Suspect in weekend killings in Atlanta, East Point “just one of the guys”

Who is Joe Smith?

This question has plagued a pair of Atlanta families since the bodies of two women and a 12-year-old girl were discovered Sunday in separate locations.

To the family of Shatikey Griffin, her 31-year-old fiancé Joseph Leonardo Smith had come to be “just one of the guys” at family functions over the lpast year.

He was the man who had moved in to Griffin’s home in May with her and her two children.

The family and friends of Loveitt Wallace knew Smith as Wallace’s on-again, off-again lover in a four-year romance heated as much by their passion as it was by his penchant for jealousy.

Smith had, at one time, asked for Wallace’s hand in marriage, and came to her this weekend even after saying he was engaged to someone else, family members said.

Both women were described as fun-loving single moms doing well for themselves. Each spent the weekend celebrating birthdays – Griffin, her brother’s, and Wallace, her own.

They shared one tragic connection, their link to Smith.

Early Sunday morning, police found Wallace in her East Point hotel room strangled to death.

And after a lengthy stand-off between an armed Smith and an Atlanta Police SWAT team, investigators entered Griffin’s southwest Atlanta home to find her body and the body of her daughter, Demiya Griffin, each shot in the head.

Upon hearing police accusations that Smith last week beat and tried to rape another woman at her home, the homicide victim’s family members couldn’t understand how they missed this side of him.

“We had no idea,” said Duwon Robinson, Griffin’s cousin who spoke with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on behalf of her family. “He was just a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

Interviewed early Tuesday morning, Wallace’s cousin Chandra Gallashaw pondered Smith’s background and actions over and over.

“Who really is Joe Smith?” Gallashaw asked. “And why has he torn up these lives?”

There were signs of the potential for violent tendencies, although he may have hidden them successfully from the women.

According to Fulton County jail and court records obtained, Smith had been arrested five times in the past 13 years, including three battery charges – unlawfully attacking someone by beating, wounding or touching in an offensive manner. Coupled with the 1999 battery arrest was a sexual battery charge that managed to avoid ever going before a Fulton County grand jury, records show.

It was not clear Tuesday if any of the arrests resulted in convictions but there is no record of him being incarcerated in the state on the Georgia Department of Corrections website.

Still, these flashes with the law offered no true indication of what might happen.

Late Thursday a woman called Atlanta Police saying that Smith had come to her apartment to lend her some money and forced her into her bedroom, according to police reports.

Then Smith bit the woman and tried to choke her, hitting her when she screamed for help, the woman told police.

He fled the apartment and investigators obtained a warrant for Smith’s arrest Friday, authorities said.

Saturday, Griffin spent much of the day at a birthday party at her parent’s house where she wouldn’t leave for home until well past midnight.

Wallace, likewise, set out Saturday for a day of fun, continuing a weekend-long party with family for her 36th birthday at a room she’d rented at the Wellesley Inn in East Point.

Police caught up to Smith Sunday morning at the home he shared with Griffin, 34, on Morrow Lane, but not before he’d reached out to both Griffin’s and Wallace’s families to tell them what he’d done.

“He called his sister to call us and let us know he had done that,” Gallashaw said.

Griffin’s loved-ones were also alerted.

“He started calling the family about 6:30 [a.m.],” Griffin’s cousin Robinson said. “He said that he messed up and killed someone. We were under the impression that he got into an altercation with someone else.”

Robinson said family members initially ignored the early-morning clarions until Smith’s messages said of Griffin: “she’s asleep and won’t wake up.”

“We went over to the home with the thought that they were held hostage,” he said of Griffin and Demiya.

Police thought the same, until they negotiated a surrender from Smith late Sunday morning and entered the home.

“It was just a total shock,” Robinson said. “He’s been around all the kids. He’s bonded with the men in the family like just one of the guys.”

Smith is being held without bond in the Fulton County jail on on a murder charge from East Point police, and two counts of felony murder, and charges of false imprisonment and aggravated assault rape from Atlanta Police, jail officials said.

Wallace is survived by 18- and 14-year-old sons. Griffin’s 15-year-old son likely survived because he remained at his grandparents’ home Sunday morning.

“We’re just glad that it didn’t happen when there was a sleepover when all the grandkids were over there,” Robinson said

Gallashaw speculated that Wallace likely tried to end her relationship with a jealous Smith.

“We know this was a crime of passion,” she insisted. “But she was no homewrecker.”

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