Five weeks after Paul Murdaugh was found murdered on his family’s 1,700-acre hunting property, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) has released hundreds of documents related to its investigation of a 2019 Beaufort County boat crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was facing three felony boating under the influence charges in connection with that crash.
The files were released just one week 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 prior to him being ultimately charged with three felonies in connection with the crash.
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.
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. Attorneys representing Connor Cook — whom SCDNR considered as a person of interest in the boat crash case — are now questioning if certain law enforcement officers conspired a coverup in the investigation.
The redacted investigatory files that SCDNR released to this news outlet late Friday reveal additional information about the alleged conspiracy — and details about what happened in the first few chaotic weeks of the investigation.
One big question remains in the case — did the Murdaughs and their law enforcement connections conspire to frame Connor Cook and create confusion in the investigation?
Here’s what we found in the investigation files that were released to the public and the media on Friday afternoon …
The final moments before the crash
Paul Murdaugh and five of his friends used his father’s 17-foot Sea Hunt fishing boat to travel to a friend’s party on the evening of February 23, 2019.
According to multiple depositions and statements to police, Murdaugh got drunk while he was at the party on alcohol he allegedly purchased at a Parker’s gas station earlier that day.
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. Murdaugh and Connor Cook then each purchased two rounds of shots — one lemon drop and one Jaeger shot — at Luther’s in downtown Beaufort.
This was captured on surveillance video and by receipts.
(Click to view)
While they were at Luther’s, Paul Murdaugh allegedly became even more intoxicated. He is shown on video stumbling as he walked the Beaufort Waterfront to the boat around 1 a.m. EST.
After leaving downtown Beaufort, Paul’s behavior worsened and he started arguing with his girlfriend, according to witness statements.
“Everybody” in the party was trying to talk Paul into letting Mallory’s boyfriend, Anthony Cook, drive the boat and Paul refused, according to depositions and witness statements.
“You think y’all know this river better than me?” Paul Murdaugh said, according to a witness statement. “This is my boat, and I’ll be damned if anyone else drives my boat.”
The investigation files released Friday included surveillance footage of the last hours leading up to the crash that killed Mallory Beach on Feb. 24, 2019. Click below to see those videos compiled together in a timeline.
At one point, Paul almost crashed into the Woods Memorial Bridge in downtown Beaufort, but Connor Cook was able to grab the wheel, according to a witness statement.
Paul’s driving scared the other passengers, who said all they were irritated and wanted to go home at this point.
Paul knew everyone was irritated — and taunted his friends by slowing the boat down and driving in circles, witness statements said.
Paul and his girlfriend started to fight. He started to scream “horrible” things at her, a witness said.
A “belligerent” Murdaugh would leave the wheel, walk to the front of the boat to yell at her, while Connor Cook would grab the wheel. This happened three times, according to depositions.
“What are you going to do, hit me like you did all those times before?” Paul’s then-girlfriend asked, according to a witness statement.
(Click to view)
Paul Murdaugh then pushed, spit on, and slapped his then-girlfriend in the face, according to multiple depositions.
In the back of the boat, Mallory Beach and Anthony Cook were fed up, depositions say. Mallory yelled at Paul to stop. She said she was scared of his driving.
“He turned and pointed at her, and I could tell he was about to say something and I told him not to make that mistake and he stared at me for a second and went to the steering wheel,” Anthony Cook said in his deposition.
Shortly thereafter, the boat then accelerated rapidly through the winding waterway of Archer’s Creek, according to the depositions. According to its global positioning satellite data, the boat reached speeds over 30 mph — which is a very high rate of speed for a small marine vessel.
Moments later — at around 2:20 a.m. EST — the boat hit a piling on Archer’s Creek Bridge, just outside of Parris Island, South Carolina. Paul, Mallory and Anthony were flung into the dark water. All of the occupants were injured. Blood was all over the boat.
That was the last time anyone saw Mallory Beach alive. Her body was found a week later about five miles from the crash scene.
(Click to view)
The boat crash investigation was chaotic from the moment it began — with a 9-1-1 call from Connor Cook that was placed at 2:25 a.m. EST
It took emergency medical services (EMS) — who were dispatched from just a few miles away — nearly forty minutes to get to the scene because first responders were sent to the wrong bridge multiple times.
Several witness statements documented Paul’s “aggressive behavior” toward EMS in the ambulance to Beaufort Memorial Hospital. A deputy with the Beaufort County sheriff’s office was assigned to ride in the ambulance with Paul, who received minor injuries, and they “had to strap him down,” according to witness statements.
Why was Paul Murdaugh not arrested that night?
‘She’s Gone, Don’t Worry About Her’
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.”
(Click to view)
One of the nurses thought that Alex Murdaugh (above) seemed “cold and detached in regards to the victim/ injured.” She said she saw him monitoring the emergency room screen — presumably trying to track down boat crash victims. She told SCDNR it seemed as though Alex Murdaugh was “trying to orchestrate everyone” and getting them “on the same page.”
Several nurses noted they observed Alex Murdaugh moving from room to room a lot, while the other parents stayed with their children.
The charge nurse also told a security guard to “keep an eye on Alex Murdaugh” because he was “trying to enter other patients’ rooms.”
Specifically, Alex Murdaugh was seen multiple times trying to get into Paul’s girlfriend’s room.
“(Alex) Murdaugh tried getting into her room, telling the nurse, ‘he (has) to tell her what to say,’” the DNR report said.
Paul’s girlfriend did not let Alex in her room, though. However, a SCDNR officer noted that Alex Murdaugh was trying to get in her room while he was trying to get her statement.
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.” Nurses also reported seeing Alex Murdaugh attempting to talk to Connor on the way to his CAT scan.
(Click to view)
(Via: S.C. Attorney General’s Office)
Paul’s nurse described him as as “one of the most arrogant teenagers to come through the emergency room.” She said he was “the most intoxicated and most belligerent of those involved.” A security guard was assigned to watch Paul (above) at the hospital because his behavior was so out of control.
Randolph Murdaugh “kept telling Paul to keep his mouth shut,” according to security guard.
Another security guard said that Randolph seemed angry at Paul and said his grandson was “as drunk as Cooter Brown.”
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.
Later in 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.”
Paul Murdaugh was never offered a field sobriety test — so no such document exists for him.
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.
Paul’s friends told SCDNR that they were afraid of the Murdaughs and assumed that they were working on a coverup — mentioning previous similar incidents. Paul’s girlfriend also told her nurse that Paul and his drinking habits “almost killed them in a vehicle accident before while he was intoxicated.” She didn’t mention details, but said they were in his truck.
Was this another coverup? Because there do not appear to be any law enforcement records of this crash.
Anthony Cook, Mallory’s boyfriend, was clear with law enforcement from the very beginning that his cousin Connor was not driving the boat at the time of the crash.
Anthony Cook, Mallory’s boyfriend, told DNR several days after the accident that “Connor was not driving the boat” and said that his cousin Connor was scared because “the Murdaughs are out to pin it on him.”
Anthony Cook “made several comments about the Murdaughs being able to get away with things in the past and that is why he and his cousin do not think anything will happen if Connor talks to law enforcement.”
Michael Brock — a SCDNR officer who had multiple connections to the Murdaugh family — was heavily involved in the investigation for more than a week after the crash, according to the files.
Brock appeared to be a lead investigator in the case and interviewed several nurses from the hospital that night. Brock was responsible for the evidence in the case that attorneys claim is missing — including a recording of Anthony Cook the night of the crash saying that Paul killed his girlfriend.
In depositions filed last week, attorneys’ questions suggested 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 blood on the boat boat and corresponding photographs of DNA collection (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.
Although Brock admitted in deposition last fall that “it would make sense” for him to be removed from the case due to his connections to the Murdaughs, he was allowed to continue investigating until at least March 7, 2019. In fact, SCDNR reports refer to him as the lead investigator in the case.
It appears as though Brock filled out the initial DNR crash report that listed “no proper lookout” and “excessive speed” as the primary and secondary causes of the accident. Alcohol was not mentioned.
(Click to view)
Brock wasn’t the only officer involved in this investigation with connections to the family.
Michael Paul Thomas — a longtime family friend who was a groomsman in John Marvin Murdaugh’s wedding — appears to have been involved in the investigation from the get-go. Beach’s attorney alleges that John Marvin Murdaugh was in “frequent or very constant communication” with Michael Paul Thomas on February 24, 2019.
The extent of his official involvement is not clear in the investigation files. While his name is mentioned several times, Thomas never documented his presence – or his actions – at the scene.
After the accident, John Marvin Murdaugh brought a trailer to the crime scene to help get the boat out of the water, according to the SCDNR report.
(Click to view)
The boundaries between law enforcement and the Murdaugh family In this investigation were so blurry from the very beginning that John Marvin Murdaugh, Paul’s uncle, reportedly assisted SCDNR with the boat’s removal.
As FITSNews previously reported, two Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies on scene that night also had direct ties to the Murdaugh family.
Jason Malphrus — who supervised the agency’s response on the evening of the crash — was being represented by Alex Murdaugh at the time of the boat crash. He is not mentioned in the depositions.
Jack Keener, one of the first officers on scene, also had connections to the Murdaughs’ law firm. In 2015, the firm — PMPED — helped Keener and his family win a $2.5 million settlement, according to court documents.
Keener is another officer who is accused by Connor Cook’s attorneys of manipulating and/ or falsifying his official reports to favor Paul Murdaugh.
DON’T MISS A STORY …
Of interest? Keener’s dashcam video from the immediate aftermath of the crash is among several elements missing from the SCDNR file that was released to the public Friday. Also not included were the audio recordings of Anthony Cook‘s powerful statement in which he identified Paul as the driver immediately after the crash.
It’s possible those recordings were not included in the investigation file because they could be evidence in the ongoing obstruction of justice investigation. FITSNews will attempt to get more clarity on this question and work to obtain those recordings next week.
These recordings were quoted several times in depositions from a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Mallory Beach’s family. Beach’s mother, Renee Beach, is seeking damages from Parker’s gas station — where the underage Paul Murdaugh allegedly purchased alcohol prior to the crash. It also names Murdaugh’s brother and father – who allegedly facilitated Murdaugh’s underage drinking — as co-defendants.
In those recordings, Cook sensed the Murdaugh family influence would play a major role in the investigation.
“That motherf*cker needs to rot in f*cking prison,” he yelled about Paul Murdaugh at the scene of the crash, according to recordings. “He ain’t going to get in no f*cking trouble ….. my f*cking girlfriend is gone.”
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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