In the days after Jacquelyn Smith was stabbed to death in East Baltimore last December, her husband Keith and stepdaughter Valeria publicly mourned her loss and condemned the two panhandlers who they said killed her after she was kind enough to roll down her window and hand over money.
On Sunday, they were arrested in Texas and charged with her murder. Police say they were caught right near the border with Mexico.
“On Dec. 1st of last year, we received a 911 call from 52-year-old Keith [Smith] that his wife Jacquelyn had been stabbed to death after giving money to a panhandler in the 1000 block of Valley Street in East Baltimore. We now know that that was not true,” Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said at a press conference Sunday.
Harrison did not go into specifics on what had led to the first-degree murder charges against Keith and Valeria Smith, citing the ongoing investigation, but said the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and Department of Homeland Security had assisted in the probe.
“Like everyone in our city, state and across this nation, we mourned the senseless killing of Jacquelyn Smith,” the Baltimore Mayor’s office said in a Sunday statement. “To now learn that family members staged this brutal killing is beyond belief and represents a double tragedy. 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.”
In the days following Smith’s death, Keith Smith, 52, and Valeria Smith, 28, made tearful public appearances. The pair told a chilling story that could make any good Samaritan think twice before stopping to help those less fortunate: Jacquelyn was slain, they said, because she stopped to give money to a woman begging in the rain.
The woman responded by returning to the car with a man, Keith claimed, ostensibly to thank Jacquelyn. But the panhandlers reached through the rolled-down car window, snatched her pocketbook and necklace, and stabbed her, Keith said at the time. Jacquelyn, who worked as an electrical engineer, died just before 3 a.m. at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
After his wife’s death, Keith went so far as to push for legislation banning panhandling, the Baltimore Sun reported. “Something needs to be done, because now you don’t know whether or not you’re going to give and this person’s going to take your life or they’re going to say thank you,” he said. “There are some desperate people. They don’t need help; they’re trying to hurt you.”
“My wife was my life,” he added.
Sunday’s arrests appear to call that into question. Some of Jacquelyn Smith’s family members say they weren’t surprised by the charges.
Jacquelyn Smith’s mother told local NBC affiliate WBALTV11 that she was “overjoyed” to hear that an arrest had been made. She added that she had suspected Keith “from the beginning.” “Jacquelyn was cautious, not stupid,” she said.
Jacquelyn’s brother Trisvan agreed. “It never made sense,” he told The Sun. “I told [detectives] from the very beginning there are no suspects out there.”