‘Murdaugh Murders’ Storyline Snowballed for the Producers, Too: ‘More You Started Getting Into It, the Crazier It Got’

TheWrap magazine: EPs Michael Gasparro and Julia Willoughby Nason unpack the series of crimes that took down Alex Murdaugh

"Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal"
"Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal"

This story about “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal” first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

The trial of Alex Murdaugh, the South Carolina former lawyer now convicted of murdering his wife, Maggie, and youngest son, Paul, captivated true-crime audiences in real-time as it played out in early 2023, with no less than four documentary series popping up in the last few months, all looking to unravel how a prominent Southern family could fall from grace in such a brutal fashion. Among them is Netflix’s “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal,” a three-part documentary series that opted to orient its story not with the 2021 double-murder, but rather with a mysterious boat accident that took place two years earlier. 

“Looking at the story as a whole, the more you started getting into it, the crazier it got,” executive producer and showrunner Michael Gasparro said. “Every time, the boat was the moment that shined a light on all these other crimes. So without the boat, would we have known about Alex?”

The accident in question saw a heavily intoxicated Paul Murdaugh, then 19, crash his family’s boat into a bridge, causing injuries to several of his friends on board and killing fellow passenger Mallory Beach. In the direct aftermath of the accident, the actions of Alex and the greater Murdaugh family began to raise questions in the small town of Hampton, South Carolina, about the undue influence the family appeared to have on the legal proceedings. 

The docuseries is full of accounts from individuals who report shady behavior they witnessed firsthand, including Beach’s family. But perhaps no voice is as vital to the greater narrative of “Murdaugh Murders” than that of Morgan Doughty, Paul’s ex-girlfriend, who had spent extensive time with the Murdaughs and could speak about their behavior with candor. 

"Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal"
Alex Murdaugh, Morgan Doughty, Paul Murdaugh and Maggie Murdaugh

“Morgan’s an amazing character and was the glue for our series,” Gasparro said. “It’s a funny story: You’re reaching out to these people in a very vulnerable time, and I reached out a couple of ways and ended up going through a lawyer. But initially, I sent an Instagram DM to (Morgan) and the first thing she said to me was ‘F–k off.’ That was the intro to Morgan. She’s a tough cookie, but a really soft-center kind of person.” 

After the boat accident, scrutiny of the Murdaugh family increased, bringing to light several suspicious deaths and rampant drug use by Alex, in addition to accusations that he had embezzled $8 million from the 100-year-old family law firm that was an institution in the low country of South Carolina. “The history of these four generations of solicitors had shocking elements because of their level of power and control,” said director and executive producer Julia Willoughy Nason. (Jenner Furst also directed.) “They had a civil law firm and they were criminal prosecutors, so they held the crime and civil law across many counties for all those years.”

With “Murdaugh Murders” debuting on Netflix on February 22, 2023, just over a week before Alex was found guilty, the creators were in a unique situation. “Julie and I watched, I think, probably the entire trial,” Gasparro said. “It’s surreal that you’re living with these characters while making this and then you’re actually seeing all these people that you’ve just told the story about. We were texting back and forth and watching it. I don’t think we knew how big the trial was going to be, but then you have O.J. tweeting about it. And it’s like, this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. It was wild.”

Read more from The Race Begins issue here.

Photographed by Jeff Vespa