The abandoned houses in Gary where serial killer Darren Vann hid women’s bodies were a reminder to Marvin Clinton of the the horrible things that must have occurred inside.
“The more the houses stand, the more you think about what happened to the person in the house,” Clinton said. “The kind of struggle they put up.”
Now, with two of the five houses demolished, there are fewer reminders for Clinton and the seven women’s families, he said.
“I don’t have to wonder about those things now that the house is gone,” Clinton said.
Clinton stopped by Monday morning as the house in the 2200 block of Massachusetts Street where Tracy Martin was found was torn down.
Earlier this month, the house where Teaira Batey, Clinton’s fiancee, was found in the 1800 block of East 19th Avenue was also torn down. A memorial Clinton made to Batey, encased in concrete and decorated with teddy bears and white crosses, remains.
As the demolitions get underway, Vann, 47, is serving his sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Ind.
Vann pleaded guilty in May, admitting he killed seven women: Batey, 28, of Gary; Martin, 41, of Gary; Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Chicago; Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville; Kristine Williams, 36, of Gary; Sonya Billingsley, 52, of Gary; and Tanya Gatlin, 27, of Highland.
After police discovered Hardy’s body in the bathtub of a Motel 6 in Hammond on Oct. 17, 2014, Vann led investigators to the houses where he left the other women.
Williams was in the 4300 block of Massachusetts, while Jones, Billingsley and Gatlin were found in two houses in the 400 block of East 43rd Avenue.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the five vacant houses where Vann hid women’s bodies were deliberately targeted for demolition.
“They represent our effort to provide solace for the families. You can’t bring the loved ones back, you can’t relieve the pain of the loss, but you can take away the reminder,” she said.
She said the city is using $47,600 in funding from the city’s sanitary/stormwater district for the demolition being done by a private contractor.
Freeman-Wilson said once the houses are gone, the city could establish a memorial garden on the sites if family members agree. “We will work with families and block clubs in those areas. It will be something of a tribute, not only to their deaths, but to their lives.”
Clinton said he’s been part of those discussions and looks forward to plans for the memorial garden.
Clinton stood with his 7-year-old son, who he had with Batey, Monday morning as they watched the excavator tear into the house on Massachusetts Street.
The yellow machine started at the back of the white and brown two-story house, working its way around the edges. The walls and windows fell down on thin trees and a short chain link fence, exposing the doorways and curtains inside.
The words “R.I.P baby” were written in blue paint on the boarded-up front entrance to the home. The snow surrounding the house turned black from the dirt and debris falling from the demolition.
The front end of the excavator tipped up as the arm of the machine pushed down on the structure, bringing the roof and chimney tumbling down with the snow falling Monday.
Nakia Johnson, an outside contractor who demolished the house for the city, took a break to let the debris settle into the basement before finishing the job. As he waited in his truck, two cardinals flew by, briefly rested on the partly torn down house and then flew on to another abandoned house in the neighborhood.
About 30 minutes later, Johnson climbed back in the excavator and took down the remaining center part of the house.
Johnson, who lives in Gary, remembers what it was like when the Vann case first broke in 2014.
“I seen it all,” Johnson said. “…It was terrible, terrible.”
Johnson said he appreciated the opportunity to be help tear the down the houses rather than just reading about what was going on in the Vann case.
“It feels great to be the one to get rid of something like this,” Johnson said. “It really feels great to actually have a part in getting rid of it.”