Saturday, January 28, 2023

Predatory Guardianships: A New Form of Human Trafficking

The prevailing perception of human trafficking is the kidnapping of young women and girls for sexual exploitation. However, the abusive guardianship of the elderly in order to control and steal their assets—aka estate trafficking—is a rapidly growing, though lesser known form of human exploitation, to which Black people are especially vulnerable. Teresa Kennedy joins Beyond The Hype to share how witnessing the isolation and exploitation of her aunt inspired her commitment to transforming a broken adult guardianship system.

Predatory Guardianships: A New Form of Human Trafficking

TTT MMSD: Supported Decision Making and Guardianship

There are alternatives to guardianship. Supported decision-making empowers individuals with disabilities to make informed decisions about their life that protect their rights and ensure their safety and privacy. It involves family and friends working together to help them make complex decisions. Presented by Tami Jackson, Public Policy Analyst and Legislative Liaison for the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities (BPDD)

TTT MMSD: Supported Decision Making and Guardianship

2 arrested for attempted murder and elder abuse in Monterey County

2 arrested for attempted murder and elder abuse in Monterey County

Friday, January 27, 2023

97-Year-Old Froze to Death Near Door of Assisted-Living Center in Colorado, Says Family Lawsuit

A lawsuit filed in Colorado claims Mary Jo Staub wandered outside of her assisted-living center and that it took more than 5 hours for a staff member to find her after she got locked out

Kimberlee Speakman

Photo: Photo courtesy of Hailey | Hart PLLC.

A 97-year-old woman froze to death outside of a Colorado assisted-living center after wandering outdoors in the middle of the night during freezing cold temperatures, a lawsuit from the woman's family alleges, blaming the center's staff for negligence.

According to the papers obtained by the Washington Post, surveillance footage captured outside the Balfour at Lavender Farms assisted-living facility in Louisville, Colorado showed Mary Jo Staub, 97, wandering unsupervised outside the facility. She was wearing nothing but her pajamas, robe, boots and gloves when she got locked out.

Footage reportedly showed her walking through the snow with her walker and injuring her ankle. She crawled on her hands and knees to the doors in front of the nurse's station, leaving a trail of blood behind her, and banged on the doors in order to be let in.

Unable to get anyone to open the doors, she ultimately collapsed an hour later from the cold. 

The complaint said that it took more than 5 hours for a staff member to finally find her outside, and an autopsy revealed she had died from hypothermia.

"No one at Lavender Farms was monitoring the security cameras that night... not a single Balfour employee noticed Staub was locked out of the facility... not a single Balfour employee was present to help Mary Jo in any way," the lawsuit claimed, per CBS News.

A rep for Lavender Farms did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment. 

Photo: Photo courtesy of Hailey | Hart PLLC.

The family also alleges that Balfour employees lied to criminal investigators to "avoid criminal charges,"and lists several claims in the lawsuit including felonious killing and negligence resulting in wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress, per the Washington Post.

"Assisted living facilities are supposed to provide protective oversight for our elderly loved ones," Elizabeth Hart, the Staub family's attorney, said in a statement. "The Staub family wants to ensure this doesn't happen to any other member of this vulnerable population."

Staub had been experiencing confusion, depression and memory loss, and was determined to be in need of close monitoring by staff, but her records at the facility had not been updated, according to the complaint as reported in the Washington Post. The family claims that the facility assured them Staub would be checked up on every four hours between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. local time.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment inspected the facility after the incident, per CBS News, and found several violations. The government agency issued eight citations, which were eventually corrected, according to the news site.

Elaine McManis with Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment said in a statement, "As soon as we were notified, we sent experts to the facility to investigate what occurred and ensure the safety of other residents. Where we found deficiencies, we required the facility to quickly make changes, and closely monitored the facility until it completed all corrective actions."

In an obituary, the Staub family said Mary Jo "lived her life as a devoted and loving wife, mother, and entrepreneur" who "worked all her years to get ahead and provide a wonderful life for her family."

"Mary Jo will be greatly missed by all that knew her and forever be an inspiration to her family on how hard work, grit and determination will take one far in life," the family said. "Rest In Peace. You are loved beyond words. A life well lived."

Full Article & Source:
97-Year-Old Froze to Death Near Door of Assisted-Living Center in Colorado, Says Family Lawsuit

Nursing Home Staff Shortages Create Dangers for Residents

Nursing home staffers have an important task. When families move their relatives into nursing homes, they often need more care than they can receive at home. Staffers help clothe, feed, and bathe nursing home residents. They ensure residents take their medication, monitor their vital signs, and keep track of treatment plans. The job is rigorous, and staff members must work long shifts — often for little pay. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the staffing problems that plagued other businesses hit the nursing home industry. More than 400,000 workers left the industry because of burnout and job dissatisfaction. Some places are more affected than others — a 2021 study found that Virginia has a poorer staffing ratio than other states. Virginia state legislators recently introduced a bill that would create staffing requirements for certified nursing facilities, but the legislation is in its early stages and may not pass. 

In the meantime, nursing home residents nationwide still suffer because of staff shortages. Nearly all nursing homes are experiencing staffing issues — one survey found that 87% of facilities face moderate to high staffing issues. The employees who stick around are more likely to experience burnout, which makes them more likely to neglect nursing home residents and make mistakes like giving a patient the wrong medication. Healthcare staffing shortages are linked to a higher mortality rate, which means that patients are more likely to die when compared to facilities with adequate staffing. It also makes it difficult for patients to receive the individualized care they need. When there aren’t enough workers to provide quality care to residents, everyone suffers. Additionally, staffing shortages often result in high turnover rates, making it harder to retain experienced employees.

The Dangers of Nursing Home Staffing Shortages

When choosing a nursing home for your relative, you hope the staff will attend to their needs. Unfortunately, negligence and abuse are common in nursing homes. More than 40% of nursing home residents say they’ve been abused, and more than 90% say they’ve experienced neglect ––a concerning statistic for those with loved ones in nursing homes. Patient neglect can come in many forms, and it’s often unintentional. Nursing home residents often need help going to the bathroom and feeding themselves. If staff members aren’t available and can’t assist, residents might go hungry or soil themselves. 

Other common types of negligence caused by staffing shortages are employees failing to give medication on time and failing to reposition patients, leading to bedsores. Nursing home residents are at high risk for abuse, including financial, sexual, and emotional mistreatment. Abuse can happen anywhere, but an inadequately staffed nursing home is especially at risk. When nursing homes are desperate for help, they sometimes rely on temporary workers who may not be adequately trained or screened. Additionally, employees forced to do overtime are more prone to stress. An exhausted, overworked staff member is more likely to neglect or abuse patients. 

Nursing Home Staffing Guidelines  

Nursing home staffing mandates are often implemented in hours of direct care rather than a firm staff-to-patient ratio. In Maryland, nursing homes must provide three hours of direct care to residents daily. D.C. has some of the country’s highest nursing staff hours per resident but has been rated poorly for overall nursing home care. If Virginia law HB 1446 passes, it would require nursing homes to provide an average of 3.08 nurse staffing hours per resident daily. In 2022, President Biden announced a sweeping set of reforms to nursing homes, including higher mandated staffing levels nationwide and stronger governmental oversight. The government will enforce these rules over the next few years.

One chief concern is whether nursing homes can afford to increase their staffing numbers. Hundreds of nursing homes have closed since the start of the pandemic because of financial trouble, and many facilities still operational have tight budgets. Because of these monetary constraints, the motivation to hire and retain staff members isn’t always high. But the long-term consequences can be devastating when nursing homes don’t have enough employees.

Nursing homes must keep their residents safe and healthy. When they fail at this task, the people who live at assisted living facilities and nursing homes are the ones who bear the brunt of the decision. If you or your loved one have experienced nursing home neglect due to staff shortages, contact the nursing home abuse lawyers at Paulson & Nace. We advocate for people who have suffered nursing home neglect and abuse and will help you hold the at-fault parties accountable for their behavior. Fill out our online form or call us at (202) 463-1999 for a free consultation to discuss your legal options.

Full Article & Source:
Nursing Home Staff Shortages Create Dangers for Residents

Nurse accused of falsifying nursing home patients' records to hide missing medication


Jennifer Porter, 49, has been charged with falsifying patient records while working at Medilodge of Gaylord, Jan. 25, 2023. (Otsego Co. Sheriff's Office)

LANSING, Mich. (TND) — A state investigation ended with a nurse charged with five counts of intentionally placing false information in a medical record, a five-year felony.

The Michigan attorney general's office announced it found Jennifer Porter, 49, "intentionally altered medication administration records to hide the fact that certain doses of medication were not accounted for."

The investigation started last August when the nursing home where Porter worked, Medilodge of Gaylord, called police "regarding their observations and findings regarding Porter’s conduct," according to the attorney general's office.

Then, the state became aware during a Sentinel Project visit to the facility. That's an initiative to investigate complaints of resident neglect and abuse in nursing homes. It sends investigators to a facility where suspected abuse or neglect may have occurred to interview witnesses, gather relevant evidence, and speak with residents about possible abuse or neglect.

The overwhelming majority of those who provide long-term care in Michigan do so with integrity and respect for their important role,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “But when there is a serious breach in the responsibility entrusted to them, there are consequences.

Porter was arraigned on Wednesday and released in lieu of $5,000 personal recognizance bond.

Full Article & Source:
Nurse accused of falsifying nursing home patients' records to hide missing medication

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Former guardian charged for allegedly embezzling from father, says AG

by Mid-Michigan NOW

Former guardian charged for allegedly embezzling from father, says AG

LANSING, Mich. - Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Wednesday that she is charging 40-year-old Tanya Patterson with one count of Embezzlement from a Vulnerable Adult $1,000 or more but less than $20,000.

This is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

The investigation conducted by the Department of Attorney General revealed that Patterson’s father was admitted to the Schnebb Senior Care and Rehabilitation Center, located in St. Louis, Michigan in July 2019.

According to the AG office, the next month, Patterson was appointed his guardian by the Gratiot County Probate Court.

After the appointment, Patterson allegedly opened a checking account for her father, listing her as guardian, where her father’s monthly Social Security income was deposited.

The AG office now alleges that in 2021, Patterson removed money from her father’s account and unlawfully used it for her personal expenses and needs.

"Guardians and conservators are entrusted to protect and manage the medical and financial matters of a protected person," said Nessel. “Being a family member does not relieve a guardian of these responsibilities. If guardians breach that trust, they must be held accountable.”

Patterson was arraigned on Jan. 17 before the Honorable Stewart D. McDonald of the 65th District Court in Gratiot County.

She received a $20,000 personal recognizance bond and is due back in court for a probable cause conference on Jan. 26.

Full Article & Source:
Former guardian charged for allegedly embezzling from father, says AG

Michigan woman charged for embezzling money from her father

by: Iz Martin

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — A 40-year-old woman from Michigan has been charged by Attorney General Dana Nessel for allegedly embezzling from a vulnerable adult.

According to Nessel’s office, Tanya Patterson’s father was admitted to the Schnebb Senior Care and Rehabilitation Center in St. Louis, Mich. in July 2019.

In August of that year, Patterson was appointed as her father’s guardian by the Gratiot County Probate Court.

It is believed that Patterson then opened a checking account in her father’s name, with her listed as his guardian. The account was where his Social Security income was deposited.

Nessel alleges that in 2021, Patterson took money from her dad’s account and used it for personal expenses.

“Guardians and conservators are entrusted to protect and manage the medical and financial matters of a protected person,” said Nessel. “Being a family member does not relieve a guardian of these responsibilities. If guardians breach that trust, they must be held accountable.”

Patterson was arraigned on Jan. 17 in Gratiot County. She was given a $20,000 personal recognizance bond.

She is expected back in court for her probable cause conference on Jan. 26.

Full Article & Source:
Michigan woman charged for embezzling money from her father

Former Chillicothe VA nurse indicted for healthcare fraud

A former Chillicothe V.A. employee faces federal prosecution for allegedly making nearly $1 million in fraudulent healthcare claims. 

Melissa Radune, a former registered nurse with the V.A. was indicted last week on charges of healthcare fraud.  

According to the indictment against Radune, from 2015 to 2021, she allegedly used the worker’s compensation program to make over $900,000 in fraudulent claims. The program, officials say, provided a way for individuals hurt on the job to submit claims with supporting evidence to get compensated for certain medical expenses related to their injury. 

She is expected to be arraigned on February 9 at 2 p.m.

Full Article & Source:
Former Chillicothe VA nurse indicted for healthcare fraud

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

JERRY DAVICH: Volunteers needed, compassion requested for Indiana Guardianship Services

“We read to our clients. We bring in treats. We wheel them around the facility. We sing with them. We do their nails. We brush their hair,” Jessica Metros said. “We do all we can do to make them feel appreciated and, when possible, provide reassurance of their value as a human being.”

By Jerry Davich

Jerry’s career began in 1995 as a political cartoonist/columnist with The Times of NWI, writing thousands of columns and stories through narrative storytelling, or shining a light on society’s darkest corners, or provoking unpopular conversations.

The elderly woman in a wheelchair closely watched me walk down the hallway of her long-term care facility.

Her head was slumped down. Her hands were buried under a blanket. Her eyes tracked my every step. She didn’t say a word or move a muscle.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to a familiar situation that I’ve encountered dozens of times inside nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. As a kid, these places scared me. They were sad, depressing, and disappointing. I wondered if I’d end up at one when I got old, forgotten by society and ignored by my family.

I didn’t know the elderly woman’s personal situation. Maybe she was not ignored or forgotten. All I knew in that moment was that her body didn’t budge. Only her eyes moved.

“Hello, how are you today?” I asked as I walked past her.

Her head moved ever so slightly. Her eyes met mine. Her mouth turned into a smile.

“Hello,” she said, watching me walk into another resident’s room.

When I left the building, she was no longer in that spot. I returned home and wrote a social media post to my friends, readers, and followers.

“Instead of wasting hours of your life writing social media tirades to strangers you’ll never meet, or ramblings about your day, consider spending a few minutes reaching out to someone who’ll gratefully appreciate your efforts,” I wrote.

Residents sit on the patio and enjoy the weather at Residences at Deer Creek in Schererville in 2022.

“Find a sheet of blank paper or an unsent greeting card. Grab one of the dozens of old pens in your kitchen junk drawer. Unearth an envelope and a stamp. And then think of what daily life may be like for too many lonely or forgotten residents at long-term care facilities.

“For many of them, their view of the outside world comes through the same panes of glass through their lonely room or through their television set. Many of these people see no visitors of any kind besides the same workers inside these largely forgotten assisted-care facilities or nursing homes, like this one I just visited. Just a thought.”

My post attracted dozens of comments, such as this one.

“I’m doing this. Last April I inherited hundreds of cards. I could have just as easily tossed them or donated them. I didn’t. Now I have a purpose for them. Thank you Jerry. My Mother in Law will be so happy (smiling down from heaven) to see I’m going to use every one of them.”

Another reader offered a different perspective, from inside one of these facilities.

“I’m a resident at Chesterton Manor and have had two visitors in the year and a half I have been here,” Don Catt wrote. “My wife is here too, and even though her family lives in Merrillville, they have NEVER visited. A letter would be greatly appreciated.”

Jessica Metros, a volunteer coordinator with Indiana Guardianship Services in Porter and LaPorte counties, also reached out to me.

“We serve mostly the elderly who have no voice. They end up through the court system with IGS, which provides protection of their livelihood and personal safety,” she said.

“Our volunteers share one hour per month with their client by visiting with them and checking on their well-being. We have a huge waiting list of people in facilities who have little to no families,” she said.

“The ultimate reward is for our volunteers, and also for our wonderful clients, to know they matter to others. For the 60 minutes per month that our volunteers invest, they receive such phenomenal benefits of making a difference in someone’s life,” she added.

I asked for more information.

Metros, who retired from the business world last May, was made an offer from IGS that she couldn’t refuse — “to receive the priceless benefits of making the difference in the lives of others,” she said.

“Our clients have no one to advocate for them except for IGS,” Metros told me. “Our volunteers become the eyes and ears for our case managers. We train them to embrace the client visits as opportunities to create value in the client’s life.”

The majority of IGS clients are elderly. Many are in wheelchairs. Some are recuperating from strokes. Others are suffering from drug abuse. A few are manic depressive or schizophrenic.

All of them are wards of the court who’ve slipped through the cracks of society. Typically, their families are out of the picture. Or there has been physical abuse with a complete draining of their finances except for Social Security and Medicaid.

“We read to our clients. We bring in treats. We wheel them around the facility. We sing with them. We do their nails. We brush their hair,” Metros said. “We do all we can do to make them feel appreciated and, when possible, provide reassurance of their value as a human being.”

She has already heard from a handful of new volunteers from my social media post. More volunteers are needed. The organization’s next volunteer orientation meeting is Feb. 4 in Valparaiso, and I’ll write a follow-up column on the response. (For more info or to volunteer, call 219-400-0309 or email

Volunteers are asked to spend just one hour per month with their assigned clients. Think about how much time we spend (waste?) on social media alone every month.

“I believe our services are especially unique because our clients are the voiceless and the forgotten,” Metros said.

If this isn’t for you, consider my idea to mail a card or letter to a stranger with lonely eyes who would welcome it like a personal visit.

Full Article & Source:
JERRY DAVICH: Volunteers needed, compassion requested for Indiana Guardianship Services

Committee Approves Oroho Bill that Would Protect Individuals with Disabilities


Parents of children with developmental disabilities may soon be able to file a complaint for guardianship six months before a child reaches the age of 18 thanks to bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senator Steven Oroho and approved today by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

“A parent should not have to wait until their child with special needs turns 18 to file a complaint for guardianship. If there is a delay with the courts, this can actually lead to a gap in legal protections for vulnerable individuals,” said Oroho (R-24). “My legislation will allow parents to file six months before a child turns 18 which will eliminate any potential protections gap and help maintain a stable support system for the entire family.”

Under current law, a parent may file a complaint for guardianship only after the child reaches age 18. However, if court proceedings are delayed and a guardian is not yet appointed by the time the child turns 18, there is a gap and the developmentally disabled person is left without the legal protections of a parent or appointed guardian, until such time as the guardian is actually appointed.

Oroho’s bill (S-3260), which was inspired by a local family’s experience, allows a complaint for guardianship to be filed six months before the minor turns 18. This allows additional time to account for delays in court proceedings. The guardianship would take effect the day the minor turns 18.

Full Article & Source:
Committee Approves Oroho Bill that Would Protect Individuals with Disabilities

Rome Woman Jailed for Stealing Thousands of Dollars from Elderly Victim

Shannon Lee Mount, 44 of Rome, was arrested this week after reports said she stole $5,234.26 from an elderly person over a span of months last year.

Reports said that Mount charged $4,562.26 worth of items, plus an additional $665.00 in overdraft fees to the victim.

Police added that there were 19 overdraft charges given to the victim.

The thefts occurred between August 12, 2022 and December 6 the same year.

Mount is charged with felony theft by taking and exploitation and intimidation of the elderly or disabled.

Full Article & Source:
Rome Woman Jailed for Stealing Thousands of Dollars from Elderly Victim

Tuesday, January 24, 2023


Eula Mae Powell, 85, in court to fight guardian/conservatorship Jan. 18, subject of controversy since denial of visits by long-time friends

Wayne Co. Probate Court Judge Judy Hartsfield considering petition to terminate probate supervision and TRO vs. visit denials; orders guardian from Michigan Guardianship Services

Channel 7’s Investigator Heather Cattallo continues coverage of abuse under state guardianship laws;  new reform legislation expected this year

Meanwhile, federal regulations cover the rights of residents in nursing homes in detail, including right of visitation

American Bar Association: Feb. 1 is National Guardianship Abuse Awareness Day

January 21, 2023

By Diane Bukowski

WCPC Judge Judy Hartsfield
DETROIT– Elder Eula Mae Powell, 85, won her first day in court by Zoom Jan. 18, in front of Wayne County Probate Judge Judy S. Hartsfield. She presented her petition objecting to guardianship/conservatorship, and emergency motions for s temporary restraining order (TRO) against a nursing home, police, and guardian who barred visits from her friends.

A second amended filing cited violations of federal laws protecting the rights of residents in nursing homes, including the right to visitors of their choice. (Motions linked below story.)

“This is NOT the last stop in my life,” Ms. Powell told VOD during a visit in her cramped, dingy two-person room at The Orchards of Harper Woods last year. All her life, Ms. Powell was independent and active, working at the Dodge Main Plant, teaching in three school systems, and participating in electoral campaigns including the election of Detroit’s first Black Mayor, Coleman Young. She has regular income from her pensions and Social Security.

“I planned to enjoy the retirement that I earned,” she said.

Rev. Jerome Poole and Call ’em Out’s Agnes
Hitchcock after police ejection from visits
Nov. 14, 2022.
Judge Hartsfield acknowledged Ms. Powell’s request to take her out of court supervision, and meanwhile allow visits from her friends, after reading a report from appointed Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) Steven R. Geller, but did not grant them immediately.

“Ms. Powell does not like losing her independence,” Geller said in part. “She is upset that she is placed in a facility. She is upset she is not allowed to drive and the car and car keys were taken away, she is upset she can no longer go to the bank and have access to her funds. She wants her car back . . .she also wants her money. Lastly, she hates the facility.”

He reported that Ms. Powell DOES want to see her visitors, including Diane Bukowski and others who have been denied access. They have included Agnes Hitchcock, steward of Call ‘Em Out, and Rev. Jerome Poole. Hitchcock attended the hearing on Zoom, and reiterated her desire to visit.

Geller, however, claimed in his report that a guardian has the right to determine who can and cannot visit. He said a guardian must approve visits from Bukowski and others who previously attempted to visit.

The rights of guardians and conservators are currently subject to much debate nationally, with many states enacting progressive legislation to protect the rights of the people UNDER guardianship and conservatorship. It is expected that four bills enacting reforms will be re-visited in Michigan’s newly-constituted legislature this year. (See Channel 7 report at top of story.)

Geller did cite 700.5306a Rights of individual for whom guardian is sought or appointed, in his report, but did not address whether it has been applied in Ms. Powell’s case. The provisions in the box at left were not carried out.

Judge Hartsfield ordered that an “independent” guardian be appointed, as Ms. Powell’s niece Karen Sue Herbert agreed to withdraw from that position. She indicated the guardian would come from Michigan Guardianship Services. It is not known if it is connected to the Michigan Guardianship Association exposed in Channel 7’s report above.  She also ordered a review by an “independent” medical examiner before deciding on Ms. Powell’s request to terminate the guardianship/conservatorship.

Judge Hartsfield ordered Tonia Kimbrough, a social worker from The Orchards at Harper Woods, to report back to Geller in one week regarding setting up “supervised” visits. During the hearing, Kimbrough was inconclusive about whether such visits could be held.

No one representing the Orchards at Harper Woods appeared during the hearing to answer the request for a TRO due to the visit denials, despite having their top officials, including Mark Fuchs, Agent, and Tom Beauvais, Administrator served with a notice.

Bukowski brought Judge Hartsfield’s attention to federal regulations governing the rights of nursing home residents to visits from individuals of their choice, and posting of a home’s policies and regulations including policies on visitation. The following filing is currently included on Ms. Powell’ probate court docket. See:

Among the rights cited in federal law:

Nursing homes must also have written policies and procedures regarding visitation rights. During attempts to visit by Bukowski and others, copies of such policies were requested, but the requests were ignored. Those denying the visits refused to identify themselves, but claimed Ms. Powell’s guardian did not want them visiting.

Full Article & Source:

Decisional capacity and informed consent, explained

by Emmet Fraizer

Some autistic people with communication challenges need extra support before they can participate in research. To give informed consent, they need to have the risks and benefits of a study explained to them in ways they can understand.

The United States’ Common Rule, which regulates human subjects research, requires “additional safeguards” for participants “vulnerable to coercion or undue influence.” While that description applies to some autistic people — particularly those who are non-speaking or intellectually disabled — the Rule doesn’t specify what safeguards should look like. The federal Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) acknowledges that regulations “are silent on the consent procedures specific to subjects with impaired decision-making capacity.”

Minimally verbal and intellectually disabled autistic people are underrepresented in research, and even projects meant to highlight the lived experiences of autistic people seldom include those with high support needs. But provided that institutional review boards (IRBs) include members or consultants who have the requisite expertise, the boards are free to develop informed consent processes “that best match the needs of [research] subjects,” according to the OHRP. By working with IRBs, investigators can create accessible informed consent processes and include a fuller range of autistic participants.

Here, we explain what those processes can look like.

Is informed consent just paperwork?

The groundwork for informed consent begins before any forms are signed. Advertisements, recruitment materials and informational phone calls are all tools investigators can use to relay key information to potential participants.

Even after someone expresses initial interest, it’s not enough to simply give them a list of facts about the study, according to the Common Rule. Investigators also need to help them understand why they might or might not want to join.

A written consent form can help document this process and act as an informational resource, but informed consent should really be an ongoing conversation between researcher and participant — one grounded in respect for the participant’s autonomy to “choose what shall or shall not happen to them,” as set forth by the 1979 Belmont Report.

This should include the investigator explaining the study and its purpose as well as potential risks and benefits. They should explain that the participant can withdraw at any time, and they should offer to answer any questions. If the study is offering an experimental treatment, the participant should hear about existing alternatives.

How can investigators ensure that participants understand the study’s details?

While investigators explain the specifics of a study, they also need to pay attention to participants’ levels of comprehension, explains Paul Appelbaum, professor of psychiatry, medicine and law at Columbia University in New York City.

If someone doesn’t seem to understand, the research team may bring in an outside clinician, says Benjamin Silverman, instructor of medical ethics at Harvard Medical School and an IRB chair at several Boston-area hospitals. That clinician will talk to the participant and make a determination about their “decisional capacity.”

In studies that are higher risk or involve groups of people more likely to “lack capacity,” all participants may be required to undergo more formal screening, says Appelbaum. Just because participants already have a diagnosis that involves some level of cognitive impairment, he says, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be unable to consent.

However, the required level of decision-making capacity increases in tandem with “the level of risk or burden” of a study, Silverman says. For example, a participant may have enough decisional capacity to consent to an online survey, but not an experimental surgery.

How can researchers support potential participants who struggle to understand?

If an autistic person is having difficulty understanding information about the study, they may need extra support. Investigators are free to adapt communication strategies as necessary to help, and indeed, the Common Rule requires that information “be in language understandable to the subject.”

Autistic people can especially benefit from asynchronous and text-based communication options like email, which allows people who process information more slowly to have the time they need to think and respond.

The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) suggests using specific communication formats intended to facilitate comprehension, such as “Plain Language,” an easy-to-understand writing style required in some government documents, and “Easy Read,” a format designed to be more accessible to readers with intellectual disabilities. Researchers should also be prepared to take all the time necessary to work with participants who use augmentative and alternative communication systems, says R. Larkin Taylor-Parker, legal director at ASAN.

Using the supported decision-making (SDM) model — originally developed to help disabled people retain legal autonomy over responsibilities like finances and health care — can also help participants who need help making decisions about research, according to a recent commentary in Nature Medicine that Silverman co-authored. People using SDM draw upon formal or informal networks from their own communities to help them think through decisions rather than rely on a legal representative to make choices in their stead.

What if someone is legally incapable of giving informed consent at all?

Surrogate decision-making models — most notably guardianships — remain common for autistic adults. People under guardianship legally lack any capacity to consent to research because a court has transferred their ability to make decisions about some or all areas of their life to a third party.

Guardianship law varies by state. Some states prohibit research on those under guardianship, while others allow it in specific circumstances, such as research meant for rehabilitation or prevention of a serious health risk. IRBs also restrict guardians’ ability to consent to research on their wards’ behalf. An IRB might approve a study if it involves minimal risk, but as the level of risk goes up, the potential benefits to the ward must also increase. Institutions often restrict or prohibit altogether the use of surrogate decision-making to enroll people in research “that’s greater than minimal risk with no direct benefit,” says Silverman.

Even when the law requires that investigators first secure consent from a legally authorized representative, investigators can also plan to get “assent” from participants themselves, Appelbaum says. Assent — intentionally seeking a participant’s yes or no in addition to that of their legal representative — is already common in research that includes children.

Many people under guardianship can still communicate their wants and needs, says Taylor-Parker. Even if a participant lacks legal autonomy, they say, researchers should be prepared to use all the communication tools at their disposal to make sure that the individual understands the research and wants to be part of it.

Where do these guidelines come from? Why do they matter?

The current approaches to informed consent are often grounded in a “desire to protect,” Silverman explains. For example, the Belmont Report, which provided the ethical foundation for today’s Common Rule, was developed in the context of 20th century research transgressions targeting vulnerable members of society.

But underrepresentation of groups of people in research can have long-lasting consequences, according to Appelbaum. The exclusion of women and children, for example, produced “lacunae in our knowledge base,” he says — holes that, decades later, scientists are still working to fill.

“If you exclude people with disabilities from research,” Silverman says, “the outcome of the medical products that get approved won’t be helpful for them.”

Full Article & Source:
Decisional capacity and informed consent, explained

Elder abuse charges reduced to misdemeanors in plea agreement

Matthew Robert Quillen

A Kingpsort man was sentenced to 11 months and 29 day of supervised probation as part of a plea agreement that reduced felony elder neglect charges to misdemeanors.

Matthew Robert Quillen, 36, appeared in Hawkins County Criminal Court on Jan. 13 where he pleaded guilty to three counts of misdemeanor elder neglect and one count of simple possession of marijuana dating back to 2020.

In addition to the probation Quillen was ordered by Judge Alex Pearson to pay $5,426 in fines and fees.

Quillen was originally indicted on three counts of neglect of a vulnerable adult, a Class E felony.

On March 8, 2020 the KPD responded to the residence of Bobby Quillen on Timberidge Trail in the Hawkins County portion of Kingsport on a complaint that he was being threatened by his son, Matthew Robert Quillen.

Police determined that the father suffers from multiple debilitating health issues and the son is his caregiver. Although a KPD report was made on March 8, 2020 there was no arrest. The KPD subsequently received multiple reports noting concern for the father’s welfare.

An Adult Protective Services (APS) case worker later visited the home and reportedly found no food other than cream pies and fig cookies. On April 4, 2020 police responded to the residence due to a domestic incident involving Matthew Quillen and his girlfriend, and it was again noted that there was very little to eat in the house. As a result, APS began bringing food to Bobby Quillen.

A subsequent investigation revealed that despite the father’s serious illnesses he hadn’t been to see his doctor since the previous November, and had missed two recent doctor’s appointments.

Matthew Quillen was arrested by the KPD on May 30, 2020.

Full Article & Source:
Elder abuse charges reduced to misdemeanors in plea agreement

Monday, January 23, 2023

Unnatural Causes: The Case of the Texas Serial Elder Murders

Authorities believe a psychopath murdered nearly two dozen older women in the Dallas area, largely at independent living facilities, starting in 2016. Despite mountains of evidence of suspicious deaths over two years, police, medical examiners and the facilities’ staff initially wrote off the homicides as “death by natural causes” and failed to investigate. Was it because the victims were too old?



LU THI HARRIS liked to dress up when she went out, even for a Walmart shopping run. On March 20, 2018, Harris freshened her bright pink lipstick then slipped on a gold and jade necklace, along with a few other favorite pieces of jewelry. The slim Vietnamese American widow—“Kim” to her friends and family—had moved to a house on Warm Breeze Lane in Dallas with her husband, Bill, in 2003 and stayed on after his death a few years later.

A spry 81, Harris was known as fun and friendly. She gave away $2 bills as good luck gifts, which she did so often that she ordered them from the bank in bundles, her son-in-law later recalled. “She was just a hoot to be around,” he said.

But on that day in 2018, Harris didn’t seem to notice the bald, clean-shaven male shopper, wearing neatly pressed slacks and a collared shirt, standing in an adjacent checkout line at Walmart. The man blended into the background like a security guard, probably because he’d once worked as one. He exited the parking lot first and drove away in a gray sedan, security footage later showed. Harris went home. A few hours later, police following a tip arrived and discovered her lifeless body on the bed.

It looked at first as if Harris had passed away peacefully in her sleep. The front door had been locked and her cozy home was intact, stuffed with her late husband’s vast collection of model airplanes.

But gone were her own prized possessions: her collection of lucky $2 bills, her gold necklace with its jade pendant, her rings—and her oversize red jewelry box, with drawers full of jade, gold and other treasures, including papers that showed her journey from a restaurant owner and mother in Vietnam to a U.S. military veteran’s wife in Texas.

Her house keys had disappeared, too.

The clue to foul play was discovered on the underside of a pillow: a smudge of Harris’ magenta lipstick on the polka-dotted case. Later, a Dallas County pathologist found patterns of tiny red dots on her skin known as petechiae and other subtle signs around her eyes and throat that he determined to be indications she was asphyxiated. The most likely murder weapon: her pillow.

A homicide investigation began immediately.

Within days, high-ranking law enforcement leaders in the Dallas area, including the district attorneys of Dallas and Collin counties, gathered for an unusual press conference and made a shocking announcement: It appeared that Lu Thi Harris was not the only older widow to be stalked and smothered for her jewelry, but just one of many.

With TV cameras rolling, officials admitted that a serial killer had been stalking older Dallas and Plano women for at least two years in a previously undetected crime spree that could include hundreds of cases. Detectives in Dallas, the sprawling suburb of Plano, and the smaller cities of Richardson and Frisco had already begun reviewing older Texans’ deaths connected to jewelry thefts, to determine if those deaths—all deemed “natural” at the time—were in fact homicides.

The Dallas Police Department alone planned to examine at least 750 recent deaths, an admittedly “monumental task,” said Dallas assistant police chief David Pughes. Pughes revealed they had already identified a suspect: Billy Chemirmir (pronounced Sheh-meer-meer), the man who had been surveilling Harris at Walmart and was arrested with her jewelry clutched in his hand. Chemirmir had worked in home health care for years, and cellphone tracking suggests he surveilled older victims in parking lots and upscale retirement complexes. He was looking for expensive jewelry and plotting his access and exit routes to and from their homes and apartments. He often pretended to be a maintenance man to gain entry, authorities said.

March 2018: Billy Chemirmir, caught on Walmart security cameras. A few days later he tailed Lu Thi Harris from there to her home, suffocated her and stole her jewelry.

Over the following months, a series of horrific phone calls went out to sons, daughters and other relatives all across North Dallas and beyond. They had long ago buried loved ones who were assumed to have passed away peacefully.

Loren Adair-Smith heard from a Dallas homicide detective in April 2018. Her mother, Phyllis Payne, had died two years earlier. “I have some shocking news for you,” the officer said. “We believe she may not have died of natural causes.”

“I said, ‘If this is a joke, this is really sick,’ ” Adair-Smith recalls. It wasn’t.

Chemirmir, then in Dallas County jail on $1 million bond, eventually faced a long list of capital murder charges in Dallas and Collin counties. He repeatedly proclaimed his innocence. “I just can’t believe this,” he said. “Where I come from, our culture, we don’t even think about murder.”

“News of a serial killing at an upscale independent living facility is bad for business.”

His first trial for Harris’ murder, in November 2021, ended in a hung jury. But in his second trial on the same facts five months later, a new jury convicted him after deliberating for 45 minutes. The families of other people Chemirmir allegedly killed were not sure they’d ever get their day in court. So they gathered to hear the verdict. Among them: M.J. Jennings, whose mother, Leah Corken, is one of 13 victims named in Dallas County indictments. “Elated, ecstatic, thrilled, relieved!!!!” Jennings texted. “Finally.......SOME justice. It was so wonderful to hear GUILTY!!!!!”

Chemirmir is now in prison serving two sentences of life without parole for the murder of Lu Thi Harris and, after another verdict was handed down October 7, for the murder of Mary Sue Brooks. He faces additional murder charges in two counties for killing 20 more victims, all in similar circumstances. Victims’ families believe he is also linked to two more deaths, for which he has not been indicted.

His days of freedom may be past, but his case poses a troubling question that goes far beyond Texas. Assuming authorities are correct in their assertions that Chemirmir is guilty of dozens of murders, how could such a brazen crime spree unfold over the course of two years—presenting case after unsolved case, sending more and more families into unending grief—without alarms being raised by police or the facilities charged with the protection of those victims? Our shocking conclusion: because the victims were old.

AARP asked me to investigate the alleged murders of these older Americans, whose ages ranged from 76 to 94. Over 18 months I sifted through thousands of pages of court records, police reports and witness statements, and interviewed dozens of relatives, lawyers, police and others. Ultimately, two things became clear. First, while Chemirmir has been convicted of just two murders so far, the evidence against him for those and other cases is overwhelming and compelling. Second, the criminal justice system and the adult living complexes entrusted with protecting these victims’ health and safety appeared to be blinded to the crimes by a fatal strain of ageism.

In almost every case, investigators failed to collect fingerprints or DNA evidence, order autopsies, or photograph crime scenes—all standard death-investigation practices, particularly when paired with a theft or burglary report, as was the case with nearly every homicide in this grim procession. Time and again, the deaths were attributed to heart attacks and strokes. Doris Gleason’s suspicious death in 2016 was instantly attributed to natural causes. As her daughter, Shannon Dion, puts it: “The mentality of it was, ‘They were old, and they just died.’ ”

At the Lu Thi Harris murder trial, a prosecutor shows jury the murder weapon and her jewelry box.

The most damning admission of an ageist and uncaring system came from Jeffrey Barnard, M.D., medical examiner for Dallas County. In Chemirmir’s first trial, he conceded that his office rarely orders autopsies for anyone over 65. Instead, thousands of “unattended deaths” (outside a hospital with no doctor present) are handled by phone—even those involving robberies or burglaries. Otherwise, he asserted, the workload would be overwhelming: “No office can handle that. So you have decisions based on those cases, the findings and the medical history.” (Barnard and his office, as well as the Collin County medical examiner, declined to comment for this story, citing ongoing investigations.)

“When crime rates are rising in the major cities, the police and medical examiners would rather expend their forces on other crimes rather than on the death of someone who’s reaching their expiration date,” concludes Mitchel Roth, a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, and an expert on serial killers who has reviewed the facts of the case. “A police force also hates to admit there may be a serial perpetrator out there because it reflects badly on them. And the same is true of an upscale living facility. News of a serial killing there is bad for business.”


WHO DID THE KILLER TARGET? Widows mostly, women living alone, but women of means with the resources to pay for what they believed was safe housing. Most of the alleged murders (plus two attempted murders) described in indictments against Chemirmir were committed in upscale senior independent living complexes. These places are heavily marketed to buyers as secure places to retire to, and they aren’t cheap—one rented apartments for $4,000 a month, and another required residents to buy in for as much as $1 million. But court records and police reports show that, for the two years prior to Chemirmir’s arrest, the murder victims were robbed of tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry, including wedding rings and large collections of gold, diamonds and coins, as well as two safes. All too often, administrators at these complexes ignored the crimes—and, most important, failed to warn other residents about intruders, home invasions and major thefts.

“Chemirmir was not dumb,” says Dallas lawyer Trey Crawford, who represents 13 victims’ families. “He knew which facilities to go to, the target-rich environments that do not have robust safety and security measures. We counted 30 or 40 [suspicious deaths] within a 5- to 10-mile radius” of where Chemirmir lived.

Billy Kipkorir Chemirmir, 49, could face trial for another 20 murders. A Kenyan-born immigrant, he held a series of short-term home health aide jobs during his 15-plus years as a legal permanent U.S. resident. He was comfortable around older people—his father lived to be 100—and he had years of experience caring for older, fragile people in private homes and upscale apartments. After working through health care agencies, he grew tired of paying commissions and began recruiting his own clients. When first questioned by a Dallas County homicide detective in March 2018, Chemirmir explained away his presence at crime scenes by insisting he was simply soliciting health care work.

Yet before his 2018 arrest, Chemirmir was known to Dallas police as a small-time criminal with prior arrests and stints in jail for domestic assault, drunk driving and trespassing. In the domestic assault case, he’d been convicted after admitting to beating an ex-girlfriend with a frying pan following a night of drinking at a Dallas club.

At some point Chemirmir began to use a fake ID with the name Benjamin Koitaba—which allowed him to work at a Dallas home health agency that required a background check he could not have passed under his real name. That company communicated with him only as Koitaba, and Chemirmir frequently took short nighttime assignments.

From 2016 to 2018, records show that Chemirmir roamed the hallways and parking lots of at least three upscale senior living complexes where sudden deaths occurred. He was repeatedly stopped and questioned as an intruder but then left free to continue. “We believe one of his techniques was looking for women who walked their dogs or used walkers—and needed extra time coming in their doors,” says attorney Ali Ohlinger, who worked with Trey Crawford to investigate the murders on behalf of victims’ families.

Chris Bianez, a Plano police officer who specializes in crime prevention and is familiar with the murders, notes that the serial killer didn’t rely on fancy burglary tools or technology. It is in precisely these kind of cases, he says, that standard crime-prevention techniques—like posting flyers to alert residents about an intruder—could have worked: “He was committing robberies—but mainly he was able to access residents by just knocking on the door and posing as a maintenance worker or using some other way to gain their trust.” As Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said in the October trial for the murder of Mary Brooks, Chemirmir had a “fundamentally different approach” to his job. “We go to work to produce,” said Creuzot. “He goes to work to kill, strip, steal, sell.”

Though Chemirmir repeatedly made unauthorized forays into senior living complexes for years before the murders were detected, he was arrested only once for trespassing, at the Edgemere retirement community, where authorities believe the murder spree began.

CATHERINE SINCLAIR, M.D., had a successful medical practice—a U.S. Army veteran, she’d worked in hospitals in several states. Near the end of her career, she and her husband shared a sprawling home in Pennsylvania and had the means to collect gold and precious gems on regular trips to the Virgin Islands. She was still working ER shifts when her husband contracted cancer and then died. For a while, Sinclair kept rattling around their big old house. Then one day she called her beloved niece in Texas and said: “You know, this isn’t really working for me.”

That niece, Jane Fold, and a nephew, Dan Probst, talked their aunt into moving closer to their families in Texas in 2014. Together they settled on Edgemere, near the exclusive Dallas neighborhood of Highland Park. The place was luxurious. It offered condos for as much as $1 million, as well as exceptional cuisine, a putting green, a jewelry-cleaning service, an oversize pool, an upscale salon and a spa.

“It was as nice as any five-star hotel,” says Probst. “I mean, dinner was served on cloth tablecloths, with flowers on the table and candles, and they would fix anything special you ordered.”

Sinclair soon settled in. She used a walker but, as far as her niece and nephew knew, took no medicine at all. She dined with them in early April 2016, and the 87-year-old had seemed in perfect health. So, both were astonished when they were notified only a week later that their aunt had died. When they entered her apartment, things got stranger.

“We saw blood on the bed,” Probst recalls. What’s more, their aunt’s oversize safe with her collection of gold, loose diamonds and fine jewelry was gone. He and his sister insisted the Dallas Police Department open a homicide investigation—even though the Dallas County medical examiner quickly attributed Sinclair’s death to natural causes. A robbery detective was assigned but didn’t return calls for about a month; the Dallas Police Department, which had about 500 retirements in 2016, was regularly rotating that detective, and other robbery and homicide detectives, to patrol shifts.

As for Edgemere, civil court records indicate that security guards detected several intruders in the independent living facility that year but didn’t always summon police or immediately review security camera footage.

Sinclair is now believed by her family to be Chemirmir’s first victim. But her case remained unsolved—and had already been officially attributed to natural causes—when another Edgemere resident, Phyllis Payne, died the next month.

At 91, Payne was still vibrant, a “ball of energy,” according to her daughter Loren Adair-Smith, who lived nearby. Payne’s brunette hair remained naturally dark, and she rarely complained of aches or illnesses. In fact, Payne provided welcome support to Adair-Smith, whose husband had terminal cancer. “She was my best friend, and we talked every day,” says Adair-Smith, adding that she often invited her mother on family trips, including one to a beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama, in May 2016. But Payne was too busy to go on the trip.

“Not this time,” she had said. “I have too much going on.” Payne loved hanging out with members of her longtime bridge club in Edgemere’s party room and spent hours fussing over the menu and the seating arrangements. Adair-Smith called her mother en route to Alabama and learned the gathering had been a success. Payne crowed that both the food and her cards had been “really good.” Adair-Smith was dipping her toes into the warm waters in Gulf Shores on May 14 when she got another call.

“Mom died,” her brother said.

“What?? I just talked to her. What do you mean?” said Adair-Smith, sinking to her knees on the sand.

Adair-Smith rushed back to Dallas, where her mother’s tidy apartment appeared undisturbed. Only later, as she began packing up flatware and cleaning the fridge, did she notice the missing valuables. Pieces of silver. A coffee can her mom always kept in the refrigerator—a hiding place for her 18-karat gold jewelry. Adair-Smith reported the thefts to the police and the complex’s administrators. But again, no one reviewed security footage, no real investigation materialized, and Payne was declared to have died of natural causes.

The Edgemere’s failure to alert its residents or take steps to protect them after the two deaths reflects a pattern that would emerge elsewhere. A former Edgemere executive later alleged in a civil lawsuit that the company “cut corners and security and put residents at serious risk of bodily harm.” 

On April 19—about a month before Payne’s murder—Chemirmir was found by police roaming the halls at Edgemere and formally warned to leave and stay away. He returned anyway, and was arrested and charged with trespassing on June 18, 2016, less than two weeks after the third victim at the complex, 94-year-old Phoebe Perry, was found dead in her unit. She, too, was missing valuables and pronounced dead of natural causes. Chemirmir was sentenced to 70 days in jail but released after only 12. Incredibly, neither police nor administrators made the connection between the deaths, the thefts and the serial trespasser.

Edgemere did retain its security footage and, much later, was able to help police link Chemirmir to Payne’s murder. Its owners also improved security—adding hundreds of cameras. But all that came well after three of its residents—and many other women elsewhere—were already dead.

“Think of all the people who could have been saved over the next two years if there had been some connection made to that man,” Adair-Smith now laments.

Indeed, within a few days of his release, it appeared that the killer moved on to Tradition-Prestonwood Senior Living, another luxury independent living complex just minutes away in North Dallas.

Juanita Purdy, right, with her daughter and granddaughters at her apartment, a few months before she was allegedly robbed and killed there in July 2016


TRADITION-PRESTONWOOD Senior Living, the flagship of a Dallas-based company, beckoned customers with manicured lawns and beautiful magnolia trees. Marketing literature promised “24/7 access control” and a “cutting-edge security and visitor management system,” a lure for both older couples and widows like Joyce Abramowitz, who moved there from her comfortable home in Dallas. Other residents moved there from across the country to live closer to adult children and grandchildren. Security cameras ensured their safety, residents were told, and concierges conducted rounds to check for irregularities, like propped-open exterior doors.

In April 2016—the same month as Sinclair’s murder—Abramowitz reported to the police that, while she was away on a three-week vacation, someone had entered her apartment, number 208, and removed more than $3,500 worth of items from a jewelry box, including an opal heart pendant with diamonds, a white gold pendant, a sapphire ring and an antique bracelet. She feared it might be a maid, since police found no sign of a break-in. Tradition’s written policy was to have its management investigate thefts, though residents could also call police, as Abramowitz did. No one was charged.

The crime remained unsolved when a second burglary occurred, on July 18; an intruder made off with a safe Abramowitz had bought after the previous burglary, and a jewelry collection worth roughly $5,000. This time, Abramowitz could provide no more information: She was dead. But authorities again dismissed her sudden and unexplained death as natural, and no autopsy was ordered.

Over the next 18 months, eight more residents in the complex died under similarly suspicious circumstances. All of their homes had been burglarized, according to public records and interviews, and several victims were missing their wedding rings.

One of them was Juanita Purdy, a hale, outgoing 83-year-old featured on the complex’s Facebook page. Two weeks after Abramowitz died, Tradition-Prestonwood’s facilities director, a jovial man named Edmundo Sanchez, discovered Purdy dead in her bed. When her daughter Diana Tannery arrived that Sunday, Sanchez declared that Purdy “had died peacefully in her sleep.”

But the same modus operandi came to light: Tannery quickly discovered that the box in which her mother kept her wedding ring was empty. In tears, she began to clean out the apartment and found a recent appraisal that confirmed that items worth more than $20,000 were missing from her mother’s jewelry collection.

Administrators assured Tannery the burglary would be investigated internally. But they sent out no alerts to residents about that crime or others, and Tannery never got any updates. “How much has to happen before they let the residents know that, ‘Hey, something’s going on?’ ” Tannery asks.

Three weeks later, Leah Corken, an 83-year-old widow who’d spent the previous day shopping at the mall, was found dead in her unit at the same complex, lying face down on the floor in her living room, with her body laid out in an oddly straight line. Her wedding ring was missing.

Her daughter M.J. Jennings knew her mother loved that ring, which had been reset by a jeweler during the years the family lived in Brazil. “And she never took that off,” says Jennings. “Never, ever.”

Sanchez, the facilities director, told Jennings, who arrived minutes after she had been notified of her mom’s death, that “old people misplace things,” and then suggested she check her mother’s panty drawer for the missing ring. (Police reports and interviews indicate that Tradition often relied on Sanchez, who moonlighted as a pastor, to speak with families and first responders during the complex’s 2016 wave of robberies and deaths.)

Less than two weeks after Corken’s death, another body was found: Margaret White, 87, also a widow who lived on the fourth floor at Tradition. Her jewelry boxes had been emptied.

As the body count grew, the police apparently considered it business as usual for older people, even those in upscale, higher-security independent housing. Death investigation procedures—routine for younger victims in Dallas—were not followed in most cases later identified as murders and attributed to Chemirmir. Officers did not take photos, collect forensic evidence or dust for fingerprints. The county medical examiner did not send investigators to most death scenes.

Police finally launched a murder investigation of sorts when Solomon Spring, an 89-year-old grandfather—possibly Chemirmir’s only male victim—was discovered dead in his apartment at Tradition by his daughter, Marsha Repp. Like Corken, he lived on the complex’s fourth floor. Crime scene photos show his bedroom and bath contained extensive but unexplained blood trails, an out-of-place lamp and a piece of wood that suggested a worker had entered the apartment (though no maintenance had been ordered). Items of value were missing, too, including a watch and a ring he rarely wore.

That investigation ended when the medical examiner listed the death as accidental, the result of a fall.

By October 1, 2016, it appears, the killer had struck eight times in a matter of months: three at Edgemere near the exclusive Dallas neighborhood of Highland Park and five at Tradition-Prestonwood in North Dallas. Administrators at Tradition-Prestonwood knew that four apparently healthy widows and one man had died suddenly there—and all were missing jewelry. But it took a sixth unexpected death at the Tradition complex in a three-month span—again involving a dead widow and a stolen wedding ring—before the Dallas Police Department mounted its first major theft investigation.

The medical examiner deemed Solomon Spring’s death “accidental” despite a massive blood trail.


NORMA FRENCH, 85, a proud alumna of the University of Texas, went away in September to visit her daughter, Ellen French House, in Indiana, but made a point to return home to Tradition by Saturday, October 8, 2016. There was no way she was missing a UT football game against their archrival, the Oklahoma Sooners. She considered going in person, but ultimately decided to watch on TV. French House knew her mom probably wasn’t happy with the outcome—her beloved Longhorns lost a hard-fought game, 45-40. But even that didn’t explain why French failed to answer her phone afterwards.

Her adult children requested a welfare check, and complex employees found her prone on the floor next to the TV. They summoned a paramedic, but it was already too late.

French House was so upset that she insisted her siblings take and send to her photos of her mother’s body. She immediately noticed her mother’s wedding ring was missing: Her ring finger was red and swollen. The ring appeared to have been forcibly removed, French House thought. She and her siblings kept calling the Dallas Police Department until a detective was finally assigned to the case.

Sanchez, who still worked for Tradition at press time, responded to questions from two Dallas police officers about the theft of French’s jewelry. And he referred to the other recent unattended deaths, but if he had concerns about the unusually high number, he apparently did not share them with the investigators, who made no mention of that in their report. (Sanchez did not return calls for comment for this article, but in an email, Tradition responded that “allegations that staff withheld any information are absolutely false.”)

In her conversations with police, French House passed on a tip she’d gotten from Tradition employees, several of whom suggested to her that paramedics had taken the ring. The Dallas officers investigating the theft apparently bought that angle, and launched an internal affairs investigation, rather than a broader criminal probe. That theft case was still open a week later when Glenna Day, 87, was found dead in her fourth-floor apartment at Tradition. Sanchez assured Day’s daughter, Sherril Kerr, that her mother must have fallen ill while painting and then climbed back into bed. “God took her,” he told Kerr.

Kerr found it strange that her mother would rest atop her fancy $400 bedspread with her hands and smock still stained with paint. “She never would have laid down on it like that to take a nap,” said Kerr. “It just wouldn’t have happened.” But like other victims’ daughters, she was in shock—her lively mother had gone dancing the night before she died—and she knew nothing about Tradition’s crime wave.

When Sanchez met with the detective investigating French’s missing ring, he did not mention the odd circumstances of Day’s death. Sanchez also did not mention that French was at least the third dead widow at Tradition within a few months whose wedding ring had gone missing.

On October 27, 2016, Jeff Wells, one of the administrators at Tradition, met with the detective, too. Under Tradition policies, managers participated in its internal reviews of all thefts and other incidents reported by residents, but Wells played down the crime wave. He offered scant information to police and, worse, repeated accusations against the firefighters and EMTs who had responded to the deaths.

Two days later, on October 29, 92-year-old Doris Gleason was found dead at Tradition by her daughter, Shannon Dion, who immediately reported yet another large jewelry theft. Gleason was missing a necklace with a solid gold guardian angel handcrafted in Italy, an amulet identical to one Dion also always wore. For both women, the angels were treasured gifts from Dion’s sister, who had died of cancer.

Wells and others on staff who spoke to the Dallas police in 2016 did not mention that the complex was experiencing an unusual wave of sudden deaths—all involving widows who’d expired without even having time to call 911. Usually, Tradition-Prestonwood mourned only three or four residents each year: in 2016, there were eight.

“I knew when I saw the green rubber gloves that my life was in grave danger.”

In November 2016, a low-level staff member at Tradition called the Dallas Police Department to report an intruder who had been repeatedly spotted posing as a maintenance man. The man was gone when officers arrived. The description provided was general: “Suspicious person—prowler. BM [black male] 5'10"—180 lbs. dressed in a clean suit carrying a satchel,” the officer wrote. The report further said that “the suspect has been seen on numerous occasions … and has stated he was there to check pipe leaks.” Officers advised Tradition employees to “tighten security and possibly go door to door.” That did not happen.

Residents were finally alerted about an intruder in December 2016, when Wells himself escorted someone—perhaps Chemirmir—off the property, according to information shared with residents. The complex also publicly congratulated Wells, posting a notice that read, with unintended irony: “Jeff has been promoted to Security Specialist.”

The facility turned out to have only window-dressing security: The few security cameras, for instance, were located near the entrance—not on residential levels, including the oddly deadly fourth floor. Further, the concierges who conducted checks weren’t armed or trained to confront intruders; none were security guards.

Instead of tracking down intruders, tightening security and putting two and two together (eight deaths, all with thefts, all within a few months, with reports of a stranger lurking), Tradition officials, and the detective investigating French’s theft, focused on emergency responders. The investigation of the wedding ring was closed in 2017 with no arrests. Wells was promoted again, taking an executive­director role at Tradition-Prestonwood and later at another Tradition complex in Houston, according to his LinkedIn page. (It’s unclear where he works now, and he did not return messages seeking comment for this article. As noted, Tradition says all its employees cooperated with police, and also that it relied on the police department’s professional expertise in assessing the deaths.)

Shannon Dion on a cruise with her mother, Doris Gleason. Two months later Gleason died suddenly—and her angel pendant was missing.


WHAT CHEMIRMIR was busy doing in the nearly year-long gap after the murder of Doris Gleason in October 2016 remains a matter of speculation and investigations. Perhaps he was living a more peaceful life with his wife and son after having sold enough stolen jewelry to meet their needs. (He also supported an older son back in Africa.)

Or perhaps more of his crimes remain undetected. Either way, it appears he resumed, and then accelerated, his killing spree in September 2017. In just three months, from September 2017 to December 2017, prosecutors say Chemirmir stalked and killed seven more women, including five residents of two senior living complexes in suburban cities just over the Dallas County border, in neighboring Collin County.

First, it appears he targeted Parkview in Frisco, a complex for seniors with an attractive stone clubhouse and apartment units clustered around a rectangular pool. Helen Lee and Marilyn Bixler, friends who often dined together, were killed there on September 2 and September 17. Their deaths were initially dismissed as natural by the Collin County medical examiner, though both women were missing jewelry. But the killer was getting sloppy—or overconfident.

In October 2017, a well-dressed man knocked on the door of Kay Lawson’s apartment in the assisted living section of Parkview, claiming he was there to check for leaks. Once inside, the man attacked her, attempting to smother her with a pillow. Lawson began “to pray, believing she was about to die,” according to an affidavit. As the attacker helped himself to her jewelry, the resourceful 93-year-old played dead and managed to press her medical alert button, which activated an alarm and summoned 911. In an ambulance, Lawson provided a detailed description to local police.

The tally of Chemirmir’s alleged victims had now reached 14—all residents of senior living communities. Only Lawson had managed to survive. But the shorthanded Frisco police department identified no suspects and made no arrests. The murderous spree continued unabated, now at the Preston Place retirement community in Plano.

Chemirmir knew this large senior living apartment complex well; his former girlfriend had once worked as a caregiver there, he later told police. It is a gated community but did not require its employees to wear IDs. There were few security cameras and visitors could access large parking lots without checking in with anyone, court records show. Three women died there from October to December 2017: Minnie Campbell, 84; Diane Delahunty, 79; and Mamie Dell Miya, 93. Valuable jewelry was missing from all three apartments, but again, if these were murders, as evidence now suggests, they went undetected.

Right before Christmas, it appears that Chemirmir returned to Dallas County to kill another resident at Tradition—90-year-old Doris Wasserman. Her death was blamed on natural causes, though she, too, had been robbed.

On New Year’s Eve 2017, Chemirmir allegedly killed the only one of the victims he admits he knew: Carolyn MacPhee. MacPhee first met Chemirmir in October 2016, when she contacted a home health care agency to hire an aide for her beloved husband, Jack, who was dying of a rare nervous system disorder. That New Year’s Eve, MacPhee, then an 81-year-old widow, returned dressed in her Sunday best, which is what she was wearing when she was found dead on the floor of her home. Her wedding ring was gone, and her neat home contained unexplained blood stains in several rooms and on her glasses, too. Her son Scott MacPhee was shocked when the Collin County medical examiner classified her death as natural, without an autopsy, and cited a heart condition, without contacting his mother’s doctor. (Scott MacPhee did keep his mother’s glasses, and more than a year after her death, investigators found Chemirmir’s DNA in a blood spatter on the glasses.)

In January 2018, Chemirmir allegedly stalked, robbed and killed Rosemary Curtis, 76. A couple weeks later, he killed 87-year-old Mary Sue Brooks, a woman he’d met at Walmart and followed home. Surveillance video shows he met Brooks at the same Walmart where he’d later encounter his last murder victim, Lu Thi Harris. He followed Brooks in his silver sedan to her Richardson, Texas, condo, where he smothered her with a pillow, stole the wedding ring off her finger and pocketed heirloom jewelry from her bedside table and a portable safe. 

Then in March 2018, Chemirmir returned to Preston Place. At the large Plano facility, managers were again handed strong evidence of a continuing crime wave involving, at the very least, burglaries and home invasions. But they did not alert residents—with fatal consequences.

On March 4 he allegedly smothered 80-year-old Martha Williams. But the man prosecutors in 2022 would describe as a career killer again slipped. He left a silver platter and creamer, Williams’ family heirlooms, in the trunk of his car. And in the glove box, he stashed away a rubber glove containing incriminating DNA evidence that a lab eventually linked to Williams. Still, those discoveries came far too late to spare others, including some of Williams’ neighbors.

Three days later, Miriam Nelson, 81, accidentally left her door unlocked at Preston Place because she’d just received a regular grocery delivery. The stranger who knocked and said he was a maintenance man was neatly dressed but wore rubber gloves and presented no identification. Nelson was immediately alarmed: She picked up her phone and watched him from her living-room recliner. The man walked into her bedroom, then left after several minutes.

Suspicious, Nelson called the complex administration and left a long voice mail with a description of the odd stranger. Later she discovered a valuable necklace had been taken. When Nelson confirmed the man was not an employee, she called all her neighbors in her two-story building. But the complex itself did not alert other residents or call police, a failure to act that her daughter finds incomprehensible.

“She called the office and explained in great detail what had happened—and his description,” recalls Karen Nelson. “We didn’t know that all the deaths had been happening with missing jewelry. But they knew.”

On March 9, Nelson was found dead, her diamond rings, family heirlooms and other jewelry worth more than $11,000 all missing, according to an indictment and allegations in a civil lawsuit her family later filed against the complex.

Plano police immediately began to investigate Nelson’s death as a possible homicide, but only because this particular victim had recently reported an intruder. They searched her apartment for missing jewelry, dusted for fingerprints and ordered an autopsy. Even so, the complex’s administration seemed uninterested in alerting residents and apparently did more or less the opposite: That month, another neighbor’s daughter posted flyers on residents’ mailboxes, warning of a man in a business suit who’d been roaming around knocking on other residents’ doors since late 2016, always claiming to be “checking for leaks.” Her flyers were removed.

In mid-March, a man whose mother lived at Preston Place reported seeing a stranger who fit the description of Billy Chemirmir lurking for hours parked in a silver car in the parking lot. On March 18, 2018, Ann Conklin, 82, died after going out to walk her dog—just as had happened to another woman, Minnie Campbell, at the same complex in October 2017. Conklin’s daughters later found the dog next to their mother’s body, still on its leash.

Mary Annis Bartel lived directly across the hall from Conklin in Building 8. She knew nothing about reports of an intruder at the complex when a stranger knocked on her door only a day after Conklin’s death.


ON MARCH 19, 2018, Bartel, 91, got up around 6:30 a.m. to pray and read the Bible in her room as usual. She had just finished a regular morning phone call with her sister-in-law when a knock came at the door of her ground floor apartment. A stranger identifying himself as a maintenance man pushed the door open when she answered. She was hard-of-hearing and hadn’t been able to understand him, but her eyes immediately fixed on the stranger’s hands. “I knew instantly when I saw those two green rubber gloves. Number one, I should not have opened the door. Number two, my life was in grave danger,” she later told a prosecutor.

The intruder told her to lie down on her bed. Then he picked up a pillow and smashed it down over her head and chest so intensely that Bartel blacked out. While she was unconscious, it turned out, the man rifled through her jewelry boxes, took gold crucifixes and a distinctive gold locket with her dead husband’s photo inside—and then removed her diamond rings. Bartel regularly attended morning aerobic classes, and friends found her door ajar when they arrived minutes later. The intruder was gone. They called 911 and began CPR.“We have a neighbor we cannot awake,” one friend told the operator. Still, Bartel appeared to be breathing—her pacemaker had kicked in.

Bartel, a straight talker with a strong Catholic faith and thick Indiana accent, regained consciousness in the emergency room and told her sons, Rick and Tom Bartel, to summon the Plano police. But the first officer, skeptical, told her sons that Bartel’s weird story about being suffocated by a guy wearing green gloves seemed more like an old lady’s delusion than a real-life robbery. “She probably hit her head and became confused,” he said to them.

The brothers looked at each other incredulously. “That doesn’t sound like Mom,” said Tom Bartel. She would not imagine the loss of her wedding and engagement ring—or of the unusual ring with its parallel rows of diamonds that she’d worn on her right ring finger for 50 years. When she woke up in the hospital, all three rings were gone. The sons asked to see a Plano detective, who took their mother seriously. He thought her story sounded a lot like the bizarre tale that 93-year-old Kay Lawson had shared in 2017 of being attacked and smothered by a robber posing as a maintenance man.

Meanwhile the police, upon receiving the tip about Chemirmir loitering in the parking lot at Preston Place, ran his license plate, found an outstanding arrest warrant for public drunkenness and finally mobilized.

On the afternoon of March 20, 2018, seven Plano officers in unmarked cars and trucks surrounded a silver sedan as it pulled into the parking lot of the apartment linked to the license plate. It was an unbelievably damning scene: Undercover officers watched and listened as Chemirmir stopped near the entrance to toss into the complex’s dumpster an ornate oversize reddish orange jewelry box that fell with a heavy thunk. When officers moved in to arrest him, they found a dead woman’s jewelry in his hands. Chemirmir was arrested on the outstanding warrant, though the police planned to question him about the attempted murder of Mary Bartel. Then a quick search of that discarded jewelry box led them to immigration papers with the name of Lu Thi Harris and a nearby North Dallas address.

The house keys the Dallas police officers recovered from Chemirmir’s car fit the lock on the front door of Harris’ home on Warm Breeze Lane. Inside, they discovered the 81-year-old widow’s body.


CHEMIRMIR AGREED to speak with both Plano and Dallas police, even after officers revealed they suspected him of serial jewelry theft and murder. In hours of recorded interrogations, he declared his innocence. He could not explain how he’d obtained distinctive jade and gold jewelry, private papers or house keys that belonged to a murdered woman. Plano police also obtained a search warrant for his phone and found photos of the unique rings and gold crosses stolen from Mary Bartel. He’d posted them for sale online hours after she reported being attacked.

After Collin and Dallas county officials held their unusual joint press conference to inform the public about the killing spree, Plano and Dallas police reviewed hundreds of neglected reports of unsolved robberies involving unattended deaths of older Texans and cross-referenced them with Chemirmir’s cellphone data, security camera footage and jewelry sales records. Time and again, the information synced up. Though Bartel died in 2020, her riveting testimony was digitally preserved, and prosecutors also assembled literally hundreds of exhibits of actual and circumstantial evidence such as Chemirmir’s cellphone pings to local towers, photographs of Bartel’s rings and necklaces posted online, and Harris’ jewelry and house keys.

Today, Chemirmir is serving two sentences of life without the possibility of parole for the murders of Lu Thi Harris and Mary Brooks. At press time he faced 20 additional capital murder charges, but Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot has said he will likely drop all other capital murder indictments against Chemirmir in his jurisdiction. Nine capital murder charges and two charges of attempted murder stand in Collin County, where the district attorney remained undecided on whether to seek a death sentence.

But is Chemirmir the only guilty one here? What of the housing complexes and investigators who time and time again—whether consciously or unconsciously—ignored chilling evidence and declared the deaths “natural”?

“These crimes are horrifying, and the repeated failures of systems that should have been in place to protect the victims add to the tragedy,” says Tina Tran, the AARP Texas state director. “A killer exploited a deep bias against the elderly, particularly women, in our society, which allowed a murderous spree to continue unquestioned and undetected. The callousness—particularly of the police and those who ran the facilities—should shake us to our core.”

A number of the victims’ families have filed wrongful death suits against the facilities where their relatives lived. Attorney Trey Crawford represents 13 of those families.

“The owners and operators prioritized the profits of their private equity investors over the lives of the elderly residents they undertook to protect,” he asserted in one suit. The current owners (Preston Place was purchased by a private equity firm in 2018) have settled the suits and issued a statement acknowledging the “long and difficult journey for the families and friends of the victims.” They suggest that pending criminal indictments and Chemirmir’s guilty verdicts offer a “welcome path toward finality and closure.”

Another apartment complex with three or more alleged attacks, Edgemere, also promptly settled wrongful death allegations with families. In a statement released after Chemirmir’s conviction for Harris’ murder, Edgemere said that security is a “primary focus” and that they hope “the trial will deliver a small measure of justice, comfort and closure to all.”

The third, Tradition-Prestonwood, home to nine people prosecutors believe Chemirmir killed, settled at least two lawsuits, and the families of other victims have been forced by the company into arbitration, where they are continuing to pursue claims of as much as $10 million each.

In the filing to secure arbitration, Tradition argued that under the terms of their leases, the elderly residents were responsible for their own safety, and that Tradition had relied on the police and medical examiners to properly investigate the deaths.

Tradition’s parent company declined our requests for interviews with CEO Jonathan Perlman or Jeff Wells, or to answer specific questions about the deaths. In a statement, the company said, in part: “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.”

But for the victims’ real families, the horror has continued unabated. “You find out your mom’s been murdered, then you find out it’s a serial killer … and just every day the grief is overwhelming,” says M.J. Jennings, daughter of Leah Corken. “And to realize that this horrible psychopathic serial killer was the last thing my mom saw on this earth. … I still can’t believe it.”

Systemic change in Texas has been slow. The Plano and Dallas detectives who worked on the cases, and their superiors, declined to be interviewed, citing the pending murder cases. A Plano police spokesperson pointed out the department had updated its policy for treating unattended deaths, but those 2019 changes related only to the proper removal of a body, not to the investigation. A Dallas police spokesman, in an emailed statement, insisted that “our goal is always to bring justice to victims, regardless of age.”

At the behest of victims’ families in this case, and largely through the work of the nonprofit advocacy group the families formed after the murders came to light, Secure Our Seniors’ Safety (SOSS), the Texas Legislature passed a law that requires all medical examiners to inform next of kin whenever the cause of death is changed, after the daughter of one of Chemirmir’s alleged victims learned from another friend via a Facebook message that her mother’s death was now being investigated as a murder. The push for further reforms—from victims’ families, SOSS and other advocacy groups, and politicians—has only just begun.

Meanwhile, Karen Harris—whose mother, Miriam Nelson, had tried to report an intruder before he returned to kill her—can’t stop replaying the attack on her mother in her mind. As the list of likely murder victims has lengthened, her unease was replaced by a sense of outrage—shared with other victims’ families—at what she considers the ageist biases of police and facilities that had been home to their murdered relatives.

“It’s very frustrating, hearing all of this,” says Harris, who helped form SOSS. “It seems like this story should have been on everyone’s lips in Dallas. They’re saying this is the most prolific serial killer in Texas history. If these were toddlers or children or coeds. … Do elderly lives not matter?”
Lise Olsen is an investigative journalist in Texas and the author of Code of Silence: Sexual Misconduct by Federal Judges, the Secret System That Protects Them and the Women Who Blew the Whistle.


North Texas

In April 2016, Billy Chemirmir, above, began what authorities allege was a two-year spree, killing some two dozen people. In nearly every case, these murders were essentially uninvestigated and wrongly attributed to natural causes because of the victims’ advanced age. Here’s who he allegedly killed, and attempted to kill:


1. April 7 Catherine Sinclair

2. May 14 Phyllis Payne

3. June 5 Phoebe Perry

4. July 18 Joyce Abramowitz

5. July 31 Juanita Purdy

6. August 19 Leah Corken

7. August 28 Margaret White

8. October 1 Solomon Spring

9. October 8 Norma French

10. October 15 Glenna Day

11. October 29 Doris Gleason


12. September 2 Helen Lee

13. September 17 Marilyn Bixler

14. October 29 Kay Lawson (survived)

15. October 31 Minnie Campbell

16. December 3 Diane Delahunty

17. December 8 Mamie Dell Miya

18. December 23 Doris Wasserman

19. December 31 Carolyn MacPhee


20. January 17 Rosemary Curtis

21. January 31 Mary Sue Brooks

22. March 4 Martha Williams

23. March 9 Miriam Nelson

24. March 18 Ann Conklin

25. March 19 Mary Bartel (survived)

26. March 20 Lu Thi Harris


In April 2022, Chemirmir was convicted of stalking and killing Harris. In October, he was convicted of the same crimes against Brooks. His sentence each time: life without parole.