GARY, IN — On October 18, 2014, Darren Deon Vann was arrested for the murder of 19-year-old sex worker Afrikka Hardy at a Motel 6 in Hammond, Indiana.
When Hardy opened the door of Room 158 the day before, she had no way of knowing that her client was a serial killer who had already brutally murdered at least six other women.
Vann later told police that after sex with Hardy turned rough, he strangled her with his hands first and then with a brown extension cord he had brought with him. He then placed Hardy in a bathtub, threw used condoms on her body, and fled the scene.
Police were able to trace Vann’s SUV from motel security footage, and they arrested him a few hours later. But this was only the beginning of Vann’s horrific story.
Soon after his arrest, Vann confessed to killing more women, and then took police on a gruesome tour through several abandoned homes in nearby Gary where he had stashed the bodies of six other victims.
But some authorities believe that there could be more victims out there — and there are large gaps in knowledge about Vann’s history and previous addresses.
Vann was born on March 25, 1971 in Gary, Indiana. While in his 20s, he was married a woman 30 years his senior in Texas.
Public records show that Vann was stationed at a military base in Cherry Point, North Carolina, from 1991 to 1993.
He had multiple addresses listed in the decades that followed, but according to voter registrations compiled by The Daily Beast, Vann could have been in the Austin, Texas, area at the time of the murders of four women strangled there from 1996 to 2006.
Vann has a long criminal history of violence, including arrests for domestic violence and a six-year conviction for raping a prostitute in Austin. His first major brush with the law came in April 2004, when he he threatened to burn down or blow up the home of a man who he believed was sheltering his girlfriend. After holding his girlfriend hostage with a can of gasoline and lighter, he spent 90 days behind bars.
Thomas Hargrove, the journalist who wrote to authorities in Gary in 2010 to warn them of a possible serial killer, began collecting FBI homicide data as part of a project for Scripps News Service. He found a pattern: Women in Gary were being strangled to death by an unknown killer or killers beginning in the mid-1990s until 2007 — when Vann was sent to prison.
None of the murders have been solved, and police in Texas have so far refused to discuss whether they believe that any of the strangulation murders could possibly be connected to Vann.
Hardy’s mother, Lori Townsend, told The Daily Beast that Hammond Police Detective Shawn Ford, who heard Vann’s confession, told her at her daughter’s memorial: “He’s evil. He’s pure evil. He has no remorse. He has no soul.”
Vann’s other victims included Anith “Deja” Jones, 35, on whom he used the same brown extension cord to kill that he used on Hardy.
In another home, Ford found the badly decomposed body of 28-year-old Teira Batey. They later located the mummified body of Tracy Martin, 41 — and an autopsy later found that Vann killed Martin by choking her with a necklace she was wearing. Vann told Ford that he “toyed with” Martin and “made her suffer.”
The final three victims were Cristine “Casper” Williams — who Vann said he beat and strangled to death over $40 worth of crack — and Tanya Gatlin and Sonya Billingsley, who were both found dead in a flophouse.
Regarding a motive, Vann told Ford that he was angry and felt that he had been unjustly sent to prison in the first place — since he paid the prostitute that he had raped.
According to The Daily Beast, no other women in Gary were strangled to death until 2014 — after Vann was released from prison.
Authorities say a gag order prevents anyone in Gary from discussing Vann’s case. His trial is set to begin in March 2018.
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Main photo: Darren Deon Vann [Lake County Sheriff’s Office]