Billy Chemirmir would pose as a healthcare aid or maintenance worker man in order to force his way into the homes and senior living centres of the unsuspecting, elderly women he preyed on in the Dallas area over a two-year span, smothering them with a pillow and stealing their valuables.
Time after time, their deaths were initially determined to be from natural causes, even as family members raised the alarm about missing jewelry.
It wasn’t until a 91-year-old woman survived an attack in 2018 that Chemirmir was ultimately caught. The woman told police he had forced his way into her apartment at an independent living community for seniors, tried to smother her with a pillow and took off with her jewelry.
The next day, police found Chemirmir clutching jewelry and money, having just thrown away a large red jewelry box. The attack – and the findings inside the jewelry box – opened a door to a disturbing pattern of suspicious deaths of elderly women in the area.
In October 2022, Chemirmir learned he would be living the rest of his life behind bars after being convicted in two of the killings, with one ending in a mistrial. The prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.
Chemirmir was also accused of killing dozens of other women and later indicted on 22 capital murder charges: 13 in Dallas County and nine in Collin County. But he escaped death once again last month when prosecutors in Collin County said that after the two convictions, they would not seek the death penalty in their cases.
Some of the victims’ family members who previously faced an expressionless Chemirmir at his sentencing, told him that the “ultimate crime did not receive the ultimate punishment.”
On Monday, Chemirmir was found dead in his prison cell, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Hannah Haney. He was 50 years old.
Ms Haney said that Chemirmir’s cellmate, who is serving a sentence for murder, was identified as the assailant, but said she couldn’t release the cellmate’s identity or how Chemirmir was killed.
Chemirmir, who had always maintained his innocence, was serving two sentences of life without the possibility of parole at the Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony, located about 100 miles southeast of Dallas.
Last week, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it was implementing lockdown measures in response to “a rise in dangerous contraband and drug-related inmate homicides,” The Associated Press reported.
At the time of that announcement last Wednesday, the department said there had been 16 inmate-on-inmate homicides so far this year.
With the lockdown, the prisons were limiting the movement of inmates and their contact with outsiders. In addition, inmates and staff were undergoing intensified searches. A heightened drug testing protocol was also implemented.
Ms Haney said that the Office of Inspector General is investigating his death.
How a jewelry box led to Chemirmir’s arrest
Chemirmir was caught when Mary Annis Bartel, 91, survived an attack in 2018 and told police that the man had forced his way into her home at Parkview Elderly Assisted Living facility in Frisco, a community for seniors, tried to smother her with a pillow and took her jewelry.
Ms Bartel, who died in 2020, described in a taped police interview that Chemirmir had appeared suddenly at her door and was wearing green rubber gloves as he forced her to the ground and held a pillow over her face.
Police said they found Chemirmir the following day in the parking lot of his apartment complex holding jewelry and cash, having just thrown away a large red jewelry box.
Documents in the jewelry box led them to the home of Lu Thi Harris, 81, who was found dead in her bedroom.
After Chemirmir’s arrest, police across the Dallas area re-examined deaths, and the charges against him grew. Many of the victims’ children have said they were left perplexed by the deaths at the time, as their mothers, though older, were still healthy and active.
Chemirmir was convicted in the killing of 87-year-old Mary Brooks
Chemirmir’s first capital murder trial was for the slaying of Lu Thi Harris, but it ended in a mistrial in Dallas County.
He was later convicted in a retrial for Harris’ death and was then convicted of a second killing in the death of Mary Brooks, 87.
Authorities initially believed Brooks had died of natural causes, though family raised the alarm that many of her favourite pieces of jewelry was missing.
Her shopping bags were left on the counter, and a coral necklace and several diamond rings were gone, prosecutors said.
In affidavits, police have said that surveillance footage placed Chemirmir at a Walmart store at the same time that Mary Brooks had been shopping there, a day before her body was found.
What did the victims’ families say to Chemirmir?
Fifteen of the victims’ families faced Chemirmir in court after he was convicted and sentenced in Dallas County in October.
Some of the families offered forgiveness while others said they felt like the full extent of justice wasn’t served.
“We are choosing to forgive you,” Lu Thi Harris’ granddaughter, Karen Vuong, said in a prerecorded video. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t think you deserve to feel and experience the consequences of your actions. We still think that you do.”
But Cheryl Bixler Pangburn, whose mother Marilyn Bixler was killed at Parkview Frisco in 2017, told Chemirmir “the ultimate crime did not receive the ultimate punishment.”
“And therefore, ultimately, some of us will never feel like you got the justice that you deserved,” she said.
In Ellen French House’s victim impact statement, she told Chemirmir that she wanted him to see two photos of her mother: one of Norma French alive, the other after the 85-year-old was killed.
“This is my beautiful mother,” House said as she displayed the first photo. “This is my mother after you pried her wedding ring off of her finger that she couldn’t even get off.”
Who was Billy Chemirmir?
Chemirmir told police during interviews that he had worked as a caregiver and security guard, and made money buying and selling jewelry.
During a phone interview from jail in 2021, Chemirmir denied all the charges against him and told The Dallas Morning News that he was “100 per cent sure I will not go to prison.”
“I am not a killer,” Chemirmir told the newspaper at the time. “I’m not at all what they’re saying I am. I am a very innocent person. I was not brought (up) that way. I was brought (up) in a good family. I didn’t have any problems all my life.”
Chemirmir previously told the media he was born and raised in Kenya’s Rift Valley and that he’s the son of a wealthy farmer. Chemirmir said he began working as a caregiver in Kenya and he moved in 2003 to the US, where he sold cars and began working as a senior caregiver in Dallas.
According to The Associated Press, he had worked as a nurse in his native country of Kenya, but appears to not have been legally working in healthcare in the US.