DEKALB COUNTY, GA–DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston announced a conviction by jury trial in the case of a woman accused of abducting and murdering her former girlfriend in a case that went cold until 2018.
On Friday, Dec. 1, a jury found Joyce Marie Pelzer, 47, guilty on charges of Malice Murder and Felony Murder stemming from the kidnapping and subsequent death of Shawndell McLeod, 35, on Sept. 25, 2011.
According to the investigation, McLeod’s mother called the DeKalb County Police Department to report McLeod missing after she did not show up to work that morning. Family members went to McLeod’s home in Lithonia to check on her, but found the house dark and McLeod’s car missing.
Through interviews with co-workers, family and friends, investigators learned McLeod had recently ended an abusive relationship with Pelzer. Pelzer had an outstanding warrant for her arrest after threatening McLeod with a knife in July 2011. McLeod also called police in August 2011 to report Pelzer had come to her home without permission and taken all her furniture.
On Sept. 29, 2011, investigators interviewed Pelzer. When asked about where she was on Sept. 24 and 25, Pelzer said she was at the home she shared with her girlfriend at the time, Rosalyn Lewis, and only left to walk their dogs. She told investigators that she went to work on Sept. 26, but Pelzer’s boss said she did not come in that day.
While on patrol Sept. 29, an officer with the Atlanta Police Department located McLeod’s car in southeast Atlanta where it had been abandoned. Investigators discovered a tarp and a spare tire in the back seat. They noticed damage to the vehicle as well as mud on the tires and trim of the car.
The case went cold for nearly seven years until a detective tracked down Pelzer’s newest girlfriend in August 2018. She told investigators that Pelzer had shared details with her about her rocky relationship with McLeod and in 2017, admitted to murdering McLeod.
Pelzer’s girlfriend said Pelzer revealed that McLeod’s murder had been planned over two to three months and that Pelzer’s wife, Rosalyn Lewis, had hired a hitman to help kill McLeod. 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.
In December 2018, Pelzer’s girlfriend contacted DeKalb Police to warn them Pelzer planned to kill her wife ,Rosalyn Lewis, who had filed for divorce.
A few days later, officers with the Conyers Police Department responded to a motel where they found Lewis suffering from more than 30 stab wounds. Lewis told police Pelzer had stabbed her. Paramedics transported Lewis to a nearby hospital where she died of her injuries.
Law enforcement put out a “be on the lookout” for Pelzer. Troopers with the Georgia State Patrol tried to stop Pelzer on I-75 in south Georgia and she led them on a chase. When troopers used a PIT maneuver to stop Pelzer’s car, she raised a gun at troopers, who shot her. Pelzer survived and when investigators interviewed her days later, she said Lewis had orchestrated McLeod’s murder.
Pelzer said they buried McLeod at Arabia Mountain, but despite an extensive search with cadaver dogs in 2019, McLeod’s body has never been recovered.
DeKalb County State Court Judge Brian K. Ross, sitting by designation for Superior Court Judge Yolanda Parker-Smith, presided over the trial. Immediately following the conviction, Judge Ross sentenced Pelzer to life without the possibility of parole.
Pelzer is already serving a life sentence after s pleading guilty in January 2021 to charges related to the stabbing death of her wife, Rosalyn Lewis, in 2018.
The case, assigned to the Cold Case Unit, was prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Shannon Hodder with assistance from Senior ADA Parker Aziz, DA Investigator Matthew McLendon, and Victim Advocate Joycelin Campbell. Former DeKalb County Police Department Det. H. Guest led the initial investigation.