Bombshell report names persons of interest in his killing
South Carolina authorities have zeroed in on two persons of interest in the 2015 homicide of Stephen Smith, who was found dead in the middle of the road miles from Alex Murdaugh’s former hunting estate, according to a bombshell new report from FitsNews.
Rumors have swirled that the Murdaughs were somehow involved in the 19-year-old’s July 8 slaying, and the name of the once-powerful legal dynasty is referenced dozens of times in the original highway patrol report.
But the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has identified Patrick Wilson and Shawn Connelly as persons of interest – neither of whom are Murdaughs, according to the local news site.
SLED didn’t immediately return a request for comment. Wilson and Connelly could not immediately be reached.
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“Both Wilson and Connelly lived in the area near where Stephen Smith’s body was found, and there is information obtained by SLED investigators which has reportedly drawn a sharper focus on them as potential suspects,” FitsNews founder Will Folks wrote.
About five months after Smith’s death, Wilson’s stepfather, Darrell Williams, allegedly called investigators with a tip. His stepson, he said, told him that Connelly was driving a vehicle when it “struck and killed Stephen Smith.” Wilson and Connelly were teenagers at the time.
SLED opened a homicide investigation into Smith’s death on June 23, 2021 – about two weeks after Alex Murdaugh fatally shot his wife, Maggie, 52, and his son, Paul, 22. Smith was found 10 miles from the Murdaugh hunting estate, where the mother and son were slaughtered.
Speculation raged in the wake of Alex’s conviction for the double murder that his living son, Buster, was involved. Earlier this month, Buster issued a statement denying he had anything to do with Smith’s demise.
A lawyer for Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, told Fox News Digital there was no evidence the Murdaughs were connected to the killing.
“We have no direct knowledge that any Murdaugh was involved in any shape or form in Stephen’s murder,” Eric Bland said. He added that Smith was openly gay and that the case had the “earmarking of a hate crime.”
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The local news site also published highway patrol investigators’ initial 2015 interviews with Sandy Smith; Smith’s twin sister, Stephanie Joyner; a man with whom Smith allegedly had a one-night stand; and Smith’s then-boyfriend, Marc Bickhardt.
Investigators interviewed a divorced father of one who said he came across an ad Smith had posted on Craigslist, and the two had a one-night stand about a week before the killing. No money was exchanged, the man said.
Sandy Smith later contacted him, he told police, and said she suspected foul play. He allegedly told her that there was a “remote possibility that [Smith’s death] might be somehow related” to his sexually explicit Craigslist ads. “There are some crazy people out there,” he allegedly told her.
Bickhardt had exchanged text messages with Stephen Smith as late as 3:37 a.m. – less than a half hour before his body was found.
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Pathologist Erin Presnell ruled that Smith’s death was a hit-and-run over the objections of highway patrol officers who responded to the scene and said the young man’s injuries weren’t consistent with her conclusion.
Smith was found on Sandy Run Road three miles from his car, which was out of gas. There were no tire marks in the road and abrasions on his body that would indicate he had slid across asphalt or debris from a collision. His wallet and keys were still in his car.
Bickhardt at one point suggested that an “escort agency has something to do with this,” referring to a Hilton Head Island-based service that Smith allegedly worked for at the time, according to FitsNews.
In one of their final phone calls, Smith told Bickhardt he was out of gas and that he thought he was being followed before the call dropped, according to the interview.
“At one point I heard big mud tires, big mud tires,” Bickhardt said. “They’re like coming toward him or going past because they sounded loud – and they were getting louder. And that, I believe, was the last time I talked to him.”