Accused Indiana killer with NC ties appears in court
GARY, Ind. — The man accused in a string of killings in Indiana appeared in court Wednesday but refused to answer a judge’s questions, forcing the hearing to be rescheduled for next week, CNN’s Poppy Harlow reported.
Darren Deon Vann has been charged in the death of 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy, and authorities say he has confessed to killing six other women and led police to their bodies.
The magistrate court hearing was held at the county jail in Crown Point.
Investigators are looking into whether there are any other victims, and they’re canvassing abandoned properties in Gary, Ind.
Gary Police Chief Larry McKinley said 35 officers, along with cadaver dogs, spent Tuesday going through about 120 structures, out of an estimated 10,000 vacant properties in the city of 80,000 people.
Even without admissions of more killings, authorities are not taking any chances.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, Vann, 43, did not have any legal representation and hadn’t requested one to be appointed, said David Schneider, the chief public defender in Lake County, Indiana.
Asked why Vann chose to cooperate with authorities, Hammond Police Chief John Doughty said he wanted to cut a deal with prosecutors, but didn’t provide further details. “It was just something he wanted to do,” the chief said. “That’s all I can say.”
While taken aback by the horrific story, Gary residents aren’t surprised the abandoned properties played into it. There’s been a push to tear them down or do something else about them, amid fears that shady characters have used them.
One young woman, Tatianna Foster, said she doesn’t leave home after 8 p.m. “because it’s so dark out here, they call it ‘Scary Gary.'”
Ronnie Williams, who lives half a block from where some bodies were found, says the horrifying ordeal makes him want to leave.
“I’ve got seven kids, two sets of twins,” Williams said. “I can’t take that chance.”
‘Low-risk’ sex offender after aggravated sexual assault
The Indiana-born Vann spent time not only in Gary, about 30 miles southeast of Chicago, but also in Austin, Texas.
That’s where, in December 2007, he repeatedly struck, choked and raped a 25-year-old Hispanic female, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark.
Vann was later convicted of aggravated sexual assault, a first-degree felony. He served five years in prison, from 2008 to July 2013.
After registering as a “low-risk” sex offender in Texas, Vann told prison officials that he would be moving more than 1,000 miles northeast to Indiana, Clark said.
He did register as a sex offender in Lake County. Officers checked in with him there on Sept. 14 to confirm he was at his stated address.
That’s all that’s required, Lake County sheriff’s spokeswoman Patti Van Til said. “If we had gotten an anonymous tip that he had gotten a job or was driving a car that didn’t belong to him, that would be different. But we were not required, and there were no anonymous tips.”
That 2007 incident wasn’t Vann’s only brush with the law.
Records also show he was arrested on unspecified charges while living in Cherry Point, N.C., in 1993.
And court records indicate Vann was convicted in Lake County, Indiana, of misdemeanor residential entry in 2004. The affidavit tied to that crime says he put his girlfriend in a headlock while holding a lighter near a gas can — an apparent threat to burn her — before police eventually grabbed and arrested him.
Vann served 90 days in jail for that crime, a class D felony.
Edward Matlock, whose mother married Vann in the 1990s, described him as “a nutcase who I’d never allow near my kids or in my house.” Matlock said Vann and his mother divorced after 16 years.
“He was just a strange guy,” said Matlock.
Coroner seek help identifying 2 bodies
Right now, Vann faces charges in one death — that of 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy, whose body was found in a Motel 6 in Hammond.
But McKinley, the Gary Police chief, told reporters Tuesday that his department will file charges in “the next couple of days” against Vann in the deaths of 28-year-old Teaira Batey, 36-year-old Kristine Williams and 35-year-old Anith Jones, the latter of whom had been missing since October.
“Murder is our ultimate charge,” McKinley said.
The other three bodies have not yet been identified.
The Lake County Coroner asked for the public’s help Tuesday in trying to identify two of the women.
One of them was wearing a bracelet that included the words “Best Aunt,” as well as a silver, heart-shaped ring. The other was wearing a pair of jeans — the brand is twentyone black by rue 21 — and white Nike shoes.
Batey’s boyfriend, Marvin Clinton, said her death leaves a big hole. The couple have a 2-year-old son.
“That’s going to be the hardest part about it,” he told WLS. “Because he loved his mama, and she loved him. It’s devastating.”