Chicago has had ongoing and persistent black serial-killer troubles since the late 80s. The problem is similar to South Los Angeles, which we covered in our post “1980s Lone Southside LA Slayer Theory Now Shown to be at Least 7 Black Serial Killers.”
The modus operandi of Chicago killers are similar to those in L.A. The perps take female victims to abandoned buildings or back alleys to use drugs followed by sex or rape, then murder by strangulation. They leave their victims’ bodies at the scene, to be discovered later.
At one point during 1995, three separate killers worked within 12 blocks of each other in the South end of Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, strangling drug addicts and prostitutes.
Most of the killers were caught, but soon after seemed to be replaced by new perps.
Gregory Clepper was charged with killing 14 women in the South Side from 1991 to 1996 — and he reportedly boasted of murdering 20 more — but he barely made a ripple.
All the victims were involved in prostitution and drug addiction, most of them occurring near Gregory’s house, with some of them being acquaintances. Clepper himself claimed that, while in a drugged state, he had strangled around 40 women in various ways, drawing maps and indicating locations of each dump site. However, after a DNA analysis was conducted, he was excluded in at least 14 cases, and his testimony declared invalid. Later on, Earl Mac, Jr. would be arrested for one of the killings to which Clepper had admitted.
Chicago serial killers engage in erratic behavior. They aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box, but some such — as the late Samuel Little — are skilled enough at their predatory activities that they escape apprehension. When apprehended, they make false confessions or are confused with other copycat killers.
For instance, Hubert Geralds killed five women between 1994 and 1995 in Englewood, earning him the nickname “The Englewood Strangler.” The problem was that he wasn’t the only strangler in Englewood.
In 1999, following a DNA test, Geralds was found guilty of killing a woman for whose murder another Chicago resident, Derrick Fluellen, was convicted of in 1995.
Fluellen was suspected in several other killings in Englewood, but later investigations revealed that he had been coerced into confessing. In November 1999, the charges against Fluellen were dropped.
Initially, Geralds was convicted of six murders, but one of the charges were later dropped after Andre Crawford admitted to that killing and his confession demonstrated more details than Geralds’ initial one.
Kevin Taylor was a Cheesecake Factory worker who killed four women over the summer of 2001, discarding their bodies in alleyways, garbage cans and abandoned houses throughout the South Side.
Starting in 2001, another generation of Chicago serial killers of the same M.O. emerged. At least 75 girls and women, predominantly black, between the ages of 18 and 58 were killed in a similar fashion. Most of the victims were sex workers who had previous encounters with the justice system. Nearly all of them were found outdoors or in abandoned buildings. Twenty-five of the cases were closed by police, resulting in 13 men being arrested.
In 2018, the Murder Accountability Project (MAP) used a computer algorithm to review 50 unsolved strangulation and asphyxiation cases going as far back as 2001. The algorithm used by MAP sorts unsolved homicides by location, victim, and killing method, and searches for clusters associated with a low murder clearance rate, which MAP claims is indicative of an active serial killer or killers.
Thomas Hargrove, the founder of MAP, said confidential information provided by witnesses points to two or three active serial killers.
Winter Watch takeaway: If the Los Angeles cases and multi-decade timeframe are any indication, there are more than three killers.
Only 18 of the 50 unsolved homicides yielded DNA samples, which is unusual for physical crimes like strangulation and asphyxiation.
“The fact that there is such a low rate at which DNA has been obtained is suggestive,” Hargrove said. “It’s possible this killer or killers are aware not to leave their DNA behind.”
However, the Illinois State Forensic Lab didn’t finish analyzing the DNA samples until 2019 due to massive backlogs. Carrie Ward, the executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault and a member of the task force, said issues at the lab caused a backlog of sexual assault testing kits as well.
“There are storage rooms that have kits on top of kits on top of kits,” she said.
There was a gap between 2014 and 2017, which suggests a period of incarceration for the primary killer or killers.
Hargrove, together with a Gary, Indiana, deputy coroner also attempted to persuade police that there were 18 similar murders pointing to a serial killer in the Gary area.
The Primary Chicago Strangler Suspect
Darren Deon Vann, 51, was arrested on Oct. 18, 2014, for the murder of 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy at a Motel 6 in Hammond, Indiana, and has confessed to the murders of six other female victims in Indiana, all in Gary.
Vann led police to those previously unknown women’s bodies, all of which were found in five abandoned structures in Gary, Indiana. All were similar to the Chicago body-deposal and murder method. Some of Vann’s likely victims in Chicago were never found, which suggests the actual count of 50 unsolved there is low.
Vann is a suspect in the 2003-2007 murders (eight in 2003) in Chicago (and Gary) before moving to Texas and being incarcerated.
Vann said he snapped and spiraled into the serial killing of women in 2003. In his confession, he stated it was addictive and called it his “murder rage mistakes.” He estimated his murder toll was almost 100, including gang-related hits and enforcement. Vann stated that his gang and street-related killings were against males between 1990 and 2003.
Vann claimed to be sober during his crimes and didn’t even drink or use drugs. He vented against drug users, which he associated with his mother who he hated. He never killed younger drug user prostitutes saying they were “salvageable”.
His cousin, who he lived with for a short period, said that Vann was a night prowler, slept late and watched cartoons all day.
Note that his Indiana arrest corresponds to the Chicago 2014-2016 quiet period. After moving from Indiana to Texas in 2008, Vann was convicted on Sept. 28, 2009, in Travis County of a sexual assault committed in Austin in 2007 and sentenced to five years in a state penitentiary. He was released on July 5, 2013, and soon went on a rampage in northwest Indiana.
Note that after Vann’s apprehension in Indiana in 2014 and the quiet period, another killer arrived on the scene in 2017.
A different Chicago strangler serial killer became active in 2009-2010 — but between 2011 and 2016, when Vann was incarcerated in Texas and Indiana, it was relatively quiet in Chicago.
A killer active when Vann was away is dubbed the “West Alley Killer.” These are closely clustered as shown on the map near Cicero.
Arthur Hillard was arrested for the 2018 murder of Diamond Turner. He is also charged with killing two men, so he qualifies as serial killer. However, in the case of this female, the M.O. is different and seems to be more of a domestic killing. We don’t really see a nexus here to the other 50 unsolved murders.
In August 2021, Ben Kuebrich, host of the “Algorithm” crime podcast, obtained 12 hours of tape recordings via FOIA requests in which Vann confesses at length to detectives about numerous unsolved murders he had committed across the country dating back decades. In the interviews with detectives, Vann claimed to have killed dozens of women, predominantly in Chicago, Illinois, but also in other locations such as California, North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.
Vann stated, “They [Illinois] have way more than Indiana, let’s put it at that.”
Vann says he is not cooperating with other states as it would create jurisdictional competition that complicates his sentence. Nor was he revealing any gang-related hits. He wanted to avoid trials.
Notice that on the unsolved Chicago strangulation map above there is a string of murders running south to north along the Green Line I-train. Vann would have hopped on and off this route as he operated along this corridor. In the Chicago connection podcast, Vann can be heard admitting to taking the I train into Chicago.
Drive through the neighborhoods involved.
Final Takeaway: There have been no known new murders with this MO since the surge in 2018, perhaps suggesting that — for now — the Chicago stranglers — and in particular Darren Vann — are off the streets.
We suspect Darren Deon Vann was responsible for the majority of Chicago and Gary strangler cases of this century. The reason he was caught in 2014 was that he departed from his usual M.O., from killing in abandoned buildings to meeting and leaving his last victim at a motel room. The arrest and confession of Vann was covered in “Cold Cases” in the Kuebrich podcasts.
Abandoned streets and buildings of Gary, Indiana