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Stephen Smith’s death has haunted a South Carolina community for years – but it was a Netflix documentary, released around the same time as the double murder trial involving a prominent family, that revived attention to the case. 

Smith, the 19-year-old former classmate of Buster Murdaugh, was found dead in July 2015 on rural Sandy Run Road in Hampton County, near the Murdaugh property.

Recent Netflix and HBO documentaries alleged that rumors swirled in the small town that Buster and his younger brother Paul were potentially involved in Smith’s death. 

There were also rumors, provided as tips to investigators at the time, that Buster and Smith were romantically linked, the documentaries claimed. 

On Monday, Buster released a statement denying the ‘vicious rumors’ that he was involved in Smith’s death.

Last week, Smith’s family announced that the body of the 19-year-old nursing student would be exhumed for a private autopsy. Now, after eight years, SLED has revealed they are convinced his death was a homicide.

Stephen Smith (right), the 19-year-old former classmate of Buster Murdaugh, was found dead in July 2015 on rural Sandy Run Road in Hampton County, near the Murdaugh property

Stephen Smith (right), the 19-year-old former classmate of Buster Murdaugh, was found dead in July 2015 on rural Sandy Run Road in Hampton County, near the Murdaugh property

It was a Netflix documentary, released around the same time as the double murder trial of disgraced legal scion Alex Murdaugh, that revived attention to the 2015 case

It was a Netflix documentary, released around the same time as the double murder trial of disgraced legal scion Alex Murdaugh, that revived attention to the 2015 case

Pictured: 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 that they did not believe the scene was consistent with a road traffic accident

Pictured: 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 that they did not believe the scene was consistent with a road traffic accident 

Who is Stephen Smith?

Stephen Smith was found dead on July 8, 2015, on a rural Sandy Run Road in Hampton County, near the Murdaugh property.

The 19-year-old nursing student had a blunt-force trauma injury to the head.

His body was found three miles away from where his car had apparently run out of gas, the gas cap open. 

The teen’s death was initially ruled a hit and run, but highway patrol officers have since claimed that they did not believe the scene was consistent with a road traffic accident.

His family’s attorneys have also pointed out that Smith’s wallet was left inside the car – and he never made any phone calls to his family at the time. 

Smith’s mother Sandy said he would not have left his wallet behind and said he would have at least called his sister.

‘If he did have to walk home, he would have walked through the woods – and there was a corn field right there he would have walked through. He would make sure that he was not seen by anyone,’ she said. 

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Sandy also said that she wants to find the ‘real reason’ for her son’s death, and has stood by her opinion that he would have ‘walked through the woods’ if his car broke down – not the road. 

A GoFundMe page has raised more than $85,000, far surpassing their goal.  

Smith's death was initially ruled a hit and run, but highway patrol officers have since claimed that they did not believe the scene was consistent with a road traffic accident

Smith’s death was initially ruled a hit and run, but highway patrol officers have since claimed that they did not believe the scene was consistent with a road traffic accident

Recent Netflix and HBO documentaries revealed rumors that swirled in the small town that Buster and his younger brother Paul were potentially involved in Smith's death

Recent Netflix and HBO documentaries revealed rumors that swirled in the small town that Buster and his younger brother Paul were potentially involved in Smith’s death

Buster Murdaugh, second from right, son of Alex Murdaugh, looks to his father during his trial

Buster Murdaugh, second from right, son of Alex Murdaugh, looks to his father during his trial

Why is his death now being considered a homicide?

Last week, Smith’s family announced that the body of the 19-year-old nursing student would be exhumed for a private autopsy.

But on Tuesday, SLED revealed they did not need to exhume Smith’s body to convince them that his death was a homicide. 

Bland Richter Law Firm, which is representing Smith’s family, made the announcement on Tuesday after a call with South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel.

SLED officials said they will ‘be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen’s body to gather more evidence.’

Bland Richter co-founder Eric Bland said that SLED is committed to combining efforts and resources as the state moves forward with exhuming Smith’s Body.

‘We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do just that,’ said Bland.

On Tuesday, Attorney Ronnie Richter told TMZ Live that there are a ‘number of facts that clearly point to murder’ which include ‘Stephen’s body from the torso down had no injuries, there were no car parts found at the scene, his shoes were still on, he supposedly walked three miles in the dark without ever using his cell phone.’

SLED reopened the investigation into Smith’s death in 2021, citing new evidence that was uncovered while investigating the murders of Buster’s mother Maggie Murdaugh and his brother Paul. 

But according to Bland, SLED officials said they were waiting until Murdaugh’s murder trial was to make this announcement because of their concern over witness testimony. 

Murdaugh, Buster’s father, was convicted last month of killing his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and his son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, and sentenced to life in prison.

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Buster’s mother and brother were found shot to death near the kennels at their sprawling hunting lodge in Islandton on June 7, 2021.

The spotlight on the double murders shed new light on Stephen Smith’s case. 

‘SLED officials have revealed that they did not need to exhume Stephen Smith’s body to convince them that his death was a homicide.’ Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter said in a joint statement. 

‘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.’

SLED reopened the investigation into Smith's death in 2021, citing new evidence that was uncovered while investigating murders of Buster's mother Maggie Murdaugh and brother Paul

SLED reopened the investigation into Smith’s death in 2021, citing new evidence that was uncovered while investigating murders of Buster’s mother Maggie Murdaugh and brother Paul

Buster Murdaugh, 26, the sole surviving son of disgraced legal scion and double murderer Alex Murdaugh, on Monday denied 'vicious rumors' that he was involved Smith's death

Buster Murdaugh, 26, the sole surviving son of disgraced legal scion and double murderer Alex Murdaugh, on Monday denied ‘vicious rumors’ that he was involved Smith’s death

A GoFundMe for Stephen Smith, who died in 2015, has surpassed its target

A GoFundMe for Stephen Smith, who died in 2015, has surpassed its target

Why was Buster Murdaugh linked to Stephen Smith’s death? 

Buster Murdaugh, 26, the sole surviving son of disgraced legal scion and double murderer Alex Murdaugh, on Monday denied ‘vicious rumors’ that he was involved Smith’s death. 

Smith and Buster were high school classmates. 

Following Smith’s death, cops were tipped off about an alleged gay relationship between the pair which was being gossiped about at the local high school.

Smith’s mother Sandra also claims that her son may have been the victim of a hate crime carried out by the Murdaugh clan.

Two documentaries by HBO and Netflix recently aired allegations that Buster was involved in a romantic relationship with Smith. 

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 about rumors of Buster Murdaugh’s possible involvement in Smith’s death – but was never brought in for questioning.

On Monday, Buster released a statement and denied ‘vicious rumors’ that he was involved in Smith’s death.

He wrote: ‘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.’ 

On Monday, Buster denied 'vicious rumors' that he was involved in Smith's death

On Monday, Buster denied ‘vicious rumors’ that he was involved in Smith’s death

What did the Netflix and HBO documentaries reveal about Smith’s death?

Two docuseries about the Murdaugh murders released in recent months revealed new details and allegations about five deaths in six years that are potentially connected to the powerful family. Including the 2015 death of Stephen Smith. 

Netflix’s ‘Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal’ was released for streaming on February 22, 2023. It arrived toward the end of Murdaugh’s six-week trial than began on January 23. 

The three-part series delves into the family’s possible involvement in the mysterious deaths of Smith, Mallory Beach, Gloria Satterfield – all of which happened between 2014-2021. 

The other two deaths talked about were the murders of Maggie Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh. Alex Murdaugh was convicted of their murders in March 2023. 

Journalist Will Folks said: ‘Victims of vehicular strikes are not typically found in the middle of the road.’ 

In the docuseries, it was revealed that Buster Murdaugh’s name came up multiple times as Smith’s death was investigated, CourtTV reported. 

Smith’s mother hired private investigator Steve Peterson who said many of the people he interviewed said they’d heard Buster was involved with Smith’s death. 

And some friends told investigators that Smith and Buster were more than friends, Peterson had said. 

He also noted that Buster’s name was mentioned several times on the highway patrol tapes, but that he was never interviewed by the authorities.

The docuseries also revealed that some of Smith and Buster’s classmates said Smith was having car trouble and called Buster for help. 

Olivia, Smith’s friend, alleged in the series: ‘I believe that he picked Stephen up and was fooling Stephen into thinking they were taking him home but I think they got a little ways down the road and that’s when it all started to unravel. I believe that the Murdaughs did whatever the hell it took to keep everyone’s mouth shut that night.’ 

Smith’s sister Stephanie said on the docuseries that Alex Murdaugh’s brother Randy Murdaugh called the family the day Smith was found dead informing him that he wanted to take the case free of charge. 

HBO’s ‘Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty’ is a three-part series that came out in November 2022, months before the trial. 

The HBO version goes into the family’s background and their influence on the community.  

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