HAMPTON, S.C. — On the surface, the lives of Alex Murdaugh and his older brother Randy appeared to follow the same track: They were born two years apart, both went to the University of South Carolina for college and law school, and then the two worked as partners at the family firm that had grown out of the century-old law practice founded by their great-grandfather.
But even in college, it was clear they were different. Alex was briefly on the football team and a regular at college parties; Randy, a self-described “hometown boy,” would go back home to Hampton every weekend to hunt and fish. In recent years, their offices were close enough that Randy could hear his brother’s constant phone calls, but they rarely spent any time alone together.
“It’s not like there was some problem with our relationship, necessarily,” Randy Murdaugh said. “We just really weren’t alike, so we didn’t do stuff together.”
Then came Alex’s arrest in July 2022 for the murder of his wife and son, amid expanding allegations that he had stolen millions of dollars from clients and the law firm, which forced Randy to question whether he had ever truly known his brother.
A jury concluded last week after less than three hours of deliberations that Alex Murdaugh was guilty of the murders, but for Randy there has been no such certainty. He has spent nearly every day for the past 20 months trying to understand what might have happened on the night that Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were fatally shot.
In the first interview a family member has given since the trial, Randy Murdaugh said he had no doubt that his brother was a serial liar and a thief. He said he also believed that Alex had not told the whole truth about what he knew about the killings.
But asked directly whether he thought his brother carried out the murders, he said he still did not know. As a lawyer, he said, he respects the jury’s verdict, but he finds it impossible to picture Alex — a man he has known for decades as a protective husband and father — pulling the trigger and inflicting the carnage that prosecutors described as a crime of cold calculation.
“He knows more than what he’s saying,” Randy said. “He’s not telling the truth, in my opinion, about everything there.”
For his entire family, he said, that has been among the most painful issues to confront.
“The not knowing,” Randy says, “is the worst thing there is.”
Randy’s complicated view of the case, which he shared in a two-hour conversation on Sunday as he stacked wood at his hunting property outside the town of Hampton, was at odds with the definitive pronouncement that one of Alex Murdaugh’s lawyers made on Friday about the Murdaugh family.
“After six weeks of trial, they came away more convinced that he did not do this, and they are steadfastly in his camp and support him,” the lawyer, Jim Griffin, said at a news conference after Alex was sentenced to two life prison terms.
Alex Murdaugh’s younger brother, John Marvin Murdaugh, and surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, both testified for the defense at trial, saying that he had seemed devastated after the murders. Randy Murdaugh, who emphasized that he was speaking for himself and not any of his relatives, was not called to testify. He thinks it is possible no one put him on the stand because he did not align perfectly with either side.
In the weeks after the murders, the family mobilized to support Alex, grieving alongside him as he suggested that Paul must have been targeted over his involvement in a fatal boat crash in 2019, a theory that Alex Murdaugh continued to push during his trial.
About three months after the killings, Randy said, the other law partners called Randy in to look at some financial records that appeared to show without a doubt that Alex had been stealing from the firm. Randy and another partner confronted Alex the next morning, he said, in a tense conversation in which Alex admitted to the embezzlement and revealed a serious addiction to painkillers, which Alex said prompted the thefts. Randy recalled that his brother seemed relieved to come clean.
Alex promised that morning that he would never lie to him again. It took about 24 hours for him to break that promise, Randy said, when he told Randy and the police that he had been shot on the side of the road by an unknown assailant. In fact, the police later said, Alex had asked someone to kill him. When that fact emerged, Alex claimed it had been an attempted suicide, telling the police that he had hoped that if his death was ruled a murder, it would allow Buster to collect on his life insurance.
Over the next several months, as Alex Murdaugh was charged with stealing more than $8 million from the law firm and clients, Randy said he came to see his brother as a deeply flawed man and a liar. They have not spoken in nearly a year.
Randy said he also began to think back on Alex’s behavior in the first few weeks after the murders. At the time, it seemed like the police had few leads, and Randy began to call just about everyone he thought might help, asking if they had heard anything to suggest why Maggie and Paul might have been targeted. He passed on whatever he heard to the police.
“I spent considerable time, day after day for weeks on end, calling people,” he said. But Alex, he said, never did. Maggie’s sister testified at trial to the same effect, saying she found it odd that Alex never talked about who might have been the killer. He did tell her, she said, that he imagined whoever had done so had “thought about it for a long time.”
Before the murders, Randy had been content to live a relatively simple life, making a good living at the family firm, raising two daughters and spending weekends hunting at an idyllic property just outside of Hampton. But much of that life has been ripped apart as international attention has been trained on the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and his family. Now, much of the Murdaugh family is focused on supporting Buster, 26, who has lost his entire immediate family.
Randy is continuing at the law firm, including taking on a few of his brother’s former clients. He feels the need to explain.
“‘Listen, I’m not him. I’m doing things the right way, always have,’” he tells clients. “I don’t beat around the bush.”
Unlike his siblings, John Marvin and Lynn Murdaugh Goettee, Randy did not attend every day of the six-week trial in Walterboro. On one day last month, as Alex sat at the defense table, his every move scrutinized by spectators and people around the country watching on TV, Randy was standing before a judge in a nearly empty courtroom a short drive away.
There, in the Hampton County Courthouse, he was handling a settlement for a family that his brother had represented long before his embezzlement was exposed. In court, Randy ticked through each of the extra steps that he had taken to make sure the clients were not among those from whom Alex had stolen money.
“It was overkill, but I have to do that,” Randy said.
He said he never really expected the murder trial to offer him the definitive answer he has been looking for, but he had hoped that he might be able to stop his lawyer’s mind from running through all the possible scenarios of what happened on that tragic night in June 2021.
“I hoped that after the trial, because there’s nothing more that can be presented, that I’d stop thinking about this,” he said. “But so far, that has not been the case.”