A FAM­ILY’S GRIEF

Mother of mur­der vic­tim: ‘No­body can hurt her now’

Post-Tribune - - Front Page - jdavich@post-trib.com JERRY DAVICH

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.

| JERRY DAVICH

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.

| SUP­PLIED PHOTO

Tracy Lynn Martin

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