Eight weeks after Paul Murdaugh was found murdered on his family’s 1,700-acre hunting property, the Beaufort County sheriff’s office released more than an hour of audio and video footage from the fatal boat crash scene on February 24, 2019.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was facing three felony boating under the influence charges in connection with that crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
The video files were released four weeks after attorneys representing Connor Cook — who sustained a broken jaw in the crash — dropped a bombshell petition alleging that law enforcement conspired to shift the focus of the investigation away from Murdaugh before he was charged.
On February 24, 2019, Paul Murdaugh allegedly crashed a 17-foot center console fishing boat owned by his father, Alex Murdaugh, into a piling just outside of Parris Island, South Carolina.
While the criminal investigation of Paul Murdaugh ended with his death, authorities are now looking into obstruction of justice allegations involving his powerful family members, according to FITSNews sources and attorneys representing crash victims.
Two weeks ago, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) released hundreds of documents related to the 2019 boat crash investigation.
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The recently released dashcam videos from the Beaufort sheriff’s office provide another piece of the puzzle that help paint a full picture of the investigation — and raise questions about the alleged conspiracy between the Murdaugh family and their law enforcement connections.
The videos, released in response to a FITSNews Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, further confirm what attorneys have previously alleged in depositions — that Mallory Beach’s boyfriend Anthony Cook (who is also Connor’s cousin) was very clear with officers about who was driving the boat.
Particularly, Anthony Cook told Austin Pritcher — one of the SCDNR officers accused of manipulating his reports to favor Paul Murdaugh — that Paul was driving moments before the craft crashed into a piling.
“Who was driving the boat?” Pritcher asked.
“(When) I grabbed my girlfriend and got down to the bottom of the boat, Paul was driving,” Anthony said.
“Paul was driving?” Pritcher asked.
“Yes, sir,” Anthony responded.
Pritcher then asked Anthony where they were coming from, and Anthony said they were at Paukie Island earlier before heading home.
“And Paul was driving, not Connor?” Pritcher asked again.
Anthony then explained to Pritcher that Connor and Paul were sitting at the center console, and Paul was at the wheel the last he saw before they crashed.
Pritcher did not write that in his SCDNR report, however.
Instead, he wrote that Anthony “did not know” who was driving the boat.
Pritcher wrote in his report that other officers who arrived on scene “thought it was Connor Cook or Paul Murdaugh” driving the boat — yet in all of the police reports, there is no evidence of any witnesses on scene telling law enforcement that Connor was driving.
Thanks to initial confusion in the investigation, it took two months for authorities to charge Paul with three felony counts of boating under the influence. Unlike the vast majority of felony BUI cases, Paul Murdaugh never set foot in a jail cell. At the time of his death, he was facing 25 years in prison for the charges.
The exchange between law enforcement and “Keith” Anthony Cook (shown on video below) is one of the the only recorded statements from witnesses in the case.
(Click to view)
‘We Can’t Find Mallory’
The recently released video footage captures the raw emotion on scene of the horrific crash soon after Mallory Beach was ejected into the water.
Anthony Cook was hysterical when he spoke to Steven Domino — the only Beaufort county deputy to identify Paul Murdaugh as the driver of the boat in his reports. Domino was fired for alleged drug use last year.
On the recently released dashcam recordings, Anthony Cook is sobbing as he speaks to Domino in the backseat of his vehicle. He seems in disbelief that his girlfriend is gone — and he is hesitant to get in the back of a cop car when instructed.
Domino reassured Anthony that he’s not in trouble, but just wants him to calm down.
“Listen man, my mom works for SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division),” Anthony Cook said. “I need to call her.”
On the phone, Anthony tells his mother what happened.
“Y’all need to come to Beaufort quick … we hit a bridge in the boat,” Anthony told his mother. “Connor’s messed up bad, we can’t find Mallory (sobbing). Morgan’s messed up bad … we can’t find Mallory, mom.”
Anthony then told his mother that she should call Mallory’s parents to tell them the news.
(Click to view)
“You probably need to call Ms. Renee and Mr. Phillip,” Anthony tells his mother, referring to Mallory’s parents Renee Beach and Phillip Beach.
While Domino was on the phone with Anthony’s mother, Paul Murdaugh apparently walked past Domino’s car, according to the dashcam recordings. This enraged Anthony.
“Get that motherf*cker right there away from me,” Anthony Cook said.
Domino then asked if he was talking about Paul Murdaugh. He reminded Anthony that his mom was on his way and they didn’t want him to do anything stupid.
“Calm down,” Domino said. “I’m hanging with you, okay?”
“That motherf*cker needs to rot in f*cking prison,” Anthony said, referring to Paul. “He ain’t gonna get in no f*cking trouble.”
Then, Paul — who was grossly intoxicated and only wearing his boxer shorts, according to police reports — allegedly smiled at Anthony.
“YOU F*CKING SMILING LIKE IT’S F*CKING FUNNY?” Anthony screamed. “MY F*CKING GIRLFRIEND’S GONE!”
Domino told Anthony to sit down several times.
“You think it’s f*cking funny?” Anthony screamed at Paul. “I hope you rot in f*cking hell.”
‘I begged to drive’
While sitting in Domino’s police car, Anthony Cook told him several times that Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat, according to the dashcam video.
Domino then asked Anthony if the guy in the boxers who he was getting mad at (Paul) was the one driving the boat.
“He was the last one driving whenever I got down on the floor of the boat and held on to my girlfriend,” Anthony said. “Yes, sir.”
“Everyone on boat been drinking? Especially the driver?” Domino asked.
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“Yes, I begged to drive the f*cking boat,” Anthony replied.
“The driver, how much had he had to drink?” Domino asked.
Anthony then told him that most of the group wanted to go home after they left the oyster roast on Paulkie Island around midnight.
Murdaugh — who was already allegedly intoxicated — then decided he wanted to get a shot from Luther’s Rare and Well Done in downtown Beaufort, according to depositions.
“Me and him ’bout fought on the f*cking dock because I told him not to go up there to that f*cking bar, that we needed to be going home,” Anthony told Domino.
The DNR investigation file revealed security footage of the six friends at the public dock in downtown Beaufort. The video shows Mallory and Anthony, walking side by side and laughing as they shared some of their last moments together. Click below to see to see a timeline video:
The group left downtown Beaufort around 1:17 a.m. February 24, 2019.
“So y’all came from downtown through the creek, and that’s when he was going way too fast?” Domino asked Anthony on the dashcam recording.
Seconds before the crash, GPS data from SCDNR showed the boat traveling at around 29 miles per hour (fast for a water vessel) as it approached the narrow, winding waterway of Archer’s Creek.
(Click to view)
“I finally got to the point, I grabbed my girlfriend and put her in my lap at the bottom of the boat and was holding on with my eyes closed and next thing you know I’m in the f*cking water and we can’t find her, man,” Anthony told Domino.
Paul, Mallory, and Anthony were ejected into the water. Connor Cook and Paul’s girlfriend were severely injured and taken to the hospital while Anthony, who dislocated his shoulder, stayed on scene.
“My girlfriend’s gone and I ain’t gonna be able to live with myself,” Anthony said. “Is anybody in the the water looking for her?”
Anthony sobbed as Domino repeatedly attempted to keep him calm and promised him that several agencies were looking for Mallory.
Beach’s body was found a week later by two men in a boat about five miles from the crash site. Beaufort County coroner Edward Allen determined she died of blunt force trauma and drowning.
Anthony Cook sensed the Murdaugh family influence would play a role in the investigation. Anthony, a Hampton County native who grew up with Paul Murdaugh, knew of the Murdaugh’s power in the Lowcountry criminal justice system.
Three generations of Murdaughs all served as solicitors over a five-county region in the South Carolina Lowcountry from 1920-2006, enabling the family to amass hundreds of political, prosecutorial and law enforcement connections.
“Y’all know Alex Murdaugh?” Anthony is heard asking Domino on the dashcam video. “That’s his son.”
“His son driving the boat?” Domino replied.
“Good luck,” Anthony said.
Domino rejected this assumption that good ol’ boy politics would play a role in the investigation.
“Well it don’t matter who you know,” Domino said.
Domino asked one more time to make sure Anthony knew who was driving.
“We needed to know exactly who was driving and you said the last one you saw and that’s what I told them cause his ass will be responsible, OK? You hear me?” Domino said. “Don’t worry about that? We’re gonna handle that end, OK?”
Domino’s Beaufort county sheriff’s report (see below) reflected exactly what Anthony Cook told him.
However, Cpl. Jack Keener — who had connections to the Murdaugh law firm — offered a different assessment of the situation.
At the time of the crash, the sheriff’s office had said it was merely assisting SCDNR — the lead agency at of the investigation. However, Beaufort deputies — who arrived on scene before SCDNR — laid the initial groundwork for the investigation.
Keener wrote in is report that it was “unclear” who was driving the boat.
However, he admitted in his deposition that this assessment was his personal opinion and that no one else said anything to him that would indicate Connor Cook may have been driving the boat.
In Keener’s dashcam video released by the sheriff’s office this week, there is no indication he ever questioned any of the passengers about who was driving the boat.
Keener’s two-driver theory was subsequently passed on to SCDNR.
In July 2020, Domino was accused of “unlawful use of a controlled substance” and of “making false or misleading statements to a law enforcement agency” and was fired from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
Three weeks after the boat crash, the sheriff’s office recused itself from the investigation due to its “long-standing relationship” with the Murdaugh family.
Still, its involvement prior to this recusal clearly impacted the direction of the inquiry.
‘Don’t Worry About Her’
Austin Pritcher — one of the SCDNR officers accused of manipulating his reports to favor Paul Murdaugh — only offered Connor Cook a field sobriety test that night. He wrote in his report that he was instructed to get a field sobriety test from only one person that night: Connor Cook.
However, the lead investigator Michael Brock — who is also accused in the alleged conspiracy — wrote in his report that he told Pritcher to give field sobriety tests to both Cook and Paul Murdaugh.
In deposition, Pritcher said that he offered Connor Cook a field sobriety test because he was starting to “zero in” on him as the main suspect. Connor Cook refused to take the test and Pritcher “filled the sheet out for refusal.”
SCDNR never sought a warrant to compel the hospital to draw Paul’s blood that night, but the hospital did anyway because he was perceived as behaving so erratically. Medical staff were also concerned he may have sustained a head injury, according to the emergency room doctor’s statement to SCDNR. The doctor said that no drugs were found in Paul’s system.
SCDNR spokesperson David Lucas told FITSNews that Paul Murdaugh’s blood at 4:00 a.m. February 24, 2019 “indicated an ethanol level of 286.1 mg/dL in serum.” According to the Mayo Clinic, that would mean he was 3.5 times over the legal limit to drive.
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Paul’s father, Alex Murdaugh, and grandfather, former solicitor Randolph Murdaugh, appeared at the hospital ten minutes after Paul Murdaugh, according to witness statements.
According to witnesses, Alex Murdaugh appeared to be more concerned with “orchestrating” a plan in the criminal investigation than finding Mallory Beach.
In fact, a security guard overheard Paul’s father on the phone saying “she’s gone, don’t worry about her.” Mallory had only been missing for a few hours at this point.
Alex also was seen talking to Connor Cook — who broke his jaw in the crash — multiple times and telling him that “they were going to figure everything out.”
An emergency room tech told SCDNR she overheard Alex Murdaugh tell Connor Cook he was “handling it” and told him not to say anything.
Later on scene that day, Anthony Cook told Brock that he knew Paul was driving at the boat and that “Paul Murdaugh killed (his) girlfriend,” according to a Parris Island military police officer’s sworn affidavit.
Brock didn’t write that in his report, though.
Instead, Brock wrote that Anthony “flipped out and was yelling at Paul” – failing to note why he was angry at Paul Murdaugh in the aftermath of Mallory Beach’s disappearance.
Several days after the accident, Anthony told SCDNR “Connor was not driving the boat” and that his cousin Connor was scared because “the Murdaughs are out to pin it on him.”
A judge should soon decide on Connor Cook’s petition, which asks the court for permission to depose the following law enforcement officers in connection with a potential lawsuit:
- Michael Brock, formerly with SCDNR, but now works at SLED in alcohol control unit
- Austin Pritcher, SCDNR
- John Leroy Keener, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office
- Robin Camlin, formerly with SCDNR
- Troy Andrew Krapf, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department
According to the petition, the five officers may know of a conspiracy “to cloud the investigatory issues and disseminate false information in the community with the intention of misleading law enforcement and prosecution charging parties, and the public, into wrongly and falsely believing Connor Cook should be arrested and charged as the boat operator.”
In the explosive depositions attached to the petition, attorneys’ questions suggest that several pieces of evidence appear to be missing, including:
- Paul’s phone, which was picked up by another officer on scene, according to audio.
- Paul’s pants, which attorneys assumed contained his wallet with the fake ID he allegedly used earlier that day.
- DNA swabs from the boat and photographs of DNA processing (which could prove where Connor was positioned in the boat at the time of the crash).
- An audio recording of Anthony Cook telling Michael Brock that Paul Murdaugh killed Mallory Beach.
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All of the boat crash survivors — and Beach’s family members — voluntarily submitted to questioning and volunteered to provide their DNA as a part of the double homicide investigation, according to FITSNews sources.
A source close to the family also told FITSNews that the Beaches have not been questioned again since providing their statements and DNA.
In 2019, Mallory Beach’s mother Renee Beach — who is being represented by attorney Mark Tinsley — filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Parker’s gas station, Alex Murdaugh, and Paul’s brother Buster Murdaugh. So far, the three defendants have refused to settle.
Stay tuned for the latest developments …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].
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