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Horowitz: Senior lives don’t matter: Worst serial murderer of seniors to escape death penalty
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Horowitz: Senior lives don’t matter: Worst serial murderer of seniors to escape death penalty

It’s the most shocking serial murder spree of our lifetime by a man who, if the cases were fully investigated, might turn out to be the biggest serial killer in American history. Yet few people in Texas and almost no people elsewhere have heard of Billy Chemirmir, and now, he is going to escape the death penalty despite evidence of smothering at least 22 seniors to death to steal their jewelry.

Billy Chemirmir, a Kenyan national who worked in senior care, was indicted in 22 cases of trespassing at four senior living communities (and a few private homes) in North Dallas and Collin County between 2016 and 2018 and murdering the most vulnerable among us. Prosecutors ultimately chose to pursue only two trials in Dallas County, and Chemirmir was sentenced to life without parole. Collin County prosecutors originally let Dallas take the lead on this case, so they did not prepare for capital punishment prosecutions since 2019. However, even after Soros-backed Dallas County DA John Creuzot announced in 2021 that he would not seek the death penalty in Dallas County, Collin County failed to pick up the slack.

Last month, Collin County DA Greg Willis informed the victim’s families that there will be no more trials and no pursuit of capital punishment for the murders committed in Plano and Frisco. From what I’ve heard from families, no satisfying explanation was given for dropping the ball, and any excuse posited could be applied to any death penalty case. Thus, if a guy like Chemirmir cannot be put to death expeditiously in a state like Texas after the most heinous killing spree in the state’s history, then the death penalty is essentially dead, along with justice.

But perhaps the perplexing absence of zeal for justice and punishment, or even public recognition of these crimes, is a reflection of the same factors that allowed these murders to happen to brazenly for so long without being detected.

The details of Chemirmir’s confirmed and alleged murders are as astounding as the silence in the media and among Texas politicians, as well as the ability of this man to pull off the murders so openly. Most of the murders were committed at upscale independent senior living complexes: The Plaza at Edgemere and Tradition Prestonwood in Dallas County and then later on at Parkview in Frisco and Preston Place in Collin County. In each case, he was allowed to roam the halls for days on end pretending to be a maintenance worker and monitor elderly women for hours and days until he’d either follow them through their apartment or knock on their doors announcing himself as a repairman and then proceed to suffocate the unsuspecting victim with a pillow. The fiendish fellow would then steal all their jewelry and valuables and move on to the next victim.

There are numerous shocking details of his crime spree that should have aroused suspicion, which makes the silence of media and politicians and the reluctance of prosecutors to pursue the death penalty all the more perplexing. Either way, it reveals a culture of callousness in dealing with suspicious deaths of those living past life expectancy and a lack of regard for their safety even prospectively. Lise Olsen at AARP wrote the most detailed account of the shocking callousness from both investigators and facility management, but here is a synopsis of what went wrong:

1) As Breitbart reported in 2019, first and foremost, Chemirmir overstayed his tourist visa in 2004. Had we maintained a functioning immigration enforcement system, he would have been removed from the country before ever committing the murders. Moreover, even after he used some sort of a loophole to finagle legal status, he still should have been deported on account of being convicted of two DWIs in 2011 and then being arrested in 2012 for assault causing bodily injury. Yet ICE was nowhere to be seen, rendering every murder completely avoidable. I chronicled his immigration and criminal history several years ago, and here is a brief timeline:

2) It’s not like Chemirmir was the perfect serial killer. Yes, he did make sure there was no sign of breaking and entering and used the least apparent method of killing people who it was easy to assume died naturally. However, he stole so rampantly, including the rings and earrings off the victim’s bodies, and did not bother to properly stage the victims in ways that wouldn’t look suspicious. Thus, from the very first victim, there were serious red flags that should have alerted both law enforcement and facility management that they were dealing with homicide, not natural death.

Dr. Catherine Sinclair, 87, was the first known victim of Chemirmir at Edgemere in the Highland Park neighborhood of North Dallas. Her family was suddenly notified of her death by Edgemere’s management in April 2016, which shocked them given her excellent health. Sinclair had still been working part-time in ERs just a few years earlier. But after all, she was old, and sudden death does occur. Except there was blood on her bed, and her entire jewelry box was reported stolen at the time. How those two factors together did not trigger a burglary-homicide investigation is astounding, especially given that security has reported intruders during that time, but then again, she was just old.

Then, a month later, healthy 91-year-old Phyllis Payne died suddenly in her apartment at that same facility. Again, the family reported mass theft of silver and jewelry. The two cases together should immediately have triggered a review of security footage, but both the police and management didn’t think anything of it. Obviously, a sudden death of a 90-year-old is going to elicit much less suspicion than a 40-year-old, but that is with no other factors. With an immediate report of a burglary in multiple instances in the same place, that alone should have triggered a likely determination of homicide, even before getting to the bizarre placement of some of the bodies that, while lost on some (but not all) of the loved ones, would arouse suspicion in any competent police officer.

3) Astoundingly, on April 19, between the murders of Sinclair and Payne at Edgemere, Chemirmir himself was caught in the facility and was warned not to come back. Yet despite the subsequent two murders, no warning was issued to residents to take precautions, and most certainly no investigation was pursued.

4) What is even more stupefying is that on June 18, 2016, less than two weeks after the third victim at the complex, 94-year-old Phoebe Perry, was found dead suddenly, Chemirmir was arrested for trespassing.

From the standpoint of facility management and local police, it is inexplicable how his arrest, after he was known to loiter there, did not trigger an investigation after all three sudden deaths were reported with thefts by family members. From an ICE standpoint, it was a breakdown in immigration law that Chemirmir could serve 12 days of a 70-day sentence and not have an immigration detainer placed on him, despite the prior assault and DWIs.

Thus, he was out to murder at least 19 others (and possibly up to 40 additional people) in several other complexes. All of them were avoidable.

5) Just seven days after being released from jail in July 2016, Chemirmir commenced his killing spree of at least nine at Tradition Prestonwood Senior Living, a luxury senior living complex in north Dallas. The first victim, Joyce Abramowitz, was found dead with $5,000 in jewelry missing, just a few months after she reported a burglary of her jewelry from a break-in while she was away. None of these prima facie burglary-homicides were ever treated as anything more than natural death.

6) This trend continued all the way until March 2018, when Chemirmir was only caught because one of the victims at Preston Place in Plano, Mary Batel, survived his attack (likely because of her pacemaker), after several of her friends and floor-mates were killed. The last of Chemirmir’s murder victims, Miriam Nelson, 81, reported Chemirmir breaking into her apartment just 12 days prior to the failed attack on Bartel. For some reason, Chemirmir stole the jewelry without killing Nelson, after which she called the office and alerted staff and others about the break-in. Still, nothing was done to alert other residents or the police, despite several other sudden death/burglaries in the complex and Nelson identifying the man and how he knocked on the door to gain entry. Two days later, Nelson was found dead. Chemirmir had come back. Ironically, that itself likely would not have been the end for Chemirmir if not for Bartel’s pacemaker keeping her alive 10 days later to ID Chemirmir.

What is self-evident from this case is that, much as we saw with the hospitals and nursing homes during COVID, we have a culture of callousness towards the lives of elderly people in this country. The fact that despite all of this – and this isn’t even half the story – both counties have no interest in pursuing the death penalty demonstrates that there is something very dark in our culture that permeates medicine, senior care, criminal justice, and public policy as it relates to the most senior and vulnerable among us.

It is very possible that Chemirmir might have murdered more than 60 people, more than the worst serial killer in American history. We will never know. But so few people, including even Texas politicians, know about this case. Had this been a bunch of college girls murdered, we would know. And yes, had this been a white perpetrator and African-American victims, this would have been a bigger story than Pearl Harbor.

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis has not publicly stated why he has agreed with Dallas County not to seek the death penalty. At this point, Attorney General Ken Paxton should step in and try to have the state take over the case and seek the death penalty for the remaining murders that have not gone to trial. If Chemirmir gets off without the death penalty, then capital punishment in Texas is essentially dead. Either way, the state legislature needs to pass new laws making it easier to impose the death penalty without delay in cases where the facts are incontrovertible clear.

Oh, and police need to be trained to remain alert for the same signs of homicide they’d look for with young people who die suddenly at home and listen to their intuition. It doesn’t matter if the victim is 100 years old. If their glasses are crushed on the other side of the room from the body and there are reported items missing, it was likely a murder and should engender the same homicide investigation (and pursuit of justice thereafter) as the death of a 30-year-old.

How tragic that, thanks to utter insouciance for the lives of seniors, every one of these murders could have been prevented on several occasions. Yet here we are, with a capital punishment that should never have a chance to be prevented now suspended for the greatest serial killer in the state’s history. One has to wonder if the same callous indifference for seniors that led to the endless murders to begin with is also driving the lack of zeal for justice, even after the horrors of Chemirmir’s killing spree are fully apparent.

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