Alex Murdaugh’s surviving son Buster has broken his silence to address “vicious rumours” around the mysterious 2015 death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith.
Buster, 26, released a statement on Monday denying any involvement in Smith’s death as the late teenager’s family held a press conference announcing plans to exhume his body and conduct an independent autopsy.
“I have tried my best to ignore the vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith’s tragic death that continue to be published in the media as I grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother. I love them so much and miss them terribly,” said Buster in the statement released by his attorney Jim Griffin.
“I haven’t spoken up until now because I want to live in private while I cope with their deaths and my father’s incarceration.
“Before, during and since my father’s trial, I have been targeted and harassed by the media and followers of this story.
“This has gone on far too long. These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false.
“I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family. I am requesting that the media immediately stop publishing these defamatory comments and rumours about me.”
His attorney Mr Griffin also spoke out about the “vile information” about Buster in an interview with NewsNation.
“There is a significant amount of vile information … absolutely defamatory information linking Buster to Stephen Smith’s death,” he said on Monday.
“He is being totally harassed, and this story just keeps getting in the way of his life, and it’s time for that to come to a close.”
He added: “Ms Smith is entitled to those answers, and if anyone knows grief and can share grief it’s Buster Murdaugh, who shares similar grief as Ms Smith. I mean, there’s no greater grief than losing a child, but I can tell you there’s probably no greater grief than losing a mother and a brother to a brutal murder.
“This is not about Ms Smith – this is about Buster Murdaugh trying to move move forward and live his life in private without having to defend himself.”
In the weeks since his father’s high-profile murder conviction, Buster and his girlfriend Brooklynn White have filed multiple police reports complaining about being followed and harassed by members of the media.
Buster, the eldest and now only living son of Maggie and Alex Murdaugh, stood by his father throughout his trial for the brutal double murders of his mother and brother Paul – attending each day of the court’s proceedings with his family members in a show of support.
Buster also testified in his father’s defence saying that Murdaugh had been “destroyed” and “heartbroken” in the aftermath of the deaths of his mother and brother.
But, after Murdaugh’s conviction for the double murders, the spotlight then turned to Buster.
As his father was led out of the courthouse after being sentenced to life in prison, a bystander shouted “Buster is next” for “justice” – an apparent reference to the Smith case.
Smith, a 19-year-old openly gay teenager and nursing student, was found dead in a road in Hampton County, South Carolina, in the early hours of 8 July 2015 – just 15 miles from the Murdaugh’s Moselle estate where Maggie and Paul were murdered six years later.
Smith had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his car was found around three miles from his body.
At the time, his death was ruled a hit and run – a ruling that his mother, investigators on the original case and members of the local community have long disputed.
There were no skid marks around his body, no vehicular debris, and Smith’s loosely tied shoes were still on his feet – all evidence which Smith’s family believes casts doubt on him being struck and killed by a vehicle.
Police reports also revealed that some of Smith’s injuries were inconsistent with being struck by a car.
For almost eight years, Smith’s mother has believed the 19-year-old was in fact the victim of a murder.
During the initial investigation, the Murdaugh name cropped up 40 times in official documents in the case and there has long been murmurings in the community that a “Murdaugh boy” may have been involved, reported Live5News.
Buster and Smith were classmates and there were rumours that the two had been in some sort of relationship around the time of his death.
Investigators have not announced any connection between the Murdaugh family and Smith’s death and no charges have ever been filed.
For six years after Smith’s death, the case was closed and there were no developments in the case.
Then, on 7 June 2021, Murdaugh gunned down Maggie and Paul on the affluent family’s sprawling 1,700-acre estate in Islandton and the Smith case came under the spotlight once more.
Just days after the murders, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) led announced that it was reopening an investigation into Smith’s death based on information that had come to light during the investigation into Maggie and Paul’s murders.
It is not clear what information prompted the launch of the investigation into Smith’s death and no further details have been released.
In January 2023, SLED only said it had “made progress” in the case.
In a press conference on Monday held by Smith’s mother Sandy Smith and her attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, the family announced plans to pay for an independent investigation – including the exhumation of Smith’s body and a private autopsy – after raising more than $65,000 through a GoFundMe campaign.
Mr Bland said that they believe Smith was killed “somewhere else” before his body was “placed” in the middle of the road where he was later discovered.
“We think he did not die on that road that night,” he said, adding that they “don’t expect it to be vehicular manslaughter”.
Mr Bland explained that the legal team will file a petition asking a judge for permission to exhume Smith’s body.
He said he hopes the judge will see there is “good cause” to believe that “a fresh set of eyes, new autopsy could heed a different conclusion” as to what happened to the 19-year-old victim.
The investigation will also “look at [Stephen’s life]” focusing on the 90 days before his death on 8 July 2015 including who he was associating with, who his friends were, who he was dating at the time, his communications and plans he had made prior to his death.
“A lot of pre-death communications can be relevant and the post-death communications of some people could be relevant,” he said.
If the investigation does however lead to the same conclusion as the initial investigation – that Smith was the victim of a hit-and-run – Mr Bland pointed out that the individual or individuals responsible are still walking free.
Despite the connection to the Murdaugh family, Mr Bland insisted that this is not about convicted killer Alex Murdaugh or Buster.
“This is not an Alex Murdaugh 2.0 or any other Murdaugh 2.0. This is a Stephen Smith 2.0,” he said.
“This is about Stephen,” he said, adding that they just want to “give a mother answers” about her son’s death.
Speaking at the press conference, Ms Smith said that – after almost eight years – she is hoping to finally find out the “real reason” for her son’s sudden death.
She said: “I hope to find the real reason for Stephen’s death and the real why.”