The killer allegedly committed his first known murder on April 7, 2016 in an upscale retirement home in Dallas called Edgemere. The victim was a healthy 87-year-old retired physician. She was found dead fully dressed, lying on her bed. On May 14th, a bridge-club-hosting 92-year-young resident was found dead on her bed. On June 5th, a third dead resident was found under similar circumstances. No signs of struggle or an intrusion were present. All three deaths were attributed to “natural causes” by the county medical examiner. But in all three instances the women were robbed of their valuables – wedding rings, jewelry collections, gold, diamonds. Families were shocked that their vibrant healthy relatives had died suddenly – and were suspicious about the robberies which they reported to the facility administrators and the local police. The facility’s policy was to do internal investigations of robberies and the understaffed police department prioritized homicides of younger crime victims in the community over deaths occurring in private senior living complexes.
Two weeks after the first death, police were called about an intruder in the Edgemere building. The officers admonished the man to leave the grounds and threatened to arrest him if he was seen there again. On June 18th, two weeks after the last death and robbery, he was again found on the premises. This time he was arrested for trespassing and sentenced to 70 days in jail — but was released after serving only 12. His name was Billy Chemirmir, a former home health care aide with a history of caring for senior clients in private homes and elder care facilities. He had a record of prior arrests for drunk driving, domestic violence, and… trespassing. No one at Edgemere or at the police department linked the man to the three deaths and robberies that had occurred in the facility within the last three months.
Wanting to continue his lucrative crimes, but wary of Edgemere, the alleged killer set his sights on a different luxury senior living complex just down the road. At Tradition-Prestonwood, between mid-July and the end of October 2016, he allegedly killed and robbed eight more women using the same modus operandi. He’d follow them into the facility and when their hands were full of groceries or entangled in the leash of the dog they’d been walking, or their walker was slowing them down, he’d push himself right through their door behind them. Or sometimes, dressed as a maintenance man, he’d knock and say he had to check their plumbing. Once inside, he’d push them face-up on their bed, smash the handy pillow down on their face and smother them to death. Then he’d remove the jewelry from their bodies and search the room for more.
Eight more women were killed and robbed within three months in a second retirement complex in the same community and no one raised an alarm.
Feeling perhaps he was pressing his luck after eleven successful murders, the alleged killer suddenly stopped. After the last murder at Tradition-Prestonwood in October 2016, no suspicious deaths and robberies were reported until September 2017. Perhaps he was lying low – or perhaps he was “working” elsewhere.
In September 2017, he allegedly killed two women at a nearby community called Parkview in Frisco. A third victim survived. This crafty 92-year-old victim played dead under the smothering pillow and used her medical alert bracelet to send an alarm signal to 911. She then provided a description of the man and how he operated to the facility administration and the police. Nothing came of it.
He moved on. Across the street from Parkview, an even larger facility, Preston Place, beckoned. There he allegedly killed and robbed 3 more women before he popped in on his old haunt, Tradition-Prestonwood and allegedly killed another resident there. Then his tactics changed. He stalked and followed two women home from Walmart, killing one in her single home and the other in her condo.
Perhaps, like kids on Halloween, he found that retirement homes were easier and more lucrative. He went back to Preston Place, a facility he could practically see from his own apartment building. There he allegedly attacked four more women. One would-be victim picked up and started talking into her phone as soon as he pushed into her room. He left and she reported the intrusion to the facility with details of his appearance and his method. She was killed two days later.
Two more women were attacked in Preston Place that month, another one of whom survived. Though her description of events was very similar to the survivor’s account from 10 days earlier, the police dismissed her testimony saying, “she’d probably hit her head and became confused.”
One family who reported their mother’s wedding ring was missing was told that it was probably stolen by the emergency medical technician who was called to remove the body. They’d check on it. Another was told, “old people misplace things.” Suspicious family members requested to see a detective. He didn’t return their calls for over a month.
Every retirement community brochure touted the security measures they had in place to keep their well-to-do residents safe. Cameras, ID checks, sign-in logs, security guards. But none of them investigated the robberies and deaths. Nor did they alert their residents to be on guard or report suspicious activity. In one facility, the residents heard of an intruder and warned each other. One woman’s daughter made warning flyer and fastened them to the neighbor’s doors. The alerts were all removed. One can imagine that admitting to a killing spree in your facility would be a marketing nightmare.
In total, from April 2016 to March 2018, in Dallas and its surrounding areas, 23 elderly women and one elderly man were killed and robbed in 4 retirement facilities, 2 single homes, and one condo. An additional two women survived attacks from intruders – their reports to the police and the administrations were largely ignored. Without ever seeing their bodies, the medical examiner determined that they had each died of natural causes. They rarely autopsied anyone over 65, he admitted, “No office could handle that [load].” They had ranged in age from 76 to 94. The police were short-staffed, too busy with other, more important, crimes to do an investigation on any of them.
The police finally did an inspection of sorts when an 89-year-old man was found dead at Tradition-Prestonwood. They took photographs of blood stains in the bedroom and bath. A watch and a ring were missing. Still, the medical examiner determined that the death was caused by an accidental fall. No autopsy, no discussion about the man’s health with his primary physician, no further questions.
A promising development occurred in mid-March 2018. The son of a resident in Preston Place called the police about a man in a silver sedan in the parking lot for hours. The police ran the license plate number and up came an outstanding warrant for Billy Chemirmir, the trespasser.
One day later, a 91-year-old woman in Preston Place was smothered with her pillow and robbed of her valuables. It appears that the woman became unconscious, not dead, and was revived not long after by her cardiac pacemaker. She was taken to the E.R. where she insisted on talking to the police. Her story of being suffocated by an intruder was received with skepticism by the police who told her sons that “she probably hit her head and became confused.” The sons requested to speak with a detective who noted the similarity between their mother’s story and that of another victim who had survived a similar incident a year ago in Parkview. Someone had finally connected the dots. The police named Billy Chemirir as a suspect in the deaths at the facility. From there the police moved quickly.
On March 20, 2018, unmarked police cars surrounded a silver sedan in an apartment complex where records indicated the suspect lived. It was just down the street from Preston Place. The driver was unloading trash from his car into a dumpster when they confronted him. He literally had stolen jewelry and cash in his hands. In the trunk was stolen silver and jewelry from other victims. In the dumpster was a jewelry box containing, among other things, the house keys to a nearby residential address and papers indicating the owner’s name. There the police found the dead body of his final victim.
The murderer, a serial killer, was finally apprehended. Billy Chemirmir is believed to be the most prolific serial killer in Texas history. One can surmise that the upscale senior living facilities where these deaths occurred had not wanted to admit that their security measures were inadequate. But because of the absence of warnings and the lack of efforts to step-up security, many residents may have died unnecessarily. Because police triaged other crimes over the suspicious deaths of elderly women, how many additional victims were attacked or died?
One has to wonder, if the victims were younger, living in dorms, in bunks on military bases, or children attending daycare, would the crimes against them have been so ignored? One would think the sheer numbers involved would have alerted someone. Three or four deaths a year was normal for Tradition-Prestonwood where eight people died under suspicious circumstances in 2016. One would rationally conclude that the age of the victims was the reason that the killer was able to continue his deadly rampage for so long.
Billy Chemirir,49, is currently serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole for the smothering deaths and robbery of two elderly women. He has been indicted for the killings of 22 more people in Dallas and Collin counties. But who knows how many women have died “of natural causes” at his hands in other facilities in other places? The Dallas police department planned to re-open at least 750 cases of robbery with unattended deaths attributed to natural causes, as do departments in the nearby communities of Frisco, Plano, and Richardson.
The families of the victims have formed an advocacy group, Secure Our Senior’s Safety (SOSS), to facilitate changes in laws and policies to protect our elders and especially for better oversight of senior communities. Many families have filed wrongful death suits against the facilities in which their loved ones were murdered. The Texas State Director of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) remarked on “the callousness…of the police and those who ran the facilities.” Chemirmir, she said, “exploited a deep bias against the elderly, particularly women.” Even the fact that this story was not covered in the national news suggests ageism. We cannot assume our loved ones are safe with caregivers in their homes or in even the most upscale senior communities. We must be diligent to ensure their homes and their communities are safe.
The information in this blog is adapted from Unnatural Causes: The Case of the Texas Serial Elder Murders written by Lise Olsen in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of AARP, The Magazine, which can be found at https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/advocacy/info-2022/texas-elder-murders.html and The Perfect Scam: The Texas Elder Murders, a podcast at aarp.org/eldermurders.