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St. Paul native a victim of suspected Indiana serial killer

Ever since her youngest daughter phoned her one night in January, scared and crying, Gloria Cullom feared the worst. When the daughter didn't show up for her 2-year-old son's birthday a few weeks later, Cullom knew "somebody did something to my c...

Ever since her youngest daughter phoned her one night in January, scared and crying, Gloria Cullom feared the worst. When the daughter didn’t show up for her 2-year-old son’s birthday a few weeks later, Cullom knew "somebody did something to my child. I knew something had happened."

On Saturday, the St. Paul mother’s fears turned to heartbreak when investigators found the remains of 28-year-old Teaira Batey, a 2004 graduate of St. Paul’s Highland Park High School. Batey and the bodies of five other victims of a suspected serial killer were discovered in a rundown stretch of abandoned homes in Gary, Ind.

The alleged killer, Darren Vann, 43, was charged Monday in connection with the strangulation death of a 19-year-old woman whose body was found last week in a motel bathtub southeast of Chicago. Vann hinted there could be more killings stretching back two decades. He told police where to find the six bodies in Gary, confessing to all seven deaths.

Vann is scheduled to appear in court today.

"He was not on our radar at all," Gary Police Chief Larry McKinley said at a news conference Tuesday. Vann was a convicted rapist and a registered sex offender with a violent past.

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Now, authorities in two states are poring over cold case files and missing person reports to determine if there are more victims.

Batey, who left St. Paul 10 years ago, had been living with Cullom in Gary until she disappeared.

On Tuesday, while at a relative’s house on St. Paul’s East Side, Cullom -- who moved back to the Twin Cities this summer to be with family -- spoke of her grief. She also vented her anger at authorities in Gary, whom she believes could have done more. Cullom said she learned of her daughter’s death through a relative, not the police. She said she does not know how Batey died, nor how she would have crossed paths with Vann. She said she believes Batey trusted a friend who may have led her into danger.

"I don’t know what to feel now because I just really want to know ’Why?’" Cullom said. "Why would he do this to her? Why would he even do it to anyone?"

Cullom, surrounded by her sister, a niece and her other daughter Tuesday, said that she last saw Batey on Jan. 13 after the two had gone grocery shopping. She was seen leaving with a male friend she called Popeye.

The next night, a scared and crying Batey called her mother, saying she was at a friend’s house and that she saw spirits. Her mother tried to tell her to come home. That was the last time they spoke.

Early the next day, Batey tried to call her sister, Tanisha Cullom, but Tanisha missed the call. Tanisha tried to call back again and again over the next few weeks.

Cementing the family’s fears, Batey didn’t show up for her son’s birthday Jan. 28. That’s when Gloria Cullom called Gary police. She told police her daughter suffered from schizophrenia, was HIV positive and had a cocaine habit. She said that Batey was vulnerable and suffered from epileptic seizures, which caused her to "have the mind of a 12-year-old."

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She said she called a particular sergeant on the case, but he didn’t return her calls until much later, she said. Batey’s body was found in an abandoned building police told them had been searched, the family said. On Tuesday, police used trained cadaver dogs to search the area where the bodies were found.

"I just want to say that the system failed my child and when I was trying to tell them that my child was disabled, they ignored that," Cullom said. "She was mentally ill. They ignored that. When I put out the missing person report, they ignored that."

Related Topics: CRIME
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