GARY, Ind. — Seven women’s bodies were found in northwestern Indiana over the weekend after a convicted sex offender’s confession to one killing led police to the grisly discovery of other deaths, including three in one abandoned house, authorities said.
The discoveries began after a 43-year-old man allegedly confessed to killing a woman whose body was found Oct. 17 in a Motel 6 in Hammond, Indiana.
He then told investigators where more bodies could be found in abandoned homes in the nearby city of Gary, a deteriorating former steel town about 30 miles southeast of Chicago, police said.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said that the suspect is a sex offender from Austin, Texas.
Freeman-Wilson said authorities aren’t certain how long the man has been in northwestern Indiana, although he does have a conviction for illegally entering a home in the area. The mayor says she doesn’t know whether more bodies might be found.
“When you’re dealing with someone like this it’s just hard to tell,” she said.
Hammond police Lt. Rich Hoyda said the man’s name wasn’t being released because he had not yet been formally charged.
The bodies were found after Gary police followed up on information the man provided during questioning, Hoyda said. He wouldn’t comment on how the man knew the women, a possible motive or whether he confessed to more than one killing.
The Lake County coroner’s office identified the first woman, found about 9:30 p.m. at the Motel 6, as 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy, and said she was strangled.
A second body was found Oct. 18 in an abandoned home in Gary. The coroner said family members identified her as 35-year-old Anith Jones of Merrillville, Indiana, who had been missing since Oct. 8.
Five other bodies were found on Oct. 19 various Gary homes — including two more in the same home where Jones’ body was found on Oct. 18, the coroner’s office said. Autopsies are pending on the three women found in one house. The causes of death were not specified for all the women found in Gary.
The gruesome discoveries began after a friend reported Hardy missing.
“A friend of the deceased called us, and she was concerned when she didn’t respond to her calling,” Hoyda said. “We were sent there and found that person dead.”
Police investigating her death obtained a search warrant for a home and vehicle in Gary. Police conducted the search Oct. 18 and took the man into custody. Hoyda said the man confessed during questioning and then told investigators “where several other female victims of possible homicide were located.”
Gary, once was a thriving steel town of 178,000 where thousands worked in the mills, has been struggling for decades. Its population has shrunk to just over 78,000 and its poverty rate hovers around 40 percent.
Thousands of homes are abandoned, many with weeds choking broken sidewalks — often on the same streets where other homes are tidy and well-kept.
One of the houses where police found a body was overgrown with trees in the front and there was trash strewn in the back of what looked like a falling down garage or shed.
On Oct. 2, people in Gary tried to make sense of the tragedy.
“That’s devastating. That’s sick,” said Jay Jackson, 25, a health care worker visiting a woman a few houses from where one of the bodies was found. “All we can do is pray for the city and hope for recovery.”
By Tom Coyne. AP writers Tom Davies in Indianapolis and Tammy Webber in Chicago contributed to this report