Anith Jones’ life was worth $300 and two eight balls of crack cocaine.
That’s according to her accused killer, Darren Deon Vann, who told authorities that he was promised drugs and cash by an unnamed person to make Jones “disappear,” Gary Police said in a sworn affidavit filed Wednesday in Lake County court.
Vann — a suspected serial killer who police think murdered at least six other women in northwest Indiana — was charged Wednesday in the death of Jones, 35. He also made an initial court appearance in the murder of 19-year-old Afrika Hardy, whose body was found in a Hammond motel room on Friday. She had been strangled.
Motel surveillance footage led authorities to Vann, who apparently relished “basking” in the “glory” of his work, police said. He told investigators where to find the bodies of Jones and five others, and allegedly admitted to other murders dating back 20 years, police said.
Whether Vann, 43, was a hit man hired to kill Jones, as he allegedly claimed, or a lone operator spinning a yarn for police remains unclear in the affidavit. But the document does offer a grim account of how Vann groomed Jones for weeks to build trust, lured her to a Gary home under the guise of pay-for-sex, and then strangled her with a cord.
It also details how Vann stuffed her body in a garbage can and drove it to a vacant home and hid it in the basement under a pile of teddy bears and tires.
News of Vann’s alleged exploits has prompted authorities in Texas, North Carolina and Arizona to take a look at their case files. Those are places Vann lived during and after a stint in the U.S. Marines.
U.S. Marine Corps records show he was trained as a Hawk missile system operator. But it also shows his service in the Corps was abbreviated. Vann was discharged in September 1993, less than two years after enlisting in December 1991, after he failed to live up to the military’s “expectations and standards.” He held the rank of private and was awarded the National Defense Service Medal.
Detective Brian Edwards, of the Havelock, North Carolina, police said the department is assisting Indiana authorities by looking into Vann’s time in the area when he was stationed at a nearby base during the early 1990s. He is not a suspect in any murders there, Edwards said.
Meanwhile, Indiana investigators are still working to identify the bodies of three of the women found in vacant buildings around Gary over the weekend. In addition to Jones and Hardy, authorities have identified the bodies of 36-year-old Kristine Williams and Tearia Batey, 28.
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 the scene. He was later convicted of the minor offense of misdemeanor residential entry.
In court on Wednesday, Vann was ordered held in contempt after he refused to participate in his preliminary hearing in Hardy’s murder. Such a hearing requires a defendant to acknowledge the charges brought against him, which Vann refused to do.
He was cooperative with police last week, though.
In the affidavit released Wednesday, police said Vann offered an in-depth account of how he killed Jones. Vann claimed he was contacted by a friend, who asked him to kill Jones — known to him as “Deja” — for a third person, who had an “upcoming legal matter” with her.
Before luring Jones to a furnished but unoccupied home in Gary, Vann took a trash can to the house, which he would later use to haul her around in, he told police according to the affidavit.
The day of the murder, the two met in the morning and had sex several times, the affidavit states. Afterward, Vann instructed Jones to get dressed and turn over onto her stomach. He then strangled her with a cord. And he explained to police that he instructed her to get dressed so that he would have an easier time carrying her, the affidavit states.
Then he placed Jones in the trash can, which he loaded into her small four-door car and drove to the abandoned home where he hid her body. Vann ditched her car several blocks from his brother’s house, he told police, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit also suggests Vann planned to kill again.
When police executed a search warrant at the house where Vann was staying, they found a bag containing a bathrobe tie with two knots in it.
Vann told police that he had not used the robe tie “to kill anyone yet,” the affidavit states. But the tie “was going to be his next weapon.”
Contributing: Stefano Esposito, Ruth Ann Krause