The Orange County transients arrested on suspicion of killing four women are registered sex offenders and probationers who were living in Anaheim when the slayings occurred, according to interviews and court records.
Franc Cano, 27, and Steven Dean Gordon, 45, were required to wear GPS devices and, as transients, had to check in with Anaheim police every 30 days, authorities said.
Santa Ana and Anaheim police, who conducted a joint investigation, provided few details Sunday about the arrests, which left many unanswered questions. Police have not said whether they have recovered the bodies of three of the women or what is believed to link Cano and Gordon to the deaths.
Also unclear was how two men who were supposed to be tightly monitored could have gone on the alleged crime spree without being detected for so long.
Both men were ordered to register as sex offenders after they were convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14. Cano pleaded guilty in 2007 to the charge and was sentenced to three years in state prison, according to court records. He was on state parole and federal probation, said Lt. Bob Dunn of the Anaheim police department.
Gordon was convicted in 1992 of the same charge and was also sentenced to three years in prison, according to court records.
The men have known each other since at least April 2012. According to federal court records, that’s when Gordon and Cano cut off their GPS devices and fled to Nevada, using the aliases Dexter McCoy and Joseph Madrid to travel. They stayed at the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for about two weeks, until they were arrested.
They pleaded guilty in Nevada federal court to failing to register as sex offenders and it appeared they were being closely monitored after the incident — they were ordered to provide DNA samples and their computers were monitored by federal agents, according to records. Dunn said Gordon and Cano also checked in with Anaheim police as required.
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. 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 soon 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. 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 drug dealers, street workers and anyone else who might be around if they knew anything about her eldest child, who everyone called “Giggles.”
When Martha Anaya, 28, disappeared on 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, she had a history of prostitution, which her family worried reduced the urgency of the official search following her disappearance.
Jarrae Nykkole Estepp’s body was found in mid-March, amid the trash at a recycling plant in a stark industrial stretch of Anaheim. The 21-year-old with long blond hair and a tattoo of a rose and cross on her arm had become a regular on a strip of Beach Boulevard in Anaheim long known for prostitution in the weeks before she was found dead.
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 of these serial murderers,” he said.
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