GARY | When a decaying house was donated to a small nonprofit by a Chicago-area dentist, Marcia Jackson envisioned turning it into a shelter for homeless families.
The house is located off Broadway about 2 miles from Gary's downtown. Wooden boards cover two large windows and the front doorway. It's surrounded by other vacant properties, including a large crumbling building.
Before Jackson's organization could turn the space into a shelter, Darren Vann led detectives to the house at 2200 Massachusetts St. where they found a dead woman inside. The unidentified woman was one of seven women Vann, 43, of Gary, allegedly confessed to killing.
He faces murder charges in the strangling deaths of two of the women, including Afrikka Hardy, 19, who was found dead in a Hammond motel room.
The four properties where six women were found are part of the estimated 8,000 abandoned properties throughout Gary.
Joseph Van Dyk, Gary's director of redevelopment, said the city will demolish the properties as soon as detectives say they are done with their investigation.
For Jackson, her organization stumbled on financial hurdles to turn the property around. The For Women Only nonprofit applied for funds from the city, but Jackson said she was told the house first had to become livable.
To make it livable, the group learned the house needed $100,000 worth of repairs. The figure was well beyond the small nonprofit's budget.
The group started in 2009 as a food pantry for Gary residents. Through the years, the group has expanded to include an after-school program and tutoring services.
On top of repairs, the property is tied to $20,000 in delinquent taxes, according to county records. The last time taxes were paid on the property were in 2011 when F.W.O. Non-For Profit Inc. paid $325.29 in taxes.
The house was placed on tax sales but never was sold.
Jackson said illegal activity in the neighborhood made it impossible to keep the building secured. The group boarded up the property several times, Jackson said, only to find the boards taken down days later. The last time the group boarded the building was in April.
Jackson said she recalls two occasions going to the property with police officers who forced squatters to leave.
She and other members of the organization would occasionally clean up the house, but she said they never imagined a body would be found.
The woman found Oct. 19 inside the house was wearing rue21 jeans and white Nike gym shoes. DNA from the victims and families has been sent to the Indiana State Police crime lab.
"I feel bad," Jackson said. "However, I don't have a solution to how we can keep it boarded up."
Last week, the boarded up back door to the house was pried open.
The stories of the other three houses where bodies were found reflect similar misfortunes, and seemingly disinterested or unavailable owners, some from Chicago, some local.
413 E. 43RD AVENUE
The first house Vann led officers to was at 413 E. 43rd Ave. in Gary, also abandoned, where Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville, was found dead Oct. 18. Officers would later return to a separate building on the property and recover the bodies of two other women.
Jones' body was found in the home's basement covered with teddy bears and tires, according to an affidavit. Vann is charged in Jones' homicide.
According to court records, Vann told detectives he killed Jones in a vacant Merrillville home and later moved her body to the house in Gary.
The other two women found on the property remain unidentified. The second woman was wearing a bracelet inscribed "Best Aunt." She also wore a silver-colored ring with a heart shape and a silver-colored ring with scalloped engravings.
The third woman was 5 feet 6 inches tall and in her 30s to 40s, according to the Lake County coroner's office. Officials noted the woman had a past nose injury with recently healed fractures.
The house remains abandoned and unsecured. Earlier this month, a wood board appeared to have been knocked down from the front door. From the outside, the bare structure holding up the house could be seen. A garage or second structure on the property appears to be crumbling in the backyard.
Yellow crime tape was still visible on nearby tree branches surrounding the property, and bottles of alcohol littered the front lawn.
The property was last owned by Terry Taylor, who became the owner in 2010. He was unable to be reached for comment at his home in Chicago.
Before Taylor owned the property, the house belong to the family of David and Annette Bissell who owned the property since the 1960s, according to county records. The house at that time was valued at $5,170.
It’s unclear for how long the house had been vacant. According to county records, the last time Taylor paid taxes for the property was in 2012.
The next year, it was sold to U.S. Bank during a delinquent property tax sale for $2,255.12.
4330 MASSACHUSETTS ST.
Six candles were left on the concrete doorsteps of a one-story brick house at 4330 Massachusetts St. The abandoned property remains secured with a padlock on the front door and a side window was boarded up.
Kristine Williams, 36, of Gary, was found dead Oct. 19 inside the home, police said. It’s still unclear how Williams ended up inside the home, though her death was ruled a homicide by the Lake County coroner’s office.
In 2008, Tunisia Harper saw the house as a good deal when she first moved to Gary.
She purchased the house with the intention of using it as a rental property. She rented the house to four different tenants before the financial burden came crushing down in summer 2012.
Harper said the house was vacant for about a month when she went to the property to fix it up for the next set of potential renters. She discovered the house had been stripped of everything from the water heater to the kitchen sink.
"I didn't have insurance, I could not put the stuff back in there," Harper said. "I made a police report on it, but nothing materialized from that."
Harper, struggling to keep her own house afloat, said the financial burden became too much. She thought the city or county would take over the property.
The house has since remained unoccupied.
According to county records, at least five different people owned the property before Harper bought it.
The house can be traced back to Forrest R. Eddy and Vera D. Eddy, who owned the property in the 1950s. Forrest R. Eddy has two patents dating back to the 1940s on items related to steel production.
In April 2013, Jack Mitchell, of Dyer, purchased the house for $300 during a tax sale, according to county records.
Less than a month before local law enforcement officers found Williams dead in the house, an order was issued for the Lake County auditor’s office to issue Mitchell a tax deed for the property.
Mitchell said he didn't know a woman was found dead in the home until he was contacted by The Times.
He said he's driven past the property several times but never saw crime tape. He said he never went inside or secured the property, because he did not have the deed for the house.
Mitchell said he's involved in several properties in Gary with investors. He still intends to fix up the house and turn it into a rental property, which then can then be sold to another investor.
"Gary has a lot of opportunity for the future," Mitchell said. "The city is working with government funds to tear down properties. I’m networking to rehab a lot of the abandoned properties in Gary."
1800 E. 19TH AVE.
Teaira Batey, 28, of Gary, had been missing for about nine months when officers found her body inside the home at 1800 E. 19th Ave. in Gary.
The faded-green ranch-style home is marked with red spray paint, “1800.” The house is sandwiched between what appears to be an occupied house and a vacant lot with rotting furniture.
Two white crosses with stuffed teddy bears now stand in front of the home to memorialize Batey. A laminated program for her memorial service is attached to one of the crosses.
County records indicate the property was owned by Wanda Clay since 1981. Before the deed was turned over to Clay, the house was owned by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C.
Clay, who now lives out of state, said she never really owned the home.
She said her father purchased the property and listed her as the owner, though she was a teenager in 1981.
"I've never been a landlord of that property," she said. "It was all his doing."
Her father died six or seven years ago. She assumed the city took over the property because of the amount owed on unpaid taxes.
The last time taxes were paid on the property was in 2010 by Clay, according to county records. The property was delinquent more than $10,000 in taxes.
"This is the ramifications of using your kids' names on utilities and stuff," Clay said. "I had no dealings with it."
The house was sold in April 2013 during a commissioner’s sale for $300 to a woman named Ascension Clara, of Chicago. Clara could not be reached for comment.
According to court records, an extension of the redemption period was granted until Feb. 1, 2014. The documents do not indicate the deed was ever transferred over to anyone.
As of December, Gary's redevelopment commission was listed as the owner of the property by the treasurer's office and the assessor's office.