Billy Varner of Antioch charged with murders after ND church robbery

The search is over for the man wanted for questioning in the deaths of his wife and mother in far north suburban Antioch.

November 4, 2013 1:59:14 PM PST
The search is over for Billy Varner, the man now charged in the deaths of his wife and mother in far north suburban Antioch.

Varner was caught in Williston, North Dakota, about 1,000 miles from Antioch, Illinois, and about 80 miles south of the Canadian border. Varner also faces charges over a church robbery and a stolen van.

The priest at the church in Ray, N.D., that was targeted by a robber armed with a shotgun says God gave him the grace to handle the situation calmly, and that he was prepared to die. The Rev. Benny Putharayil says the man walked into the Church of St. Michael during Saturday night Mass and told the 35 parishioners to get on the floor. He then had Putharayil fill a bag with money.

"He was yelling, 'I don't care, you die, you see my face. Don't use your cellphones, and the gun is loaded,'" Putharayil said Monday. "I began to move down the pews, asking for money. There were a lot of tears and a lot of crying."

Three parishioners chased the man after he fled and gave a description to officers, who apprehended the suspect. The man is wanted for questioning in the suspicious deaths of his wife and mother in Illinois. Putharayil says after the robbery the congregation talked for a bit, prayed for the robber - then held Mass as planned.

Surveillance pictures captured Varner in Antioch the same day two women, who reportedly were his mother and wife, were found dead in their Antioch apartment.

The 54-year-old fled the area until he was caught in North Dakota Saturday, where police say Varner robbed a Catholic church using a shotgun during a Mass.

"The subject fled the scene followed by several church members. Deputies intercepted the suspect's vehicle and conducted a felony traffic, taking Billy Varner into custody," said Antioch Police Chive Craig Somerville.

Varner was caught in the same conversion van police say he stole from a family member the day 82-year-old Dorthy Varner and 61-year-old Peggy Henderson were found during a well-being check.

At this point, police are not saying how the women died. Those who live in their apartment complex are happy the manhunt for Varner is over.

"A lot of us feel relieved, but also thought it was probably an isolated incident, not really too concerned he was coming after any other of the residents, but it's great that he's caught," said neighbor Kyle Kinsman.

While the trail had grown cold, the Antioch police chief was confident Varner would eventually turn up, as long as he was still driving the stolen van.

"It's a unique vehicle, it's a large vehicle with large windows. We had a license plate.We had no indication that he had abandoned the vehicle. It hadn't turned up, and I felt pretty confident before the weekend was over that he would be located," Somerville said.

Members of the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force were on their way to North Dakota Sunday. Chief Somerville said that he had no more information concerning any further charges or extradition.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.