According to sources close to the investigation, Abandoned House Strangler Darren Vann has made some fantastic accusations. Among them, that there are bodies which were in the Sheraton Hotel before demolition began. When asked if the claim was credible, the source replied “everything he has told us so far is true . . . .but” indicating that this claim may be too outrageous to believe, yet too credible to summarily dismiss. The Sheraton Hotel, next to City Hall, has been vacant for nearly 20 years. It was billed as a surefire means of revitalizing downtown Gary by then Mayor Richard Hatcher in 1968 and reopened briefly in 1985. Demolition work began on the structure in July of this year.
It is clear that Vann has a sick vendetta against the City of Gary. Among other revelations, Vann detailed a plan to blow up the Gary Police Station. The source had no details as to whether there was any evidence that he took any steps toward completion of that plan. It is possible that he is saying there are bodies in the Sheraton rubble as one last chance to attack the City of Gary. Work continued on the Sheraton Hotel today.
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The Abandoned House Strangler has been identified by Hammond police as 43 year old Darren Vann of Gary. Vann is a registered sex offender who is current on his registration according to records maintained by Lake County Sheriff John Buncich. Vann was arrested on Saturday in connection with the murder of 19 year old Afrika Hardy. Charges were filed this afternoon for the Murder of 19 year old Afrika Hardy from Aurora, Illinois.
According to the probable cause affidavit filed in the case, Vann arranged a meeting with Hardy utilizing the site backpage.com. Hardy did not make the arranged meeting on Thursday night. On Friday at 5:30 pm Vann, who went by the screen name “Big Boy Appetite” on backpage.com, showed up at Motel 6 unannounced. After the “normal time” for such a meeting passed, Shameeka Cunningham and Eduardo Ayon, who helped to arrange meetings for Hardy, became concerned about Hardy’s welfare. The pair travelled to Motel 6 and found Afrika Hardy’s lifeless body in the bathtub.
Shameeka Cunningham dialed 9-1-1 and summoned police and ambulance personnel to the scene according to the affidavit. Upon arrival police found that “the beds were moved away from the headboards to suggest that there was possibly a struggle there.” A condom wrapper, a light colored shirt button and a fingernail were also found according to the report. Afrika Hardy had red marks on her neck, suggesting that “she had been strangled with something thin.” The coroner was called and the cause of death was determined to be strangulation. The manner of death was determined to be homicide.
During the interviews with Cunningham and Ayon, police were able to obtain information regarding a cell phone that had been utilized by “Big Boy Appetite” to arrange the meeting. Police supboenaed cellular phone records for the telephone and were led to a location in the 600 block of W. 49th Avenue in Gary according to the affidavit. Police then obtained a search warrant for that residence on October 18 and arrested Darren Deon Vann. A blue Jeep was towed and a search warrant was obtained for that vehicle. During the search, police discovered a shirt which was missing a button, an HTC cellular telephone in a pink case which matched the description of that owned by Afrika Hardy, and condoms of the same brand and type as the wrapper found in the motel room.
The affidavit states that Darren Deon Vann confessed to strangling Afrika Hardy with a cord when confronted with the evidence.
by Ken Davidson
The homicide toll in Gary rose again today after police were called to an alley in the 200 block of Tyler Street at 10:53 a.m. A coroner’s release identified the man as 55 year old Richard Lewis of Gary. The cause of death was homicide and the manner of death was multiple gunshot wounds, according to the report. Police reported that a concerned citizen discovered the body and called police. Upon arrival, police found that Lewis was unresponsive and showed no signs of life. The coroner was then called. Citizens who have information regarding the case are urged to call Corporal Mike Barnes at 219-881-7434.
by Ken Davidson
Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey reports that her office was dispatched to 53rd Avenue in Gary, Indiana at 5:29 pm today. Upon arrival, Coroner investigators discovered the body of Zan Davenport, 75 years old. The cause of death was later ruled homicide as a result of blunt force trauma. Davenport lived at the 53rd Avenue address. The Gazette is seeking further details on the incident.
by Ken Davidson
In perhaps one of the most contentious public meetings of the year, a room full of people who face losing their farms and family homes squared off with union members looking for temporary jobs. Union members cheered as NIRPC voted to approve the Illiana Toll Road while farmers cried. Perhaps the best comment was from a Lowell resident who said “move the road closer to Cedar Lake and Crown Point since they want it so bad.” That comment clearly points out the irony of communities who have nothing to lose weighing in on the fate of people’s homes in rural south county Indiana.
Christine Cid stood up to the machine once again and voted against the Illiana. You will recall that Cid was the lone democrat on the County Council standing against the income tax. This time Cid was joined by County Chair Thomas McDermott. McDermott, acting as Mayor of Hammond, clearly stated that communities along the 80/94 corridor may be harmed by the southern corridor. Thus, the question as to why Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson decided to support the controversial plan. Freeman-Wilson would appear to have the most to lose with the construction of the tollway as she has pinned Gary’s revitalization hopes to the plan to be a transportation hub. The Illiana Toll Road is expected to be a catalyst for the proposed Peotone Airport as well as a truck route to avoid congestion. The primary economic growth Gary has seen in recent years has been along the 80/94 corridor. In the event the Illiana is successful in removing even 20% of the truck traffic from the area, that could be a large loss in jobs and tax revenue for Gary.
The real story here is Governor Mike Pence. Pence chimed in today praising the Board for passing the plan. Pence would do well to remember his base if he plans to run for re-election. It seems that he was outmaneuvered politically during this entire process. Maybe we will see a Governor McDermott after all.
The Gazette has an uncofirmed report of two more homicides in Gary today. The homicides occurred at approximately noon today at 21st and Virginia. This is a breaking story and we will provide you with updates as information becomes available.
by Ken Davidson
Violence in Gary has been mostly confined to the area between Chase and I-65, 5th to 25th as well as the City’s Glen Park neighborhood. Despite reports of lack of police presence and armed robberies, Gary’s Miller and Black Oak Neighborhoods have escaped the mounting death toll. That changed again today with an early morning home invasion in the 6200 block of West 29th Street. The Gazette has learned that a group of armed and masked men tried to force entry into the home. Gunfire apparently erupted from both intruders and homeowners as 4 people were shot.
Rolando Correa of the 2400 block of Calhoun Street in Gary was transported to Methodist Hospitals Northlake where he was pronounced dead at 1:57 a.m. Correa is officially the 51st homicide victim in Gary this year. Later that morning, at 6:50 a.m., police found the body of Andre Woods of Gary in the 2100 block of Georgia Street. According to a report from the office of the Lake County Coroner, Woods died of a gunshot wound to the head. Police believe Woods was involved in the home invasion.