How a Texas serial killer went under the police radar for years | American crime

While Hollyn Williams and Lindsey Roan were cleaning up their mother’s apartment, things just weren’t looking up.

Williams had found their mother, Martha Williams, dead on the floor of her luxury seniors’ apartment in Plano, Texas, just north of Dallas in March 2018. Police and medical examiners ruled she died of causes natural.

Over the next week and a half, the sisters began going through the apartment, packing, and cleaning. Still, things looked strange in almost every room.

In the bathroom, a necklace and a ring that they didn’t remember belonged to their mother. On a counter, a pair of dark Ray-Ban sunglasses that weren’t his style. In the dining room, a mess of open, empty jewelry boxes – not the painstaking way their mother organized her precious heirlooms.

While cleaning, Roan had a strange feeling about the room and decided to flip his mother’s pillows. On the back of one of them, she saw the imprint of a face and a deep, dark bloodstain. She carried it into the other room to show it to her sister, frozen with fear.

“I knew exactly what it was,” Roan recalled this week. “I couldn’t take in enough air.”

The next day, in a building above their mother’s apartment, another woman was found dead and a third survived an attack by a man who she said tried to suffocate her with a pillow.

Police arrested Billy Chemirmir, a Kenyan immigrant to the United States, after following him to an apartment complex in Dallas the following day. While in handcuffs, police found cash and more jewelry from another victim and quickly realized there could be even more cases.

A serial killer worked among the elderly, preying on some of America’s most vulnerable people.

VShemirmir was convicted of capital murder this week for the second time in Dallas County, and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the death of Mary Brooks, an 88-year-old woman who was found died in January 2018.

He is accused of suffocating at least two dozen elderly women in North Texas, which places him among the deadliest serial killers in Texas and US history.

Chemirmir says he is innocent of all the crimes he is accused of. He told the Dallas Morning News earlier this year that he would never go to jail. He was convicted and began serving a life sentence several weeks later.

From top, victims Mary Brooks, Martha Williams, Mary Bartel and Lu Thi Harris. Photograph: Shafkat Anowar/AP

In some cases, According to police, he went door-to-door at independent living apartments, posing as a maintenance worker. In other instances, such as with Brooks’ death, he stalked women in a Walmart store before following them home and making his way inside.

Prosecutors say he would shove them onto a bed or the floor, shove a pillow over their faces to suffocate the women to death, then he would then rummage through their cupboards and drawers to steal jewelry, cash and jewelry. other valuables.

But throughout the string of deaths and thefts, officials have attributed each to natural causes. The suffocating deaths, Dallas County medical examiner Jeffrey Barnard testified this week, leave few signs to the untrained eye. Many officers who responded to crime scene after crime scene assumed that the dead were elderly people who must have died of a heart attack, not a homicide.

It wasn’t until Mary Bartel survived an attack in March 2018, the day after Roan discovered her mother’s bloodstained pillow, that the investigation began in earnest. Jurors this week heard how Bartel remembered the man wearing green gloves as he forced his way into his apartment.

“Don’t fight me,” she remembered telling him. “Lie down on the bed.”

She tried to reach for an emergency button but couldn’t press it before he slammed a pillow in her face and she passed out. A pacemaker in her chest kept her alive until a neighbor arrived and called 911.

Plano police began investigating the attack on Bartel and found a suspicious person report linked to Chemirmir in two area senior communities. They staged an undercover operation at his Dallas apartment and arrested him the evening after Bartel’s attack.

Chemirmir clutched cash and jewelry as they handcuffed him.

Police had seen him throw a red jewelry box into a dumpster before arresting him. When they took it out of the trash, they found a name: Lu Thi Harris. When police arrived at Harris’ home, they found the doors locked. They forced their way inside and found her dead on her bedroom floor.

Investigators then began combing through hundreds of death cases and reports of missing jewelry, matching them to Chemir’s phone records. Medical examiners assessed each case, changing death certificates from “natural causes” to “lethal violence” or “undetermined”.

Chemirmir was charged with 22 counts of capital murder. Several other cases have yet to go to a grand jury for indictment. In April, he was convicted of Harris’ murder and sentenced to life in a Texas prison without parole.

Now prosecutors have tried a second case to sentence Chemirmir to a second life sentence. This way, the district attorney told the families that if one is overturned on appeal, the other will stand. The other 20 cases will likely be dismissed.

JThe investigation only began after Chemirmir was arrested, along with his cellphone records and hundreds of police reports of robberies and deaths in several North Texas cities. At the time, none of these deaths were suspicious – except for families who still wondered why precious items from their mothers’ luxury apartments had gone missing.

These families banded together in the years that followed, forming informal support groups – a sisterhood, as many girls call it. During breaks in the trial this week, they compared notes and recalled the details of each of the cases. Many carried with them subtle reminders of their mothers’ lives.

“It was up to mum,” said Loren Smith, whose mother Phyllis Payne was killed in May 2016, touching the red and black blazer she was wearing.

“Aw,” said Mary Jo Jennings, whose mother, Leah Corken, was killed in August 2016, tugging at a gold necklace with a globe pendant. “It was Mum’s. Dad bought it for her in Brazil.

So many other legacies are gone forever. Chemirmir sold many of the items he had stolen within hours online or at a Dallas gold and silver exchange shop, where they were likely quickly melted down and sold for their value in bulk.

These stores were the target of one of many laws passed after the murders, mainly due to a pressure group founded by the families of the victims. Secure Our Seniors’ Safety, their nonprofit, has lobbied to tighten regulations on cash-for-gold stores in Texas and to strengthen safety measures in seniors’ communities.

These regulations – which would have required simple measures such as background checks on staff, registration of visitors and mandatory reporting of crimes to residents – faced strong opposition from seniors’ groups and were blocked by the state legislature.

Now, with two convictions for Chemirmir, the president of Secure Our Seniors’ Safety said the group will return to the Texas capital in 2023 to push for these tougher safety laws.

“Retirement homes herald fine dining and luxury living. Safety must be a priority,” said Shannon Dion, whose mother, Doris Gleason, was killed in October 2016. “It’s time to take care of those who looked after us.

Daughters of murder victims talk to each other in court.
Cheryl Pangburn speaks with Lori Delahunty at the Billy Chemirmir trial; the families of the victims created the organization Secure Our Seniors’ Safety to strengthen the protection of the elderly. Photograph: Shafkat Anowar/AP

Due to Texas rules of evidence, only some of the women Chemirmir allegedly killed can be mentioned in his trials. This week, for the first time, Martha Williams was among them.

Lindsey Roan sat in the front row and listened to an FBI cellphone expert tell jurors his analysis suggested Chemir was in his mother’s apartment complex for an hour and a half the day he died, then immediately left for the silver-for-gold shop he frequented in Dallas.

“It’s a hard pill,” Roan said after testimony. “My mom was validated, but that doesn’t make me feel better for everyone.”

Eleven other capital murder charges against Chemirmir in Dallas, including in the death of Williams, will now be dismissed. Five others in another county are still standing, but it’s unclear whether those prosecutors will take any of them to court.

“Death follows the touch of Billy Chemirmir,” lead prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin told jurors during closing arguments on Friday. He said Chemirmir used his skills as a home healthcare worker to target the most vulnerable members of society. “These are individuals who have a routine, a routine that Billy Chemirmir was looking for.”

Jurors took just 25 minutes to decide he was guilty. He didn’t seem to react after the verdict. Families in the gallery were sobbing and cheering when a judge sentenced Chemirmir to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“It’s not over,” Dion said, emphasizing that his group’s legislative efforts will continue. “How many more women have been killed in a building where they thought they were safe? We still have work to do.

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