Police have found the bodies of seven women in northwestern Indiana, a gruesome string of killings apparently connected to the same man.
Authorities on Monday identified the suspect as 43-year-old Gary resident Darren Deon Vann, a convicted sex offender in another state. Police said Vann met at least two of the victims through a prostitution scheme facilitated by Chicago.backpage.com, a classifieds website that has been implicated in numerous other crimes across the country related to its barely-veiled sex ads.
Hammond, Ind., police found the first body around 9:30 p.m. on Friday. The woman, identified as 19-year-old Afrika Hardy, was found strangled to death in a Motel 6 in the town.
A different woman, who had facilitated the meeting between Vann and the victim, went to the motel with a male friend to look for the victim after receiving strange text messages that appeared to come from Vann.
“Due to these text exchanges, the facilitator went to Motel 6 with a male friend of hers and the victim was found,” Hammond Police Chief John Doughty said at a news conference on Monday.
Investigators used the transaction to identify Vann’s phone number. When police found him, they said, he confessed and led them to separate locations in Gary, Ind., where they found three other female bodies.
“During his initial arrest in the City of Gary, he told officers that he had messed up by committing the crime in Hammond,” Doughty said. On Monday morning, three more bodies were located in Hammond, bringing the total to seven.
Doughty said that Vann has cooperated with police by describing victims and accompanying them to locations where they have found additional bodies. He is expected to be charged with Hardy’s murder on Monday.
A second victim was identified as Anith Jones, 35, whose family had reported her missing on Oct. 8. About 30 Gary police officers had been searching for her and found her car sitting in the driveway of an abandoned house. The victims ranged from 19 to 36 years old, and all were African American females.
NBC 5 said the areas where the bodies were found were mainly blighted, sometimes fire-damaged houses.
Texas criminal records show that Vann was arrested in July 2008 for sexually assaulting a 25-year-old woman. He was sentenced to five years in 2009, but was released in 2013.
Doughty added that police are investigating Vann’s claims that he was involved in crimes dating back 20 years in Indiana.
“I can’t go into direct statements, but his level of cooperation and the things he’s told us could indicate that there are other potential victims,” Doughty said.
[This post has been updated.]