Who killed Maria Telles-Gonzalez? Woman found murdered in ditch on Murdaugh turf in 1995
A Florida woman named Maria Telles-Gonzalez was found dead in South Carolina’s Lowcountry region in 1995, but it took decades before modern genealogy testing was able to help detectives identify her remains.
Even since they did in December, they’ve been unable to locate two persons of interest in the case, which remains unsolved.
The saga has unfolded in the same region where Alex Murdaugh, 54, is now convicted of killing his son and wife.
Murdaugh exerted influence over the prosecutor’s office there for years while allegedly stealing millions from his family’s law firm and defrauding his own clients as dead bodies piled up around him.
The Murdaugh family, prominent in the region through their private law practice and decades-long control of the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, attracted national attention in the wake of the double murders of Murdaugh’s wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, at Moselle in 2021, for which Alex Murdaugh has recently been sent to prison for life.
He gunned them down near the dog kennels and called 911 to claim tht he had stumbled upon the scene on his way home from visiting his terminally ill father, who died days later.
As part of the investigation into that case, South Carolina’s State Law Enforcement Division, better known as SLED, announced that it was reopening an investigation into another death in the area.
Stephen Smith, then a 19-year-old nursing student, was found dead in a road near Moselle in 2015. Although it was initially dubbed a hit-and-run, the evidence never sat well with state investigators or the Smith family.
In the months after killing his son and wife, Murdaugh then attempted a botched murder-for-hire plot in which he was supposed to be the victim. He survived with minor injuries.
His trial earlier this year also cast a spotlight on two other suspicious deaths with direct ties to Murdaugh – housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, who died after a fall on a Murdaugh property in 2018, and Mallory Beach, a friend of Paul’s who died in a drunken boat crash a year later. Paul was awaiting trial on felony boating-while-intoxicated charges at the time of his own death.
According to other survivors, Alex Murdaugh appeared at the hospital on the night of the crash and attempted to influence the investigation.
But another unsolved case in the area has received far less attention – the murder of a woman who spent decades as an unidentified Jane Doe, uncovered again Thursday with a search of unidentified bodies in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System within the 14th Circuit.
WATCH: Paul Murdaugh’s boozy under-21 Bahamas vacation unveiled in 2017 video
A state highway department worker in Yemassee uncovered a grisly scene in 1995: A woman who had been strangled to death and dumped in the drainage ditch along Cotton Hall Road – about 30 miles south of the Murdaughs’ Moselle road compound, which the family purchased in 2013.
The victim was wearing only her underwear, and there were no signs of her purse, identification or any other belongings. According to SLED, there was evidence she had been killed somewhere else and dumped along the roadway.
Police had only a physical description to go by that included two surgical scars – one on her neck and one on her abdomen. The case went cold.
In 1999, cold case investigators took another look at the case and could not find any missing persons cases matching the victim’s profile.
In 2004, Beaufort investigators learned of a missing woman named Sybil Warren, who matched their victim’s description, however DNA testing came back negative. Another possible lead in 2011 went nowhere for the same reason.
In December 2020, cold case investigators turned to Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia firm that specializes in forensic genealogy, which produced a list of potential distant relatives.
Beaufort investigators announced in December that with Parabon’s help, they’d identified her as Maria Telles-Gonzalez of Kissimmee, Florida. They learned that she had never been reported missing, although she had last been seen by her husband and three children in May 1995.
Investigators were working to identify two persons of interest in the case – a woman whose name “may be” Patricia, and an unidentified man who may have been her boyfriend.