GARY, Ind. – With hindsight, there were signs years ago of increasing violence against women by Darren Vann, who police say has confessed to killing seven women in northwestern Indiana and is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.
Indiana court records from 2004 describe him grabbing a woman in a chokehold, dousing her with gasoline and threatening to set her on fire. He was sentenced to a year in prison.
In 2009, he was convicted in Texas of raping a woman. She told police that when she went to his apartment in Austin he knocked her down and began to strangle her, hit her several times in the face and said he could kill her, court records show. He was released from prison last year, when he moved back to Indiana.
In both cases, the charges against Vann were reduced in plea bargains, and Texas officials deemed him a low risk for violence. He registered as a sex offender in Indiana and police made a routine check in September that he lived at the address he provided.
"He was not on our radar at all," Gary Police Chief Larry McKinley said at a news conference Tuesday, adding that Vann was never suspected of taking part in homicides in the days or months before his arrest at the weekend.
Now Vann, 43, is charged with the strangulation death of one woman in Hammond, Indiana, and police say more charges are expected after he directed them to the bodies of six more in nearby Gary. Texas and Indiana authorities have been poring over cold case files and missing person reports to determine if there are more victims.
Family and friends of victims said police should have known Vann was a threat and taken reports of women disappearing more seriously.
Teaira Batey's family filed a missing person report in late January when she had been missing for nearly three weeks. Her mother, Gloria Cullom, said she repeatedly called Gary police in vain hoping for news of her daughter. Batey's fiance, Marvin Clinton, expressed similar frustration.
"I'm trying to find out, `Have you heard anything. Do you have any information for me?' Nobody ever called me back," Cullom said.
Cullom told police her daughter suffered from schizophrenia, was HIV positive and had a cocaine habit. She had last been seen with a male friend she called Popeye.
Clinton said the family knew "something had gone terribly wrong" when they didn't hear from Batey, who has a 2-year-old son with Clinton and had given up prostitution several years ago to focus on being a mother.
McKinley defended police handling of the reports.
"We take every report seriously," he said.
Vann appeared to keep a low profile and follow the rules after serving a prison sentence for sexually assaulting the woman in Austin.
He registered as a sex offender in Indiana in July 2013 after he moved to Gary, said Patti Van Til, a spokeswoman with the Lake County Sheriff's Department.
Vann registered again in Indiana in July, in compliance with a state law that requires sex offenders to re-register every year, she said.
Detectives with the sheriff's department last checked on Vann on Sept. 14.
"He had registered and complied with the requirements," Van Til said.
But others who knew Vann found cause for concern.
Edward Matlock, his former stepson, said Vann would talk to himself while staring into the distance. He said his mother and Vann lived in an area of Austin known for prostitution and drugs, and Vann would sometimes go walking around late at night.