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2 men accused in O.C. killings had close association, records show

CrimeHomicideJails and PrisonsLaws and LegislationJustice SystemJim Nielsen
Two sex offenders accused of killing four women in O.C. had a history of escapes and a close association
Franc Cano and Steven Dean Gordon are accused of killing four women over a span of five months

Two sex offenders accused of killing four women in Orange County while being monitored by multiple agencies had a history of escapes and a close association that was prohibited, new records obtained Friday by The Times show.

Franc Cano and Steven Dean Gordon, both of whom served time in state prison for sexually molesting children, were arrested in April on multiple charges of rape and murder. They are accused of killing four women over a span of five months. The body of only one has been recovered. Police say they suspect there is a fifth, unidentified victim.

California parole records released to The Times and federal files show that Cano and Gordon's shared history extends back to just after their release from prison, including one occasion when they fled to Alabama in 2010. The Times previously reported that the men had fled the state together in 2012. Moreover, they went to police together in 2011 to seek protection from a third sex offender they said had threatened to kill them.

"Being in concert, that takes it to a whole 'nother level," said Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), a former state parole commissioner. He called for the state corrections department to release currently sealed records that show how closely the agency supervised Cano and Gordon.

"It deserves further inquiry, and communication to the public.… It can't be hidden in the dark corners of CDCR," he said, referring to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Both men initially shared the same state parole agent, and later the same federal probation agent. An Anaheim detective who helped identify the two men as suspects in the murder case said it was well known that they associated with each other. The fact was pointed out to her by their parole agent. And before their arrest for the slayings, they were living in bushes near the Anaheim body shop where Gordon worked, his boss told The Times in April.

Cano's file shows their parole agent in 2010 believed it was wrong for sex offenders to be together. State law does not prohibit such associations, but parole agents often set special conditions that restrict whom those under supervision can spend time with. "Parolee was directed to not have contact with a class of people," Cano's hearing officer wrote in November 2010 after he and Gordon were returned from Alabama.

California corrections officials now say there is little the state can do to prevent such association. In addition, the GPS monitors those offenders wear while on state parole do not signal an alert when those being tracked are together.

"Since offenders must often attend the same counseling classes, substance abuse treatment programs, or live in areas that are far from schools and parks, sex offenders often come into contact with each other," said Luis Patino, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

State and federal files show repeated violations by the two men, including on Oct. 22, 2010, the day they were arrested after fleeing to Alabama. Gordon's file provides no details, but a summary of Cano's parole hearing shows he had cut off his GPS tracker, thrown it into a trash can and fled.

Among the violations Cano was charged with was associating with another sex offender.

Both men were required to return to prison for five months, including a notation calling for psychiatric evaluation, and were to be released the same day in March 2011.

In October of that year, according to a restraining order filed in court, Cano and Gordon said their lives had been threatened by another sex offender also living on the streets of Anaheim.

According to a police officer's account, which is documented in court records, Gordon and Cano both said that Stanley Halliday had stood about 10 feet from them and threatened them. "Both victims heard the verbal threats and were in fear for their safety," the report states. Halliday was arrested the next day and ordered to probation on a conviction of assault with a deadly weapon.

In 2012, Cano and Gordon again cut off their state-issued GPS monitors and took off, this time spending two weeks together in a Las Vegas hotel before being caught. The excursion landed both men in federal custody, charged with breaking federal sex offender registration laws, and on federal probation, where court files show they were assigned to the same officer.

Shortly after Gordon's state parole ended in 2013, a federal judge ordered him put on federal electronic monitoring. At that hearing, Gordon told the judge he had first fled because of the duress of living on the streets after more than eight years in prison.

"I mean, it was just too stressful," he said. "I just got out of prison, my mom died, and all these restrictions. They had me sleep in the street. I was shocked at sleeping on the street …. I was shocked. I didn't ask for that. They did that to me."

Federal probation officials in Los Angeles declined to discuss their supervision of Cano and Gordon.

Prosecutors say the first slaying occurred in October 2013, when Las Vegas resident Kianna Jackson, 20, went missing after traveling to Santa Ana for a court date. Josephine Vargas, 34, disappeared three weeks later in the same general area. On Nov. 12, the day Gordon was again ordered to put on a GPS ankle monitor, Martha Anaya disappeared and allegedly was killed.

The women, all with histories of prostitution, were considered missing until the body of a fourth woman, Jarrae Nykkole Estepp, 21, was found March 14 on a conveyor belt inside an Anaheim trash-sorting facility. Police said it was probably dumped in a trash bin in an industrial area of Anaheim, near where Gordon worked, and where he and Cano had reported to state parole.

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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CrimeHomicideJails and PrisonsLaws and LegislationJustice SystemJim Nielsen
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