A prostitution request advertised on a popular and common website has led to what may be one of the nation’s worst cases of serial killing in recent history.
After multiple killings which may stretch back to the mid-1990’s, suspect Darren Deon Vann, 43, is finally in police custody after a prostitution session ended in the murder of 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy on Friday evening. The female pimp suspected something was wrong and sent someone to a Hammond, Indiana, Motel 6 Hardy worked out of. Hardy was dead, and the pimp passed police the number of her last client: Vann. Vann was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 2009 and registered as a sex offender in Texas. He last registered as a sex offender in Lake County, Indiana, in early 2013. Over the weekend, Vann led police to six other dead women in four different abandoned locations.
As of Monday afternoon, Hammond Police Chief John Doughty, the Lake Country Coroner’s Office and the office of Gary Mary Karen Freeman-Wilson has identified four of Vann’s Black female victims: Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Gary; Christine Williams, 36, of Gary; Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville, Indiana; and Teaira Batey, 28, of Hammond.
Vann, a former U.S. Marine who is divorced, had recently told neighbors (most who spoke under anonymity) that he was often out “having fun” and “partying,” but had grown “tired, very tired.” Neighbors and associates described Vann as a quiet man who did not seem dangerous at all. Yet all weekend, he has been describing multiple killings in multiple locations to police. Most likely, he is cooperating in hopes of a plea deal (capital punishment is practiced in the state of Indiana).
It was Vann’s alter-ego, “Big Boy Appetite,” who went to the Backpage.com’s Chicago website in search of a prostitute Friday evening. Vann, who has a girlfriend, made an appointment to meet “Octavia” at a Hammond Motel 6. Hardy’s female partner, of what she called an “escort service,” grew suspicious later. Long after an appointment should have ended, Hardy still had not texted back the secret code they used to communicate. When her partner texted a check-in message, the response indicated the person on the other side of the phone was not Hardy herself.
Hardy was found in the bathtub of the motel, with the shower running. Evidence in the room, including a torn-off shirt button, indicated a struggle. When police tracked Vann down electronically using his telephone number, he was wearing a shirt missing the same type of button found in the Motel 6. He quickly confessed to the crime, claiming the two began to struggle during rough sex and he strangled the victim to defend himself. It is unclear how or why he began to confess to whereabouts of so many other dead and missing women.
Hardy just happened to have a female friend who become immediately involved in her lack of contact. However, Anith Jones had been reported missing since October; her mother said police dismissed her missing person’s claim and blew off her insistences to investigate further. Batey disappeared in January. Her family stated Indiana police allowed her case to go cold soon after their reports, however they travelled throughout Northwest Indiana searching homes and abandoned buildings for their relative.
A recent Take Part article, “The Shocking Reason You May Have Never Heard of these 265,000 Missing Black Americans,” pointed out the negative stereotypes—including presumptions of prostitution and drug use—which keep Black Americans’ disappearances under the radar of the general public’s eye. Their disappearances receive little to no media attention, newspaper coverage or radio airplay. All of these factors are absolutely critical to magnifying victims’ names and faces to strangers in public who can help find them before outcomes like this one here.
While I can not say I am looking forward to it, I will share information and thoughts here periodically as this tragedy right in my backyard develops. In the meantime, peace and condolences to these women’s families.