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Week of sorrow, silence broken in Gary with not guilty plea

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A week of sorrow and silence was broken Wednesday when the man police say has already confessed to murdering seven women spoke out in court to enter his plea of not guilty.

Convicted sex offender Darren Dion Vann, 43, of Gary entered the not guilty plea Oct. 29. He is charged in the strangulation deaths of two women found in northwestern Indiana: Afrikka Hardy, 19, and Anith Jones, 35.

Vann, a former Marine, is a suspect, but has not been charged, in the homicides of five other women, including Kristine Williams, 36, of Knox, Ind,; Teaira Batey, 27; and three other women who remained unidentified as October drew to a close.

The Lake County Coroner’s office is seeking the public’s assistance in identifying the Jane Doe victims. One of the unknown victims, approximately 5-foot-3, was discovered in the 400 block of 43rd Avenue in Gary. She was wearing a silver linked bracelet with “Best Aunt” on top, a silver ring with a heart shape and a silver ring with scalloped engravings. Anyone who recognizes the jewelry should contact the Coroner’s office at (219) 755-3265.

The shocking discovery of the killing spree began Oct. 17 when Hardy’s lifeless body was found in a Hammond Motel 6 bathtub. Then, police say, Vann tipped them off to the location of six others scattered in abandoned buildings around Gary. Some of the victims had apparently been missing for months, police say.

The slayings have focused national attention on the sufferings of the economically depressed former steel town, said Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

“The eyes of the nation were cast on us highlighting the challenges we face as a city,” Freeman-Wilson stated. ““In light of the tragic and trying times our city endured last week, we are still standing. My hope is that spectators are also able to see the strides we have made and continue to make towards Gary’s turnaround. We are resilient, and our team will not stop this important work we are doing. Gary’s future depends on it.”

During his initial court appearance Oct. 22 before Lake County Magistrate Kathleen Sullivan, Vann clammed up and refused to cooperate. In his second appearance, Vann entered his not guilty plea after Sullivan informed him the charges would become formal in 20 days without his response.

Vann is also charged with two counts of murder in the perpetration of a robbery and two counts of robbery resulting in serious bodily injury. Sullivan told Vann he could get 45 years to 65 years in prison, and possibly the death penalty in each death. Vann is scheduled to return to court for his next appearance Jan. 9.

Vann has a prior criminal record. In 2009, he was convicted of raping a woman in Austin, Texas. After being released from prison last year, he returned to Indiana. Police say in 2004, Vann grabbed his girlfriend, soaked her with gasoline and threatened to set her on fire.

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