The Alex Murdaugh saga appears to be the proper recipe for a made-for-TV homicide thriller — a backwoods-Southern-Gothic story of demise that’s nonetheless unfolding.
On the evening of June 7, Alex Murdaugh, a outstanding South Carolina legal professional from a well known household, reported discovering his spouse, Maggie, and youngest son, Paul, shot a number of occasions and killed. Thus far, no arrests have been made and little official info launched.
The world discovered a couple of deadly boat crash and alleged coverup, a second murder investigation, embezzlement accusations, an admitted drug habit, quite a few civil fits and an alleged insurance coverage scheme.
This drama has attracted each type of information protection, from print and radio to tv, from small city S.C. Lowcountry newspapers to media shops in New York and Europe.
Dateline NBC will air a particular episode at 9 p.m. Friday, and CBS 48 Hours will air at 10 p.m. Saturday featuring the case. Each episodes will embody reporting and commentary from USA TODAY Community’s protection of this story since 2015.
Cash, homicide, thriller: Another twist unfolds in case of former South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh
For state police, it is a high-profile string of ongoing investigations.
For the remainder of the world, the Murdaugh double murder and subsequent saga has developed a cultlike following on social media. It additionally comes because the high-profile disappearance and demise of Gabby Petito also attracted the attention of social media sleuths.
“This can be a tangled story that hits all of the bases within the fashionable creativeness: a corn-pone mafia, mischief, homicide, insanity, magnolias, moonlight, moonshine, even marijuana in case you dig deep sufficient,” mentioned Roger Pinckney XI, a Lowcountry novelist who makes a speciality of tales of darkish journey and Gullah hoodoo. “It is good for the massive display. However motion pictures have an ending, whereas this one simply goes on and on, spreading and twining like kudzu vine, no ending – not even a starting – in clear sight.”
The Murdaugh saga has sparked Twitter and Fb feeds, memes, Tik Toks, podcasts and social media dialogue teams. On-line sleuths all over the place are digging into the case, on the lookout for solutions and sharing speculations and theories.
One true crime podcast, “The Murdaugh Murders – Impacts of Affect,” has over one million downloads and counting, whereas a second, “Murdaugh Murders Podcast,” can be trending nationally.
“There are three components to any good story – energy, cash and intercourse – and this has obtained all three if we glance deep sufficient,” mentioned Sam Crews, a Hampton County historian who is aware of the Murdaugh household effectively. “It is thrilling to folks as a result of there’s this seemingly rich, engaging couple that had all of it, and it comes unraveled. Then one thing new occurs nearly each week, but it surely wasn’t something new that everyone on the town (Hampton, S.C.) hadn’t been gossiping about for years.”
There are at present not less than 14 personal Fb teams which are devoted solely to discussions of the Murdaugh circumstances. One group, “Murdaugh Murders – Case Dialogue,” at present has 24,000 members. One other, “Horror in Hampton: The Murdaugh Mysteries,” has 16,000 members, whereas “Murdaugh Murders Theories and Speculations,” has 11,000 members.
On Reddit, quite a few teams are devoted solely to the subject of the Murdaugh double homicides and something Murdaugh-related.
“Individuals need to imagine that, in the event that they put themselves into the narrative, perhaps they’ll crack the case and assume the unlikely hero position,” mentioned Kaitlyn Park, supervisor and lead analyst on the USC Social Media Insights Lab. “They hope that perhaps they’re going to discover issues legislation enforcement would not have entry to. They cannot be part of a search get together, however folks prefer to really feel like they may help in different methods. Reddit, particularly, has a really avid true crime group, with those that hope to seek out issues that legislation enforcement has missed.”
Twitter has been ripe with feedback and content material associated to the Murdaugh circumstances:
Statistics present that some social media websites, similar to Pinterest, Instagram and Tik Tok, are extra fashionable with ladies than with males. The true crime style can be extra fashionable with ladies, Park says. Individuals be part of these on-line true crime communities as a result of, not solely is there a shared curiosity, there’s a sense of being part of one thing and a way of security, with only a trace of hazard and pleasure.
“Subconsciously, as ladies, we expect if we all know these tales, and all the small print, we are able to shield ourselves from one thing like this occurring to us,” mentioned Park. “In a way, it makes us really feel safer. However we additionally know the truth that one thing dangerous can occur, in order that’s thrilling.”
“Due to this, we are able to discover these true tales, with these darkish components, and we’re in a position to safely fulfill our curiosity at a distance,” she added. “We begin to join with these tales, and join with these characters, or we vilify these characters. And we can immerse ourselves into these tales by way of our digital screens, with out the hazard of being immediately concerned.”
There are quite a few Murdaugh-related Tik Toks on the market, some created by social media influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers.
There are additionally YouTube movies, together with one which already has 10,800 views, and one other reviewing Alex Murdaugh’s 911 name the evening he reported discovering his lifeless spouse and son for credibility.
Why are we obsessive about the Murdaugh homicide saga?
As a result of it has all of the basic storytelling components,
“That is basic drama,” Grant mentioned. “There are even components of Greek tragedy on this, such because the mom and son being murdered collectively.”
Persons are additionally fascinated by tales of woe once they occur to these perceived as wealthy and highly effective, the professor added.
“Persons are fascinated by tales the place the wealthy and highly effective are introduced right down to dimension,” mentioned Grant. “Nothing satisfies the soul greater than seeing somebody who’s wealthy and highly effective, who obtained there by questionable means, lose it due to their malfeasance.”
The uncertainly of what occurs subsequent, and the quick tempo at which occasions have transpired, additionally lends itself to the sturdy magnetism of this story.
Inside the house of 1 week, the general public discovered that Murdaugh had reportedly been shot within the head, then it discovered of his drug habit, adopted nearly instantly by accusations that he had stolen cash from his legislation agency.
“You must have uncertainty,” added Grant. “One thing occurred, and we do not know precisely what occurred, and there’s a new twist to it nearly ever week. It is actually like episodic tv. It is like with each episode, there’s a new plot twist. What is going on to come back subsequent? Are we going to seek out there was a butler concerned? Come again subsequent week! The massive query is, the place is it going to finish?”
One other impactful component is that this story is going on whereas our nation and world are nonetheless within the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With all of the uncertainty round us, having one thing to distracts us is a robust power. Whereas this story actually had legs, it’s even stronger on this atmosphere,” added Grant.
Park has accomplished intensive analytical research of the phenomenon of true crime on the USC Social Media Insights Lab, in addition to what she calls “social media sleuthing,” and their impacts in the true world.
“Our fascination with true crime will not be something new,” mentioned Park. “All through historical past, there has all the time been an attraction to mysteries. However it was once a distinct segment factor. Now it is a mainstream curiosity.”
The impacts of a social media frenzy
The extraordinary curiosity from on-line true crime lovers can have quite a lot of impacts, mentioned Park. She mentions the current Gabby Petito case, the place info uncovered or shared by social media sleuths actually contributed to the case, and even helped discover one other lacking particular person, whereas drawing consideration to scores of different lacking individuals circumstances. She referred to as social media the “final milk carton” and the “final Amber Alert” for lacking individuals circumstances.
If true crime sleuths may help remedy circumstances, there’s additionally a detrimental aspect when police cannot management the narrative and the move of data to the general public.
“Misinformation can block out legitimate suggestions,” Park countered. “All this proliferation of data could make it troublesome for legislation enforcement to comb by way of all of it. You have obtained some those that need their quarter-hour of fame, who exploit true tragedies, and this may additionally damage the households concerned.
Park talked about the case of the Boston Marathon Bomber, through which social media led to misidentification of suspects, and probably to copycat circumstances.
Intense social media scrutiny and commentary may also be dangerous to the folks and communities shut to those crime tales. Park talked about the Elisa Lam case, the place a younger girl was discovered lifeless in a water tank atop a lodge. That case was formally dominated an unintended drowning, however not earlier than allegations of foul play had a detrimental impression on the households concerned, the investigating officers, and even the lodge staff.
“It’s nice to carry legislation enforcement accountable, however typically folks thought they had been doing good, however ultimately did extra hurt. The media protection that comes together with this intense social media scrutiny might be very traumatic, not only for the folks concerned however for the communities. It ought to be essential that the folks in these circumstances are in the end not exploited.”
Widespread Web consideration can significantly be devastating to a small rural space like Hampton County, with a inhabitants of lower than 19,000 folks, a normally quiet place the place most households know one another.
“Persons are persistent on social media, and issues that may keep hidden in small communities cannot keep hidden for lengthy when the web true crime group will get concerned,” Park mentioned. “Hampton County will not be used to such a publicity.”
“Harmless individuals are being introduced right into a scenario the place they might not have had an involvement. On-line, folks have created cinematic variations of occasions, on this sleepy Southern city, and made characters out of its folks, and that may be dangerous.”
“What occurs when all this goes away?” she added “I do not assume every little thing and everybody returns to regular.”
Contributing: Carol Motsinger, Daniel Gross and Abraham Kenmore