The Murdaugh family was well-known in South Carolina but caught national attention after its patriarch, attorney Alex Murdaugh, was recently found guilty of murdering his wife and son.
Murdaugh’s arrest led to the unraveling of many crimes potentially tied to the family and a journalist discovered an eerily suspicious family death that resulted in a large payout.
South Carolina journalist and historian Michael M. DeWitt Jr., who has covered the Murdaugh family for years discovered that Randolph Murdaugh Sr., the founder of the law firm that would establish his family legacy in Hampton County, South Carolina died in a train crash under suspicious circumstances in 1940.
The elder Murdaugh’s car was crossing a railway when it mysteriously stopped in the middle of the crossing and was hit by a Charleston & Western Carolina freight line, on July 19, 1940, DeWitt learned by scouring through old newspaper reporting.
This revelation comes as at least three other deaths are being investigated for ties to the Murdaughs and as Alex Murdaugh is also investigated for allegedly organizing a suicide-for-hire plot for a life insurance payout for his surviving son, Buster.
W.W. Bartlett, the engineer of the train at the time, told 1940s investigators that he only saw Murdaugh’s car when he was about 40 yards away and that Murdaugh then lifted his hand and waved at the oncoming locomotive before starting his car up and suddenly stopping directly on the tracks.
The impact of the crash “hurled the automobile approximately 900 feet up the track, totally wrecking it,” The Hampton County Guardian reported at the time.
“Murdaugh’s body was found beside the track approximately 150 feet from the crossing,” the paper wrote, according to DeWitt.
DeWitt wrote that local historians have speculated whether or not Murdaugh was drunk or if it was a suicide but no evidence suggests either. His death was ruled an accident by the Hampton County Coroner’s jury.
The elder Murdaugh’s son, Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh Jr., sued the train company alleging the train did not blow the whistle or ring a bell at the crossing and was traveling at high speed. He also alleged that the crossing and its approach “was in a rough, washed out and dangerous condition” and demanded a $100,000 settlement. The case of settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
In the years following the elder Murdaugh’s death, several Murdaughs would become solicitors for the 14th Circuit in the county, and his law firm would significantly expand. That law firm would go on to bring dozens of lawsuits against railroad companies and win many multi-million-dollar judgments or settlements.
The Murdaughs have even joked about the impact of taking on the railroad company.
“A train killed my grandfather in 1940, and they have been killing our people ever since,” Randolph Murdaugh III once joked during a speech at a public event in Hampton County in 2018.