Last week, the Daily Mail ran a story about a financier who had given up big-game hunting for conservation.
Angus Murray, the money man in question, told the tabloid that he had an epiphany four years ago while on a hunt, and that he’s been giving to conservation groups ever since. The piece was accompanied by a photo of Murray posing alongside a dead ruminant, while a caption claimed that he “has devoted his life to helping endangered animals in Africa.”
The conversion story was timely, coming, as it did, just a couple of days after the exposure of Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist behind the bait-and-shoot slaughter of the famous Zimbabwean lion Cecil, had given all rich Westerners who travel to Africa to shoot things a bad name. Murray’s anti-hunting commentary also carried a lot of weight, given the awards he’s won for his jungle killings and his being named to at least one list of the greatest big game hunters of all time.
The Daily Mail story, unfortunately, is complete nonsense—something best proven by a variety of photographic evidence that has, since the story ran, all but evaporated from the internet.
Details from two photos of Angus Murray, until recently available on the website of Stone Hunting Safaris. According to their metadata, they were taken in August 2013—years after Murray supposedly stopped hunting.
By pure coincidence, I had been on the trail of Angus Murray, journalistically speaking, for several months before he showed up in the Daily Mail. I had gotten a tip that a banker with ties to the United States was making inquiries about buying citizenship in the Caribbean isle of Dominica in hopes of getting a slot on that country’s 2016 Olympics squad. (This would hardly be unprecedented.) Thomas Dorsett, secretary general of the Dominica Olympic Committee, tells me that Murray came down in the spring to talk about qualifying in shooting events, and is currently working with the Dominica Rifle Association to get sanctioned to compete in Brazil.
While waiting to see if Murray would actually pull off this feat of Olympian fakery, I began researching the background of the allegedly soon-to-be Dominican. I learned that Murray was born in Australia and studied in London; jumped into banking in the United States; founded Castlestone Management, a hedge fund registered in the British Virgin Islands; dealt with his fund’s offices being raided for alleged record-keeping snafus in 2011; took a hiatus and closed some European outposts; and, eventually, returned as CEO of the fund.
Most of what I learned about Murray, though, had to do with him and dead animals. It turned out that the internet was teeming with shots of Murray standing over or kneeling beside big things he’d ostensibly killed.
Murray is (or was), among other things, a seriously renowned lion hunter. Last November, Hunt Forever—a blog for Safari Club International members—credited him with the first- and fifth-best African lion kills ever, posting shots of Murray and his big dead victims in slideshow format.
Two of the few shots of Angus Murray posing alongside dead lions that haven’t been pulled offline recently, as they can be seen on Hunt Forever.
The internet actually had lots of photos of Murray with different dead lions at one point. The largest treasure trove of gruesomeness was found on the site of Stone Hunting Safaris, a full-service big-game hunting firm, or “outfitter,” with headquarters in Hawick, South Africa. There I found all sorts of photo galleries, broken up by type of dead animal. There were hippos and elephants and various jungle cats, and as far as I could tell, Murray showed up in every category except “rhino,” usually more than once. I’d never seen anything like it. I figured Murray’s man cave must resemble a Noah’s Ark of death.
These photo galleries have disappeared over the last week. When the Daily Mail asked Murray about one particular set of photos showing him posing with a dead lion, he asserted that the lion had been trapped in a snare and that he’d killed it as an act of mercy at the behest of local government. He and Stone Hunting Safaris denied the tabloid permission to run the photos, and, after being contacted by the Daily Mail, the hunting outfitter closed down its site, so that the most graphic evidence of what Murray does for kicks disappeared just like that.
The article says flatly that Murray denied ever using safari guides. (“Mr. Murray claims he never paid a tour company to take him on a hunt,” according to the Daily Mail.) It’s a difficult claim to swallow—but far from the most implausible element of his conversation narrative.
Detail from a photo which was until recently available on the website of Stone Hunting Safaris, a tour company offering guide services to hunters. According to its metadata, the photo was taken in April 2005, suggesting a long relationship with the tour company.
The main thrust of the Daily Mail report, after all, is that a conscience-stricken Murray gave up hunting in 2011 and has since nobly dedicated himself to the protection of wildlife. (“Mr Murray,” it reads, to be precise, “said he put down his gun four years ago when he realised he was wrong.”)
In 2014, though, Murray was honored by the committee of the Carlo Caldesi Awards, a regal international big-game hunting body based in Italy, for having killed an African elephant with tusks weighing 187 pounds. Jason Stone and Stone Hunting Safaris got credit with assisting the hunt. According to the Caldesi Awards entry regulations, only things killed “during the two (2) full years preceding January 1st of the year in which the award will be presented” are eligible. That would date the kill to after Murray’s conversion. (He also won acclaim from the Caldesi committee in 2010 and 2013 for shooting African lions.)
Meanwhile, at the Safari Club International’s 2015 convention, which brought more than 20,000 hunting enthusiasts from around the globe to Las Vegas this February, the group gave Murray an award for outstanding achievement in hunting the greater kudu—a large species of antelope—during the 2013-14 season. SCI released a photo of Murray posing with the trophy (at left) which celebrates his killing success with a crossbow—the same weapon used by dentist Palmer to kill Cecil. The plate reads, “Safari Club International/2013-2014 Major Award/1st Place/Crossbow/Angus Murray/Southern Greater Kudu/South Africa - 144 0/8.”
And as if this all this wasn’t enough of a hint that the conversion tale was bunk, one associate of Murray’s tells me the man spent several weeks in South Africa hunting last summer.
“He was using a drone to locate the herds,” says the associate, who requested anonymity given the negative publicity surrounding all things hunting since the killing of Cecil.
Murray has, interestingly, previously struck the pose of animal savior. The blog of a group called the International Anti-Poaching Foundation ran a piece in 2013 saying that Murray was trying to attract big donors for a fund he’d started in hopes of preserving a variety of jungle animals, including elephants.
“These are the animals that I, as a child, grew to love and adore from watching shows presented by David Attenborough,” Murray told the IAPF writer. “It is these same animals that we must protect for the survival of our planet and the future of our children.”
Nice childhood memories, but the internet contains plenty of visual hints that the grownup Murray fancies his elephants dead. Other big, lumbering jungle animals have every right to feel afraid when Murray’s in their hemisphere, too. An associate of Murray’s tells me that he was the client shown killing an inert buffalo on a company hunt in a Youtube video embedded, until recently, on Stone Hunting Safari’s Facebook page. (More on that in a moment.)
At left, a detail from a photo of Angus Murray posing with the elephant for whose death he won a 2014 Carlo Caldesi award; at right, a detail from a shot available on the Stone Hunting Safaris website. It was taken in September 2012, according to its metadata; the URL of the photo ends “101.2-X-86-pounds-taken-by-Angus-Murray.jpg”
I contacted Murray after the Daily Mail story ran. Asked if the piece was correct about when he gave up hunting, he at first said that it should have read that he had “quit hunting big game in 2011.” Asked about the awards that came after that date, he claimed that the animals killed to win those awards “would have been taken prior to that time.” Told that the Robesi rules clearly state that all 2014 awardees came after 2011, he said, “I can’t explain the discrepancy.”
As for his 2015 SCI award, Murray said, “That’s for a kudu,” by which he meant that the dead animal that brought him the trophy was not big game. (Greater kudus stand five feet tall at the shoulder and weigh from 400 to 600 pounds.) I pointed out that, kudus aside, I’d found plenty of evidence suggesting that he’d been hunting what everybody would consider to be big game—elephants, for example—after purportedly realizing in 2011 that such hunting was wrong. Murray said that only animals taken on jungle hunts lasting “between 21 and 28 days” qualify as big game.
When I indicated that Murray’s story appeared to be changing during the course of our conversation—few people would say someone had given up hunting just because he had stopped going on shooting expeditions of at least three weeks—he said, “I have plenty of money and I’m going to sue you.”
In a still from a since-deleted video, a man whom an associate says is Angus Murray stalks prey.
Many, many photos of Murray posing with various jungle animals he’d apparently killed disappeared from the internet as the outrage over the killing of Cecil went global. Stone Hunting Safaris’ photo galleries, along with most of the rest of the company’s website, vanished around the time the Daily Mail story went up. The pages that formerly held the Safari Club International’s hunting record books—which contained several references to Murray and pictures of him and his prey—also suddenly went offline this week. By a fluke, I happened to have downloaded dozens of these sad, awful photos, details from a few of the more significant of which you can see above. But the broad disappearance means a few more people will buy into the recent tale about Murray’s transformation from killer to conservationist.
“I have no desire to distance myself from what I have done,” Murray told me. He says he had no role in the disappearance of photos of him and dead animals. He says a lot of things.
After our conversation, I emailed Murray asking him to confirm that it was indeed him killing a buffalo in the Youtube video, as I was told by an associate. He declined to respond. But within hours of my query, the clip—a perfect jungle snuff film—was removed.
Know more about Angus Murray’s exploits, or anything else we should be aware of? Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Top image by Deadspin, original photo via Stone Hunting Safaris.