“There would be a lot of names people would recognize…”
Big-budget producers are already circling in South Carolina, anxious to turn the tabloid-ready Murdaugh murder mystery into must-watch film or TV.
True-crime junkies have followed the tragic saga of the powerful Murdaugh family for weeks, starting most recently with the double murder of Maggie Murdaugh and her son Paul — members of an influential family that has figured in Hampton County legal circles for generations. Local news updates on the case are re-reported almost immediately by national outlets and the story has reporters from The New York Times competing with TV, print and online media for new details out of rural South Carolina.
Alex Murdaugh, Maggie’s husband and Paul’s father, turned himself in Thursday, accused in a fraud scheme after reportedly admitting to stealing law firm money to finance a drug addiction and then trying to fake his own killing to allow his other son to collect a life insurance payout. He has denied connection to his wife and son’s unsolved deaths.
South Carolina’s Fits News has covered Murdaugh drama for years, and is compiling one of the most exhaustive collection of reports on the latest developments. Will Folks, founder of the site that’s had an inside track on politico news and gossip for 15 years, said he’s fielding calls from people wanting scoops or a piece of the story’s blockbuster potential.
“Two types of vultures are in the area right now, the national press and the Hollywood producers,” Folks told the City Paper by phone Thursday. “I get it, there’s money to be made. But my focus is, right now, on getting the story right.”
“There would be a lot of names people would recognize,” Folks said. “But again, that’s just not where my head’s at.”
Mandy Matney, Fits News’ only other writer, has leveraged her coverage of the case by spinning off the Murdaugh Murders Podcast as her own business alongside her day job. Thursday, the Murdaugh Murders Podcast was the top U.S. show in Apple Podcasts, higher than NYT‘s The Daily and Hoda Kotb’s just-announced podcast. The podcast features only a few ads for South Carolina companies and a marketing company run by Matney’s fiance David Moses, also credited as a producer.
Matney could not be reached for an interview, but remarked on Twitter that she’s turned down national media inquiries to discuss the case, instead focusing on the podcast and Fits News coverage.
Folks isn’t blind to the fact the grisly story is tailor-made for mass consumption.
“I think it absolutely will be on the screen. And I’m sure somebody will write an amazing book — maybe I will, one day,” Folks said. “There’ll be a time to delve into the commercial aspect of where this could go. But that is not where my head is at right now, at all.”
On the podcast front alone, the past few years has seen a surge of producers that spin successful shows into lucrative TV and film deals — including ripped-from-the-headlines true crime series. Serial, 2 Dope Queens, Start-Up, Lore and Dirty John are just a few popular podcasts that have been optioned for TV and the big screen.
But as the Murdaugh case continues to twist and turn, Folks said the combination of the mystery and power has people hooked.
“I think when you combine the suspense of not knowing and the significance attached to these people because of their influence and power in that part of the state, that is a potent concoction,” he said.