The man arrested in connection with the deaths of seven women whose bodies were found over the weekend across northwest Indiana was charged Monday in one of the cases.
Darren Deon Vann, 43, of Gary, was charged with one count of murder, as well as murder in the perpetration of a robbery and robbery resulting in serious bodily harm, all related to the death of 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy.
Though Vann hasn't yet been charged in the deaths of the other six women, Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. told reporters Vann is "what I would label a serial killer."
Hammond Police Chief John Doughty said Vann met Hardy last Friday in a room at a Motel 6 on the 3800 block of 179th Street in Hammond after arranging a sexual encounter online. Hardy had been strangled, and Hammond Police Lt. Richard Hoyda said Sunday that as part of the investigation into her death, police served a search warrant on a home on 49th Avenue in Gary, where Vann was taken into custody.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Hardy's naked body was found in a bathtub with what appeared to be a black piece of clothing covering her arms and around her neck.
While being questioned, Doughty said Vann came forward with information about six other dead women, all in Gary. Aside from Hardy, three of the victims were publicly identified by midday Monday: 35-year-old Anith Jones, 28-year-old Teairra Batey, and 36-year-old Christine Williams.
"During his initial arrest in the city of Gary, Mr. Vann told Hammond police officers at the scene that he had 'messed up' by committing the crime in Hammond and was surprised at how quickly he was located after the incident," Doughty said.
Doughty said Vann has been a registered sex offender in Texas since a September 2009 conviction.
He did not rule out the possibility that the ongoing investigation would reveal more victims.
"It could go back as far as 20 years, based on some statements we have," Doughty said.
Police discovered Jones' body at around 11:20 p.m. Saturday. Her family had recently reported her missing, and a group of about 30 Gary police officers searched the 4900 block of Louisiana Street, where her car was found sitting in a driveway of an abandoned house, looking for her. She had been missing since Oct. 8.
Jones’ sister, Yolanda Nowell, did not wish to speak Sunday afternoon, but said last week that her sister was "very street savvy."
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Jones had a stand at the 41st Avenue and Calumet Street flea market, Nowell said, and had moved from Chicago to Northwest Indiana about 10 years ago. She was one of seven siblings.
Police then discovered Batey's body at around 1 a.m. Sunday in the 1800 block of E. 19th Avenue. She was found wearing a green hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans.
A third body was found in the 2200 block of Massachusetts Street at 1:50 a.m. Sunday. The woman was found wearing a pair of blue jeans and white Nike shoes.
Late Sunday, the coroner’s office confirmed the discovery of three additional women.
Williams was found at about 7:50 p.m. in the 4300 block of Massachusetts Street in Gary, according to the coroner’s office. Hours later, at 10:05 p.m., two additional female bodies were discovered in the 400 block of East 43rd Avenue in Gary.
Two of the areas in which police found bodies were similar in that they contained blocks comprised of badly blighted, sometimes fire-damaged abandoned houses. The house near where Jones was found is the only one in a thriving neighborhood, although the exact house is camouflaged behind grass and weeds at least 5-feet tall.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said in two Facebook posts Sunday afternoon that the man, who he called a serial killer, has “admitted to a couple of homicides in Hammond,” some of which date back 20 years. He also said in his posts that the man is a convicted sex offender.
Gary Cpl. Gabrielle King tried to defuse concerns among citizens, noting that the man is in custody and that Gary and Hammond police are working together to bring charges.
“We would like to dispel the rumor that there is a serial killer on the loose. There is a 43-year-old man in the custody of The Hammond Police Department, who led officials to 3 deceased female victims who has claimed responsibility for their demise. Gary Police are closely working with Hammond Police to assist in covering every area of the investigation needed to pursue charges as expeditiously as possible,” the statement read.
In a joint statement, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and Gary Chief Larry McKinley asked for calm and patience.
“We commend the officers for their work thus far and ask the citizens to remain calm and patient as our teams work this investigation and do what they do best,” their statement said.
On two Facebook posts, McDermott praised the Hammond Police Department’s investigation in the case, especially as it comes soon after a lawsuit filed against the department claiming several officers used excessive force and falsely arrested a man during a traffic stop.
“As you hear the details of this grisly murder in a Hammond motel room and discover how this murder was solved by our police, it will make you proud of the Hammond PD,” McDermott wrote. “...Hammond, and NWI, are safer today because this murder case was solved. Our condolences and prayers go out to the victims, and to the families of the victims.”