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Hi, everybody. I'm Josh Mankowitz, and this is Talking Dateline. And our guest today, Craig Melvin.
Hi, Mank. Honored, honored to be on, sir.
Delighted to have you here. You've done this wonderful two hour dateline about the which, you know, one of the biggest true crime cases to come along in a while. Also joining us is one of the producers of that episode, the fabulous Carol Gable. Hi, Carol.
Hey, friend. How are you?
It's so great to see you because normally you're just a voice on a phone.
We're divided by whole country. Yes.
Let me say now that if you have not seen this episode on the Murdoch case, or if you have not listened to it in podcast form, it is the podcast right below this one on the list of podcasts. If you haven't seen it or heard it, you can watch it on TV or you can listen to it in podcast form. Do that, then come back here.
Let's talk dateline. This is a story, and this is kind of a challenge because a lot of times when you do stories on Dateline, the audience doesn't really know anything about it. It's from a town that people don't go to all the time, and it's about people that they haven't heard of. But that's not this story. Lots of people know this, no doubt.
I would maintain bank. That was one of the biggest challenges with this one. It was a case that people who had been following it from the beginning, which was more than two years ago now, the people who've been following it were familiar with all of the ins and outs, the twists and turns. So this time the goal was to lift the veil, if you will, pull back the curtain and take them inside the investigation and to do it. We talk to the folks who are on the front. He's the lead investigator, the sled chief, a guy named Mark Keel. I don't know if he's ever done a national TV interview, but but that was the goal this time, and I.
Thought it really worked. I mean, those cops generally don't talk.
I started out as a reporter in South Carolina, and I have to tell you, in three decades, I have never known them to let you talk to them about any investigation that they have brought to trial, ever.
But I do think, Josh, I do think part of their motivation this time was they were acutely aware of the scrutiny. They did not fully appreciate the way that they were treated in the media by some and certainly during the course of the trial by the defense attorneys. So I think part of their motivation was to say, hey, guys, we're really good at what we do. Here's how we do it. Here's how we did it this time. And Chief Keel actually choked up when he talked about how proud he was of his investigators. I mean, the lead investigator in this case, it consumed him day and night, and then on top of it, he's dealing with his own personal loss. And so I think that was part of the motivation. It wasn't just to beat their chest and say, oh, my god, we're so great. I think it was sort of a belated response to some of the criticism that they'd received before, during, even after the trial.
Well, and it seems to be sort of a recognition that the criminal justice system now sort of involves by all parties a certain amount of PR. I mean, lawyers are expected to sort of zealously defend their clients, not just in the courtroom, but in front of the TV cameras, on the courthouse steps, and then later in that one on one interview with you or with me or somebody like that. And law enforcement for a long time has not played. They have not wanted to join that game in a lot of cases. Sled certainly an example of that, and I think maybe this is a realization that, look, public opinion is getting cooked by the other side all the time. It's not just the jury pool. It's also what people think of you after the fact and during the appellate process. And I think opening up is a smart call. You have to choose somebody that you trust is going to tell the story fairly and accurately, which I think you guys exactly did.
Thank you, Josh. But now, to be clear, Josh, part of the reason that they talked is, and you've worked with Carol Gable long enough to know this, it's very difficult to say no to Carol Gable when she's asking you every day for the better part of 18 months to do something. So I do think if you figure.
Out how to do that, could you send me an email?
But honestly, I think some of them finally relented just so Carol would stop calling them, just so she would stop showing up at the you know, I.
Think there's determination now. I have to tell you, I have one more interview in my sights on this story, and I told that person yesterday that don't think you're off the hook.
Oh, dear God.
Yeah. You want to tell us who that is? Or that's a secret because you haven't booked it yet.
I haven't quite booked it yet.
It's probably Alec Murdoch.
Well, that goes without saying, fellow redhead.
And everything you both have mentioned, when this story broke, the message that started coming out from the family and other people in the community was we're only talking to people from South Carolina, which was this way of sort know, giving the heisman to the national press. Right.
And the problem is with that, Josh.
Yeah, well, the problem for them was that we have a correspondent who worked in South Carolina, knows his way around, and we have you who know, like.
The most apt description I think I've ever heard of.
Carol Gates y'all are killing me.
Essential and omnipresent.
Right. And won't let go.
It's interesting, Josh, because you're right to a certain extent. There was a natural skepticism from the very beginning, as there frequently is in the south. There was a reluctance to talk to folks who were not familiar with the ways of the south. But I also think one of the things that helped us with the story and one of the things that's continued to help us, carol has lived in South Carolina and covered South Carolina a bit longer than I have, but I did have the benefit of working in Columbia. And a lot of the contacts that we both have are people that we've known for 20, 25, 30 years. And a lot of the central players in this case are folks that I've hung out with and grew up with and went to summer camp with and called on frequently as a local reporter. Mank, you've been doing this long enough to know that I'd say 75% of access and a good interview is just trust. And if people trust you totally, they're more than willing to open up to you and perhaps tell you things that they wouldn't tell other people.
People are still concerned down here that they're going to have banjo music behind all their video and dripping moss. And here we go with Tara all over the place. And I think they realized that Craig and I actually are, you know, we certainly see beyond the stereotype. And I don't know about you, Craig, but sometimes I get a little sensitive about I must not have all my teeth, know other things like question.
No question. Yes, very much so. And my favorite is it continues to be even now, you're from South Carolina. Where's your accent? You don't have an accent. Where are you from? How long were you there? Calm down.
Well, I will say, though, speaking of accents, and I was noticing it as we were listening to an edited part of our story this week, there are so many interesting and unique things about the Low Country, one of which is, Craig, you and I have interviewed a few people that have the true, authentic Low Country accent. Very few people. Does that still survive. I think the Cook family, they have it someone you'll hear about, you heard about in this story. Rogan Gibson? Absolutely. And everywhere you go. At first I was thinking are you just hell bent on telling me how old I am? Because people kept saying Miss Carol, and I'm going I'm not your kindergarten teacher and I'm not an 82 years old. But it's just a sign of respect. And you will hear a lot of people of Paul's friends describe her as Miss Maggie or Miss Gloria, the housekeeper. It's just a style and respect that they have there.
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One of the things that emerged for me, something that I sort of wasn't aware of when this story broke and then as it kind of unspooled toward trial, was what a good liar Alec Murtaugh was, at least at the beginning, right? I mean, even in the first conversation with the cops, he's talking about his son who's dead in the present tense. He says he's such a good boy. Murderers frequently make that mistake and talk about the person in the past tense because they're the ones that put them in the past tense. I thought to myself, oh, this guy's.
Going to be very hard to crack.
And one of the things that one of the luxuries I think you had in telling this story was you didn't have to pretend we don't know who it is. By now we know. So this is a story in which you're both explaining the story but also taking people inside. And that's something you usually don't get. Sometimes they'll give you some details, but like, sitting in the front seat of the car where the actual interview is conducted is great. And I love the idea that these cars are lit, they got air conditioning in a very humid climate, or if it's raining, there's some shelter there and they're like the perfect little portable interrogation room.
Yeah, it's a mobile interrogation unit. But it's fascinating, mank. And I'm glad you brought it up because I think that's one of the things that people have found most compelling about the story from the beginning. There are and have been so many unique characters. Alec Murdoch, as sinister as he has proven to be, undeniably the most unique of the characters. But I think that people, from the very beginning found it hard to wrap their head around the idea that someone who has achieved so much professional success, material wealth, generational success, if you will, that someone like that would not just be capable of committing crimes, just myriad crimes, but someone like that could be capable of and the Attorney General of South Carolina said this kill your wife. Okay, we've seen that before. That not but someone like that, to kill their son the way that he did. Even the diehard true crime buffs from the very beginning, they were like, no way. Not possible. We've got to be missing something. Not a guy like that. And then, as layer after layer is.
Peeled back, you're left with the obvious answer, it couldn't be anybody else. Hard though it was to believe, impossible. Yeah. Part of that, I think, is the same reason why people are sort of fascinated by crimes involving celebrities. Because we have this belief that the rich and famous and although the Murdochs may not have been famous, they certainly seem to be rich. They're better than we are. They're our royalty. They're not shallow and venal like the rest of us. And they're not capable of these horrible things that we do to each other. Well, they're not. They're just like everybody else. And they're fully capable of the kind of horrific conduct that other people are. That said, killing your family to avoid embarrassment is astonishing. It is absolutely astonishing.
No matter who you are, it is astonishing. And one thing that we have in this particular program is we're able to show how close they came not to solving the Paul's cell phone. You've heard it said that Paul essentially solved his own murder, but that cell phone might as well have been a grenade. If you touched it the wrong way, it would crash, and you'd never get anything out of it. And so when they decide to not try a lot of passwords because they didn't know how many tries they had before it would implode. Had that happened, the attorney general told us, it might have been hard to even charge.
Alex Murdaugh, you've led into something I wanted to ask about, which was the extent to which this really was solved by sort of this combination of shoe leather detective work and the digital work that was done. I mean, cracking the cell phone, but also not just his phone, but Alex's phone. The cessation of activity on their phones, which enabled to give investigators the time of death, the data from GM. So much of the evidence here was supplied not by squeezing information out of people in little interrogation rooms or the front seat of cars, but by digital information that was recoverable after a lot of hard work.
Kind of makes you wonder, Carol, if this is a crime that would have been solved 2025 years ago. Right?
Well, it does. And the wonky part. As you know, the court proceedings were broadcast around the world, and there's this surreal moment where GM, they dial up right in the middle of the trial, and, hmm, I think we've got some things you might be interested in. And it was huge I mean, then they could track exactly how fast or slow alec Murdaugh was driving that night.
But by the way, to do it, they had to pull an all nighter during the trial. I mean, they had a weekend to make that data make sense, which is, again, it's a fascinating part of the.
Story, which is a huge part of sort of forensic law enforcement now, because it's not just getting somebody's phone and getting all the records and then time consumingly figuring out which cone of the tower the phone was talking to. But it's also presenting that in a way that can make sense to a jury. Know, juries are not forensic scientists, so you've got to explain it in a way that makes it clear to people, which they really did in this case.
Yeah, they did.
I'm glad you mentioned the jury, Josh, because that's also a big part of this episode. We got to actually pick the brains of a few of them after the verdict. And I found it most interesting that all of the evidence that we've been talking about, all of that was obviously very important. But the jurors that we talked to, they said they leaned heavily on Alec Murdoch's own testimony on the stand. His demeanor, how he looked. Yeah, all that fancy timeline stuff was great. And the GPS, it was wonderful. But we smelled him, and he didn't smell right to us.
And that's essentially what they said.
And the flip side of that is that in trials in which the defendant is more persuasive than Mr. Murdoch was at his trial, sometimes that can overwhelm forensic data and forensic testimony. Sometimes if you've got a persuasive story to tell or if you're good at telling your phony story, sometimes that makes a big difference. They never found the murder weapon you were talking about. Know, if they hadn't cracked the digital devices, alec Murdoch might still be walking around. Murder weapon never appeared anywhere.
Yeah, no, listen. And that was something that prosecutors, in fact, the attorney general talked about, that that was something that did concern them. Not only were they not able to find the weapons, there was no blood evidence that directly tied Murdoch to the murders. That they were able to couldn't find.
Any blood on his clothes or anything like that.
Right. Not anything that they were able to establish concretely. I have found that part of the case fascinating because, by the way, we're not talking about one weapon. We're talking about two separate weapons. I mean, there are two different guns used to kill Maggie and Paul, but we're also talking about 1700 acres. We're also talking about someone who was intimately familiar with the geography of Hampton county, knew it well. So you could make the argument that if anyone was going to be able to get rid of two family guns, it would have been Alec Murdoch.
No. Allegation at any time that somebody might have helped him move or dispose of evidence.
No, prosecutors never said that to us, mank. Law enforcement never said that to us. But during the course of over the last two years, I have talked to a number of people associated with the case who do find it hard to believe with regard to the financial crime specifically and explicitly for the purposes of this conversation. A number of folks in law enforcement have said to pull off what he pulled off for as long as he did likely would have required more assistance from folks exceeding the number of people who've been charged. Does that make sense?
Sure. Maybe the willful ignorance of other people.
Correct. A lot of folks tend to look away when everyone's making money.
Yeah. All that money he stole, not recoverable and not able to be brought back to anybody.
That, sir, is the question I have probably asked more people during more interviews over the last two years. And I asked the attorney general of South Carolina that very question because to your point, literally millions of dollars have gone missing. Dollars that have been stolen from clients, dollars that have not turned up in any of Murdoch's accounts. That's the biggest question for mean, some.
Of it he clearly used to live on, right? I mean, they have multiple residences, but.
The math doesn't add up.
The math doesn't add up.
So it's unlikely we're going to come up with some bank account with all that money sitting in.
It highly unlikely, they say, okay, the.
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There has been one big piece of news just as we're recording this, so let's talk about that involving the judge that you interviewed, judge Clifton Newman, who's.
Been on the bench in South Carolina more than 20 years. He's got a fascinating backstory himself, by the way, and his daughter is also a judge in South Carolina. But yes, it was revealed that Judge Newman is recusing himself from any of the hearings moving forward, but only those hearings that pertain to the double murder trial. It's also important to note here that the judge is retiring at the end of the year as well. But the fact that he is recusing himself, it's a big deal. It's a big deal. As you know, the case is on appeal. There are allegations of jury tampering. One of the reasons cited for his recusal is he will likely be called as a witness in the jury tampering.
Case because the allegation by murdoch's defense is the court clerk who would have worked very closely with the judge said something to the jurors urging them to convict and that the judge presumably could have known that or could have heard it, or could have been a witness to that. So that's why stepping back one of.
The reasons that he is stepping back.
Yes, I love, by the way, when you said, is there a lot of pressure on this? And he's like, no, got it. This is what I do for a living.
It's fine. And you know what? Folks who followed the trial, I think a lot of them were sort of taken aback by how cool and calm and reserved he was. But again, full disclosure, I used to spend a lot of time hanging out with the judge's son and his nephew and his niece. I've known the judge for years. That's kind of how he's always been. It's hard to even fathom him raising his voice. He's always been just right here in terms of his temperament. And there have been other high profile trials that he's conducted as well. But no, I don't think he was he was legitimately surprised initially by the amount of attention the case was getting, and he was also surprised after the trial the amount of attention that he personally was getting. And he's not the kind of guy that likes attention.
Okay, interesting. So let's talk a little bit about Blanca. I'm guessing she was maybe just as difficult to persuade as the investigators.
Well, she was very shy and very concerned because she had become a target in some ways for social media and had some pretty disturbing things said about her, not based on fact at all. But, I mean, just having your name bantied about was off putting to her. And I think as we got to know her more, I think there was a feeling that some of the people involved in the case and around it had sort of treated her, even though she was the housekeeper, as being invisible when she had a lot to say and she saw many things and could add a dimension that she thought and I think we believe was very valuable.
I thought it was great, although I got to say, when she said they treated me like family, my first thought was, this is a family where you don't want them to treat you like family.
That's a fair point.
Right? That's a fair point. I had not considered that. You know what, though? I will say there are not a lot of sympathetic characters in this story, but she's one, Blanca, because she makes a good point, and it's a point that I did not consider until I talked to her. She can't get another job. Everyone knows she was the Murdoch housekeeper. I mean, she's like a sideshow at the circus. And it's really frustrating for because she did nothing wrong, she didn't do anything.
Wrong, never charged with any crime, never considered any kind of suspect, but just the notoriety.
Yeah, and you don't really think about that part of the story sometimes in cases like this, when there are people who become victims, not victims of violence, but victims in another sense, victims in the sense that their lives are never the same through no fault of their them.
Yeah. And we see it in a couple of other stories. Not just this one, but other stories which have gotten some national attention in which sort of the trailing edge of public interest ended up making public figures out of people who really weren't involved in the story but were accused on social media or were started being talked about in a certain way. And the next thing you know, you're known by people who you have no association with at all, and they're making their own judgments about who you are, how you've lived your life and your possible guilt or innocence, when in fact there was never any allegation of anything.
Blanca, has Bubba now? Yes, I know that's a question that a lot of people you know, it's.
Funny, I didn't know that until maybe about a month ago. And not to give away, too, I assume people who listen to the podcast have probably already seen the episode, but I love the way that the genius producers at Dateline decided to end the piece. It was just such a fitting tribute to arguably two of the only people in the whole story worthy of celebrating.
Yeah, no, it was great. I thought that worked.
And Bubba, of course, was Maggie's dog, and having him around all the time is, I think, very comforting to her.
Here's the thing. Throughout the trial and throughout your entire two hour episode, some people said Alex. Some people said Alex. Right. Some people say Murdoch, some people said Murtaugh. Is that a Southern thing? What's going on there?
Let me answer that, because it's taken me two and a half years, I think, to get to the bottom of the correct pronunciation. And it's hard to do if you're really not from the Low Country, if you pronounce Alec Murdaugh's name correctly, as they do down there. Instead of Alex, it's Elick. And instead of Murdoch, it's Murda. Like murder, but no R. So, Josh.
What I've done for the purposes of broadcast to a national audience is I have taken the Low Country pronunciation and the phonetic spelling pronunciation, and I have tried to sort of create a happy medium. But it's funny because the executive producer of the Today show, guy named Tom Mazzarelli, who's a good friend, shortly after the trial started, he calls me up one day. He's like, hey, I'm trying to follow this trial. Can you explain now? Keep in. He's he's rarely left the five boroughs. He's New York through and through. He said, Craig, why does nobody down there go by their real names? Everyone's got a nickname. Even the dog is his real name. He's he's like, I'm having a hard time following the case between Paw Paw and Alec and Mags and Bubba. I was like, I don't even know who the characters said. That's a fair point, Mass. That's a fair point.
Confuse and conquer.
Confuse and conquer was actually the alternate title for Talking Dateline. I want to thank Carol Gable for joining us and this rare cameo appearance. Craig, I know you're going to be back for other Dateline episodes. And of course, also we see you all the time on the Today show. Thank you guys for joining us on Talking Dateline.
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