The story of a woman who was fatally stabbed in December after reportedly giving money to a panhandler — a case that drew national attention and spread fear through Baltimore — was actually a ruse by her husband and stepdaughter, who have been charged in her death, police announced Sunday night.
Keith Smith, 52, and his daughter, Valeria Smith, 28, were arrested by Texas State Police, near the U.S.-Mexico border while trying to flee the country earlier Sunday, acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said.
Warrants charging them with first-degree murder in death of Keith Smith’s wife, Jacquelyn Smith, were issued, Harrison said.
“The information and evidence points it wasn’t a panhandler,” Harrison said. “People take advantage of Baltimore. We want to make sure the truth comes out and justice is done.”
Jacquelyn Smith, 54, an electrical engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was stabbed to death about 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 1 at North Valley and East Chase streets, according to police.
Just days after the stabbing, Keith Smith and Valeria Smith, who also identified herself as Shavon, appeared at a tearful news conference at the scene. They blamed Jacquelyn Smith’s death on a man who approached their car after she reached out the window to give money to a woman begging in the rain with a baby. They said the man came up to the car under the guise of thanking Jacquelyn Smith, then reached into the car and snatched her necklace and pocketbook, stabbing her in the process.
“This girl actually said, ‘God bless you’” after the man stabbed Jacquelyn, Keith Smith said to the media in December.
Several members of Jacquelyn Smith’s family had doubted that story from the beginning, said her brother Marcel Trisvan of Havre de Grace.
“I already know it’s Keith,” he said. Trisvan said police provided no information to the family, but detectives had increasingly been asking the family about his sister’s relationship with her husband.
“All the questioning has been specific to Keith. That kind of sums it right there,” he said. “It never made sense. I told [detectives] from the very beginning there are no suspects out there.”
Trisvan said Keith Smith moved out of his sister’s Aberdeen house two weeks ago. He handed the keys over to Trisvan, and told the family he was moving to Florida. Trisvan said his sister owned the home.
He said Keith Smith removed all the appliances from the home.
Lt. Johnny Hernandez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety highway patrol, said the department received information from Baltimore Police about the Smiths and their vehicle. Around 10 a.m. Sunday, a trooper spotted the rental Toyota Camry leaving the parking lot of a small grocery store in Combes, Texas, just north of Harlingen — where Harrison said the Smiths had been arrested.
Hernandez said the trooper stopped the car and arrested the Smiths on the warrants from Baltimore. Hernandez said they were taken into custody without incident and are being held at the Cameron County jail.
A member of the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office said the Smiths were still being processed Sunday night.
The case drew national attention, causing some — including Oprah Winfrey — to express concern about giving money to panhandlers in the future. In the days after Smith’s killing, some of Baltimore’s homeless citizens said they noticed a decrease in the number of people willing to roll down their windows and help.
Some from the Johnston Square neighborhood had questions from the beginning about the husband’s account of the killing, said one longtime neighbor who asked not to be identified to speak candidly about the killing.
Smith’s story of the family encountering a woman panhandling with a baby raised suspicions, the neighbor said, because the block is usually empty by that time and none of the neighbors had ever seen such a woman.
“Everybody in the neighborhood said something’s wrong with it,” the neighbor said. “I don’t know what happened. Nobody around here knew her.”
Furthermore, the husband told police — and, later, the public in a press conference — that the killing happened at East Valley and North Chase streets, when the word on the street was that it had happened on Eager Street, a block away, the neighbor said.
“The whole thing is so messed up,” the neighbor said. “You’d spend a long time trying to straighten that story out.”
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said the Smiths exploited the city and its violence. Smith’s death was one of more than 300 in Baltimore in 2018.
“Often times, we have these negative depictions of our city and it’s rather unfortunate when people take advantages of these negative perceptions,” she said at the news conference.
Mayor Catherine Pugh also criticized the killing and cover-up.
“Like everyone in our city, state and across this nation, we mourned the senseless killing of Jacquelyn Smith. To now learn that family members staged this brutal killing is beyond belief and represents a double tragedy,” Pugh said in a statement Sunday. “They were responsible for taking Jacquelyn's life with unconscionable cruelty and contrived to do so in our city under the guise of random violence, exploiting the legitimate fears of our residents.”
Mosby praised the “collaborative efforts” by police and prosecutors who pursued the case to get justice for Jacquelyn Smith.
“This case, like all of these cases, certainly is a terrible tragedy,” Harrison said. “Jacquelyn Smith is an innocent victim, so I hope you keep her in your thoughts and in your prayers.”
After months of little to no updates in the case, Trisvan said he’s pleased there were arrests, but they did not bring him closure.
“I’m hopeful this person never sees the light of day, but I mean, to me, that’s not closure,” he said, noting the violent way in which his sister was killed.
“My sister was robbed from this world. This didn’t need to happen,” he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.