Chilling crime scene photos shed light on the circumstances of South Carolina nursing student Stephen Smith’s 2015 death just miles from the property of the now-disgraced Murdaugh family.
Smith’s motionless body was discovered in the middle of the road – along the yellow line that marked the center – and in a pool of his own blood, according to the graphic photographs released by HBO Max.
The 19-year-old, who was found dead on July 8, 2015, was lying on his back and wearing loosely tied shoes, khaki shorts and a green shirt.
He appeared to be bleeding from his head after what investigators initially declared a hit-and-run, despite initial officers’ reports the death appeared to be a homicide.
Lawyers recently appointed by his mother, Sandy Smith, have flagged several inconsistencies with the hit-and-run theory, such as the lack of skid marks or vehicular debris around his body.
Smith’s yellow hatchback was found abandoned three miles away from his body, with his wallet inside and the gas cap open.
The aspiring doctor, who was gay, graduated from the same high school as Buster Murdaugh, whose father was recently convicted in the double murders of Buster’s mother, Maggie, and his brother, Paul.
Alex Murdaugh has since been sentenced to life in prison and has filed a notice of appeal. He has confessed to a bevy of financial crimes and has allegedly been linked to several other suspicious South Carolina deaths.
The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) reopened the case into Smith’s death while it was investigating the 2021 murders.
The agency has since announced Smith’s death is a homicide investigation, although it has yet to disclose what additional evidence was uncovered.
Buster has never formally been linked to his death and no evidence has ever been presented that associated him with it.
However, he recently released a statement denouncing “defamatory comments and rumors,” which have circulated locally since 2015 and which suggested he had a secret relationship with Smith and had wanted to silence him.
“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,” he wrote.
Sandy Smith wrote in a 2016 letter to the FBI that the Murdaugh family quickly injected itself into the 2015 investigation, according to FITSnews.
“The first call my family received after the murder was from authorities notifying us of Stephen’s death,” Smith wrote in the letter. “The second came very quickly the same morning from solicitor Randolph Murdaugh. In fact, he called my ex-husband’s cell phone as we waited in the police station for a positive identification. He said he heard of the case and was interested in working pro bono as a liaison between the family and investigators.”
She recalled how a “young man” approached Stephen’s older brother, Chris, and said, “he was present when Stephen was murdered and witnessed everything firsthand.”
“He said that Solicitor Murdaugh’s nephew, Buster Murdaugh (who graduated with Stephen), beat Stephen to death with a baseball bat. He claimed it was because Stephen was gay,” she wrote, according to the report. “The witness said they were out smashing mailboxes when they came upon Stephen, and Buster seized the opportunity.”
Sandy Smith has since raised enough money to begin the process to have her son’s body exhumed and has hired a legal team to head up the post-mortem investigation.
The official police narrative of Smith’s death was that he was struck while walking up the road because his car had run out of gas. The car was discovered over three miles away from where his body was found with his wallet inside and the gas cap open.
A coroner determined the teen likely suffered his head injury when he was struck by a semi-truck’s mirror as the vehicle passed, the Associated Press reported — a theory that has since been questioned and debunked by various investigators.
The investigation was initially handled by the South Carolina Highway Patrol, and SLED did not take the case until years later. SLED said last week that “progress has been made” in its investigation into Smith’s death.
The agency added: “From SCHP case notes it was apparent that the SCHP did not believe Mr. Smith’s death was a hit and run by a motor vehicle.”
Such a statement was corroborated last week by Mike Duncan, a now-retired corporal with the South Carolina Highway Patrol, who told NewsNation that investigators had ordered a rape kit examination of the victim’s body.
The examination was reportedly ordered within 13 hours of the discovery of Smith’s remains.
Asked if he had seen such a move before, Duncan responded: “When it comes to traffic accidents, never.”