The True Story Behind Paramount+’s Pillowcase Murders Docuseries

Spoilers

Releasing on May 14, 2024, The Pillowcase Murders is a somewhat unusual three-part docuseries.

Many true crime movies and series in the past have documented the crimes of well-known serial killers like BTK, but this one brings to light the crimes of a much lesser-known serial killer.

Here is the true story behind the Pillowcase Murders.

What Were the Pillowcase Murders?

The Pillowcase Murders were a string of no less than 22 murders and two attempted murders committed in Texas between 2016 and 2018.

Sadly, the victims were all older women. Each was smothered with her pillow before the assailant stole her valuables and fled.

Some of the women died in their own homes or independent apartments, but many were residents of senior living facilities.

The crime spree went unsolved for two years due to a combination of factors, including incorrect assumptions and alleged mishandling of investigations.

Serial Killer Billy Chermirmir's Face - The Pillowcase Murders

Who Was the Murderer?

The brazen killer behind the crime spree was Billy Chemirmir. He targeted the various women he attacked for their jewelry and valuables.

Families were baffled by how he managed to stalk his victims unnoticed for two years, sometimes going so far as to follow them home from grocery stores or other outings.

On several occasions, Chemirmir also pretended to be maintenance men or medical professionals to gain access to senior living facility residents.

In reality, he was nothing more than a cold, unfeeling opportunist. After discovering his identity, police even found video evidence of him pawning his victims’ valuables only hours after some of the crimes.

A Second Murder Victim - The Pillowcase Murders

A Disturbingly Disposable Demographic

One of the significant issues this docuseries intends to address is how disturbingly disposable older adults sometimes are. Often, their deaths pass with little notice or care.

It is believed Chermirmir’s crimes went unnoticed for so long partially due to the misinterpretation of the crime scenes. Many of the deceased women were thought to have died from age-related natural causes.

Even when deaths seemed unnatural, possible explanations were attached to them too hastily. Several were initially thought to have been the victims of accidents.

Murder was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind, especially since deaths are common in nursing homes and assisted care facilities.

Police Officer Discusses the Pillowcase Murders

A Victim Who Lived to Tell

The way these murders were finally identified as such and connected is shocking. They weren’t connected using DNA as in many other modern crime cases.

It took a survivor, Mary Bartel, to help law enforcement officials and loved ones find answers.

Bartel was a Preston Place senior living community resident in Plano, Texas. On March 19, 2018, she was attacked there by a man she later identified as Chermirmir.

Police quickly discovered the woman in the next room over, Ann Conklin, had died the day before. That is when suspicion began to rise.

Soon, it was discovered that seven women had passed away at that facility in six months under what was rapidly becoming suspicious circumstances. Later, officials linked those deaths to similar ones in other facilities.

Sheet - The Pillowcase Murders

Identifying the Killer Was a Matter of Luck

A lot of serial killers have been caught over the years, including the Happy Face Killer in the 1990s, who was caught after being suspected of his girlfriend’s murder and confessing to a string of killings.

The Pillowcase Murders were different because they weren’t solved by immediate confession or other standard means. Instead, they were solved due primarily to luck.

One lucky incident was the survival of Mary Bartel, who was then able to describe her attacker. Her description was vital in the apprehension of Chermirmir.

Even with Bartel’s description, capturing the suspect might have been impossible without another lucky break, one man’s intuition. A neighbor of Bartel’s noticed an out-of-place vehicle a week prior. He wrote down the vehicle’s license plate number in case it might be needed later.

When questioning around the neighborhood began after Bartel’s attack, the man gave the license plate number to police. It turned out the car belonged to Chermirmir.

Missing Jewelry - The Pillowcase Murders

Opening Pandora’s Box

Little did police know then, but tracing that vehicle to Chemirmir opened Pandora’s Box.

Upon arrival at his apartment, police quickly found more evidence potentially linking him to multiple crimes.

It was clear Chemirmir had amassed a stash of money and jewelry from many victims.

Suddenly, the authorities had a serial killer on their hands. Then, they had to start connecting the dots.

Family Members Discuss the Pillowcase Murders

One Final Tragic Killing

In a twist like something out of Law & Order, police arrested Chemirmir the day after the attack on Bartel, but it wasn’t fast enough to prevent one last tragic death.

As they surveilled his apartment, they saw Bartel throw some items into a dumpster. Those items were found to belong to yet another victim.

The last victim of Chermirmir’s crime spree was Lu Thi Harris. Officers found her in her home dead on her bedroom floor shortly after they arrested Chermirmir.

It is believed Harris was killed the Day Chermirmir was arrested. Some reports indicate she may have died only an hour before his arrest.

A Murder Victim's Image - The Pillowcase Murders

Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together

After Chermirmir’s arrest, police officers had to reexamine previous deaths in areas he frequented.

Officers used a combination of Chemirmir’s phone records and his police records to make connections between murder victims.

One big piece of the puzzle was filled in when it was discovered that Chermirmir had been arrested twice at the Edgemere senior living apartments in Dallas in 2016. He had been posing as an employee there using an alias.

It turned out Phyllis Payne, Phoebe Petry, and Catherine Sinclair had all died at Edgemere shortly before those arrests. Police investigating two years later put the pieces together and realized Chermirmir probably murdered the three women.

Police worked closely with medical examiners and other officials to link Chermirmir to his other victims after that.

The Daughter of a Murder Victim - The Pillowcase Murders

The Final Tally and Chemirmir’s Fate

Much like FBI TRUE and other true crime releases, The Pillowcase Murders is a docuseries meant to illuminate specific facts, including exactly how heinous Chemirmir’s actions were and that justice wasn’t served in the eyes of some.

Chemirmir was suspected of at least 24 murders and two attempted murders. Of those, he was indicted for 22 murders, but he was only convicted of two.

Only two convictions were necessary to save time and taxpayer money. Officials decided it wasn’t worth prosecuting him for additional crimes since he would spend the rest of his life in jail anyway.

It turns out the rest of his life was not very long. He was convicted in 2022 and murdered by his cellmate in 2023.

Many of the victims’ family members felt cheated upon hearing not only that he would only be tried for two murders but also that he died so soon after going to jail.

Pillowcase Murders Promo Image - The Pillowcase Murders

Why The Pillowcase Murders is Such an Important Docuseries

Family members of Chemirmir’s victims had, and in many cases still have, lingering questions.

Many loved ones blame the senior care facilities involved for being dismissive and not investigating each death properly in the first place. They say their loved ones were disregarded and discarded due to their ages. They also blame the senior care facilities for having lax security.

Another problem was that many victims had children or other family members who tried to sound alarms. Some discovered their loved ones’ bodies and found the positioning odd. Others noticed missing jewelry and valuables, but their suspicions were brushed aside.

In the grand tradition of true crime shows, The Pillowcase Murders will address the facts of the case. That’s certain. However, it will also place a heavy emphasis on the outrage, confusion, and lingering questions of the victims’ families.

What do you think about Chemirmir’s ability to attack approximately two dozen victims before getting caught? Did care facility officials and investigators fail the victims and their families? Comment below and let us know.

Jessica Kosinski is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow her on X.

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