Indiana serial killer Darren Vann is serving a life sentence for the murders of seven women in and around the Gary area in 2014, but in recorded interviews with Hammond police detectives, Vann said he’d killed many more people across the border in Illinois, NBC 5 Investigates has learned.
In an Oct. 18, 2014, interview with police, Vann described his killings as "my mistakes" and told officers rages caused him to "go looking for an out." Those "outs," Vann said, included killings in California, Texas, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan but mentioned Chicago as a place where he went a lot.
"They [Illinois] have more than Indiana," Vann told police. When asked where he stayed, he said, "I don’t have to stay anywhere. I get on the train. I get on the bus. I’d be like: I know I’m losing it. I try to get far away from my family when I felt myself slipping."
"He’s completely matter of fact when he confesses to it," said Ben Kuebrich of the crime podcast Algorithm. Kuebrich obtained copies of the confession tapes through a Freedom of Information request. His podcast looks at how technology can be used to identify and track serial killers.
"It’s strange because [Vann] says some really bizarre stuff, but in this kind of very everyday way, and you know the police officers, I think they’re playing this game of trying to act like what he’s saying is normal to get him to keep talking. They’re kind of being a little buddy, buddy with him and so he keeps going but talks about some pretty dark stuff," Kuebrich said.
The tapes detail investigators' attempt to get Vann to tell them about his other victims. The recordings total roughly 14 hours of interviews over the course of four days from Oct. 18 to Oct. 21 in 2014.
On the tapes, Vann told investigators about his urge to kill and need to travel to find his victims: “My rages. When stuff doesn’t go right, I’m looking for an out.”
On another recording, Vann refers to his "triggers from the past" as to why he kills, saying, "She struck me. I don’t like being hit." But at another interview, Vann tells investigators that sometimes he doesn’t need a reason at all. "Casper was my friend. I didn’t mean to kill her. … I was already angry."
Thomas Hargrove founded the Murder Accountability Project based in Alexandria, Virginia. His group uses nationwide FBI homicide data to track how often homicides are cleared and how often arrests are made by police. Unsolved homicides are tracked by a computer algorithm designed to detect patterns of serial killings. Hargrove has studied 50 unsolved strangulations of women in the Chicago area.
"We believe that we’re dealing with two or three serial killers," Hargrove said. "We think Vann could be one of them."
Hargrove pointed out that before Vann’s murder arrest, crime data shows that when Vann was sentenced to five years in a Texas prison for sexual assault in July 2008 to July 2013, Chicago strangulation rates dropped.
"If you look at the year-by-year numbers of [Chicago] murders, you’ll see that there's a precipitous decline in the number of homicides of unsolved strangulations in 2009 and especially after 2009,” said Hargrove.
Vann told investigators that he traveled to Chicago on train or bus. Hargrove’s group tracked strangulation murders of women nearby the CTA green line and found eight or nine body recovery sites. “We don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Hargrove said.
Chicago police released a statement saying, “There is no evidence linking the cases to each other or to suggest there is a serial killer. … Detectives are continuing to investigate the cases individually as the Chicago Police Department works to seek justice on behalf of the victims and their families.”
In another interview when Hammond police asked how Vann chose his victims, he said, "They’re all random. All random. All it does is take the wrong person to say something or it triggers something from my past."
Random acts of violence, but Hargrove said he thinks there's a pattern and hopes police departments in Chicago and across the country sit down with Darren Vann.
“[Police] located a body but it wasn’t the right one,” Vann told investigators. “It wasn’t one of mine.