Ex-con with history of sexual assault arrested for murder of woman inside church bathroom

The late Evelyn Player, 69, was found dead at Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 16, 2021.
The late Evelyn Player, 69, was found dead at Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 16, 2021. | Family handout

Manzie Smith Jr., a 62-year-old ex-convict with a lengthy rap sheet, has been arrested and charged with the murder of 69-year-old retiree Evelyn Player, who was found stabbed to death two weeks ago inside a bathroom at the Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore, Maryland.

“Based on evidence that was collected on the scene and processed by our crime lab, we were able to identify Mr. Smith as the suspect in this case,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael S. Harrison told reporters at a press conference Thursday afternoon. The announcement of Smith’s arrest comes just a day after Player’s family and friends bid farewell to her at a memorial service.

Community members, along with city and state officials, agreed that Player’s murder inside the church on Nov. 16 was shocking. Just hours after she was killed, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said her death inside the independent multi-campus church was an “unspeakable, cowardly murder.” He described her as a “dedicated member and staff member” of Southern Baptist Church and her killer as “cowardice scum.”

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At the press conference Thursday, Scott remembered Player as a “foot soldier” who “loved her community, she loved her church and she served her community with passion.” 

Scott added, “As some church folks would say, Evelyn loved like Mary and served like Martha. Yet, because of a heinous act of violence, East Baltimore lost this kind soul.” 

Manzie Smith Jr., 62 (pictured) is a suspect in the murder of Evelyn Player, 69.
Manzie Smith Jr., 62 (pictured) is a suspect in the murder of Evelyn Player, 69. | Baltimore Police Department

“You’ve heard me say many, many times that Baltimore’s greatest asset is our young people, but our older adults are the backbone of our city and those who shine the light in which all of us follow. And we cannot be a better Baltimore until we are all invested in protecting and keeping members as healthy and safe as possible,” he said.

Police said that on the day she was killed, Player entered the church where her family had worshiped for four generations at around 6 a.m. She unlocked the doors, as usual, to allow contractors renovating the church to enter, but about 50 minutes later, she was discovered dead inside the bathroom in her work area.

Doni B. Taylor, a senior pastor at Church of Jesus Christ in Cherry Hill, told The Baltimore Sun that Smith worked as a member of his church’s maintenance ministry in addition to attending the church as a member. Taylor also reported that Smith worked for a contracting company. Still, it remains unclear whether Smith worked for the same contracting company performing renovations at Southern Baptist Church.

Harrison told reporters that while forensic evidence was used from the crime scene to identify Smith, there was no evidence suggesting that Player was sexually assaulted and no proof that she and her attacker had a previous relationship. He noted, however, that the suspect’s supervised parole ended in October.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan had offered a $100,000 reward to help solve Player’s murder but Harrison said all of the work leading to Smith’s arrest came from the forensic evidence.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby praised the work of investigators on the case who worked together to arrest Smith while noting that Player’s death inside the church had shocked the city.

“What we know in a city with over 300 homicides a year is that every life lost to violence is an unspeakable tragedy, but the tragic killing of a senior in a church quite candidly shocked the conscience of our community. Which is why we’re here today — our seniors and our babies should be off-limits,” she said.

“So let me be clear, although the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, my office has every intention and is committed to ensuring accountability to the fullest extent of the law,” she added. “Rest assured, we will continue to fight to ensure justice on behalf of this family who so desperately deserve it.”

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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