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The Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal

“Oh, what a tangle web we weave…” – Alex Murdaugh, when on trial for the murder of his wife and younger son.

Taking advantage of ubiquitous recording technology, Netflix creates a six-part series that shows the murders – both charged and not – surrounding the Murdaugh family (the photo shows Buster, Maggie, Paul and Alex).

In case you missed it, Alex (pronounced Alec) Murdaugh is now in prison, sentenced to two consecutive life terms for the murders of his wife (Maggie) and his younger son (Paul). How could a man be so depraved as to kill his wife and his son? Note that as this is based on real events that have been all over the news, this review is not going to be concerned with spoilers. Besides, I believe that this series is more interesting to people who already have some familiarity with the cases.

Netflix has created a documentary that feels like a real documentary (unlike some of their other efforts, such as the Sackler family). Most of what we see on screen comes from actual filming, such as interviews with people who were witnesses to things that happened, as well as police body cam recordings, phone recordings, surveillance recordings in public places, and recordings of police interviews and scenes at trial. They also used clips from news shows. Very little seems to have used actors, perhaps the only possibility when they wanted to show a family at dinner or someone walking, and in these cases they are blurry or from a distance or from the back. These are not scenes that would introduce any bias into the show. What is amazing is how little filler they needed.

That’s not to say the show is without bias and that things were not scrubbed a bit to make them better for the screen. By interviewing people who were friends or relatives of the Murdaughs, these people often have some affection for them, but I liked that. There’s also the fact that all the people who were interviewed to describe events were allowed to take advantage of make-up professionals. I also think is fair.

Maggie and Paul were murdered in 2021. Netflix, and all the others doing shows on these scandals, were lucky in that Alex Murdaugh and his lawyers asked for a speedy trial, which took place in 2023. Presumably Alex wanted this because he was not let out on bail, but kept in jail, pending trial. Anyway, the speedy trial meant that the second season (three episodes) of The Murdaugh Murders did not require a long wait.

The series starts, not with the murders of Maggie and Paul, but with the boating accident in which Mallory Beach died. Paul Murdaugh was extremely drunk while he was driving the boat – many photos show him drinking earlier that night – and he would not let anyone else drive. He smashed the boat into a bridge, and Mallory did not survive. The others – Miley and Morgan, Anthony and Connor – are all interviewed at length throughout the series.

When the boating accident occurred, Alex and his father, Randall Murdaugh, started doing what they had apparently done many times: cover things up. They try to blame Connor – who was not driving the boat, although he tried to take over more than once from the inebriated Paul – for the boat accident. They hide things. They try to put pressure on the witnesses. We get the sense they have covered up many things in the past, and as they have so much influence in the region, that often law enforcement and courts went along with it. For example, Morgan, who dated Paul until the boat crash, relates how when they had an accident with the truck earlier, Alex and Randall (the grandfather) came out and cleaned up things so there would be no trouble. However, the boat crash was different, because a young woman died. It can be hard to get cooperation from grieving parents, and they filed a wrongful death suit. This seems to have put pressure on Alex Murdaugh, because he was also being held responsible, and they were looking into his finances.

Netflix is good about letting viewers always know when we are with respect to events. The first episode is about the boat crash in 2019; in the second we move to the double homicide in 2021. As more information comes out – Alex Murdaugh’s lies and swindles are coming to light – local investigators start looking into other deaths associated with the Murdaughs. There’s a young man, a friend of Buster’s, whose body was found in the middle of a road. Then there’s a housekeeper who fell down the stairs at a Murdaugh house. Maybe she was murdered, and maybe she was not – pushing someone down the stairs is an unreliable way to kill them – but what is certain is that Alex stole the settlement money, which was in the millions. Anyway, the series puts in bright yellow the date, so viewers don't get confused.

I thought the documentary highlighted how some families simply have too much power and influence, and also showed how empty these people were, despite their power and their money. Paul drank huge amounts; Alex took opioids. Their pride, too, showed emptiness, a sort of inferiority complex, as if they knew they did not deserve what they had. Paul refused to let another guy drive his boat, even when he was drunk; Alex was ready to steal and hurt those who trusted him just to maintain his reputation. I did like some of the people, especially Anthony, the boyfriend of Mallory, the young woman who died in the boat crash; he refused to be taken to the hospital afterwards but kept diving back into the water to search for her. There were several others who refused to lie for the Murdaughs; I respect them too.

Title musings. The full title is "The Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal." The part before the colon needs no explanation, but the second part, A Southern Scandal, might be taken as a slur on the south. Certainly some parts are extremely southern: the land, the foliage, the weather – in the north you probably wouldn’t take out a boat in February – and the way people pronounce words (Beaufort is said in a way that would not be my first, second, or even third guess). However, I think that any region where families have been in the same place for generations, and where some families have so much power, wealth and influence, could have similar dynamics.

Bits and pieces

Murdaugh is a homonym of Murdoch, the family that owns Fox news. I checked and they have the same roots. The name means someone who comes from the sea.

SLED refers to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. I assume they dropped the C because SLED is easier to pronounce than SCLED.

At one point in the series it mentions that Buster Murdaugh, the only member of that nuclear family (see photo above) not dead or in prison, was expelled from school for plagiarism. No sterling characters in this bunch.

I wonder if the Murdaughs, powerful in the South Carolina low country, were always so horrible or if the earlier generations were more competent. Maybe both is true: they were more competent in the past but just as corrupt. If anyone out there knows, please post in the comments.

Remember, these days, nearly everything is being recorded. Even if you, as a murderer wannabe, have the good sense to leave your phone at home, you can’t count on others not having phones and watches that will record things and make time of death clear (an unexpected recording destroyed Alex's alibi).

In July, 2023, a $15.5 million settlement was awarded to the family of Mallory Beach, the young woman who died in the boat crash.

The phrase “Oh, what a tangled web we weave” comes from Marmion, a poem by Sir Walter Scott. The full phrase is “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” In other words, when you start to lie, you get into a heap of trouble.

I also listened to the Dateline podcast about the Paul and Maggie murders, and there were a few places where it did not agree with the Netflix series. In the podcast, Maggie is portrayed as being about to leave Alex – she suspected something wrong with their finances. Also, according to the Dateline podcast, Alex supposedly gave some of the settlement money to the housekeeper’s family.

Overall rating

Thanks to recording devices everywhere, this series was possible. I found it informative and it made me reflect, although not always positively, on my fellow human beings. If you have a weakness for true crime (which I do) or want to know what happened in this case, it’s worth your time. Three out of four cell phones.

Victoria Grossack loves math, birds, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.


  1. Why do people find true crime so fascinating? Why is there such a tolerated craze for it?

  2. I like how puzzles get solved - technology has changed all that, but it's still interesting - and I like seeing bad people get punished. Both those things are satisfying, because too often in real life, neither happens.

  3. Victoria, you're so right about the puzzles. For me, it's really good mystery/detective fiction, like Michael Connelly, Dick Francis, Robert B. Parker. Plus with true crime, it's just human nature to feel empathy for others who have misfortunes, and catharsis when something terrible happens to someone that isn't us. I often find myself curious about and disdainful of people who have a lot of money and influence and clearly don't deserve it, too.

  4. I also think, that with true crime, we get a good look at the worst in human nature. And although it may not be pleasant, it helps to understand it. And with respect to the Murdaughs, I really wonder how many generations back their corruption goes. Randall - who died right after Maggie and Paul were murdered - was always so ready to clear up the crimes of his grandkids. Now, he was really sick when Maggie and Paul were murdered, but realizing his son had killed two family members must have hurt. Because I expect he knew.

  5. Update: Alex Murdaugh asked for a new trial with respect to the murders because he said there was jury tampering. It was denied. He also pleaded guilty to loads of financial crimes.


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