The last time Gary officers encountered Darren D. Vann — in 2004 — he had poured gasoline over himself and threatened to set himself on fire.
Vann, 43, of the 1400 block of East 50th Court in Gary, was charged Monday with murder after allegedly admitting to strangling to death Afrika Hardy, 19. The grisly discovery of Hardy's body in a Motel 6 in Hammond led officers to Vann, who allegedly admitted to killing at least six other women.
Court records from Lake County and Texas depict Vann as a man whose violent acts against women escalated within the last decade.
On April 6, 2004, David Abram said he was driving to his home in the 500 block of Van Buren Street in Gary when he saw Vann carrying a red plastic gasoline can. Days before, Vann had gone to Abram's home multiple times demanding to see his estranged girlfriend.
According to the affidavit, Vann allegedly told Abram that if he gave him $7,000, Abram could stay with the woman. He also told Abram he had dynamite with him.
At some point during the confrontation, Vann kicked in the door to Abram's house after the woman ran inside for safety. The woman emerged from under a bed after Vann threatened to burn the house down.
Vann placed the woman in a headlock and dragged her out of the house and down an alley toward the 400 block of Madison Street.
It was unclear at what point during the incident Gary officers arrived. According to the affidavit, Vann poured gasoline on himself in front of officers and was carrying a lighter.
Vann told officers to back up after officers ordered him to release the woman. Officers eventually stopped Vann and arrested him.
The woman told officers she lived with Vann for 9 months in an apartment in the 400 block of Madison Street in Gary.
According to court records, Vann pleaded guilty on June 24, 2004 to residential entry, a Class D felony. The Lake County prosecutor's office dismissed a charge of intimidation, a Class D felony, in the case. He was sentenced to 18 months probation in the case.
His probation was revoked Sept. 22, 2005 after he failed to report to the probation department, failed to pay court fees and did not complete required community service hours.
According to a court order, he was then sentenced to 90 days in the Lake County Jail but received credit for 78 days.
Two years later, he was arrested in Austin, Texas and accused of sexually assaulting a woman.
According to Texas court records, the woman was told by her employer to meet Vann Dec. 15, 2007 in an apartment in the 800 block of North Plaza in Austin. The affidavit did not explicitly state why the two were meeting in the apartment.
Vann asked the woman if she was a police officer then tripped the woman and began strangling her, according to court records. The woman later told officers she thought she was going to die.
He punched the woman several times after she refused to have oral sex with him. According to the affidavit, Vann then raped the woman.
He eventually allowed her to leave the apartment. The woman had broken blood vessels in her left eye and had marks around her neck, according to the affidavit.
A grand jury in Texas indicted Vann in July 2008 on two counts of aggravated sexual assault. On Sept. 28, 2009, Vann pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of sexual assault, a second-degree felony. He originally faced a first-degree felony charge.
He was sentenced to five years in prison and given credit for time he spent in jail while the case was pending from July 2008 to Sept. 2009.
Robert Hurst, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said by email that Vann was released from prison July 5, 2013.
According to Lake County court records, a then 66-year-old woman filed a petition for divorce from Vann in August 2009 while his criminal case in Texas was pending. The court dissolved the marriage in April 2010 after he failed to appear at any of the court proceedings.
Vann registered as a sex offender in June 2013, according to the Lake County Sheriff Department's website. At the time he listed a Gary address as his home.
As news spread Monday of the allegations against Vann, many of his neighbors were surprised by the allegations.
Vann lived in a single-story home in Gary's Glen Park neighborhood. A toy butcher knife and a plastic sword were in the home's front yard Monday. The neighborhood has multiple abandoned properties with overgrown grass.
Kenya Harrison lives houses down from where Vann lived. She said she never saw Vann, but knowing about the allegations makes her uncomfortable. Harrison said she has teenage-age daughters who are sometimes alone while she is at work.
"God was watching over us for real because I get home so late," she said.
Harrison said she remembers when officers were searching the neighborhood after Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville, went missing earlier this month. Harrison said the woman's abandoned vehicle was found in the neighborhood.
Jones was one of the women police officials were led to by Vann, authorities said. She was found dead in an abandoned home in the 400 block of East 43rd Avenue in Gary, less than 2 miles away from were Vann lived.
Christine Miller, 56, lived across the street from Vann. She said Vann lived there with his brother and the brother's family, including a couple children.
Alex Griffin, 18, said he saw Vann frequently walking up and down the block early in the morning. Griffin said he remembers Vann having a calm demeanor, but remembers him asking very specific questions about his grandmother that made him uncomfortable.
Vann previously helped Griffin's grandmother get her vehicle out of the snow.
Melissa McClendon, who lives down the street from Vann, also recalled seeing Vann walking through the neighborhood but never spoke to him.
McClendon talked with neighbors Monday afternoon as they discussed how the area needed more street lights and police patrols.
McClendon said she has the City of Gary on her phone's speed dial and has requested the city board up an abandoned house across the street from her home. She recently started to notice people were dumping old couches and televisions around the corner from the neighborhood.
"That's my biggest fear is them finding something," she said.