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Antioch murder suspect killed wife with machete, knife, prosecutors say

Billy Eugene Varner

Billy Eugene Varner

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Updated: December 7, 2013 6:16AM

An Antioch man killed and nearly decapitated his wife with a machete because he thought she was ill and suffering, Lake County prosecutors said Tuesday.

He then suffocated his mother two days later when he thought she became suspicious, stole his brother’s van and fled for North Dakota, prosecutors said.

A Lake County judge ordered Billy Varner, 54, held without bail Tuesday on first-degree murder charges after he was deemed a flight risk. He was arrested by North Dakota officials Saturday, just 65 miles south of the Canadian border.

In court, Varner stood mostly silent, stammering one or two short answers when Judge Raymond Collins questioned him.

Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim said Varner heard his wife wheezing at their apartment on Oct. 26 and decided it was time to end her suffering.

He entered their bedroom with a machete and attacked 61-year-old Peggy Henderson, landing several brutal blows and nearly severing her head before repeatedly stabbing her with a knife to make sure she was dead, Nerheim said.

Later in the day, Varner’s brother visited but not suspect anything, prosecutors said. Varner told the brother that Henderson was lying down because she felt ill, prosecutors said.

However, when the brother visited the apartment later that weekend, he thought it was odd that Henderson still did not emerge from the couple’s room, prosecutors said.

By Monday, Varner feared his live-in mother was also growing suspicious, prosecutors said. So he decided to kill her, too, allegedly suffocating 82-year-old Dorothy Varner with a plastic bag while she played Solitaire on Oct. 28, they said.

Prosecutors say Varner then stole his brother’s van and headed for North Dakota, where he was arrested Saturday after police say he barged in on a Catholic mass and robbed parishioners at gunpoint.

Authorities say they discovered the grisly double-murder after Varner spoke with his brother, who had noticed the van missing from his Round Lake home. When he called to inquire, Varner said he was taking his wife and their mother to the hospital for treatment of various ailments they had.

Varner then allegedly hung up on his brother and steered for North Dakota.

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