The State Law Enforcement Division opened a criminal investigation into the mysterious 2018 death of a housekeeper for the powerful Murdaugh family just hours after the woman's sons filed a lawsuit raising fresh questions about a reported settlement in her case.
SLED said it was investigating the death of 57-year-old Gloria Satterfield and the handling of her estate. The move on Sept. 15 came in response to a request from the Hampton County coroner and new information gleaned from SLED's other investigations into prominent attorney Alex Murdaugh, who stands accused of embezzling money from his law firm and trying to stage his own murder for insurance fraud, the agency said.
The sons of Gloria Satterfield, a former housekeeper and nanny for the Murdaughs, have separately accused Alex Murdaugh and others of keeping them in the dark about negotiations surrounding a $505,000 wrongful death settlement. Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriot allege that they have not received any money from that settlement or any related agreements.
Satterfield died after she fell while working in a home owned by Murdaugh, according to the lawsuit, filed in Hampton County. She had worked for the family for more than two decades.
But Hampton County Coroner Angela Topper told SLED in a Sept. 15 letter that her office was never notified of Satterfield's death and no autopsy was conducted. What's more, Satterfield's death certificate indicates she succumbed to natural causes, which was inconsistent with the trip-and-fall injuries she reportedly sustained, she stated.
After Satterfield died, Murdaugh told her relatives that he was going to take care of the boys because he was going to sue himself for the death of their mother, the lawsuit said.
Murdaugh then introduced Satterfield's sons to attorney Cory Fleming and encouraged them to ask Fleming to represent them in bringing a lawsuit against Murdaugh, according to the new court filing. They were unaware that Fleming was a former college roommate of Murdaugh and the godfather to one of his sons, the lawsuit said.
Fleming is also named as a defendant in the new lawsuit. He did not respond to requests for comment by phone and email.
A partial settlement over Gloria Satterfield's death was reportedly reached in 2018, according to a court filing, and money should have been distributed to the sons after that, the lawsuit said. But the sons weren't even aware of an agreement until they learned about it in news reports, according to Ronnie Richter, an attorney for Tony Satterfield and Harriot. No order approving the settlement appears in the court case.
“It’s our hope this is all one big misunderstanding and that the funds are being held beneficially for them somewhere, but we’re going to find out," Richter said.
Also named in the lawsuit is Chad Westendorf, the personal representative of Gloria Satterfield's estate. The complaint accuses Murdaugh, Fleming and Westendorf of conspiring against Satterfield's sons. Westendorf did not respond to a voicemail requesting comment.
Murdaugh, 53, could not be reached for comment, as he is in an out-of-state rehab facility recovering from what his attorneys have described as a long-running opioid addiction. He also is being investigated in connection with allegations that he embezzled money from the PMPED Law Firm and staged a Sept. 4 shooting in an attempt to collect $10 million in insurance, authorities have said.
Jim Griffin, an attorney for Murdaugh, said he was surprised to hear accusations that Gloria Satterfield's sons had not received any settlement money.
“I can’t shed any light on that,” Griffin said.
Fourteenth Circuit Judge Perry Buckner presided over the Satterfield settlement case. Buckner would later recuse himself from another wrongful death matter involving the Murdaugh family in 2019. That case came after a boat crash in Beaufort that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach. Alex Murdaugh’s son, Paul, was accused of piloting the boat and faced criminal charges for the crash.
More recently, Buckner reportedly gave the eulogy at the June funeral of family patriarch Randolph Murdaugh III, 81, who died after an illness.
Buckner did not respond to an email requesting comment. He is listed as a "Retired/Active" judge on a state judicial website.
Mystery has surrounded Gloria Satterfield’s death from the moment the reported settlement came to light. A court document detailing a proposed agreement indicated only that she died Feb. 26, 2018, as a result of injuries she received in a trip-and-fall accident in Hampton County. It gave no indication as to where that occurred or when.
Her obituary stated that she died at Trident Medical Center in North Charleston. The Charleston County Coroner’s Office could find no record of her death when contacted by The Post and Courier.
The newspaper also contacted the Sheriff’s Office and emergency medical services in Hampton County. Neither could find any records of deputies or paramedics being sent to treat Satterfield.
Her obituary described her as a woman who liked tennis, loved kids and the color purple. It celebrated her laughter and her outgoing personality. And it made special mention of Alex Murdaugh and his relatives, “who she loved as her family.”
Steve Garrison contributed to this story from Charleston and Avery Wilks contributed from Columbia.