Woman behind bars for killing her wife is found guilty of still-missing ex-girlfriend’s murder


A Georgia woman serving a life sentence for murder was convicted of murder yet again this month, putting some finality into a cold case and a winding cycle of abuse, violence, and death.

In January 2021, Joyce Marie Lewis-Pelzer, 47, pleaded guilty to malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault for the brutal and bloody December 2018 stabbing death of her wife, Rosalyn Renee Lewis, 47, at a Motel 6 in Conyers, Georgia — a medium-sized suburb of Atlanta in Rockdale County.

The killer’s wife, it turns out, was her second known murder victim.

Lewis was seeking a divorce from her eventual killer, authorities said at the time. Police had been warned just days before the slaying by Pelzer’s then-girlfriend that she planned to kill Lewis. When first responders arrived to find the woman, stabbed over 30 times, bleeding out on the morning of Dec. 10, 2018, she confirmed the name of her assailant before later dying at a nearby hospital.

On Dec. 13, 2018, Pelzer’s vehicle was spotted heading south on Interstate 75 in Crisp County, Georgia. A deputy performed two successive pursuit intervention technique maneuvers — wherein a chasing vehicle slammed into the side of a fleeing vehicle and forced it to spin out. The first time, the suspect recovered control. The second time, Pelzer finally crashed and was arrested in Turner County after a quick gunbattle with deputies in which she was lightly wounded.

Days later, on her recovery bed, the defendant was interviewed by law enforcement. There, she implicated her recently deceased ex-wife in the death of another woman: Shawndell McLeod, 35, who is believed to have been kidnapped and killed on or around Sept. 25, 2011, according to the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office.

Joyce Marie Pelzer, center, appears in a booking photo inset against an image of the second-known place she killed

Joyce Marie Pelzer, center, appears in a booking photo inset against an image of a Motel 6, the second-known place she killed. (Georgia Department of Corrections; Google Maps)

But it was the McLeod case that put Pelzer on Peach State law enforcement’s radar in the first place.

McLeod’s mother reported her missing with the DeKalb County Police Department after she failed to show up for work one morning. Family members first tried to contact her at her residence but the lights were off and her car was gone. Several witnesses who knew the missing woman were interviewed and all signs pointed in one direction: McLeod and Pelzer had just broken up after an abusive relationship.

“Pelzer had an outstanding warrant for her arrest after threatening McLeod with a knife in July 2011,” the district attorney’s office noted in a press release. “McLeod also called police in August 2011 to report Defendant Pelzer had come to her home without permission and taken all her furniture.”

On Sept. 29, 2011, Pelzer was interviewed by law enforcement. She provided an alibi for two days she was asked about — the 24th and 25th — telling police she was at home with her then-new girlfriend, Lewis, and the two had only left to walk their dogs. A shaky alibi for a third date — the 26th — didn’t pan out. Pelzer said she went to work that day; her employer said she never showed.

That same day, a patrol officer with the Atlanta Police Department found McLeod’s abandoned car in the southeastern part of the city.

“Investigators discovered a tarp and a spare tire in the back seat,” the district attorney’s office noted. “They noticed damage to the vehicle as well as mud on the tires and trim of the car.”

The case went cold and stayed that way for almost seven years.

In August 2018, the same new girlfriend who eventually issued the warning about Lewis’ impending murder spoke with law enforcement and said Pelzer admitted she had McLeod killed.

“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,” the press release continues. “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 defendant gave police information about the purported location of that dig site — saying McLeod was buried somewhere on Arabia Mountain, a popular hiking location in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The missing woman’s body, however, has never been found.

The second time around, Pelzer decided to be tried by a jury. She was convicted of McLeod’s felony and malice murder on Dec. 1 — almost two years after her guilty pleas to Lewis’ murder — and again quickly sentenced. This time, to life without the possibility of parole.

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