Senior-living communities were Dallas serial killer’s hunting grounds, families’ lawsuits say

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Updated at 6:35 p.m.: Revised to add comment from the suspect’s attorney and include additional information about capital murder indictments in Collin County.

Norma French, 85, never took off her wedding ring, even after her husband died in 2006.

Doris Gleason, 92, always wore her gold necklace, even when she went to sleep each night.

But those precious keepsakes were nowhere to be found in October 2016 when both women were found dead in separate apartments at a North Dallas senior-living apartment complex.

Billy Chemirmir, 46, has been in the Dallas County Jail since March 2018.

Prosecutors now say a serial killer who targeted more than a dozen elderly women in Dallas and Collin counties suffocated each of them with a pillow while robbing them.

"This guy should’ve been detected but wasn’t," said Richard Arnold, an attorney representing the families of Gleason and another victim. "You’re dealing with elderly people who are unsuspecting."

Billy Chemirmir, 46, has been in the Dallas County Jail since March 2018, when he was accused of smothering an 81-year-old woman in her Dallas home and attempting to kill two women in Collin County.

And this week, grand juries in Dallas and Collin counties handed up 11 additional capital murder indictments for Chemirmir.

According to the indictments, the killing spree would put Chemirmir on the list of Texas’ most prolific serial killers. The indictments identify the following victims, whose dates of death were listed in their obituaries:

Phyllis Payne, 91, who died May 14, 2016, in Dallas

Phoebe Perry, 94, who died June 5, 2016, in Dallas

Norma French, 85, who died Oct. 8, 2016, in Dallas

Doris Gleason, 92, who died Oct. 29, 2016, in Dallas

Minnie Campbell, 84, who died Oct. 31, 2017, in Plano

Carolyn MacPhee, 81, who died Dec. 31, 2017, in PlanoRosemary Curtis, 75, who died Jan. 19, 2018, in Dallas Mary Brooks, who died Jan. 31, 2018, in Richardson Martha Williams, 80, who died March 4, 2018, in Plano Miriam Nelson, 81, who died March 9, 2018, in Plano Ann Conklin, 82, who died March 18, 2018, in PlanoLu Thi Harris, 81, who died on March 20, 2018, in Dallas

Phillip Hayes, Chemirmir’s attorney, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he was still wrapping his head around the number of indictments.

Chemirmir is frustrated, Hayes told the Star-Telegram.

"He also seemed surprised with the indictments, but he is holding on to that he is innocent," Hayes said.

Families of at least three of the victims didn’t wait for police to charge Chemirmir to take action.

French’s children and two other families are suing the senior-living communities where their loved ones died, alleging that the facilities didn’t do enough to protect them from harm.

French’s three children said in their lawsuit that The Tradition – Prestonwood failed to protect the 85-year-old woman, "which gave Chemirmir the opportunity to kill Mrs. French."

In a statement, Prestonwood said the community considers each of its residents "family."

"We are committed to cooperating with the authorities," the company said in a statement. "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."

But Michael French, Ellen French House, and Laurie French Carter, who filed the lawsuit in Dallas County in July 2018, said the facility should have known that Chemirmir had been lurking around The Tradition and other senior apartment communities around Dallas.

The lawsuit says French talked to her children before she decided to move to the apartment community in July 2014, and they agreed that it was a safe place for their mother to live.

But the family learned that security at The Tradition – Prestonwood was "wholly inadequate," they said in the lawsuit. Chemirmir, their mother’s alleged attacker, had been known to pose as a maintenance worker to gain access to the apartments, they said in the lawsuit.

The family believes the apartment facility should’ve known about "suspicious deaths" at the complex.

A few weeks after French’s death, 91-year-old Doris Gleason was found dead in her apartment at The Tradition – Prestonwood.

Her daughter, Shannon Gleason Dion, has sued the apartment company, saying a lack of adequate security led to her mother’s death.

The Tradition – Prestonwood denied "each and every" allegation in both lawsuits, according to court documents.

A third suit filed by the family of Phyllis Payne against The Edgemere — another complex on West Northwest Highway between Hillcrest Road and Preston Road — was settled out of court in September 2018.

The suit alleged that although The Edgemere also promised round-the-clock security, Chemirmir was able to access the property with the intent of killing and robbing residents.

According to the suit, Chemirmir took Payne’s jewelry and sterling silver after killing the 91-year-old. The suit alleges that Chemirmir later sold the valuables at a pawnshop.

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