An attorney representing the sons of a former housekeeper for the prominent Murdaugh family said he has learned that as much as $4 million was collected in settlements after the woman's mysterious 2018 death, far eclipsing what was previously known. And none of that money went to her sons.
The Sept. 17 revelation came just days after the attorney filed a lawsuit alleging that Gloria Satterfield's sons were not included in settlement talks related to their 57-year-old mother's death. It also alleged that Alex Murdaugh — part of a family of well-known attorneys in the southern corner of the state — conspired with others against the sons.
“We have it on good information,” attorney Ronnie Richter said of the previously unknown settlement money. Court records show a proposed $505,000 settlement in the case but not a final signed order approving the arrangement, the lawsuit states.
Richter declined to provide more details on how he and his law partner concluded the final figure had ballooned into the millions. But he said they had received tips and done their own investigation to lead them to that figure.
The moments leading up to Satterfield's death have remain cloaked in secrecy but are now the subject of one of six state criminal investigations that have swirled around the Murdaugh family in recent months. Those include probes related to the June killings of Murdaugh's wife and son, along with allegations that Murdaugh embezzled funds from his family’s law firm. The 53-year-old attorney also was arrested Sept. 16 on insurance fraud charges after he was accused of staging a failed suicide plot to collect on a $10 million insurance policy.
Dick Harpootlian, one of Murdaugh’s lawyers in the criminal case, said he could not address the lawsuit or the pending State Law Enforcement Division investigation related to Satterfield's death. He would only say that Murdaugh “is cooperating fully with any inquiry by law enforcement.”
Tommy Crosby, a SLED spokesman, declined to confirm if authorities are aware that possibly millions of dollars were collected in the wrongful death lawsuit. He also did not answer additional questions.
Much of the little that is publicly known about Satterfield's death comes from a court filing in her wrongful death case. It states that Satterfield died after a trip-and-fall accident in Hampton County. The recent lawsuit on behalf of her sons, filed Sept. 15, provides some additional information. It said Satterfield fell in the Hampton home of Alex Murdaugh, whose family she had worked for as a nanny and housekeeper for more than two decades.
After her death, the lawsuit said Murdaugh introduced one of Satterfield’s sons to attorney Cory Fleming and encouraged him to ask Fleming to represent him and his brother in a lawsuit against Murdaugh. The brothers were unaware that Fleming was a former college roommate of Murdaugh and the godfather to one of his sons, the lawsuit said.
Fleming had Chad Westendorf, a banker who was not a Satterfield family member, serve as the personal representative in the wrongful death case, according to the lawsuit.
Later in 2018, a petition filed in court said a proposed $505,000 "partial settlement" was reached in the case and noted that additional insurance coverage could be applicable. Richter, the attorney for Satterfield's sons said those terms were unusual and left room for an additional settlement.
The petition outlining the arrangement shows no indication it was ever signed off on by Circuit Judge Perry Buckner, who presided over the wrongful death case, court records show. And there was no mention of any additional settlements in court records before the case was dismissed in October. A document filed then only said that those involved had "settled their differences."
Richter said he has learned that there was at least one additional settlement that was not documented, but it is unclear how it was accomplished.
“But we’re getting there," he said. "The truth will come out.”
Buckner, the judge, did not respond to an email requesting comment Sept. 17. His wife declined to provide contact information for him and hung up on a reporter. Fleming and Westendorf, who along with Murdaugh were recently sued by Satterfield's sons, did not respond to phone and email messages requesting comment on Sept. 17.
SLED said Sept. 15 that it opened an investigation into Satterfield's death and the handling of her estate. The move came in response to a request from Hampton County Coroner Angela Topper and new information gleaned from SLED’s other investigations into Murdaugh, the agency said.
Earlier that day, Topper told SLED in a 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.
Topper declined to discuss details of the case when contacted on Sept. 17, citing the ongoing investigation.