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Article updated: 11/5/2013 7:02 PM

Grisly details of Antioch double murder heard in court

Antioch victims’ husband, son held without bail

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A 54-year-old man was ordered held without bail Tuesday after Lake County prosecutors detailed the grisly slayings of his wife and mother in their Antioch apartment late last month.

Judge Raymond Collins declared Billy Varner "a real and present threat to the people of Illinois" after hearing prosecutors outline how they believe he killed his mother, Dorothy Varner, 82, and his wife, Peggy Henderson, 61, in the two-bedroom apartment they shared with a fourth family member.

Varner faces four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the killings, which authorities say began Oct. 26 when he slammed a machete into the side of his wife's head, then stabbed her repeatedly. Two days later, prosecutors say, Varner suffocated his mother to death with a towel and plastic bag before fleeing the home on the 1200 block of Main Street.

Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said Varner attacked his wife as she lay in bed the afternoon of Oct. 26.

The first blow nearly decapitated Henderson, but she was able to put her hands up in defense, Nerheim said. A second swing from the weapon took off the woman's fingers and a portion of her hands, Nerheim said. Varner then picked up a knife and stabbed her repeatedly in the chest before covering her body with a blanket, he said.

Nerheim said Varner told members of the Lake County Task Force he killed his wife because she was "suffering."

"He indicated she was suffering and attempted to put her out of her misery," he said, adding that others in the apartment apparently did not hear the attack.

Two days later Varner placed a plastic bag over his mother's head and used a towel to suffocate her in the apartment's living room, Nerheim said. Varner told authorities during questioning that he killed the elderly woman after she grew suspicious that Henderson was dead.

After killing his mother, Nerheim said Varner made his way to a Round Lake Beach house where his brother was and stole the unidentified man's van. When the brother discovered the van missing, he called Varner, who said he was using the van to take their mother and Henderson to the hospital, according to Nerheim.

When the man returned to the Antioch apartment, he discovered his mother's body and called police. Henderson's body later was discovered under a blanket in her bedroom, Nerheim said.

Varner fled the state but was captured Saturday in North Dakota after authorities there say he robbed a Catholic church during Mass while armed with a shotgun. Nerheim said in court that Varner also burglarized a car in Minnesota, where he obtained the gun as well as an undetermined amount of cash.

Varner waived extradition from North Dakota Monday morning and was brought back to Illinois, where he arrived Monday night. Nerheim said the Antioch man could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted of the murders.

"I'm extremely happy they got him," said Wally Licht of Antioch, whose elderly father lives in a neighboring apartment. "With my dad living here, there was a concern."

Licht said the apartment complex has always been quiet and he was shocked when he learned of the murders last week.

"It's back to normal now, though," he said.

Varner is due back in court for a preliminary hearing Dec. 4. Collins appointed a public defender to represent him in court proceedings after Varner said he was unemployed.

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