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 7000 block of Columbia Avenue was closed at approximately 7:30 pm tonight due to a hit and run accident. A red mini-van reportedly struck a passenger car and left the scene. Officers looked for the van for approximately 30 minutes before locating it at 176th Street and Howard Avenue. The driver of the van had fled the vehicle. A citizen reported seeing a white male fleeing on 176th place and officers then began the search for that individual. A suspect was ultimately located and arrested. The driver of the vehicle that was hit was injured but refused medical treatment. The scene was ultimately cleared at approximately 8:30 p.m.
by Ken Davidson
After what turned out to be an embarrassing error in judgment, the Gazette has received permission to publish photos of the truck that crashed into a Hessville home on December 13. The homeowners report that the crash occurred after a delivery was made at a school across the street. The driver stated that the gas pedal stuck and he lost control of the vehicle. A 12 year old resident of the home was on the couch in the living room of the home which was struck by the truck. She was injured and received treatment for a concussion. The driver of the truck had to be cut from the vehicle.
There is a soccer field at the school and the family questions why the driver could not veer in that direction, avoiding risk. The home is a total loss.
by Ken Davidson
A loyal Gazette reader reported a robbery at Village Discount Outlet on 165th Street in Hessville about 5:30 p.m. today. The Gazette has confirmed that a man was robbed at gunpoint and struck in the head during the robbery. A woman was heard screaming for help as police and an ambulance rushed to the scene. Witnesses said the suspect was wearing a hoodie and black ski mask and fled eastbound on foot. This is the second robbery in the area in as many days. Yesterday there was a robbery at 2732 165th Street, directly across the street.
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.
by Ken Davidson
The Gazette received a tip that a 23 year old Michigan man charged with murdering his one week old child is a Hessville native. According to The News-Herald of Michigan, Luis Marco Smolen was charged with First Degree Felony Murder in Taylor, Michigan earlier this week. The charges stem from a call to emergency personnel reporting that the child was not breathing on December 7. The police immediately believed foul play was involved according to the News-Herald. Under Michigan law Smolen faces life in prison without parole if convicted.
A search for Luis Smolen in Hammond, Indiana reveals a birth record in 2009, presumably for another child, and a mention on the Scott Middle School honor roll in 2005 for an 8th grade student. The Gazette has not yet positively confirmed that this Luis Smolen is the individual who graduated from Morton High School. We continue to follow this story and welcome any information from our readers.
Last night at Freddy’s Steak house a female was sitting in her vehicle at approximately 8:00 p.m. A black male subject wearing a dark stocking cap approached her vehicle and demanded her money, he reached into the vehicle and stole her purse. Victim was not sure if he was armed. A witness believe he saw subject get into a dark Pontiac Grand Am and flee north bound on Kennedy. Everyone please be careful when out and about, pay attention to your surroundings.