The barrage of beaming selfies of Valeria Smith on Instagram portray a go-getting entrepreneur ready to make it big with various ventures in music and publishing.
The 28-year-old East Baltimore woman expresses love for her children, admiration for her father, Keith Smith, and a desire to please her elders. In a post featuring a photo of a “new improved business plan” for her company, Purple Press, Smith writes: “I’m gonna make you so proud grandma.”
The tagline for her business: “Doubt what we say, believe what we do.”
Today the stream of ever-smiling poses has given way to two somber mug shots of Keith and Valeria Smith taken after they were arrested Sunday in Texas near the Mexican border. They were charged with first-degree murder in the Dec. 1 fatal stabbing of Jacquelyn Smith, a 54-year-old electrical engineer from Aberdeen.
Baltimore police say they doubted what Valeria and her father said about how his wife — Valeria’s stepmother — was stabbed through a car window after giving money to a panhandler in East Baltimore while the two watched in horror from their seats.
Although an official statement of facts has not been released, police now believe the father and daughter committed the brutal slaying and that the panhandler story they tearfully told the public was a ruse.
Judging by Valeria Smith’s Instagram account, she is no stranger to lying.
One Aug. 31 post features a photo of Smith posing with former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and text that reads: “As thanks to the former mayor Ms. Sheila Dickson for hosting my companies first event.”
Dixon said in an interview that she never hosted any event for Smith’s company because she knows neither her nor her company. The first Dixon heard of the photo was when The Sun notified her.
“She did not even spell my name right,” said Dixon, who works for the Maryland Minority Contractors Association.
She said that neither she nor the association hosted any events in August and that she often gets asked to take selfies with people.
“I don’t know her at all,” Dixon said. “I guess now I can’t take any more pictures with people because I take a lot when folks ask me.”
Valeria Smith also posted a photo featuring her, a man on crutches with one leg, and investor Kahan S. Dhillon Jr., a businessman from Northern Virginia who caused a stir in Baltimore political circles two years ago.
In 2017, Dhillon was able to get an audience with a City Council committee to pitch a $10 billion development concept dubbed The Baltimore Renaissance even though he had no obvious ties to Baltimore and no track record for such an unlikely endeavor. The plan did not require him to put up any money but suggested the city pay him for planning the strategy. The concept was greeted with widespread skepticism and went nowhere, but Dhillon has remained involved in community events around the city.
In her photo with Dhillon, Smith calls him her new business partner. And she features the same photo on a Spotify post claiming that she is set to release a song or album called “Shalavou — Eygptian [sic] Goddess Blood.”
Dhillon said he had never invested any money with Valeria Smith, but that he had two meetings with her after she persistently emailed him. The two first exchanged emails in August after Dhillon gave a speech at a community event at the Johnston Square Apartments, where her business is registered.
Johnston Square is the neighborhood where Keith and Valeria Smith said the panhandler attacked Jacquelyn, a claim that residents there doubted from the beginning because there was so little car traffic to attract beggars — especially near midnight in the rain.
Dhillon said Valeria wanted to discuss financing the publication of a book by the other man in the photo, Troy Jones. His book is called “A Watched Pot Never Boils.”
“I really don’t know what happened to her,” Jones said. “I find it hard to believe because that doesn’t speak to her character.”
Smith, Jones and Dhillon met at R House in Remington in November, where the photo is clearly taken. Dhillon said he chose a public venue because “something wasn’t adding up with her.”
“I wasn’t feeling comfortable,” he said.
Smith also mentioned her own book, “Coming to Baltimore,” and her music but said she would discuss it with him at a future meeting. He agreed.
The next meeting came in January, Dhillon said, a full month after Jacquelyn Smith’s killing. Again, he chose R House for the hour-long meeting.
“She never mentioned that her stepmother had died,” he said. “She was just cool, calm and collected. She was as gregarious in that second meeting as she was at the first one.”
He did not figure out her connection to the killing until this week when news broke about the arrests.
“I looked at the television and said, ‘Oh my god. That is Valeria,’” Dhillon said. “It was like the Twilight Zone. I was absolutely beyond shock.”
Dhillon said that at their meetings, Valeria had made it clear she needed money to finance her music and her book.
“She was telling me she was having financial problems,” he said.
He said she was an excellent saleswoman, “very personable and down to earth.”
“It would not be difficult for her to retain funds from people,” he said.
But he refused to invest.
“My better sense didn’t allow me to help her,” Dhillon said.
Dhillon said he got chills when he thought about how cool she was at their January meeting.
Jones, 56, of East Baltimore met Valeria while walking down Greenmount Avenue and he was soon impressed. She seemed destined for fame.
“She does hair. She sings. She writes. She does everything,” he said.
For more than 20 years, he had been trying to publish “A Watched Pot Never Boils,” his jailhouse memoir. She offered to help and together they formed Purple Press LLC and registered their publishing company with the state. When they weren’t working on the company, she was at the studio recording her music.
“She’s been an inspiration to me,” he said.
He never asked her about her stepmother’s death, he said.
“I’m from the old school,” he said. “I stayed away from that because it’s personal.”
He says he was shocked to hear of her arrest.
“I don’t believe it. I think it’s a rush to judgment because they haven’t caught nobody,” he said. “Where’s the proof?”
Valeria Smith was writing her own book, Jones said, but she told him police took the manuscript.
“They focused on her father so much, they had to implicate her,” he said. “They overstepped their bounds.”
Valeria’s Instagram account — @shalavou — provides a look into her social media habits even after the Dec. 1 killing. In addition to music and publishing, she posted about her interest in painting and hair styling. Several photos feature Smith with her father, who goes by @godsman44. Other posts feature her singing, which can also be seen on her YouTube channel.
In one song she raps, “Protect your neck at all costs. I pay the cost to be the boss. … Smart like I study law or something.”
“It’s my time. I’m about to go live. Watch me thrive. Watch me climb. Make something out of nothing. Imma survive.”
And on Dec. 4, three days after Jacquelyn Smith’s murder, Valeria posted a video saying she was on her way to meet Mayor Catherine Pugh and that she was continuing to participate in a 30-day social media challenge focused on self-promotion and sharing inspirational messages.
“It’s been a very hard time for me right now, but I’m still trying my best to participate in the content creator challenge because I think it’s important that people hear my message,” she says, smiling. “My message is very important. I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m a single mom and, you know, we can do anything.”
Many of the comments on her Instagram account now feature harsh accusations about her alleged role in Jacquelyn Smith’s killing, involvement that the Aberdeen woman’s relatives had long suspected. For months they’ve lived with the sickening belief that the panhandler story was not true.
With the charges filed, Jacquelyn Smith's two sons have hired a law firm to handle the estate in what was and continues to be a story with national attention.
“We, the children of Jacquelyn, are encouraged that charges have been filed in her murder. We thank the Baltimore City Police Department and related agencies for their diligent investigation, as well as our friends and neighbors for their continued support,” the family said in a statement Tuesday. “Jacquelyn was a loving mother and friend, and we miss her every day. During this difficult time, we ask that our privacy be respected.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.