Murdaugh-linked Stephen Smith was killed for knowing too much about ‘bad people’: forensics investigator
Long before the media outlet FitsNews of South Carolina released some of the early files on the 2015 death of Stephen Smith last week, a tenacious amateur forensics investigator got her hands on the entire police file.
Interest in Smith’s death has been renewed since the double-murder conviction of Alex Murdaugh earlier this month. Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster, has been linked to Smith and the two attended high school together.
Shannon Beekhuizen said she learned that Smith, a bright nursing school student from Hampton, SC, led something of a double life that may have put him in danger — but believes that investigators dropped the ball when it came to finding out how he died.
Police originally thought Smith’s death was a homicide, and at least one investigator thought he might have been murdered and then deliberately left for dead in the road.
But then the 19-year-old’s death was mysteriously ruled a hit and run. It wasn’t officially re-named a homicide by South Carolina Law Enforcement until last week.
“From what I could see, that poor kid, that beautiful boy, died with his eyes open. He took his last breath right there on that road,” Beekhuizen, who has a degree in crime scene technology, told The Post.
“No way that was a hit and run. It was murder — and they covered it up by saying he was hit by a truck mirror,” she added.
As The Post previously reported a South Carolina Highway Patrol report on Smith’s death noted that there were no glass fragments or other evidence of vehicular involvement at the scene or on Smith’s body.
Beekhuizem, a member of the Florida Mortuary Operations Response Team, has spent the last 11 months examining evidence reports, police interviews, autopsy reports and the South Carolina Law Enforcement (SLED) crime scene collection involving the death of Smith. The gay man was found face down on a rural Hampton County road on July 8, 2015.
Smith’s skull was partially crushed and bloodied. There was a gaping hole in his forehead, and his shoulder had been dislocated.
While police and media were focused on the arrest and trial of Alex Murdaugh, a member of a prominent legal dynasty in Hampton County who was convicted of the double murders of his wife and son last month, Beekhuizen — who runs the “Confidential Conversations” podcast and its “Forensic Friday” spotlight — said she was drawn in by Stephen’s story and was determined to find out what happened to him.
Beekhuizen, 52, made two trips to Hampton County and has spent hours spent on the phone and in email conversations with numerous associates of Smith and people named in the police reports.
“I drove every road down there that I could find out that Stephen drove,” she said. “I went to every place I heard that he went to. I followed in his footsteps as best I could.”
Beekhuizen pieced together bits of Stephen’s world, which she said involved both serious nursing studies — and “some of the most eclectic characters you can imagine.”
She said she found evidence that some associates of Smith were involved in drug dealing and money laundering, but was careful to say notes he did not think Smith did any of those things. There were no drugs found in Smith’s system after his death.
“Once you start looking into the people he knew, you can’t unsee them,” Beekhuizen said. “I think Stephen was a good person with some bad people in his life. I think his knowledge of what some of them were doing was the threat and that’s why he was killed and that’s why it was covered up.”
Among the people Beekhuizen spoke to was an older man who was reportedly in some kind of relationship with Smith.
A longtime friend of Smith’s from Hampton told The Post that the older man “took care” of Stephen but did not require much from him.
“It wasn’t really about sex,” the friend said. “He more just liked having Stephen around.” (The man has denied any involvement in Smith’s death.)
Beekhuizen said one place Smith hung out was Bobcat Landing, a public boat ramp leading to a swimming area in Bamberg, SC, that is also known as a gay cruising area and a place where opioids are bought and sold.
Beekhuizen says she believes the truth is more complicated than current theories about the case, including the popular one that Buster Murdaugh was involved. Buster has denied any involvement.
Buster’s name has come up repeatedly in connection with Smith’s death.
Officials originally suspected foul play — and had heard “rumors” about the student’s link to Buster Murdaugh within weeks of the mysterious supposed hit-and-run, files from the initial investigation show.
Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, and Todd Proctor, a former South Carolina Highway Patrol detective who was part of a team that investigated Stephen’s death, told The Post a week after the June 2021 murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh that they believed Buster was somehow involved.
SLED opened an investigation into Smith’s death on June 21, 2021, the day after The Post’s cover story on the Murdaugh murders and the alleged family link to Smith.
“I’m not sure that Buster did it — or that it was a hate crime because of Stephen’s sexual orientation,” Beekhuizen, 52, told The Post. “I found out that Stephen was hanging around with a lot of people who indulged in very risky behavior including drugs and money laundering. I’m not saying Stephen did. Everyone I spoke to said he was a great kid and very bright. I’m saying he may have known too much about some bad stuff.”
Beekhuizen has spent the past year interviewing friends and associates of Smith, some of whom were named in the police report, and said she is baffled at why cops apparently never bothered to talk to many of them.
Smith was found dead on the road with “some sort of blunt force trauma to the head,” South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) Officer D.B. Rowell’s summary of the scene reads.
“We see no evidence to suggest the victim was struck by a vehicle,” the note continues.
Smith was spotted around 4 a.m. by Ronnie Capers Jr., who drove by the body on his way to work and called 911.
The release of the early files on Stephen Smith’s death are part of an avalanche of information that has come to light since the SLED reopened the investigation in June 2021 — based on information gleaned during the probe into Maggie and Paul Murdaugh’s shooting deaths.
Columbia SC attorney Eric Bland, who represents the children of the Murdaugh housekeeper Gloria Satterfield — who died mysteriously in 2018 at the Murdaugh home — is now representing Sandy Smith, the deceased’s mother, as well. His firm is overseeing the planned exhumation of Smith’s body.
Bland told The Post Friday that the firm has hired two forensic pathologists, D’Michelle Dupre of Columbia, SC, and Daniel Schultz of Tampa, Fla., as part of the team overseeing the exhumation and autopsy of Stephen’s body.
Once the local coroner signs off on the request for exhumation, which Bland says he is confident will happen, the body will then be transported to Tampa.
“We’re going to be sure it’s all done correctly,” Bland said, “and away from prying eyes since this is so difficult for the Smith family.”
Bland said that finding foreign DNA on Stephen’s body is not the ultimate goal.
“More evidence will be coming out from Stephen’s phone and tablet,” he said. “We will be getting a picture of the life he led and who he dated before he died.”
Unlike Beekhuizen, Bland does believe Stephen was the victim of a hate crime.
“I think [he was killed] by someone who didn’t want it to be known he was having a relationship with Stephen. I spoke to [someone high at SLED] recently and he said they have four or five people they have their eye on. It was remarkable he told me that.”
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