policy had a suicide exclusion. It didn’t so I’m not sure how good of a lawyer Alex could have been.
Alex was charged with insurance fraud. Curtis was charged as well.
Meanwhile, the family law firm fired Alex for possibly stealing millions of dollars. Where was all that money? Alex’s attorney says that he used it on his opioid addiction and that his dealer was Curtis Smith. We see an interview with Craig Melvin (the host of this episode, very meta) on a news program and he says that you don’t spend millions of dollars on oxycodone, and he’s right.
Alex went to rehab but there was no evidence that he had a drug addiction.
When Alex returned from rehab, he was arrested for conspiring to steal the insurance payout that was owed to the family of his housekeeper Gloria Satterfield after her death in 2018.
Gloria’s death was suspicious, but Dateline doesn’t really go into that. Some people think Alex may have killed her to get that insurance money.
But we meet Gloria’s family and they tell us that Gloria thought of the Murdaughs as family. She was particularly found of Paul.
In 2018, she fell down the stairs of the Murdaugh home after tripping over the dogs (allegedly). She was in ICU for 21 days before passing away.
Alex suggested the Satterfields hire the same lawyer that Connor’s parents would hire a year later: Cory Fleming. They hadn’t received any money when they saw a newspaper article that mentioned a half-million dollar settlement.
The Satterfields hired a new lawyer to find that money. They ended up suing Alex Murdaugh, Cory Fleming, and Russell Lafitte who was a banker. Lafitte had helped move settlement money into Alex’s accounts without telling the Satterfields.
The family turned this evidence over to police who arrested Alex. He was denied bond and a psychiatric evaluation was ordered.
Alex didn’t like prison. That’s so sad, isn’t it? A rich man who had gotten away with financial crimes for years and possibly murder didn’t have his gourmet food anymore.
All of these investigations snowballed and police realized that he hadn’t just stolen from the law firm. He had also stolen from his clients for up to twenty years. Yikes.
Now we meet the mother of Hakeem Pinckney who had been paralyzed from the neck down in a 2009 car accident. Alex contacted the family and offered to represent Hakeem in a lawsuit against the tire company.
But Alex suggested that she hire a different attorney. Cory Fleming makes another appearance. This guy is a real dirtbag.
The case was settled for millions but the Pinckney family received a fraction of that. Then it gets even worse.
Hakeem died in 2011 after his ventilator was mysteriously unplugged. Alex represented the family in a lawsuit against the care facility where Hakeem was staying. His mother only received a fraction of the settlement. Alex hasn’t commented on the case.
Alex had hit rock bottom, which could have been said of him many times before now. But this time, police found video of the night of his wife and son’s murders. Alex isn’t seen on the tape but he can be heard in the background. So much for that nap.
On July 14, 2022, Alex Murdaugh was indicted for the murders of Maggie Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh.
Alex of course pleaded not guilty, but at an evidentiary hearing, prosecutors didn’t really offer any new evidence. They would only say that his motive was finance crimes. Don’t forget about that hearing about a motion to force Alex to produce his financial documents. It was scheduled a few days after the murders.
Alex’s defense team pointed the finger at Curtis Smith, the man who Alex alleges assisted him in his suicide plans. They said that Curtis had failed a polygraph, but there’s no confirmation of this. And I just don’t care about polygraphs. Why do police still use them?
The criminal trial in the murders of Maggie and Paul is scheduled for January next year, and the civil trial for the wrongful death of Mallory Beach is also scheduled for next year.
The family law firm changed it’s name to Parker Law Group, obviously in an attempt to distance themselves from Alex. They also have been paying back clients that Alex had defrauded. Alex stole $4.3 million from the Satterfields.
The question is, if Paul hadn’t wrecked the boat and killed Mallory, would any of this have come to light? Hard to say. Mallory’s family is grateful that her death had some meaning and value.
I normally complain about these long Dateline episodes, but boy did they need it for this story. I’m not sure how the even squeezed all of this in, and there’s way more to Alex’s crimes if you want to do some Googling. HBO just released a three-part documentary about the case called Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty. I’ll probably start watching it after I hit publish.
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