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Murdaugh Most Foul: The Question of Motive

Here’s some wisdom from a very young juror:

James said that the prosecution’s argument that there was a “perfect storm” gathering, and Murdaugh was on cusp of a devastating financial reckoning was a good theme – but wasn’t a persuasive motive.

“I don’t think I’d ever be able to answer why somebody would do something like that,” he said. “But I know that there are people in the world that don’t make sense, and they do things without making it make sense. So I don’t know that there is an answer other than that it happened and that it shouldn’t have.”

Yup. Here’s UD‘s take, FWIW:

Since that morning, when his firm’s financial officer confronted Murdaugh about his extensive theft from the business and its clients, he had been in a deepening, increasingly unmanageable, panic. Thoughts of his family’s ruination, and the ruin, at his hands, of the proud Murdaugh legacy, gripped him more and more tightly.

I don’t think that when he summoned his family to the rural property (Buster was too far away to summon) he did so with any clear motive of killing them; I think he was simply at wit’s end and wanted their help in some way. Or maybe he wanted to confess to them, the way Bernie Madoff gathered his sons to his office and confessed, as the FBI circled, his Ponzi scheme. I don’t think Murdaugh knew what to do; I think he was melting down, and he, in an unspecified atavistic way, wanted his family around him.

Reveling in the beautiful normality of hanging around with Maggie and Paul, with the dogs and the birds, Murdaugh was suddenly overcome with the pointlessness of it all, the loss of it all, the oncoming nothingness of his shattered existence. This was not excruciating self-punishment, or self-hatred; if it were, of course, he would have grabbed one of the hundreds of available guns and killed himself. It was a bleak nihilistic vision of a demonic world all of whose denizens, including his own wife and son, were committed to destroying him. His wife and son, after all, had been getting into his pills, and they were demanding a family conference in which they clearly intended to give him a hard time about the oxy. His drunk out of control son, who’d already racked up booze-related legal problems – hell, who’d already killed someone – could only benefit from having his existence ended. His wife was a nervous wreck about the tens of millions of dollars the bulldog lawyer the dead girl’s parents had hired was promising to get out of the Murdaughs; and she’d already been driven out of the neighborhood of their primary residence because of the horrible publicity about the lethal boat wreck. All that, plus his unmasking, that morning, as a career larcenist…!

Everyone here, he thought, in his nihilistic panic, would be better off dead.

So in the darkness, in the night, facing trusting heedless loved ones, he grabbed his weapons and began blasting away at Paul and Maggie. Make them go away. Make it all go away.

When it came to it, he couldn’t complete the nihilistic horror. He couldn’t turn the weapons on himself. He knew the rest of his life would be litigation and imprisonment but he simply couldn’t end his life. Narcissism, cowardice, whatever. Couldn’t do it.


But. When all is said and done, remember that great scene in Black Widow, when Debra Winger (as an FBI agent) says to her motive-sniffing boss: “Don’t you understand? No one knows why anyone does anything.”

Margaret Soltan, March 4, 2023 1:48PM
Posted in: fresh blood

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5 Responses to “Murdaugh Most Foul: The Question of Motive”

  1. Dennis Says:

    Your thoughtful speculation about Alec is as good as any other I’ve seen, probably better, although I might dispute a bit or two. I think he had a little premeditation: after all, he convinced both to come to Moselle at just that time, and he had to have set aside the weapons or brought them from the house. Still, one might almost think you were an English Lit professor. The characters are probably too simple for one of the Russian greats to write about — not a job for Dostoyevsky — but how about Joyce Carol Oates? She should be able to knock it out in a couple of weeks.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Thanks, Dennis! I agree that the question of forethought remains open, especially given the bloody reckless nature of some of the Murdaugh clan. It probably crossed his mind, though I’d continue to doubt that it formed itself in terms of an actual course of action until shortly before he hauled out the guns.

    As for who could write this best – I don’t think anyone other than Faulkner has the deep, deep nihilism (see the end of Absalom), the intimate insider knowledge, and of course the florid insane writing style to match the florid insane characters. Unfortunately, he’s a goner. Oates – it ain’t her territory. She does nihilism, to be sure, but the bitter vapid east coast variety. Her characters are deracinated; the deeply stuck in the soil Murdaughs are a different animal. But of course I agree with you that she could wrap up the book and deliver it to a publisher in … two weeks? Two days.

    So Truman Capote is also dead, but I’m now – as I write this – thinking his brilliant crime thing – In Cold Blood – suggests he’d be great at capturing the twice-blooming wisteria southernness of it all (ICB’s setting is Kansas, entirely unknown to him, and he beautifully evokes it from page one; his own background is indeed deep south, and one can only imagine what he’d do with the rich material here), plus the mentality of the killer, the cast of characters, and the details of the trial. All of these were done incredibly well in In Cold Blood.

  3. Dennis Says:

    Yes, both Faulkner and Capote would be the best, but they’re not available right now. I was thinking of Oates because of some similarities (“We Were the Murdaughs,” perhaps?), but I don’t think she ever tackled a rooted family saga like this. Who among the living has?

    On Capote: I was a student when In Cold Blood was serialized in the New Yorker. I remember rushing to the bookstore as soon as the new issue was delivered. That was the first time I had ever been caught up in a serial, at least apart from childhood comics. There are enough story lines in the Murdaugh saga that even Dickens might have been able to write (and serialize) the tale.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    I reread ICB not long ago and was almost immediately in tears. The noble classical language he brings to a place like Olathe right away honors the Clutter family and the America they farmed. The final pages of the book too (visiting the graves) are for me very emotional. Like all the best stuff, the book not only stands up decades later but gets better.

    If we could get him to tone it down a little, maybe Cormac McCarthy could write Blood Murdaughian.

    Other end of the spectrum: Carl Hiaasen.


  5. Dennis Says:

    Well done. Yes, McCarthy toned down. But there’s not enough humor in this story for Hiaasen. To use your term, it wouldn’t honor the victims.

    I think I would have enjoyed taking one of your classes.

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