Law-enforcement officials in two states on Tuesday began the macabre task of searching vacant buildings for more possible victims of accused serial killer Darren D. Vann, who is suspected of killing at least seven women in northwest Indiana.
Meanwhile, the body of a fourth woman, found over the weekend in a vacant Gary house, was identified as 36-year-old Gary resident Kristine Williams, according to authorities. That leaves three bodies connected to Vann still unidentified.
In Gary, a team of 20 police officers used a cadaver dog to comb through abandoned houses near sites where bodies were found. Just over the state line, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart sent deputies into several homes in Chicago’s south suburbs, with a ramped up search to begin in earnest on Wednesday.
Neither agency reported finding any additional bodies, but they undertook the task after Vann was arrested Friday in the strangling of Afrika Hardy, 19, whose body was left in a Hammond motel. Vann, 43, has been charged with her death, though police said he admitted to the other murders dating back 20 years.
After his arrest, Gary police said Vann was “basking” in the “glory” of his work as he directed officers to several crumbling buildings where they found the bodies.
Court records show Vann has a history of violence toward women in both Indiana and Texas. He served a five-year sentence in Texas for sexual assault. During his 2009 sentencing hearing, prosecutors brought up another attack in which he hit a woman in the face and attempted to force her into his apartment in Austin, Texas.
During a 2004 standoff with Gary police, Vann doused himself and his then-girlfriend with gasoline and threatened to set them both on fire, according to court records and an officer who was at scene. He was later convicted of the minor offense of misdemeanor residential entry.
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On Tuesday, the mother of that former girlfriend said she always disliked Vann because he was “crazy” and she knew “there was just something about him that was off.”
Rutha Taylor, of Gary, said she met Vann only six or seven times. But she was concerned that Vann abused her daughter, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
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“When she would come to my house, she would always be hungry. . . . She finally broke down and said the man was keeping her hostage. When he left the house, he would lock her in the closet, tie her up,” Taylor said.
“I told him if he didn’t get out of town, I was going kill him,” said Taylor, whose daughter dated Vann for about three years. In response, Vann threatened to kill her, Taylor said.
One time, Taylor bought her daughter some new clothes, but Vann doused them in gasoline and lit them on fire.
“She just picked the wrong people to hang around,” Taylor said.
Police think Vann used an online prostitution service to lure women to Hammond and Gary before killing them, including Hardy.
He was arrested after the woman who had set Vann up with Hardy tried to contact her and received suspicious text messages in return.
The woman went with a male friend to the motel room and found Hardy in a shower. Police later used surveillance footage to make an arrest.
In addition to Hardy and Williams, authorities also have identified the bodies of Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville, and Teaira Batey, 28, of Gary.
Vann is expected in Crown Point, Ind., on Wednesday, where he will make an initial appearance in Lake County court.
Prosecutor Bernard Carter — who thus far has charged Vann with only one of the murders — said he is contemplating seeking the death penalty.
Investigators are still gathering evidence to charge Vann with the murders of the other six women.
Law-enforcement agencies say they will continue searching vacant homes. Gary officials said in a statement that vacant homes will be boarded up and marked for demolition after they are searched. So far, about 90 of the city’s 10,000 vacant buildings have been cleared, according to the city.
In Cook County, Sheriff Dart said even though there isn’t hard evidence that Vann was active in Illinois, officers are still scouring cold cases and missing persons reports.
“A guy who was prolifically killing people, why would he care about a boundary?” Dart said.
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Contributing: Frank Main, Mitch Dudek, Kim Janssen, Michelle L. Quinn, Christin Nance Lazerus, Ruth Ann Krause, Carole Carlson.