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Mom recalls suspected Target killer as 'strange'

LAWRENCEVILLE - Mary Allen recalls the woman accused of killing her daughter as peculiar, reclusive and anxious - a direct contrast to her bubbly daughter, she said.

Allen is the mother of Heather Strube, the 25-year-old Conyers resident gunned down in front of her infant son in a Target parking lot in April.

A multi-agency investigation led to the arrest Wednesday of Strube's mother-in-law and longtime suspect, Joanna Hayes. She was apprehended in Luthersville, the Meriwether County town south of Atlanta where she'd been living since at least 2007, court records show.

Allen hinted that more suspects could be named and balked at saying she felt relieved by Hayes' arrest.

"It's good that we can see some progress in the case," she said. "I'm sure that more information will come forth at a later time."

As far as the family her daughter had married into, Allen said she was familiar with them, but hardly good friends.

"They were strange to me," Allen said. "We had extended offers to be part of our family several times," which were declined, Allen said.

A man who answered the phone at Hayes' residence in Luthersville hung up when asked about her.

Strube and her husband, Steven, were in the final stages of their divorce, following their marriage in May 2004.

On the afternoon of April 26, the couple met at a Target on Ga. Highway 124 to swap custody of their son, Carson, now 2. Moments after Steven Strube drove away, police said, someone approached Heather outside her Cadillac Escalade, her son a couple feet away. A struggle ensued, and the attacker shot her once in the head before fleeing.

A sketch released by authorities suggested the killer was a white man wearing a wig and fake mustache. Surveillance video and further investigations hinted the killer could've been a woman.

Snellville police sent Hayes' white pickup truck to a GBI lab for forensics testing. Those tests were initially reported to be inconclusive, and police said Hayes later passed a polygraph test.

It's unclear what evidence persuaded a Gwinnett grand jury this week to indict Hayes on counts of murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and weapons possession. She remains in the Gwinnett County Jail without bond.

Authorities have also declined to comment on a possible motive. Asked why Hayes might want to kill her daughter, Allen said, "It has been our family policy not to comment on anything that may affect the case."

Allen wouldn't say whether Hayes was known to be violent.

"I saw (her) exhibit excessive-compulsive behaviors," she said. "I'll leave it at that."

Court records show Hayes filed for divorce in 2007 after her husband, Jack Hayes, disappeared. That case was later dismissed when neither party showed at a divorce hearing.

Authorities have said Steven Strube, though repeatedly questioned earlier, is not being investigated.

Steven Strube is incarcerated at the Newton County Jail, serving a four-month sentence for a probation violation.

He pleaded guilty in June 2008 to felony theft by receiving and was sentenced to five years probation. The previous year in Fulton County, he pleaded guilty to burglary and criminal damage to property and was sentenced to six years probation, records show. His release in Newton County is scheduled for Nov. 1.

In the wake of the killing, the couple's child has been the focus of a custody battle.

Superior Court Judge Thom Davis granted Allen and her husband, Henry, temporary custody of Carson last month, despite claims from Steven Strube's attorney the couple had "kidnapped" their grandchild.

Steven Strube, who claimed to earn $115,000 per year, made no attempt to find Carson after the killing, nor did he inquire about the child's well-being, according to the court's findings. He will be allowed four hours of visitation per week upon his release from jail, the court ordered.

Allen said her daughter became mixed up with Steven Strube because "she always believed the best was possible in people."

The floral designer who ran a shop in Conyers, in her mother's eyes, was "giving, kind, ambitious and loving," Allen said. "She was wise, and she loved the Lord. I miss my daughter every day."

A Gwinnett District Attorney's Office representative said Hayes had yet to retain or be appointed an attorney Thursday. She's not entitled to a probable cause hearing because her case has been indicted. No bond hearing has been scheduled.