GARY — Suspected serial killer Darren D. Vann is accused of targeting women who lived near an area of Gary known as "Hoe Stroll," engaged in prostitution near there or did drugs in that area, according to court records
In an affidavit filed Monday in Lake County Criminal Court, Vann, 44, of Gary, is accused of strangling to death five women whose decomposing bodies were found in vacant buildings in Gary. The women are Teaira Batey, Tracy Martin, Kristine Williams, Sonya Billingsley and Tanya Gatlin.
Vann already was facing murder charges and the death penalty in the strangling deaths of Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Hammond, and Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville. He is being held without bail in Lake County Jail pending a July 25 jury trial.
In total, Vann now faces seven murder charges, and the Lake County prosecutor’s office is seeking the death penalty for each homicide. In Monday’s filing, the state listed the pending murder charges as aggravating factors for why each homicide warranted a death sentence.
In a separate case, Vann was charged with 10 counts of rape, attempted murder and criminal confinement stemming from incidents that happened in Gary, according to the Gary Police Department. Additional information about those charges was not immediately available.
Hammond police were led to Vann Oct. 18, 2014, while they were investigating the strangling death of Afrikka Hardy. Her body was found in a bathtub inside a motel room in the 3800 block of 179th Street in Hammond.
Vann and Hardy, 19, had arranged to meet through an online escort service, according to court records.
When Vann was arrested by Hammond police, he told them he had killed six women in Gary within the past year. According to the affidavit, Vann called the women "mistakes," and told police he would lead them to the bodies if they could assure he would be put to death.
Vann moved back to Gary after he was released in July 2013 from a Texas prison. He had spent time there on a charge of sexual assault, which involved a prostitute.
When asked by Hammond detectives why he started killing women in Northwest Indiana, Vann allegedly said, "Just I guess, anger. 'Cause I feel I shouldn't have went to prison the first time. You see what I'm saying."
"Hoe Stroll," or the "Block," is an open drug and prostitution market stretching from the 1500 block through the 2500 block of Broadway, according to court records.
Teaira Batey, 28, of Gary, had been stopped by police in that area previously, court records say. Her body was found about 1.4 miles away from that strip of Broadway.
Vann allegedly told detectives he lured Batey by agreeing to have sex with her, and he then strangled her with a rope, according to the affidavit. He dragged her body to a back room in an abandoned building at 1800 E. 19th Ave.
He initially told police he killed Batey because she was a police informant, but he later changed his story. "Really, I just killed her, I'm gonna be honest. I ain't killed her because, I killed her because I was mad, and she was the first person that I ran into," Vann said, according to the affidavit.
Batey had been missing since Jan. 9, 2014. According to court records, medical officials determined Batey could have been strangled to death sometime before Aug. 25, 2014.
Tracy Martin, who knew Batey, was found in an abandoned home in the 2200 block of Massachusetts Street. She last had been seen in September 2014 going to the Budget Motel, which is located within that 10-block strip of Broadway.
According to the affidavit, Vann had agreed to pay Martin, 41, to have sex. Martin's boyfriend told police Martin engaged in prostitution to support their drug habit.
When they entered the abandoned home in the 2200 block of Massachusetts Street, Vann punched, kicked and choked Martin to death, according to the affidavit. He left her body in a closet in the home.
Vann told police he killed Kristine Williams, who went by the name of Casper, over $40 of crack cocaine, according to the affidavit. Vann sold drugs to Williams, and he was angry because he thought she was avoiding him.
He had sex with Williams and then strangled her to death, according to the affidavit. Her body was found in the basement of an abandoned building in the 4300 block of Massachusetts Street.
Williams, 36, lived with Tanya Gatlin, 27, in the 4400 block of Massachusetts Street. According to the affidavit, the two women smoked crack cocaine together.
Gatlin, who was strangled to death, was found in an abandoned building in the 400 block of East 43rd Avenue. Sonya Billingsley also was found in the same property strangled to death.
Billingsley, 53, did cocaine to cope with her boyfriend's death, according to court records. She was a regular at two bars located within the Broadway strip.
Vann allegedly told detectives he picked up Gatlin and Billingsley on "Broadway. It's always on Broadway. Broadway is like the main strip," he said, according to court records.