Why Alex Murdaugh Killed His Son And Wife. The “Motive” Revealed

Since the killings, people have asked, “Why?” That’s the wrong question. They should have asked “How?”


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By David Grace (Amazon PageDavid Grace Website)

I don’t personally know if Alex Murdaugh killed his wife and son. A jury found that he did, so I’m taking their word for it.

This column is my opinion about what actually happened on June 7, 2021, the day the jury found that Alex Murdaugh shot and killed his wife Maggie and his son Paul.

People have assumed that Alex Murdaugh first planned the murders of his son and wife, assumed that in fulfillment of that plan he either carried or secreted both a shotgun and an assault rifle in the kennel of his Georgia property (Moselle) and then used those weapons to sequentially kill first his son and then his wife.

The idea that those murders were planned in advance and carried out in that way seems to me to be so improbable as to be ridiculous.

I think that the fundamental flaw in all of the questions about the motive for these killings is the flawed assumption that the murders were actually committed in fulfillment of a motive to kill.

In my opinion, the murders were not planned in advance and that there was no motive for them beyond the concatenation of three factors:

  • The presence of loaded firearms,
  • A man with terrible secrets about to be revealed who, for years, had been ingesting large quantities of recreational drugs on a daily basis, and
  • Rage

For many years Alex Murdaugh had been living with the daily fear that his criminal conduct would be discovered. When I think of him, I imagine a circus performer manically struggling to keep half a dozen plates spinning on the tops of a handful of wobbly sticks.

He’s stealing from this person, lying to that person, buying drugs, using drugs, conniving, hiding, dodging, bobbing and weaving, all to keep his life in some sort of an unstable equilibrium.

The plates are barely maintaining their orbits when Alex’s underage son, Paul, drinks and drives a speedboat into a bridge abutment, resulting in the death of a young woman. Alex is sued and the girl’s family’s lawyers seek court orders forcing him to disclose all of his financial records.

Those court orders are about to careen into Alex’s galaxy of spinning plates. Now those plates are going to be jostled and banged and go flying off into multiple targets — law partners, defrauded victims, the bar association, police detectives, and criminal prosecutors.

Why is this disaster about to happen? Because Paul got drunk and fucked everything up!

Consider Alex Murdaugh on the evening of June 7, 2021. He’s at the kennel with his wife and son. Having found bags of pills in Alex’s possession, Paul certainly knew about his father’s drug addiction.

My understanding is that there was testimony that a shotgun was sometimes kept in the shed near the kennels, and that it always had two, and only two, shells in it.

Here is my SPECULATION about what happened:

Maybe Alex is visibly high. Maybe he’s acting a little off. Maybe he’s just taken a bunch more pills. Whatever. And, maybe Paul said something about Alex’s drug use; maybe he even called his father a drug addict.

Alex shouts that his life is about to be burned to the ground because his stupid, thoughtless son got drunk and killed a girl.

Paul replies that Alex has no right to throw stones. Yes, on that one occasion Paul had a couple of beers too many, but for years Alex has been a hopeless junkie.

Alex screams that because of Paul he’s going to go to prison, that Paul has ruined his life.


How do you think I’ve been paying for all this, you stupid fool?

So you’re both a junkie and a thief? And you’re blaming me? This is all on you. Maybe you deserve to go to prison.”

Seeing his life in ashes, and his son, to whom he has given everything, telling him that he deserves to go to prison, when, in Alex’s mind, the collapse of his entire life has been caused by that son’s stupid and criminal actions, Alex snaps. He grabs the shotgun.

In a blind, possibly drug-addled rage, Alex pulls the trigger, once, twice. In an instant, Paul is lying dead on the ground and the shotgun is empty.

Maggie is screaming, “You killed my boy!” She rushes to her murdered son. She fumbles for her cell phone to call 911. Now Alex is not just facing two or three years in jail for embezzlement. He’s facing decades, maybe the rest of his life, in a South Carolina prison for murder.

But maybe he can still escape that fate. With the son dead, the lawsuits will probably be quietly settled. Maybe Paul’s death can be written off as a revenge killing by nameless friends or relatives of the girl who died in the boat crash.

There’s one problem with that scenario: there’s a witness who won’t keep her mouth shut, Maggie.

Alex has seconds, just seconds to save himself from life in prison. Maggie can’t be allowed to call 911. Maggie has to go.

The loaded AR-15 “blackout” rifle is right there. In an instant, Alex grabs it and shoots Maggie. Did she already call 911? Was her cell-phone camera running? He grabs her phone. He later discovers that she didn’t have the time to call 911.

Now he has to move fast. He has to get rid of the guns and all his clothes, including his shoes. There are lots of swamps on the property. There’s an ATV there. He uses it to dump everything someplace in the swamp then races back to the house, puts on clean clothes, jumps in his car, drives away at high speed, tosses Maggie’s phone out the window, and starts making calls on his phone in order to leave a trail of “normal” behavior.

He stops to see his sleeping mother for 15 minutes and tells the care giver that he was there for half an hour which, if true, would put him at his mother’s at or before the time of the murders.

That’s his alibi. Alex swears that he wasn’t at his house (Moselle) when they were killed.

He drives back to Moselle and “discovers” the bodies. No, he wasn’t there. “Oh, it must have been somehow related to the boat crash,” he tells the police. And, in a way, it was.

If he can sell that story, he’s got a shot at keeping the plates spinning.

Then the police find the video that puts him at the scene only a few minutes before the shooting.

“Oh, yes, I lied about being there, but only because I didn’t trust the police,” he says.

Or, you lied because you killed them and being someplace else for “half an hour” was your alibi.

But the core of his defense is that it’s beyond belief that he could be the killer because he had no motive to commit such horrific crimes.

The prosecution tried to invent a motive, but their explanation was never really credible. Why? Because they were trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. They were trying to describe something that never existed.

Motives are for planned crimes, and this one was never planned, which is why the absence of a motive does not mean he didn’t do it.

Paul’s murder just happened in a momentary flash of rage.

In my opinion, Paul’s murder was

  • fueled by blind rage that
  • possessed a man possibly under some level of the influence of drugs,
  • in a location where loaded guns were immediately at hand.

All of you would be justified in saying, “Mr. Grace, this is all nonsense, just pure speculation. You know nothing.”

And you would be right. This column is just pure speculation. But I know from personal experience that rage can trigger a murder.

Here is what I know from personal experience:

I had a dear, dear friend, a man I had known for forty years. Forty years! A retired, Harvard-educated businessman. A published author. Smart, funny, honest and decent. I would have trusted him with my life without a second thought. We talked all the time. Emailed almost daily for years and years. A wonderful person.

He remarried after the death from cancer of the love of his life. His new marriage didn’t go well. They argued often. When Covid hit he suffered a material financial loss.

I will never know for certain what happened on the fateful night, but I can guess some of the things that might have been said to him by his new wife. She went to bed and he stayed up. I’m sure that he was drinking, probably very heavily.

At some point he retrieved his handgun, walked into their bedroom, and, while she slept, he fired two bullets into his wife’s head.

The next day, he corresponded normally with people. I received two perfectly normal emails from him while his wife was lying dead in their bed. That night he sent a confession email to a couple of people who immediately called the police.

Hours later, while knocking on the front door, the officers heard a shot. My dear friend died a few hours later from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Had I been asked, “Could this person ever deliberately shoot a sleeping woman in the head?” I would have testified under oath: “Never. Impossible. COULD NOT HAPPEN.” But I would have been wrong. The unthinkable did happen.

You don’t know what fear and rage and drugs or alcohol will do to a person under stress. Road rage is just that — rage.

Add drugs or alcohol to rage and people, good people, decent people, can and do snap and commit unthinkable acts. My friend snapped.

And Alex Murdaugh is not a good or honest or decent person.

The central, vital FACT in all this is that rage is not planned.

It is like a sudden, unexpected spark that flares in a houseful of escaped natural gas. Without warning, in an instant it kills everyone within range of the detonation.

My belief is that Paul’s death just happened and Maggie’s fate was sealed because she knew too much.

Forget motive. There is no motive for a rage killing beyond the rage itself.

— David Grace (Amazon PageDavid Grace Website)

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David Grace
Government & Political Theory Columns by David Grace

Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 16 novels and over 400 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.