First victim discovered – police track down suspected serial killer
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On October 17, 2014, a female friend helped Afrika arrange a meeting with 43-year-old Darren Deon Vann at a Motel 6 at 3840 179th Street in Hammond, Indiana. Soon thereafter, the friend began receiving “suspicious text messages” from Afrika’s phone. Alarmed and concerned for Afrika’s safey, she called a male friend who went to the Motel 6 to check on her. There, at around 9:30 PM, the man found Afrika’s strangled body in the bathtub of the empty motel room.
Authorities used the phone number that Vann had given Afrika along with motel surveillance footage showing a black male running from the room to a 2013 blue Jeep, to track Vann to a home in the 600 block of West 49th Avenue in Gary, Indiana. Police were dispatched to to the home to arrest Vann for the murder of Afrika Hardy and say Vann was unusually cooperative pointing out that he “he had messed up” and “was surprised how quickly he was found”. Police say that Vann then began volunteering details about a string of murders he had committed prior.
Additional murders suspected
Police told reporters there were indications that additional murders, possibly double or more, were committed much longer ago – possibly as far back as two decades prior. Hammond Police Chief John D. Doughty told reporters:
“It could go back as far as 20 years based on some statements we have. He claims crimes he committed in Indiana go back that far.”
Police also noted that Vann had travelled throughout the United States spending considerable time in Texas. The Austin Police Department immediately issued a statement saying it would review missing persons and cold cases to determine if there could be a link to Vann.
List of victims grows
Police say Vann’s confessions began in an attempt to seek “some sort of deal”. During questioning, Vann gave police details regarding the locations of nearby bodies. Police spent the weekend investigating the areas in question and after examining the abandoned buildings and surrounding lots described by Vann, they found the bodies of six more female victims.
Police discovered the body of 35-year-old Anith Jones at 413 E. 43rd Avenue around 11:20 PM on Saturday October 18, 2014. Jones had been missing for about a week and police had already searched to no avail around an area of Louisiana Street where her car had been found sitting in the driveway of an abandoned house.
Later that night, around 1:00 AM on Sunday, police were directed to a third body in the 1800 block of East 19th Avenue. Wearing a green hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans, the body was identified as 28-year-old Teaira Batey of Gary, Indiana. Teaira Batey’s family filed a missing person report in late January when she had been missing for nearly three weeks. Batey’s mother told police her daughter suffered from schizophrenia, was HIV positive and had a cocaine habit. She had last been seen with a male friend she called Popeye.
The fourth body was found in the 2200 block of Massachusetts Street around 1:50 AM Sunday. Wearing blue jeans and white Nike sneakers, the body was not immediately identifiable.
As the weekend progressed, the body count continued to grow. At 7:50 PM, a female body was discovered in the 4300 block of Massachusetts Street. Hours later, at 10:05 PM, two additional female bodies were discovered in the 400 block of East 43rd Avenue (both were found in the same abandoned home) bringing the total body count to seven.
Gary Police Department Cpl. Gabrielle King pointed out an all-too-common theme with these types of murders – the displaced nature of the deceased women:
“It indicates that he preyed on individuals who might have been less likely to be reported missing.”
What do we know about Darren Deon Vann
Police noted that Vann had arrests and convictions prior to this investigation. In 2004, Vann, who friends and family described as “weird” and “strange”, moved from Austin, Texas to Gary, Indiana. Indiana court records from 2004 describe him grabbing a woman in a chokehold, dousing her with gasoline and threatening to set her on fire. He was sentenced to a year in prison. A few years after his move, he was arrested for a violent sexual assault (he knocked her down and began to strangle her) against a 25-year-old woman in Austin, Texas. Despite the move back to Indiana in 2004, the assault occurred in Austin in December 2007, hinting that Vann had continued to travel back to the area while maintaining his residence in Indiana. Vann was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for the assault. He was released in July 2013.
It was recently discovered that 43-year-old Vann was married to a 72-year-old woman (the woman filed for divorce a few years earlier). The elderly lady’s son told the Chicago Tribune that he had always questioned Vann’s marriage to his elderly mother. He described Vann as “weird” and said he often talked to himself while staring into the distance. He said his mother and Vann had previously lived in an area of Austin known for prostitution and drugs, and Vann would sometimes go walking around late at night.
Authorities are seeking any information on potential missing person’s cases in Texas (particularly the Austin area) and near Gary, Indiana.