Accused serial killer targeted retirement homes, ‘brutally murdered’ women, lawsuits say

A suspected serial killer accused of smothering and robbing 12 elderly women in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex had a pattern of posing as an employee at senior living facilities, according to police and lawsuits brought by victims’ families.

Billy Chemirmir, 46, has been indicted on seven counts of murder in Dallas County. Officials with the district attorney’s office confirmed Thursday he’s also been indicted in five capital murder cases in Collin County. He’s also charged with two attempted murders in Collin County.

Children of three victims have sued the retirement communities where their mothers lived, saying the facilities failed to provide enough security to protect residents.

Doris Gleason, 92, and Norma Wilson French, 85, were both killed in their apartments at The Tradition-Prestonwood retirement home in Dallas in October 2016.

Gleason’s daughter, Shannon Dion, became suspicious when she saw a necklace her mother constantly wore was missing.

French was found without her wedding ring, which she never removed.

Dion’s lawyer, Richard Arnold, said Chemirmir had a history of sneaking into Prestonwood and had attacked eight people there.

“The trauma to the children of people like this is they were trying to take care of their parents in a safe place, and they wound up being brutally murdered,” said Arnold, whose client filed suit in September.

Chemirmir was known to pose as a maintenance man to get into the apartments, according to the lawsuits.

“These are all elderly people and unsuspecting and they let him in,” Arnold said. “It was a horrible situation.”

“It’s bizarre,” Arnold added. “The guy is going to become thought of as a very significant serial killer.”

Doris Gleaso_fitted.jpeg
Doris Gleason. Courtesy of Doris Gleason's family

In their wrongful death lawsuit filed in July 2018 against The Tradition-Prestonwood, French’s children are asking for more than $1 million.

Staff at Prestonwood either knew or should have known Chemirmir was lurking on the premises and around other senior living centers, yet they said nothing to residents about the threat, according to the suit.

Other residents had died under suspicious circumstances or reported thefts, violent crimes and burglaries at Prestonwood and the vicinity prior to French’s death, the suit says.

“These tragedies were certainly avoidable and that’s why we brought this case,” said attorney Gene Egdoff, who represents French’s three children.

In a statement, Prestonwood said, “Each of our residents is family to us. We are committed to cooperating with the authorities. It’s not appropriate to speculate on what legal proceedings may be underway. We can only stress that the safety of our residents is a top priority every day.”

Another lawsuit brought against The Edgemere senior living center in Dallas by the children of Phyllis Payne also raised claims of lax security. The lawsuit was settled in September, according to court documents.

Chris Santuae, Edgemere’s executive director, said in a statement, “We abhor the breadth of allegations against Mr. Chemirmir in senior living communities throughout Dallas and North Texas, and we offer our deepest condolences to the families and the many others impacted by his senseless actions. We’re hopeful these recent indictments are the first step toward justice, and we’re grateful these proceedings will deliver a small measure of comfort and closure to those affected.”

Payne, 91, died in May 2016. After breaking into Payne’s apartment and suffocating her, the lawsuit states, Chemirmir stole jewelry and silver that he sold at a pawn shop.

Arnold said the Dallas County medical examiner started to re-examine all unaccompanied senior deaths from the past few years where jewelry had been reported missing. From there, authorities narrowed down the cases by cellphone data and tracking where the jewelry had been sold.

More victims, new indictments

The women killed in Dallas County were Gleason; Payne; French; Lu Thi Harris, 81; Phoebe Perry, 94; Rosemary Curtis, 76; and Mary Brooks, 87.

The names of the five victims in the Collin County murder cases haven’t been publicly released.

Chemirmir maintains his innocence, his attorney said Thursday.

Billy Chemirmir is suspected of killing at least 12 elderly women in North Texas. Dallas County Jail

Chemirmir was arrested in March 2018, charged with the murder of Harris. He was also indicted in two attempted murder cases last year. The rest of the indictments were handed up this week.

According to the indictments, Chemirmir robbed the seven Dallas women and smothered them with pillows between May 2016 and March 2018.

A woman who said she worked with him in Dallas told the Star-Telegram that Chemirmir had worked as a caregiver for a home care agency.

Plano Chief of Police Gregory Rushin said at a news conference last year that Chemirmir used his healthcare experience to his “advantage in targeting and exploiting seniors.”

One victim helped thousands of animals, friend says

Phoebe Perry was a kind soul who gave her heart to homeless animals across the Dallas-Fort Worth area, friends said.

In 1997, she helped the SPCA of Texas in McKinney acquire 30 acres to build the Russell H. Perry Animal Care Center — named after her husband. Now, visitors at the adoption center see Phoebe Perry’s name on the building.

“It is almost impossible to give you an estimate on how much she did for animals,” SPCA spokeswoman Maura Davies said. “I can attempt to estimate they helped tens of thousands of animals lead better lives. Maybe even hundreds of thousands.”

Perry was killed on June 5, 2016.

Phoebe Perry donated 30 acres of land to the SPCA of Texas in McKinney to build the Russell H. Perry Animal Care Center — named after her husband. Now, visitors at the adoption center see Phoebe Perry’s name on the building. Yffy Yossifor Star-Telegram

Along with being a benefactor for the center in McKinney, Perry sat on the SPCA of Texas’ board of directors.

“That entire location, everything we’ve been able to do is a testament to her life and her husband’s life,” Davies said.

Davies began working at the SPCA of Texas in the early 2000s and became friends with Perry.

“Her heart for animals was exceptionally big,” Davies said. “Every time I was around her, I was struck by how kind and gentle a soul she was. She was just a bright light and a wonderful loving lady. It’s so beyond heartbreaking. She left a lasting legacy.”

Arrest leads to wider investigation

Police began following Chemirmir after a 91-year-old woman was assaulted in her apartment in Plano. He was linked to the attack through a report of a suspicious car, police said.

Officers who were watching Chemirmir on March 20, 2018, saw him dump a jewelry box in a trash bin at his Dallas apartment complex. Police arrested him, and items in the jewelry box led officers to Harris’ home, where she was found dead.

At a press conference in March 2018, Plano police said North Texas authorities were combing through more than 750 unattended senior deaths dating back to at least 2010.

“He told the [Plano] victim, ‘go to bed and don’t fight me,’ ” Rushin said at a news conference in March 2018. “She complied and the suspect put a pillow over her face, causing her to lose consciousness, and he then stole her jewelery.”

While Chemirmir was in custody, Frisco police served a warrant against him on a charge of attempted murder of a 93-year-old woman.

The Frisco victim was assaulted in October 2017 at Parkview Elderly Assisted Living on Stonebrook Parkway, according to court documents obtained by Star-Telegram media partner WFAA. The woman told police a man who claimed to be a maintenance worker knocked on her door and asked if she needed any work done.

When she said no, “the suspect then forcibly entered her assisted living apartment, knocked her from her walker and to the ground, then placed a pillow over her nose and mouth in an attempt to muffle her screams and smother her,” an affidavit said.

The woman started praying, “believing she was about to die,” and the man took her jewelry box and left, according to the documents. The victim activated an emergency alert button.

Watermark Retirement Communities told WFAA that Chemirmir was never an employee of the Parkview assisted living home.

“In late 2017 we reported this individual to the authorities for an intrusion into our community,” the company said in a statement last year. “We are thankful he has been apprehended. We are cooperating fully with the authorities to assist them in any way possible. We are deeply saddened by the actions of this individual and our hearts go out to the affected communities, their residents and family members.”

Search records show that investigators found a trove of women’s jewelry, cellphones and medical scrubs in Chemirmir’s apartment after Harris’ death, WFAA reported.

Chemirmir has lived in the Dallas area for more than a decade, but court records note that he is a citizen of Kenya. Immigration authorities have placed a jail hold on him.

His bail has been set at more than $9 million.

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Kaley Johnson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. She majored in investigative reporting at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has a passion for bringing readers in-depth, complex stories that will impact their lives. Send your tips via email or Twitter.
Nichole Manna is an investigative reporter for the Star-Telegram. Before moving to Fort Worth in July 2018, she covered crime and breaking news in Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska and Kansas. She is a 2012 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and grew up in Florida.