A rape kit was ordered in the hours after Stephen Smith’s body was found lying dead in the middle of a country road, a highway patrol officer has revealed.
The 19-year-old was initially believed to have been killed in a hit and run on July 8, 2015, but this week it was announced that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) was investigating his death as a murder.
Michael Duncan, a former South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) supervisor, told NewsNation that a rape kit was ordered within 13 hours of Smith’s death – something he had ‘never’ encountered in his years investigating fatal traffic accidents.
Smith’s case is intertwined with that of Alex Murdaugh who was jailed for life last month for the brutal murders of his wife Maggie and younger son Paul at the family’s hunting estate in Moselle on the night of June 7, 2021.
SLED said they began investigating Smith’s death as a homicide after evidence which came to light following the killings. Police reports mentioned the Murdaugh family several times, including rumors that his surviving son Buster was involved.
Stephen Smith (pictured with his mother Sandy) was found lying in the middle of Sandy Run Road in Hampton County with a blunt force trauma injury to the head on July 8, 2015
Michael Duncan, a former South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) supervisor, told NewsNation that a rape kit was ordered within 13 hours of Smith’s death – something he had ‘never’ encountered in his years investigating fatal traffic accidents
Buster Murdaugh sits with his girlfriend Brooklynn White during his father’s double murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, on February 23
Murdaugh’s older son Buster, 26, this week denied ‘vicious rumors’ about his alleged involvement in his classmate’s death. Two high-profile documentaries by HBO and Netflix aired claims that the pair were allegedly linked romantically.
Highway cop Duncan said Smith’s wounds were inconsistent with a traffic accident, which corroborates the findings of the local coroner who reported that Smith had been shot.
The local sheriff’s department and highway patrol cops informed SLED they believed the death should be investigated as a murder.
However, a subsequent autopsy by a pathologist in Charleston found that Smith’s head wound was caused by blunt force trauma consistent with a vehicular collision.
When the results came back, highway patrol did not want to take the case, insisting that SLED should be following up with a homicide probe.
‘We don’t believe it ever elevated to invoke the full investigatory authority of SLED,’ Ronnie Richter, an attorney for Smith’s family, told NPR on Wednesday. ‘It has now.’
Duncan told NewsNation we was ‘extremely disappointed’ with the way the investigation was carried out.
‘I’ve never seen wounds like this that come from a car … In totality, it did not make sense why they were calling it a traffic accident,’ Duncan said.
Asked if he had ever seen a rape kit used in such a case, Duncan said: ‘When it comes to traffic accidents … never.’
He added: ‘This was the very first time. I did not have an understanding of why it was being ordered. We were not notified until later that it had been ordered. I have no answers for you as to why they would have ordered a rape kit for what would be suspected as a hit and run, which it wasn’t’.
Richter confirmed on Thursday that a rape kit had been ordered. It is not clear what the results were or if the test was actually carried out.
In a statement Wednesday, SLED stated that it opened an investigation into Smith’s death in June of 2021 after ‘agents received information about his death and subsequently reviewed the SCHP investigative file.’
Stephen Smith’s car found along Sandy Run Road in Hampton, South Carolina in 2015. The teen’s death was initially ruled a hit and run, but highway patrol officers have since claimed they do not believe the scene was consistent with a road traffic accident
Maggie Murdaugh is seen with her husband Alex and sons Buster (right) and Paul (left)
Buster, who supported his doomed father every day during his trial last month, said he wanted privacy to ‘grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother’
SLED said that Highway Patrol’s case notes made it ‘apparent that the SCHP did not believe Mr. Smith’s death was a hit and run.’
His family have long believed he was murdered. Smith was found lying in the middle of Sandy Run Road, around five miles from the Murdaugh estate.
He did not have injuries to his lower body, no vehicular debris was found at the scene, nor were there tire marks on the road, consistent with a traffic accident.
He also left his car at the roadside around three miles away, leaving his phone and wallet in the hatchback. Smith’s mother Sandy said he would never have left his wallet behind and would have at least called his sister.
‘Stephen was in the process of discovering himself and his sexuality,’ Sandy told local news outlet Bluffton Today months after her son died. ‘He was gay. One rumor is that he may have had a man stalking him, the authorities asked me about that, but I’ve heard other stories I believe more.’
She went on to say that she thought someone Stephen knew from school could have been involved in his death.
‘One of the guys that supposedly did this, Stephen told his twin sister that he had a fling with the boy,’ Smith said. ‘He also told me that he and the boy had a deep sea fishing trip planned for July. Stephen died on the eighth of July.’
The original incident report written by SCHP investigators and contained in the Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation (MAIT) case file states: ‘He pointed out the wound to be a gunshot wound and showed me the entry point.
‘Assistant Coroner Kelly Greene then began to show me photographs they took, again pointing to the entry point to the head and also a defensive wound to the hand.’
Written by James B. Tallon III, the notes state: ‘Originally HCSO had notified the South Carolina Highway Patrol in reference to this being a possible hit and run.
‘After further investigation it was believed that the victim had been shot in the head.’
An EMS worker is noted as having, ‘stated that a projectile wound was located on the victim’s head.’
Eric Bland said witnesses could now speak ‘without fear’ following Alex Murdaugh’s conviction for killing his wife and son
And the notes state: ‘A hole in the skull was located above the victim’s right eye.’
But when the autopsy was conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the manner of death was listed not as homicide but ‘undetermined,’ and it was ruled a hit and run.
DailyMail.com exclusively revealed in June 2021, that SLED had reopened the investigation into Smith’s death, with officials citing new evidence uncovered while probing the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
But according to attorney Eric Bland for Smith’s mother, officials said they were waiting until after Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial to make this announcement because of their concern over witness testimony.
‘SLED officials have revealed that they did not need to exhume Stephen Smith’s body to convince them that his death was a homicide,’ Bland and his law partner Ronnie Richter said in a joint statement Monday.
‘However, they will be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen’s body to gather more evidence. We are committed to finding out what really happened, and getting the peace and justice the Smith family deserves.’
In June 2021, Dailymail.com found that police investigating the teen’s suspicious death probed witnesses over any relationship the dead boy may have had with the heir to a powerful South Carolina legal dynasty.
Buster released a statement Monday before SLED’s confirmation of a murder probe, stating that speculation about his alleged involvement ‘has gone on far too long.’
In a statement released through his father’s trial lawyers Jim Griffin and State Senator Dick Harpootlian, the former law student said: ‘I have tried my best to ignore the vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith’s tragic death that continue to be published in the media as I grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother.
‘I love them so much and miss them terribly. I haven’t spoken up until now because I want to live in private while I cope with their deaths and my father’s incarceration.
‘Before, during and since my father’s trial, I have been targeted and harassed by the media and followers of this story.
‘This has gone on far too long. 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.
‘I am requesting that the media immediately stop publishing these defamatory comments and rumors about me.’
Investigators have never publicly revealed if there was a link between Smith’s death and the Murdaugh family – despite witnesses allegedly giving tips to law enforcement linking the classmates together.
A Netflix documentary explored their alleged relationship, though at the time Buster refused to give a comment.
More than half of the people interviewed during the investigation mentioned hearing rumors of Buster’s possible involvement in Smith’s death – but he was never brought in for questioning, the documentaries said.
Buster is currently thought to be holed up at his lawyer girlfriend’s property in Hilton Head, and was spotted walking dogs at the property several times during the trial.
Smith’s mother, Sandy, shared the news that they would be exhuming her son’s body and pushing forward with an independent autopsy last week on a GoFundMe page.
She wrote: ‘Our family is so very grateful to all of you who came together to help us in our fight for justice for Stephen.
‘I could not have imagined when we began this fundraiser that it would take off the way that it did. Thank you for not allowing Stephen’s story to be swept under a rug.’