Residents in the Holly Woods community near Aberdeen where Keith and Jacquelyn Smith lived expressed shock that Keith Smith had been charged this week in his wife’s murder.
He initially said Jacquelyn Smith, 54, an electrical engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was killed on Dec. 1 after she’d given money to a panhandler in East Baltimore.
Next-door neighbor Shirley Banks, who has lived along Villa Point Drive for about two years, said Monday she does not know what to think about Keith Smith being charged.
“Everything seemed very normal from this end,” Banks, 36, said. She recalled that Keith and Jacquelyn Smith “seemed very happy and loving and always spent time together, so I don’t know what to think.”
Keith Smith, 52, and his daughter, Valeria Smith, 28, appeared Monday in a Texas courtroom where they were arraigned on charges in Jacquelyn Smith’s death.
As the father and daughter neared the U.S.-Mexico border, Baltimore Police notified authorities in Texas of warrants charging them in Jacquelyn Smith’s death. They were arrested Sunday in Combes, Texas, and are being held without bail. They are expected to be extradited to Baltimore by March 20.
Banks described Jacquelyn Smith as “kind of a homebody” who, when not traveling for work, would be inside her house while her husband was outside, washing his car or working in the yard.
She recalled Keith Smith doing things for her children such as giving them fluid to blow bubbles while outside.
“That’s what makes this shocking,” said Banks, who works as an operating room technician at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air. “I just had positive interactions — everything appeared picture perfect.”
The sprawling Holly Woods community, made up of villas, condominiums and townhouses, is off of Route 7 near the Bel Air Auto Auction in Riverside.
Banks’ 16-year-old son, Shimarl, said he did not have much interaction with the Smiths, but said he had seen them walking to and from their house, and “they always seemed pretty happy.”
Banks said she has not heard much talk among her neighbors about the most recent news in the death of Jacquelyn Smith, since the community is “more of a ‘hi and bye’ neighborhood.”
Tina Bruce, who lives across the street from the Smiths’ house, said she didn’t know her neighbors well. She would wave to them both when they were coming and going and would talk to Keith Smith “every now and then” when he was outside.
“It’s a shock. He seems like a really good guy,” Bruce said. “When it happened I said ‘Mr. Keith, I’m so sorry this happened to you.’ My mom had just died and I felt his pain.”
The Smiths’ house was mostly empty inside, though a few pieces of furniture were scattered about, including what appeared to be a grandfather clock with its door ajar and a mattress propped up against the window and the wall in the front of the house. Around back, cushions for outdoor patio furniture lay on the deck and a large plastic container filled with Christmas lights and other items sat with the lid off.
Bruce said she never would have suspected Keith Smith would be charged with killing his wife.
Phil Robertson lives a few doors down from the Smiths and said it was shocking to hear Smith had been charged.
He had only met Jacquelyn Smith once and rarely engaged with Keith Smith. But on Feb. 4, just a few months after his wife’s death, he saw him moving out.
“I thought it was so odd, that he was moving out so quickly,” Robertson said.
So odd that he took pictures of the truck parked out front.
Robertson never saw the couple fight, but said they pretty much kept to themselves.
In the months since Smith was killed, he saw a lot of people coming and going from the house, “but nothing you wouldn’t expect from someone whose wife just died.”
Richard McElvenny said the neighborhood is usually quiet, except a few weeks ago when he came home to seven police cars parked on his street.
Like Robertson, he had seen the moving truck a few weeks earlier.
He would talk to Keith Smith periodically when he was walking his dog, mostly small talk. But pretty much they keep to themselves, and so did he.
“I was shocked to find out he and his daughter were arrested for the murder,” McElvenny said.
The Smiths were active at Helping Hands Ministries, a Churchville congregation, for about two and a half years until May 2017, said Bishop Roger Tatuem. Tatuem, the church’s senior pastor, said they hadn’t attended between May 2017 and December.
Prior to May 2017, the couple was very active in the church, Tatuem said. Keith Smith participated in a prison ministry and would travel once a month to minister to prisoners in Hagerstown. And both Keith and Jacquelyn Smith led the church’s Christian education classes. They rewrote the curriculum for the course, Tatuem said.
“He was an original likable person,” Tatuem said. “As his pastor I saw him to be a genuine person. … He was involved with the prison ministry and so he got along with everybody.”
He said Keith and Jacquelyn were always together and there was no indication of friction between them.
“I’m surprised, I really am,” Tatuem said. “We had no idea or indication that he had the capacity to do something like that.”
“It didn’t seem like something that he would do,” Tatuem said. “The stories that he told us in reference to it — he was consistent when talking about the situation.”
At Jacquelyn Smith’s memorial service, Tatuem addressed the issue of panhandling, and encouraged congregants to make charitable contributions through official channels rather than giving to people on the street. The charges against Keith Smith did not change that, he said.
“To me that’s one of the safest ways to give and an assurance that you’re giving to the right people because there’s some people out there who [are] not doing the right thing,” Tatuem said. “We can’t stop giving because people are hurting and people need help. You just have to use precaution and wisdom in how you do it.”
Tandra Ridgley has known the Smiths for about three years, when the couple began attending Helping Hands Ministries, Ridgley said.
“I’ve known nothing from Brother Keith but Christian love,” she said.
Ridgley said she would be surprised if it were proven that Keith Smith killed his wife.
“It would be a total shock, knowing the kind of person he is,” Ridgley said. “He’s not like that. I’ve never gotten that feeling, that vibe from him. I’ve never had any indication of that type of behavior.”
When Ridgley’s mother’s health began declining, she was taken to a hospital in Pennsylvania for a surgery, and Smith came to be with the family during the three-hour surgery, she said.
“He was encouraging us, encouraging my father,” Ridgley said.
Smith was part of the choir that sang during her mother’s funeral service.
If it is true, Ridgley said, she’s not going to turn her back on Smith, and she doesn’t think her church will either.
“I’m still going to love Brother Keith, because it doesn’t hurt us to keep loving him,” Ridgley said. “We’ll keep extending that Christian love."
But one family member of Jacquelyn Smith never had a doubt about who would be arrested in the case.
"I already know it's Keith," said her brother, Marcel Trisvan of Havre de Grace. "It never made sense. I told [detectives] from the very beginning there are no suspects out there.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Sarah Meehan and Christina Tkacik contributed to this story.