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Men suspected in Orange County of 4 killings were sex offenders

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Two transients arrested in Orange County on suspicion of killing four women were registered sex offenders who were required to wear electronic monitoring devices and check in with police every 30 days, according to law enforcement authorities and court records.

Franc Cano, 27, and Steven Dean Gordon, 45, were arrested Friday evening in an industrial part of Anaheim, just blocks from the trash-sorting center where the body of one victim, Jarrae Nykkole Estepp, 21, was found last month. Police said they linked Cano and Gordon to three other slayings of women who went missing from Santa Ana in the fall.

Estepp's mother said a detective called her Saturday with news of the arrests.

"I bent down to my knees," Jodi Estepp said. "I had a lot of anger that was released; now I'm mourning."

Police said Sunday they were investigating whether the men can be tied to other killings and have reached out to law enforcement around the country for help.

Santa Ana and Anaheim police provided few details about the arrests, but planned to hold a news conference Monday about the joint investigation. Until then, police declined to say whether they have recovered the bodies of the three missing women or how they connected Cano and Gordon to the deaths.

Both men were ordered to register as sex offenders for life after they were convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14, court records show. Cano pleaded guilty in 2007 to the charge and was sentenced to three years in state prison, according to the records.

Gordon was convicted in 1992 of the same charge and was also sentenced to three years in prison, court records state.

Cano and Gordon have known each other since at least April 2012 when they cut off their electronic monitoring devices and fled to Nevada, using the aliases Dexter McCoy and Joseph Madrid, according to federal court records. They stayed at the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for about two weeks, until they were arrested, the records show.

Following their arrests, they pleaded guilty in Nevada federal court to failing to register as sex offenders. As part of their probation, the men had to provide a DNA sample, and their computers were monitored by federal agents, according to records. Gordon and Cano checked in monthly with Anaheim police as required, said Lt. Bob Dunn, a spokesman for the Anaheim Police Department.

The string of disappearances in Santa Ana began in early October soon after Kianna Jackson, a bubbly, baby-faced 20-year-old, arrived in the city for a court hearing on four misdemeanor charges of prostitution and loitering to commit prostitution, according to court records. Jackson had grown up in a small, rural Northern California town but moved to Las Vegas after one semester of college.

Her mother, Kathy Menzies, said Jackson stopped responding to her text messages shortly after she arrived in Santa Ana.

Nearly three weeks after Jackson disappeared, Josephine Monique Vargas, who grew up in Santa Ana, left a family birthday party and said she was going to the store. She was not seen again.

Vargas, 34, had a rough past that at times involved drug use and prostitution, according to court records. But she was also very close to her family, especially her mother, and had been trying to better her life. After she disappeared, her mother, Priscilla Vargas, would walk East 1st Street in Santa Ana, among the city's roughest blocks, asking the drug dealers, street workers and anyone else who might be around if they knew anything about her eldest child, whom everyone called "Giggles."

When Martha Anaya, 28, disappeared Nov. 12, she had been planning her daughter's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. She asked her boyfriend to pick up their daughter so she could work, but stopped responding to his messages later that night.

Like the other women, Anaya had a history of prostitution, according to court records. Her family worried that her past may have reduced the urgency of the official search following her disappearance.

Dunn said it's unclear whether the women were targeted because of their ties to prostitution.

"Their activity could have been a contributing factor but at this time, we are not certain that activity is what made them victims," he said.

While the other women appeared to have vanished without a trace, Estepp's body was found amid the trash at a recycling plant in Anaheim.

On Sunday, Tasha Rice, a resident at the Anaheim Lodge motel where Estepp is believed to have spent her final days, said the young woman's death had residents of the motel on edge and that the news of the arrests was a relief.

"I don't know why anyone would want to kill these girls," Rice said.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

adolfo.flores@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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