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Man indicted in elderly woman's smothering; hundreds of unattended senior deaths examined

DALLAS -- A grand jury in Dallas has indicted a man for the murder of an 81-year-old woman found smothered to death with a pillow in March and her jewelry stolen, according to court records. The capital murder charge handed down Tuesday against Billy Chemirmir in the killing of Lu Thi Harris is the first death that the 45-year-old has been formally accused of, but officials in several north Texas cities are investigating whether several other cases with similarities are linked to him.

Investigators are also combing through more than 750 unattended senior deaths dating back to at least 2010 that weren't previously investigated, searching for any possible similarities, officials said during a March press conference.

The string of cases first came to law enforcement attention in October 2017, in Frisco, Texas, where a 93-year-old woman told police a man had come to her retirement community door and identified himself as a maintenance worker. She said when she declined to have any work done the man forced his way into her home, knocked her to the ground, put a pillow over her nose and mouth and tried to suffocate her.

She survived, but the attacker left with several pieces of jewelry.

When Plano police learned of the Frisco attack, they realized it bore similarities to cases they had investigated. Investigators soon identified Chemirmir as a suspect. While conducting surveillance of the suspect, police said they saw Chemirmir throw several items into a trash bin, including a jewelry box with a name inscribed in it.

Investigators determined the box's owner, Harris, likely lived in Dallas, and notified police in that city. When officers responded to Harris' home, they found her dead from apparent suffocation.

Police say a set of keys later found in Chemirmir's vehicle belonged to Harris.

Investigators soon discovered yet another case in Plano with striking similarities. In that case a 91-year-old woman survived an attack in which a man forced her way into her apartment and said "go to bed, don't fight me," just before holding a pillow to her face until she passed out.

Chemirmir has been charged with attempted capital murder in the Frisco attack. Charges have not been filed the Plano cases.

In March, police announced a 24-hour phone tip hotline seeking information about elderly women who died alone in North Texas. During that press conference, police said they had already identified more than 750 deaths in Dallas County alone that investigators intended to reexamine.

"We believe that the way that these crimes were committed, that when you're a senior and you have health care issues, and you're living by yourself, and you do become deceased, that many people would right away think that was natural causes, and there is not a deep investigation into those matters, and so it would be very easy to disguise a crime," Plano Police Chief Gregory Rushin said during a press conference in March.

Chemirmir, 45, is being held in in Dallas County Jail on a $1 million bond. A plea has not been entered in the case.

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