How a tragic boating crash is connected to the family of Alex Murdaugh
Editor's note: On March 2, 2023, a South Carolina jury found disgraced former attorney Alex Murdaugh guilty of murdering his wife and son at their country estate in June 2021. After a six-week trial, jurors deliberated for less than three hours before returning the four guilty verdicts in connection with the murders of Maggie Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh. Alex Murdaugh was also found guilty on two counts of possession of a weapon during a crime. On March 3, he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison.
Two years before wealthy and well-respected attorney Alex Murdaugh would make international headlines for allegedly staging his own shooting, a fatal boat crash involving the Murdaugh family was making waves in South Carolina.
It was February 23, 2019 when investigators say Alex's 19-year-old son Paul Murdaugh took his family's boat out for a night of partying with friends on the Beaufort River.
The night ended in a boat crash that claimed the life of 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
Mallory's aunt, Lynn Reavis, remembers learning the news from a family member.
"I was at home. And someone called and said they had found her. And I fell apart," Reavis tells "48 Hours" contributor Nikki Battiste in an exclusive interview. An encore of her report, "The Murdaugh Mysteries."
Reavis and her niece had been especially close. "She was just this wonderful, fun-loving, happy girl. And everybody loved her," Reavis said.
That night there were three couples onboard, Paul Murdaugh and his girlfriend Morgan Doughty, Miley Altman and her boyfriend Connor Cook, and his cousin Anthony Cook and his girlfriend Mallory Beach.
Although the six passengers were all underage, the friends would later say some of the party goers had no trouble using fake and borrowed IDs to buy alcohol.
The night began on what locals call Murdaugh Island, where the family maintains a private residence. From there, the passengers say Murdaugh drove the boat to a second location, an oyster roast on Paukie Island. According to GPS data recovered from the Murdaugh boat, they docked at 8 p.m. and stayed until around midnight. The friends later told investigators the river had grown dark and foggy as Paul put out the boat again and headed for downtown Beaufort.
Investigators say Murdaugh and Connor Cook went into a bar on the Beaufort waterfront, while the rest of the passengers lingered at a nearby park.
"He just was very persistent about going up and getting a shot," passenger Miley Altman would later tell investigators about Murdaugh's behavior.
Surveillance video from the bar — Luther's Rare and Well Done — showed Murdaugh and Connor downing two shots each in a matter of minutes before rejoining their friends at 1:15 a.m.
Cameras on the dock captured the six friends boarding the boat. In what are the last known images of Mallory, surveillance footage shows her and boyfriend Anthony Cook sweetly walking down the dock together.
According to statements from passengers, Paul Murdaugh's behavior on the boat was increasingly worrisome.
"Paul was just driving, doing donuts," Altman told investigators.
At one point Connor Cook took the wheel, says Altman
"Connor starts driving a little bit and then Paul, he like stops Connor and he's like, 'No this is my boat, like let me drive.'" Altman recalled. "I saw the bridge coming."
Shortly after 2:20 a.m., a distraught Connor Cook called 911. "We're in a boat crash on Archer's Creek … There's six of us and one is missing."
One of the first people to arrive on scene was then-Beaufort County Sheriff's Deputy Stephen Domino. In an exclusive interview with Battiste and "48 Hours", Domino recalled the chaos he encountered.
"Everybody was crying, scared, shocked, just worried about their friend," Domino said.
Mallory was nowhere to be found. And her boyfriend Anthony Cook was almost inconsolable as he spoke to the deputy and identified Paul Murdaugh as the driver of the boat.
"Do you know Alex Murdaugh?" Anthony Cook asked the deputy in a dash cam video. "That's his son."
"That's when he indicated that he couldn't be touched," Domino told "48 Hours."
It would take eight days of exhaustive searching by law enforcement and volunteers before Mallory Beach's body was recovered.
Mallory's aunt says she later learned some of the details of what happened that night.
"He didn't want anybody else driving the boat," Reavis says of Murdaugh. "But all those children say that they begged for him to stop and they begged … 'Just let us out.' And he refused. … And that hurts my heart that she was so terrified."
Alex Murdaugh's behavior attracted a lot of attention after the crash.
According to statements from witnesses at the hospital, Alex was going from room to room, attempting to speak with his son's injured friends.
Local journalist Michael DeWitt has covered the Murdaugh family and the boat crash extensively as editor for the The Hampton County Guardian newspaper.
"I think that from day one, ground zero, the effort was … What can we do to get Paul out of this?" DeWitt told "48 Hours". "How can we create a cloud of confusion … and say, 'Can you prove who was driving the boat?'"
In a deposition, Connor Cook said Alex Murdaugh told him that he "didn't need to tell anyone who was driving." And a hospital security guard went on the record saying he overheard Alex say on his cell phone, "She's gone. Don't worry."
Hospital staff measured Paul Murdaugh's blood alcohol level at .24, three times the legal limit.
Mallory Beach's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against members of the Murdaugh family on March 29, 2019. Three weeks later, on what would have been Mallory's 20th birthday, Paul Murdaugh was charged with multiple felonies: boating under the influence resulting in the death of Mallory Beach and serious bodily injuries to two passengers. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
It's the story that locals in this part of South Carolina known as the Lowcountry say signaled the fall of the famed family. The Murdaugh's legacy of power and influence includes over 85 years as solicitors, the elected chief prosecutor. While Alex Murdaugh didn't continue the tradition started by his great grandfather, he did maintain a high level of sway in legal circles, working as a volunteer in the solicitor's office and as a partner in his family's law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick.
Alex Murdaugh's legal connections, and his behavior after the fatal crash, have played a role in multiple legal filings, including the Beach wrongful death lawsuit and a petition filed on behalf of Connor Cook asking for an investigation into collusion and civil conspiracy.
Although he was charged in the death of Mallory Beach, Paul Murdaugh would never face a trial. He was killed alongside his mother, Maggie Murdaugh, on June 7, 2021.
When Mallory's aunt heard the news of the double homicide, she was devastated.
"The thought of the horror that they went through, I cried," Reavis said. "Things like that shouldn't be happening in our little community."
While she still grieves for Mallory, Reavis says she never wished any harm upon Paul Murdaugh.
"All I ever wanted was for him to get on the stand and say, 'I'm sorry,'" Reavis told "48 Hours."
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