Police: Man who said Baltimore panhandler killed his wife concocted the story

Mike James
It was a story that struck a chord of sympathy and outrage across the nation: A woman was murdered by a Baltimore panhandler. But it was fake.

It was a story that struck a chord of sympathy and outrage across the nation: A well-meaning woman was murdered by a Baltimore panhandler, her husband claimed, after she gave money to a woman holding a baby.

Even Oprah Winfrey commented on the horror of the case in December, tweeting that "the story struck my heart" and was making her think twice about giving money to panhandlers.

But in a shocking twist, Baltimore police announced this week that they have charged the victim's husband, Keith Smith, 52, and his daughter, Valeria Smith, 28, with first-degree murder. The panhandler story was a ruse made to cover up their own plot to kill Jacquelyn Smith, 54, acting police commissioner Michael Harrison said.

This photo released by the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office shows Keith Smith . Smith is charged with killing his wife after blaming her death on a Baltimore panhandler is being held without bail in Texas. Cameron County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Joe Elizardi said 52-year-old Smith and his 28-year-old daughter, Valeria Smith, were arraigned Monday, March 4, 2019, and agreed to be extradited. Elizardi says they’re held without bond and Baltimore officials have until March 15 to pick them up. It’s not known if Keith Smith and Valeria Smith had attorneys who could comment for them. (Cameron County Sheriff’s Office via AP) ORG XMIT: NYSH101

“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,” Harrison said at a press conference Sunday.

Keith Smith told detectives in December that he and his wife were driving home after a birthday celebration for Valeria Smith. He said that his wife told him to stop the car in the rain, because she had spotted a woman with a baby and she wanted to give her money.

At that point, Keith Smith claimed, a stranger jumped out of the shadows and tried to grab his wife's necklace through the open window. The man then stabbed her, Keith Smith said.

“The last thing I thought, that they were going to take my wife’s life,” Keith Smith said to a pool of reporters as news of the killing made national headlines. He was comforted in front of reporters by Valeria Smith, Jacquelyn’s stepdaughter, who wiped away tears, a video published by The Baltimore Sun shows. “I got to live with that every day.”

The Sun reported that Keith and Valeria Smith were arraigned in Texas on Monday, after having been arrested not far from the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday. The father and daughter are each are being charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, assault, and conspiracy to commit assault, as well as a dangerous weapon charge.

It’s not the first time Keith Smith finds himself in trouble with the law, The Sun reported. Twenty years ago, he robbed the same Baltimore County bank three times — the first in December 1999. He carried a pellet gun, which the tellers thought was a real firearm, and he would order them on the ground then hop the counter and empty the money drawers into a black bag, Baltimore County police wrote in a report, according to the newspaper.

He stole $38,600, the detectives wrote, before leading police on a car chase and crashing in West Baltimore, according to the newspaper's account. Back at the police station, Smith confessed. He was eventually sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Jacquelyn Smith’s brother, Marcel Trisvan of Havre de Grace, told The Sun that he has long suspected Keith Smith in his sister’s death because his story about the supposed panhandlers didn’t add up. “It never made sense. I told [detectives] from the very beginning there are no suspects out there,” he said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Police: Man who said Baltimore panhandler killed his wife concocted the story