A FAMILY’S GRIEF
Mother of murder victim: ‘Nobody can hurt her now’
Linda Felinski secretly hopes her daughter was high, yet again, when she was strangled and suffocated to death allegedly by a man suspected of being a serial killer.
It’s an admittedly morbid hope that only a grieving mother could feel for a lost soul who already felt too much pain in life.
“She had so many demons, they’re finally gone,” Felinski told me Saturday during a private memorial for her daughter, Tracy Lynn Martin.
Martin’s badly decomposed 41-year-old body was finally identified earlier this month, long after she was allegedly murdered last July by Darren Vann, who authorities say confessed to serial killings.
Last fall, Vann led police to the abandoned home in Gary where they discovered Martin’s body, its skeletal remains still wearing blue jeans and white gym shoes.
Felinski had a feeling it was her daughter’s body long before the official confirmation by DNA tests. In the same breath, it eased her mind and broke her heart.
“I always had a little thread of hope that she would turn her life around. But it’s gone now,” she said.
On Saturday, dozens of mourners attended the memorial service at a Portage cemetery. Martin’s cremated remains were placed in the same plot as her oldest son, Tyler. He died of cancer in 1998 at age 5. Saturday would have been his 22nd birthday.
His death was just another crack in Martin’s troubled heart, her family told me.
“She had a very promising future, but that didn’t happen,” said Martin’s aunt, Barbara Dufresne. “It saddens all of us.”
Martin didn’t have a storybook life. Her family would be the first to confess this. She was a drug addict, a familiar face in area jails, and she worked the streets to support her habit. This is how she reportedly met Vann, who has been charged with the murders of two other victims.
After being arrested, Vann told police he arranged meetings with women on a website commonly used for prostitutes and their clients. He then led police to the bodies of six women in abandoned homes, including Martin’s body in the 2200 block of Massachusetts Street. Two of his victims have yet to be identified.
“He’s a monster without a soul,” Felinski said. “No one, I mean no one, deserves to be killed by such a monster. Not even my daughter.”
Though Martin’s childhood was a happy one, a life of hauntingly poor decisions and relentless demons shadowed her into the grave.
“I did not get to know you nearly as well as I would have liked, but I’m glad to have the time I did. I love you mom, R.I.P.,” Martin’s son, Taylor Felinski, wrote on his Facebook page after her body was identified.
The 20-year-old Portage man doesn’t remember anything about his mother until he was 9. He was raised by his grandmother, Felinski. He last saw his mother in early July, after she was released from prison again. For the first time in his life, he initiated the meeting with the woman who gave him life but little else.
“My mom and I had lunch and caught up with our lives,” he told me Saturday.
On the Fourth of July, he contacted his mom again to get together. She told him she would be in touch soon. He never heard from her again. No one did.
“I thought she played me again, but she didn’t,” Taylor said, hinting at a silver lining to a very dark cloud in his life.
Martin’s family assumed she returned to the streets, the only life she knew. It happened over and over for more than two decades.
“It was my living hell for 20 years,” said Felinski, who gave birth to her “best friend” at age 17. “We grew up together.”
As a teenager, Martin was smart, caring and big-haired beautiful, illustrated by an old photo her mother clutched.
“She was a really good kid,” Felinski said, smiling at the memory. “And then she got into drugs.”
It’s a painfully familiar story I’ve heard too often from families of addicts.
Martin couldn’t sit still at family gatherings, if she showed up. All she cared about was getting high or how to score her next fix. Nothing broke her bond with addiction. Not even her mother’s repeated efforts to rescue her.
A couple years back, Martin lived in a halfway house.
“We had hope again,” Felinski said.
Addiction snatched away that hope. Martin returned to her worst habits.
“The addiction was stronger than any of us, but God knows our family tried,” Dufresne said.
Last summer, the months peeled away without a word from Martin. Her mother knew something was wrong. She could feel it in her gut. Thanksgiving passed. No Tracy. Christmas passed. No Tracy. A missing person’s report was filed. Still, no Tracy.
In the fall, Felinski heard about the serial killings and wondered if her daughter was a victim. But then she heard that all the victims were black, so she thought otherwise. Her grieving had a reprieve.
On Jan. 16, Felinski was visited by Lake County Deputy Coroner George Deliopoulos, who delivered the inevitable news. A positive ID. Felinski braced herself for a death that came in waves.
“George was very compassionate,” Felinski recalled. “Everyone at the coroner’s office treated Tracy with respect, like a human being, not like what she chose to be in life. She was more than a drug addict and prostitute. She didn’t deserve this fate.”
Her aunt added, “She very much touched our lives.”
Martin’s son, Taylor, whose father died last year from an overdose, said, “I was thankful to have one last conversation with her. It’s painful to know I won’t have another chance.”
Vann’s court hearings continue next month. Some of Martin’s family members will be there. Others won’t. They can’t.
“They don’t want to see the monster who took her life,” Dufresne said.
Felinski is comforted knowing her daughter will never feel cold, hunger or hurt again. Or, especially, addiction.
“Nothing or nobody can hurt her now,” she said, holding back tears.
Linda Felinski holds a photo of her daughter, Tracy Lynn Martin, who police believe was among those who died at the hands of a serial killer in Gary.
Tracy Lynn Martin