With plans to exhume the body of a 19-year-old who was murdered near the Murdow family residence in South Carolina, his mother hopes a new autopsy will solve his mysterious death.
Stephen Smith died in July 2015, but his mother Sandy has long disputed the officially recorded cause of death, a hit-and-run, claiming he was murdered.
An investigation into his death has been revisited in 2021 after the murders of Paul and Maggie Murdau, and on March 3, husband and father Alex were found guilty.
The South Carolina Department of Law Enforcement said it had opened an investigation into the case “based on information gathered during the double homicide investigation,” but did not provide further details.
After raising $40,000 via a GoFundMe page to pay for an independent excavation and autopsy, Sandy said he would “immediately pursue an excavation.”
“States can choose and fund excavations and new autopsies, but they [the Medical University of South Carolina]his death was initially classified as a hit-and-run, despite the lack of evidence to support it,” she wrote on the page at the time.
But this excavation, which must first be cleared by a judge, is an exhaustive process that involves reviewing how Smith’s body was treated in the original search more than seven years ago. It’s just the beginning, said longtime forensic expert Joseph Scott. Morgan.
Stephen was found three miles from the car in the middle of the road with a large bruise on the right side of his forehead.
According to police reports, he also had a dislocated shoulder and a cut on his left hand.
Police initially said the death “appeared to be a homicide,” but an autopsy performed the same day the body was found determined that he had been the victim of a hit-and-run.
Morgan told the Post how the body was treated in the hours after it was found made all the difference.
“There are a lot of things you can miss,” he said by phone. “That’s why we treat all deaths, especially traumatic deaths, as if they were murders until proven otherwise.”
Whether Smith’s body was well embalmed could also play a role, he said.
Morgan, who co-hosts a true-crime podcast called “The Body Bag,” questioned whether investigators had X-rayed Smith’s body before his burial, and whether Smith’s clothing had been recreated from the night of his death. He also questioned the ability to test, emphasizing its importance.Both.
“Did they take an X-ray of his body?” he asked. If so, maybe it’s because they can come back and review the movies they made compared to now. I can’t. ”
Asked about the possible presence of foreign DNA, Morgan said molecular evidence would be “out the door” from the moment funeral staff cleaned Smith’s body.
The process of conducting an autopsy on an exhumed body is further complicated by environmental factors, such as the possible presence of worms and water in the subterranean environment, Morgan continued.
“A lot of people think they just dig a hole and put a coffin in it,” he said of the burial. “That’s not true.”
The coffin is then sealed with concrete, essentially becoming a “box within a box,” Morgan added.
But if water can get in, he added, “it creates a problem.”
“That’s one of the things they’re trying to fight. Factors related to this, we’re talking about seven years of rain and drought and all these different things that affect this area.” He said.
The quality of the coffin can affect how well the body is protected.
“There are still bugs in there and they do damage to the body,” he said. “Then you can have things like mold.”
Nevertheless, Morgan added that investigators would be able to thoroughly examine Smith’s remains.
“They have to do a full-body x-ray and look at all the relevant elements from head to toe,” he said. of that word. ”
According to the Associated Press, an initial coroner’s report said Stephen hit the mirror of a semi truck and sustained a head injury.
Police reportedly believed he was walking on the road because his car ran out of gas.
However, a spokesperson for SLED said in a statement to The Post, “Although progress has been made in investigating the death of Stephen Smith, this investigation is still ongoing.”
Murdow was considered a major name in South Carolina politics before he unraveled the web of financial crime that entwined the murders of Maggie and Paul.
Alex Murdau was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife and son.
The Murdow family has since been implicated in at least three deaths within the community, including the Smith family.
according to Local news site FITSnewsthe Murdo family’s name was brought up “more than 40 times during the course of the investigation,” but no family members have ever been formally questioned by police.
The same site reported that local rumors circulated that Alex’s surviving son, Buster, was somehow involved in the death, but this was never included in the police memo.
Buster has never been named by the police as a suspect in the incident or accused of any crime.
Speaking to The Washington Post on Friday, Morgan said investigators re-examining Smith’s remains “must collect everything they can before putting his corpse back on the ground.”
“You have already taken all the trouble to exhume the body,” he continued. “Would you like a full press in court? Do whatever you can.”
with Olivia Land