The trial of Darren Deon Vann, who is under investigation for at least seven deaths of women around Gary, Indiana, is now reaching across several states. Authorities in Austin, Texas and North Carolina say they are reviewing cases of unsolved killings for possible links to Vann.
A Scripps review of FBI computer files found 11 unsolved cases in which women were strangled since 1980 in the Austin area. However all but one of the victims were white in contrast to the recent Indiana killings linked to Vann in which most of the victims identified so far were black.
Lt. Scott Ehlert, chief of the Austin Police cold case squad, said his department began researching the old cases at the request of authorities in Indiana. He declined to provide details of any unsolved cases receiving particular attention and said officers are gathering information to try to reconstruct when Vann lived in the area.
Vann was accused of sexually assaulting a Texas woman in 2007 and was convicted in 2009, when he began serving a five-year prison sentence. After being released early in July of 2013, he returned to northern Indiana. He was arrested there last week and is now under suspicion for multiple murders.
Authorities also are reviewing unsolved murders in North Carolina, where Vann lived in the early 1990s while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, according to several press reports.
Ehlert said differences in the race of victims in the Indiana and Texas cases wouldn’t rule out reviews.
“As an investigation at this point, I would not exclude victims of any race,” Ehlert said yesterday.
The patterns of unsolved killings around Austin are in stark contrast to those in Indiana. Northern Indiana experienced at least 15 unsolved strangulations, mostly of black women, from 1991 through 2007, according to a 2010 Scripps study of the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report. Nine of those killings were in Gary. The report is a computer file that provides the details of 590,118 homicides since 1980.
Scripps contacted the Gary Police Department and the Lake County Coroner’s office four years ago about the pattern, suggesting the possibility of one or more serial killers. Police refused to discuss the cases at the time despite repeated requests for interviews over several months. The department has twice this week delayed scheduled interviews to discuss what, if any, reviews were done at the time.
However, the coroner’s office began an investigation based on Scripps’ information. It was unable to produce new leads in the killings until Vann was arrested Friday and charged with the strangulation death of 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy at a motel in Hammond, Ind., just west of Gary. Police found six more bodies during the weekend after interviewing Vann.
Vann appeared briefly before Magistrate Judge Kathleen Sullivan in Crown Point, Ind., Wednesday for his initial court appearance and was found in contempt of court when he refused to answer any of Sullivan’s questions, according to the Associated Press. She ordered Vann to appear before her again next week.
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