Stephen Smith's body is exhumed eight years after teen was found dead

Stephen Smith’s body is exhumed eight years after the teen was found dead on road near Murdaugh family home: Family fundraised $188,000 to get new autopsy as South Carolina cops officially declared his death a homicide

  • Stephen Smith’s body was exhumed from Gooding Cemetery in Hampton County on Friday, and a new autopsy will now be carried out
  • Smith was 19 when he was found dead in the middle of the road near the Murdaugh family’s estate in July 2015
  • His death was initially ruled a hit-and-run, but in June 2021 the case was reopened amid interest in the Murdaughs: it has now been classed a homicide

The body of a South Carolina teenager whose 2015 death came under renewed interest following the Murdaugh murders has been exhumed, and will now be re-examined.

Stephen Smith, 19, was found dead in the middle of a road in Hampton County. He was at school with Buster Murdaugh, the surviving son of Alex Murdaugh – who last month was found guilty of murdering his wife Maggie and son Paul.

Smith, who was openly gay, was initially ruled to have died in a hit and run. But following the flurry of interest in the Murdaugh case, and rumors that Smith and Buster Murduagh had a sexual relationship, Smith’s case was reopened in June 2021. 

On March 23 his death was declared a homicide and his mother Sandy launched a GoFundMe to pay for the exhumation of his body.

The campaign has now reached $188,000, and on Friday his body was removed from Gooding Cemetery in Hampton County. A new autopsy will now be carried out.

Stephen Smith was found dead in the road in Hampton County. His body was exhumed on Friday

Stephen Smith (right) and his mother Sandy (left). His family have long believed he was murdered – as Stephen’s body allegedly did not have any injures from the torso down, and no car parts were found at the scene

Eric Bland, the attorney representing the Smith family, said they will not be commenting on the exhumation.

‘We were hired to get Steven exhumed and a second autopsy performed and that is what we intend to do,’ he tweeted on Saturday. 

‘We are not law-enforcement. We will work with SLED and any subsequent investigation, but it is their investigation because they have tools and things that are available to them that we cannot do.’

He added: ‘Justice is coming and I don’t think anything is going to be able to stop it.’ 

Last week, Bland said Smith’s phone has now been unlocked.

‘I think the case will be solved by phone evidence or computer evidence, both before and after the killing,’ he said

‘We plan on putting a fresh set of eyes on this case as if we were just walking up to the crime scene for the first time.

‘SLED has his cell phone and they have cracked it,’ he told The Hampton County Guardian. 

‘And they have the tablet and are working on cracking it.’ 

The Smith family are pressing investigators to hunt down a rape kit, which was lost following Stephen’s death.

Sandy Smith has been urging law enforcement to investigate links with Buster Murdaugh. 

Buster Murdaugh issued a statement last month insisting he had nothing to do with his classmate’s death.  

‘These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false,’ he said. 

‘I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family.’

A tribute for Smith, erected at the site where he was found dead in Hampton, South Carolina, in 2015

Police were suspicious that he had been shot, but his death was ruled a hit-and-run 

Smith was found dead just a few miles from Alex Murdaugh’s former hunting estate. 

Local news website FitsNews has named two people – Patrick Wilson and Shawn Connelly, both 25 – as being potentially of interest, citing sources from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

According to the FitsNews report, Connelly and Wilson, who were both teenagers at the time, lived in Hampton County when Smith was killed.

FitsNews alleges that five months after Smith’s death, Wilson’s stepfather, Darrell Williams, said that he was told by Wilson that Connelly ‘struck and killed Stephen Smith.’ 

Williams in turn notified law enforcement. 

Later, Williams told investigators that Wilson had moved out and he didn’t know where he was living. 

When efforts to locate him stalled, Williams said that he was told to call the police by Alex Murdaugh’s brother, Randy. 

Stephen Smith, who was 19 at the time of his death in July 2015 

Maggie Murdaugh is seen with her husband Alex and sons Buster (right) and Paul (left)

In the statement shared by Alex Murdaugh’s trial lawyer Jim Griffin, Buster called the claims as ‘baseless’ 

The paper reported that both Connelly and Wilson were well known to police, with Wilson facing murder charges, which were dropped.

Online records show that Connelly has a lengthy criminal record in South Carolina, including multiple traffic infractions, DUIs, domestic violence, hunting without a license, unlawfully killing an antler-less deer and purchasing alcohol as a minor. 

The trooper who discovered Smith’s body did not think it was a hit and run, but the pathologist who did the autopsy theorized Smith was hit in the head by the side mirror of a passing truck that did not stop.

Police said it appeared he ran out of gas and was walking for help, but Bland said Smith didn’t make any calls on his cellphone and his shoes, which were tied loosely, were still on his feet. 

People hit by cars are often found without their shoes from the force of the wreck.

Smith’s family thinks his injuries, including head injuries and a dislocated arm bent behind him, indicate he was beaten to death and dropped on the highway. 

Bland also hopes the private investigators can gather and analyze cellphone data from Smith and the people he was communicating with to reconstruct who he was hanging out with and what he was doing not just right before his body was found but also in the weeks before his death.

‘Stephen had to live a secret life. Being young and gay in the Low Country was not an easy thing to do,’ Bland said.

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