Missing woman’s family hopes for best amid deaths

FILE - This Monday, Oct. 20, 2014 file photo shows an overgrown abandoned home at 413 E. 43rd. Ave. in Gary, Ind., where police found one of six women's bodies. Investigators are using the cellphone records of Darren Vann, an Indiana man already charged in the slayings of two women, to pinpoint his movements after he told police he liked to check on the status of bodies he'd previously stashed after a fresh kill, authorities said. Indiana police say Vann, a convicted sex offender, has confessed to killing 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy and six women whose bodies were found over the weekend in abandoned houses in Gary. He has been charged with murder in the deaths of Hardy and 35-year-old Anith Jones, whose body was found Saturday in Gary. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

GARY, Ind. (AP) — Relatives of a Gary woman missing since February say they hope she is not one of the unidentified women linked to a man who has claimed he killed seven women in northwestern Indiana.

Fifty-two-year-old Sonya Billingsley was last seen Feb. 7. Her sister, Salethia Sims, tells The Times she was last seen leaving a relative’s house not far from the abandoned buildings where some victims were found.

Police have charged Darren Vann, 43, with murder in the deaths of 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy and 35-year-old Anith Jones. Hardy’s body was found Friday in a Motel 6 in Hammond. Police took Vann into custody and say that during questioning he told them where to find six other bodies in Gary.

Sims said it was out of the ordinary for Billingsley to disappear for long periods. She said the family has contacted casinos that Billingsley liked to frequent and has distributed fliers in an effort to find her.

“I just want to believe that she’s going to come home and knock on the door,” Sims said.

Three of the victims discovered by police remain unidentified. The Lake County coroner’s office is working with investigators, family members of missing women and the public in an effort to identify them.

Police have said Vann met Hardy through an online escort service. According to a probable cause affidavit, he told investigators that he strangled Jones in exchange for cash and drugs worth about $500 after a friend asked him to make her disappear because of another friend’s “upcoming legal matter.”

Vann is being held without bond at the Lake County Jail.

Vann served in the Marines but received an “other than honorable” discharge in 1993.

“Mr. Vann’s premature discharge and rank are indicative of the fact that the character of his service was incongruent with the Marine Corps’ expectations and standards,” said Yvonne Carlock, a spokeswoman for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. She declined to elaborate.

Investigators say Vann has hinted that he might have victims going back 20 years.

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