Man pleads not guilty to killing wife with machete, suffocating mom

December 5, 2013 (WAUKEGAN, Ill.)

On Thursday, Billy Varner, 54, of Antioch, appeared before Lake County Judge Theodore Potkonjak, who read aloud the 33 counts of murder he faces. Varner, who pleaded not guilty, is being held without bond as he awaits trial.

Varner said simply, "Yes, sir" when Potkonjak asked him if he understood the charges against him.

Prosecutors said in court the particularly brutal way the two women were killed was the reason the lengthy set of charges was pursued.

They allege that on Oct. 26, Varner was at home when he heard his wife wheezing and decided it was time to end her suffering.

Entering their bedroom with a machete, he 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, prosecutors said.

According to prosecutors, Varner told family members over the weekend that his wife had taken ill and was lying down. However, his brother, who was in court Thursday, but declined to speak with a reporter - grew suspicious when Henderson never emerged from the bedroom, prosecutors allege.

Several days later 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.

Prosecutors say Varner then stole his brother's van and headed for North Dakota, where he was arrested the following weekend after police say he barged in on a Catholic Mass and robbed parishioners at gunpoint.

Authorities 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 suffered.

But Varner allegedly cut the conversation short, hung up on his brother and steered for North Dakota.

It remains unclear if North Dakota authorities will extradite Varner to face charges for robbing the church. If that were to happen, they would wait until after Varner's trial and, if convicted, his sentencing.

Varner made a full confession, prosecutors said last month.

"The nature of this case indicates that he does pose a very significant threat to the people of Lake County, " Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire - Copyright Chicago Sun-Times 2013.)

WLS-TV contributed to this report.

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