A woman found with more than 30 stab wounds in a Georgia motel room helped close a cold case that began when another woman disappeared in 2011, officials said.
Now, Joyce Marie Pelzer has been found guilty on murder charges in the 2011 death of her ex-girlfriend, the district attorney announced.
On Dec. 1, a jury found the 47-year-old of malice murder and felony murder, the Office of the DeKalb County District Attorney said in a Dec. 5 news release.
She was already serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in 2021 to charges related to her wife’s death in 2018, the district attorney said.
McClatchy News could not immediately reach the public defender representing Pelzer on Dec. 7.
An ‘orchestrated’ death
A search for Shawndell McLeod, 35, began after she didn’t show up to work the morning of Sept. 25, 2011, prosecutors said.
Family members found her and her car missing from her home in Lithonia, Georgia.
Investigators said she had recently gotten out of an abusive relationship with Pelzer, who had an active arrest warrant after police said she used a knife to threaten McLeod that July.
When they interviewed Pelzer, she told them she hadn’t left the house other than to walk her dogs the day before and the day of Pelzer’s disappearance.
She said she went to work the following day, but Pelzer’s boss denied this, officials said.
An officer with the Atlanta Police Department found McLeod’s abandoned car Sept. 29, a few days after she went missing, the district attorney said. The car appeared to have driven through mud, and a tarp and spare tire were in the back seat.
Then the case went cold.
It wasn’t until seven years later that investigators would learn more about what happened to McLeod.
Death in a motel room
After Pelzer and McLeod broke up, Pelzer married Rosalyn Lewis, who filed for divorce by December 2018, officials said.
A detective reached out to Pelzer’s new girlfriend that August. She told investigators Pelzer described a “rocky” relationship with McLeod and conspired with Lewis for months to kill McLeod in 2011, according to the district attorney.
Pelzer said Lewis hired a hitman to kill McLeod, officials said.
“Defendant Pelzer, along with Lewis and the alleged hitman kidnapped McLeod as she arrived to work and held her captive for a few days while they dug a hole for her body,” the district attorney said in the release.
In December 2018, months after first speaking with investigators, Pelzer’s new girlfriend reached out to police “to warn them Pelzer planned to kill her wife,” according to the district attorney.
A few days later, police found Lewis in a motel room with more than 30 stab wounds, prosecutors said.
Before she died at a hospital, she told police Pelzer had stabbed her, officials said.
An alert went out for Pelzer, and Georgia state troopers eventually found her traveling on Interstate 75 in south Georgia, according to the district attorney.
A police chase ensued, and troopers forced her vehicle to stop.
Troopers said she raised a gun at them, so they shot her as she was being taken into custody, according to the district attorney.
Pelzer survived her injuries. When she spoke with investigators, she said her now-dead wife had “orchestrated” the killing of McLeod, the district attorney said.
She also told investigators they had buried McLeod on nearby Arabia Mountain, according to officials. Investigators said they used cadaver dogs to search the area extensively in 2019, but they never found her body.