‘Odd sisterhood’: Families of Billy Chemirmir’s alleged victims meet in support of senior-living bills
Measures would increase security at independent-living communities and boost enforcement of regulations on cash-for-gold shops.
By Charles Scudder, Dallas Morning News
PLANO — They all found out long after their mothers had died. They had called one another late at night, texted one another over glasses of wine from their own homes.
They knew all about one another’s mothers. Where they lived. How they died.
But many of the families — two dozen in all — who say their loved ones were killed by Billy Chemirmir, the man awaiting trial for 18 counts of capital murder, had never met before Wednesday.
The occasion was public: a news conference to voice support for several bills filed in the Texas Legislature in response to the crimes. Among the proposals are measures to increase security at senior-living communities and increase enforcement of regulations on cash-for-gold shops.
Over turkey sandwiches and fruit cups, families shared stories in a cavernous space at the Plano Event Center. It was cathartic, they said, to finally meet and share their common tragedy.
“It’s healing to share our story,” said Karen Harris, whose mother, Miriam Nelson, was killed in March 2018.
“We have this odd sisterhood now that no one can relate to,” said Lindsey Roan, whose mother, Martha Williams, was killed five days before Nelson’s death.
“We’ve all talked together on the phone, we’ve shed tears together,” said Shannon Dion, president of Secure Our Senior’s Safety, a group founded by these families. Her mother, Doris Gleason, was killed in October 2016. “To be physically here, to look each other in the eye, to hold each other, was really emotional.”
“It brings back tragic times and horrific moments,” said Cliff Harris, Karen’s husband and a Dallas Cowboys Hall of Famer. “What happened to my mother-in-law three years ago was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Chemirmir, 48, is in the Dallas County jail in lieu of $17.6 million bail and faces the death penalty if convicted. He says he is innocent.
While awaiting a criminal trial beset by delays in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families have turned their attention to lawmakers in Austin and the independent-living communities where their loved ones died.
“We want senior-living establishments and cash-for-gold and business to be accountable and transparent,” Cliff Harris said. “Let’s take care of seniors, the very people who took care of us.”
Dion, whose story was told in a two-part true crime series in The Dallas Morning News, said she found her mother dead in her apartment at The Tradition-Prestonwood, a high-end independent-living complex.
It wasn’t until she realized her mother was missing a precious guardian angel necklace that she started to have suspicions about how she died.
“For one hour, I thought my mother had passed peacefully,” Dion said. “We now know the truth. Mama was the seventh homicide.”
Dion sued the independent-living complex in 2018. Chemirmir, the suit said, “had gained access to the apartment as a result of failure by [The Tradition] to exercise reasonable care in providing security for the premises.”
“Management and employees knew a stranger was roaming the halls,” Dion said Wednesday.
Facility issues statement
The Tradition-Prestonwood said in a prepared statement Wednesday that it relied on investigators who initially ruled that deaths at the facility were due to natural causes. It denied that staff knew about Chemirmir before his arrest.
“The deaths by an alleged serial killer in peoples’ homes and at multiple senior living communities in the DFW Metroplex is a true tragedy. The Tradition-Prestonwood regards all our residents as family,” the statement read. “The Tradition-Prestonwood has cooperated with all the authorities and will continue to do so. The allegations that staff withheld any information are absolutely false.”
Three of the bills filed in the Legislature this week — two in the House and one in the Senate — push for greater security at senior-living communities, including mandatory background checks and ID badges for visitors.
One of the three would require security measures for the state’s senior-living communities. The other two would create a voluntary certification program as a market incentive for increased security, said the bill’s author, Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas.
“It is my hope that this suite of bills, offered in honor of the many victims of these preventable murders, will prevent future crimes and save other families from the pain of such a loss,” Johnson said in a statement read at Wednesday’s news conference.
Enforcing current regulations
Police say that after killing his victims, Chemirmir stole from them, taking precious jewelry, cash and other valuables. After raiding the apartments, he went to pawn and cash-for-gold shops to ditch the items and make a profit, police said.
Two of the bills filed this week would enforce laws already on the books and allow for regular, random inspections of such businesses.
Dion said such a regulation might have helped her recover her mother’s gold guardian angel necklace, which was probably melted down soon after it was sold.
Robert MacPhee, whose mother, Carolyn MacPhee, was killed in December 2017, said Chemirmir killed and robbed his mother after the family hired him as an in-home health care worker for her dying husband.
Several months after her husband died, Carolyn MacPhee was found dead in the home with valuables missing. Police have charged Chemirmir with her murder.
“It was too easy to unload so much property,” Robert MacPhee said.
This article originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News at https://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2021/03/11/odd-sisterhood-families-of-billy-chemirmirs-alleged-victims-meet-in-support-of-senior-living-bills/.