Stephen Smith Death: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

stephen smith death

Facebook/GoFundMe (Standing For Stephen) Stephen Smith.

Stephen Smith was a 19-year-old South Carolina man whose mysterious July 8, 2015, death along a rural roadway is being investigated again by state law enforcement officials in the wake of the Alex Murdaugh investigation.

Alex Murdaugh, the patriarch of a prominent South Carolina legal family, was convicted of killing his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, and son, Paul Murdaugh, near the dog kennel at the family’s hunting estate, according to live trial video of the verdict posted to YouTube by CNN. His surviving son, Buster Murdaugh, attended the court hearing. He has not been accused in connection with any crimes.

According to Greenville News, Smith’s body was discovered along a rural Hampton County road “in the early morning hours of July 8, 2015.”

The trial, as well as the Murdaugh Murders documentaries on Netflix and HBO Max, have led to renewed interest in Smith’s death. FITSNews reported that the Murdaugh name appears in police reports multiple times.

Greenville News reported that the hashtag #StandingForStephen was launched in early September 2021 to raise money for a headstone for Smith, money for his family’s legal fees, and a scholarship in Smith’s name. A GoFundMe page for the effort raised more than $21,000. There is also a Facebook page called Standing For Stephen.

No one has ever been arrested, charged, or formally named a suspect in connection with Smith’s death.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Stephen Smith Was Found Dead Along a Rural Road & the Coronor Initially Thought His Death Was a Homicide, Reports Say

A reporter for The Island Packet newspaper posted investigative documents from the case on Document Cloud. FITS news has also published some case documents here, as well as a timeline of the Smith death investigation.

According to Jake Shore of the Island Packet, South Carolina Highway Patrol investigator Todd Proctor wrote the posted investigative report, which says that he began investigating a “possible hit and run” on Sandy Run Road near Joe Miley Road on July 8, 2015. As he headed to the scene, another law enforcement official, identified only as Corporal Allen, said that “it was a homicide, not a hit and run,” the report says. Proctor advised Allen to make sure that was the coroner’s ruling, according to the investigative report.

When he arrived at the scene, he saw a “white male lying in the roadway on the center line with head trauma to the right side above his brow,” the report says, adding that Coroner Ernie Washington said the death was a homicide and that the wound was a “gunshot wound and showed me the entry point.”

There was also a “defensive wound to the hand,” the report says. He walked the scene and “saw no evidence of any car parts or pieces,” according to the report. Later, he received a call from another law enforcement official who said that an autopsy was conducted and no bullet was found, and “it was determined to be a hit and run,” the report says.

The sheriff said that the doctor was ruling it a motor vehicle accident, according to the report, which adds that the coroner said that “he would have to go with the doctor’s ruling.” Proctor reminded the coroner that he had said he was certain it was a gunshot, and he said he had to go by the opinion of the doctor, according to the report.

The body was taken to the funeral home, and Smith’s mother and father, Joel and Sandra Smith, were notified, the report says, but the investigator called the funeral home to obtain Smith’s clothing.

The investigator contacted the doctor who had done the autopsy to try to understand what had brought her to that decision, the report says. She said it was not a gunshot wound, and no bullet or fragments were found during the X-ray and that it didn’t look like a bullet wound in her opinion and that since the body was found in the roadway, she could only theorize that it had to be a motor vehicle that caused the death, the report says.

Smith had a partially dislocated right shoulder, the report says. She did not find any glass fragments or any other evidence of a motor vehicle, it notes. An investigator returned to the scene to look for vehicle debris but found nothing, according to the report.

2. Investigators Believed Smith Was Walking Home After Having Vehicle Trouble, Reports Say

The investigator contacted state law enforcement officials, and one of them said that state investigators had looked at the wound and didn’t believe it to be a gunshot wound, the report says. State investigators found a smartphone and car keys in the deceased’s right pocket, the report says, adding that the phone was undamaged but wouldn’t work.

They also located Smith’s vehicle a couple of miles from the scene and checked that as well, the report says. They went through the vehicle and found the wallet of the deceased and noticed the gas cap was off, it says. They found engine oil in the vehicle and believed that he had vehicle trouble because they could not get the vehicle to start, according to the report.

Smith was discovered between the vehicle and his residence so they believed he was walking home when the incident occurred, the report says. FITS News obtained crime scene photos and reported that they were very graphic in nature, writing, “Stephen’s entire face was covered in blood that cascaded from a 7.25-inch gaping hole on the right side of his forehead. His head was misshapen by blunt force.”

“His right shoulder was partially dislocated. Cuts and bruises dotted his right hand. His loosely tied shoes were still on and his clothes appeared untouched. His phone and keys were still in his pocket,” the site reported. FITS News reported that “investigators theorized that the mirror of a semi-truck hit Stephen’s head.” The site reported that Proctor said in an audio recording, “We’re not classifying this as anything other than a murder,” disputing the doctor’s finding.

3. The Murdaugh Name Appears Many Times in the Stephen Smith Investigation, Reports Say

alex murdaugh

Facebook Alex Murdaugh. Paul Murdaugh is on the left in the family photo on right.

According to FITSNews, Stephen Smith was “beloved. He was an openly gay young man a small town.” The site reported that Smith “was bright and determined to make a better life for himself. He was in school for nursing at the time of his death.”

FITSNews, citing State Patrol documents, reported that “detectives were pursuing Paul Murdaugh and his brother Buster Murdaugh as possible persons of interest in the case,” but noted that they were never named suspects and that police were also pursuing other persons of interest.

The site reported that there were “rumors” linking Buster Murdaugh to Stephen Smith but “detectives never proved this connection.” The Murdaugh name “was mentioned at least 40 times throughout the course of the investigation,” the site reported.

ABC4 News reported that “witnesses interviewed as part of the original investigation into Smith’s death repeatedly implicated Alex Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster, as having been involved in a relationship with Stephen and potentially connected to Smith’s death,” citing “South Carolina Highway Patrol investigative files obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.”

According to News Nation Now, Smith’s “wallet was left in the car, and the gas station was in a different direction from where he was headed.”

“It’s a sad case, and it’s control and power in the Lowcountry and across the state,” said Smith family friend Susanne Andrew to News Nation Now. “Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

4. South Carolina’s State Law Enforcement Agency Announced in 2021 That It Was Going to Investigate the Stephen Smith Death With ‘a Fresh Set of Eyes’

On June 23, 2021, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) spokesperson Tommy Crosby told Bluffton Today, “SLED has opened an investigation into the death of Stephen Smith based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.”

That information was not released.

Crosby told Bluffton Today that SLED is conducting its own investigation with “a fresh set of eyes.” According to Bluffton Today, the “investigation will include evidence and statements gathered during previous investigations.”

Heavy has contacted SLED for more details.

“I’ve been waiting on this day for 2174 days,” Smith’s mother Sandy told FITSNews in 2021. “Thank you, God!”

5. An Attorney for Stephen Smith’s Family Told the News Media There Were Other Suspects

In 2021, ABC News 4 reported that the Smith family’s attorney, Andy Savage, indicated that Murdaugh family members may not have been involved in Smith’s death.

“There are suspects we have in sight that are unconnected to Murdaugh,” Savage told the television station, adding “[t]he focus any in the media have on Murdaugh may be unfounded.” He later clarified that he was talking about Paul Murdaugh, the site reported.

A 2015 article by Live 5 News reported that the Hampton County coroner had “confirmed that a dead body was found after a hit-and-run in the Sandy Run Road area of Hampton County.”

The coroner, Ernie Washington, told the television station that Stephen Smith, 19, “died of blunt force trauma to the head, most likely from a mirror on a passing vehicle.” The coroner told the television station that the “make and model of the vehicle involved in the accident is unknown at this time,” and police were continuing to investigate.

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