The law offices of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick sit in downtown Hampton, South Carolina. Until recently, Alex Murdaugh was a partner at the firm.

The roots of the Murdaugh family crime saga run deep through these coastal towns. But no one wants to talk about it

Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT) September 26, 2021

Beaufort, South Carolina (CNN)The store clerk asked, "Can I help you?" But it sounded more like, "What the hell are you doing here?"

A "closed" sign still hung from the door of the boutique. Taped next to it was an image of the beaming Mallory Beach, who once worked here, selling and modeling chic clothing and jewelry. Alongside her photo read a quote: "Be strong in the Lord and never give up hope. He's gonna do great things, I already know," a twist on a lyric by the Christian band, Sidewalk Prophets.
But the message of hope rang vacant here in the window of It's Retail Therapy, 31 months nearly to the day after Beach was killed when a boat struck a bridge piling north of Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. She was 19 years old.
Now, her death has become part of a rolling drama that has gripped South Carolina's Lowcountry: murder, drug addiction and alleged financial crimes surrounding the influential Alex Murdaugh, whose family is part of a local legal dynasty stretching back to the early 1900s.
A photo of Mallory Beach is seen in the door of a clothing boutique where she used to work in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Since Murdaugh's wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, were found fatally shot in June on the family's Colleton County hunting estate, the surname has earned national notoriety. Yet for the deluge of details spilling into headlines, so little is known about the others whose deaths in recent years almost always are mentioned with a reference to their Murdaugh connections: Gloria Harriott Satterfield, Stephen Nicholas Smith and Mallory Madison Beach.
Wanting to learn more about Beach, a photographer and I showed up at the boutique at opening time -- hoping to beat the clientele -- only to find the "closed" sign. As the photographer leaned in to take photos of the window memorial, the store door swung open and a blond woman in her early 20s stepped into its frame.
"Can I help you?" she asked, glaring.
It was awkward, not how we'd planned it. I removed my sunglasses and explained we didn't care about lawsuits or criminal allegations. We wanted to tell Beach's story. Might she help us, beyond the photo in the window?
The woman, I soon realized, was Morgan Doughty, a friend of Beach's who had been with her the night the boat crashed.
Doughty had been dating the now-deceased Paul Murdaugh at the time and suffered a nasty hand injury that chilly 2019 night when the vessel crashed, throwing Beach and two other passengers into Archers Creek. Her dear friend's body wasn't found for a week, in a marsh near the Broad River about 5 miles away.
"Y'all can't be doing this," Doughty snapped at us.
Leave or she'd call the police, she threatened as we stood on the public sidewalk, the law on our side if not karma. We weren't welcome. Our mere presence as journalists was traumatizing, she said, not just for her but for Miley Altman, who also worked at the store and had been on the boat that night.
Doughty stormed back inside, taking the "closed" sign with her.
Mallory Beach was killed when a boat struck a piling on this bridge north of Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island.