National News

Indiana Serial Killer Pleads Guilty to Murders of Seven Women

Posted May 4, 2018 7:57 p.m. EDT

An Indiana man charged in the killings of seven women who prosecutors said were among a vulnerable population of drug addicts or prostitutes pleaded guilty to murder charges Friday to avoid facing the death penalty, officials said.

The man, Darren D. Vann, 47, preyed on those who were disconnected from their families and could not be readily found, Bradley C. Carter, a spokesman for the Lake County prosecutor’s office, said.

The victims fell into lives of drugs or prostitution and “the families knew they were spiraling downward and there was nothing to do,” Carter said. “They all knew this lifestyle would not end well.”

Carter said prosecutors agreed to a plea deal in which they would no longer seek the death penalty. He said officials wanted to spare relatives of the victims the prolonged court battles that would have come with a death penalty case.

Under the agreement, Vann will be sentenced on May 25 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In many of the cases, court papers indicate, Vann sought the women for sex in exchange for money or drugs. In one case he beat and then strangled one victim over a drug debt, court papers said.

The victims were not connected in any way, Carter said, adding that the serial killings were “extremely abnormal” for Lake County.

The murders happened in Gary and Hammond, in the northwestern corner of Indiana about 30 miles outside of Chicago, between August 2013 and October 2014, according to court records.

The cases came to light after Vann was charged in the Oct. 17, 2014, murder of Afrika Hardy at a Motel 6 in Hammond. Vann had arranged to meet her through, a classified ad site that until recently was used routinely to advertise prostitutes. The federal authorities last month seized the site and shut it down after it was repeatedly accused of enabling prostitution and sex trafficking of minors.

Vann told detectives after his arrest on Oct. 18, 2014, that he had choked Hardy with an extension cord and then left her body in a shower at the hotel.

During his interview with the police, he admitted to killing six other women. While in the custody of the Hammond Police Department, he personally led detectives to the six bodies in Gary, court records said.

In addition to Hardy, those killed were: Teaira Batey, Sonya Billingsley, Tanya Gatlin, Anith Jones, Tracy Martin and Kristine Williams. The bodies were found at various houses, many of them abandoned, and strangulation was ruled as the cause of death in all of them.

Vann was released from a Texas prison in July 2013 after serving five years for sexual assault. Records showed the assault involved a 25-year-old woman and took place inside an Austin apartment on Dec. 15, 2007.

When Vann left state custody, he had completed the terms of his sentence and was not on probation. He was listed on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s sex offender registry as a “low” risk, though his projected end date on the registry was “lifetime.”

Gojko Kasich, one of the lawyers representing Vann, said Friday that his client “has good and bad in him” and that his homicidal behavior was a result of “growing up with the awful, awful childhood he had.”

“You can go through the worst kind of sordid history of childhood to adulthood and you would only get halfway close to what he went through,” Kasich said.

He said defense lawyers relied on the details of his background as well as the many years of appeals that would result to argue for a plea agreement that took the death penalty off the table.

“It’s a difficult resolution for everybody involved,” he said.