Police have ended their search for the bodies of three women who prosecutors say were killed by a pair of registered sex offenders in Orange County.
The victims, four in all, went missing starting last the fall from Santa Ana and Anaheim but the body of only one, Jarrae Estepp, 21, has so far been found.
The discovery of Estepp’s body led to the arrests in April of Franc Cano and Steven Gordon, both of whom were being tracked by GPS monitors because of their past sex offenses.
The men were charged with the rape and murder of Estepp, Kianna Jackson, 20, Josephine Monique Vargas, 34, and Martha Anaya, 28.
"I understand, they've said we cannot keep looking for them," said Linda Salcedo, mother of Martha Anaya. "But as a mother, I will keep searching."
A family member of Vargas who asked not to be named because of the ongoing criminal case said she was devastated to learn that police would no longer search for Vargas’ body.
“I want to bury her right where I could go visit her,” the relative said. “Just not knowing where she’s at. That’s what hurts me.”
Anaheim police believe Estepp was killed in March and her body left in a dumpster that was picked up by a trash truck and taken to an Anaheim trash facility where it was discovered by workers.
They believe the bodies of the three other women are probably in landfills and had narrowed their search to a facility in Los Angeles County and another in Orange County, said Anaheim police spokesman Lt. Bob Dunn.
Dunn said the department consulted with the landfills and with the FBI to determine the feasibility of finding the women’s bodies. But the amount of time that has elapsed since the women disappeared and the difficulties of searching massive landfills, including possibly having to shutter one of the facilities for weeks or months, left police with little hope for the search, he said.
“All of those factors made it challenging,” Dunn said. “Very seldom do searches of these landfills after that time period produce the actual victims.”
On Friday, Salcedo and other family members headed to one of the landfills to hold a brief memorial for Anaya, she said. Though she is not entirely convinced that her daughter's remains are in the landfill, she said, having a place to go to say goodbye to her daughter provided some consolation after months of uncertainty.
Salcedo said she would continue handing out fliers and talking to people who may have knowledge of the case in order to learn exactly what happened to her daughter.
"I never thought I'd have to say goodbye to a loved one at a landfill, much less my own child," she said.
The case has sparked outrage among the victims' families and led to questions from lawmakers because both men were being tracked by GPS and were on federal probation at the time of the alleged slayings. Cano was also on state parole while Gordon was released from it shortly before prosecutors say the third killing occurred.
A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 25 in Orange County Superior Court.
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