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How a Housekeeper’s 2018 Death Became the Latest Murdaugh Murder Mystery

Authorities in South Carolina announced on Wednesday that they have opened an investigation into the 2018 death of a housekeeper at the home of Alex Murdaugh, a prominent lawyer who is at the center of multiple investigations after his wife and son were shot and killed at the family’s home in June.

The death of the housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, 57, was attributed in court documents to a “trip and fall” accident, but Angela Topper, the coroner in Hampton County, S.C., said the death was never reported to her office and no autopsy was conducted.

The announcement from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division followed another stunning development on Tuesday, when the agency said that Mr. Murdaugh had asked a former client to kill him on the side of a road earlier this month so that his older son could receive a $10 million insurance payout.

Mr. Murdaugh survived being shot in the head, and concocted a fake story about being shot by a passer-by, a tale that his lawyers now admit was false. The police arrested the former client they say shot him, Curtis Edward Smith, 61, on Tuesday, and charged him with trying to assist Mr. Murdaugh in suicide, among other crimes.

Dick Harpootlian, a lawyer for Mr. Murdaugh, said on Wednesday that he expected Mr. Murdaugh to be arrested in the coming days or weeks for his role in the scheme, but he was adamant that Mr. Murdaugh had not been involved in the slaying of his wife and son in June. He said Mr. Murdaugh had concocted the suicide plan because he was suffering from depression while trying to halt an oxycodone addiction.

Mr. Murdaugh is referred to as a “co-defendant” in the charging documents for Mr. Smith; a police spokesman, Tommy Crosby, said without elaborating that the police expected to bring more charges in the case.

The case has already captured attention because of the Murdaugh family’s powerful history in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where members of the family served as top prosecutors for a five-county region for more than eight decades. Mr. Murdaugh was a prominent lawyer at his family law firm until he was pushed out the day before he was shot, after leaders said they had discovered that he had taken millions of dollars from the firm and its clients.

The central question of who killed Mr. Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and college student son, Paul, who were found shot to death at their home in June, remains unsolved.

The new investigation into Ms. Satterfield’s death came after lawyers representing her two sons said the children had not received any of the $505,000 settlement that their previous lawyer had reached with Mr. Murdaugh.

In that case, Ms. Satterfield’s death was attributed to injuries sustained in a “trip and fall.” But Ms. Topper, the local coroner, said the death had been listed as “natural” on Ms. Satterfield’s death certificate, which she said was “inconsistent” with an accidental fall.

The sons, Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriott, who are now both in their 20s, did not participate in the negotiations and did not sign any settlement agreements, the sons’ new lawyers, Ronnie Richter and Eric Bland, said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday. The lawsuit named Mr. Murdaugh, as well as the law firm and individual lawyer who had represented the sons, as defendants.

The new lawyers said Mr. Murdaugh had introduced Ms. Satterfield’s sons to one of the lawyers who represented them in the settlement, but that they had not been aware of how close the lawyer was to Mr. Murdaugh.

Mr. Richter said in an interview that he had not expected the state police to open a criminal investigation, but he was glad Ms. Satterfield’s death was getting a deeper look.

“I can’t recall a case that required sunlight more than this one,” he said. “Wherever it comes from, it’s a good thing.”

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