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A man charged with the killing of a prostitute in Gary, Indiana, has led police to the decomposing bodies of six other women in assorted abandoned homes in the city spurring speculation that he may be America’s latest serial killer with perhaps yet more murders to his name stretching back over decades.

So far Darren Deon Vann has been charged only with the murder of 19-year-old Afrika Hardy, a sex worker whose body was found at the weekend in a motel room in Hammond, just west of Gary and south of Chicago in neighbouring Illinois. He led police to the bodies of the six other women after being taken into custody.

“It could go back as far as 20 years based on some statements we have and that’s yet to be corroborated,” noted Hammond Police Chief John Doughty. “It is possible other victims could surface.” Of the other victims, three have been identified as Anith Jones, 35, Teiarra Batey, 28, and Christine Williams, 36, all from the surrounding area.

Investigators are combing through missing persons cases locally and in Texas in search of anything that could tie them to Mr Vann. He served five years in prison in Texas after being convicted of sexually assaulting and trying to strangle an Austin woman. He returned to Gary, where he had previously lived, after being released one year ago.

The capture of Mr Vann, 43, has gripped residents of Gary, a once-vibrant city on the southern end of Lake Michigan that over decades has become synonymous with rust-belt blight and violent crime. Residents expressed horror that its huge collection of abandoned structures had become a dumping ground for a suspected serial killer.

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