A 21-year-old woman whose naked body was found on a conveyor belt at an Anaheim trash-sorting facility may have spent her last days and nights inside a second-floor motel room on a densely packed stretch of Beach Boulevard.
Jarrae Nykkole Estepp had become a regular in the aging commercial district in recent weeks, walking the busy boulevard. Only blocks from Disneyland, the street is defined by strip malls, fast-food restaurants and motels from a bygone era.
Detectives said their efforts to retrace Estepp’s final steps in the hope of finding her killer have brought them to the neighborhood, long known as a haven for prostitution.
“It’s dangerous when you’re working the streets. The Internet is safer,” said Tasha Rice, a resident at the Anaheim Lodge Motel, a faded white building with red tile roof and red doors. “Girls can make the mistake of going with two guys and end up in a chicken coop.”
On Tuesday, the motel parking lot was largely empty.
Rice said she had exchanged a simple “Hi and bye” with Estepp, who was using the name “Honeycomb.” She said detectives told her they were looking for a man they believed might be Estepp’s pimp.
As she spoke, a spotless black Honda Accord with two men in its front seats pulled up to the motel.
Three women with heavy makeup and short shorts emerged from the backseat. They pulled out plastic bags filled with clothes from the trunk and went into one of the rooms while the men waited.
Naresh Patel, a manager at the Sahara Motel next door, said he saw Estepp walking up and down the boulevard as recently as a month ago.
Detectives aren’t sure what brought Estepp to Southern California from Oklahoma, where she had been identified as a likely sex worker by an Oklahoma City nonprofit dedicated to working with those involved in prostitution and human trafficking.
“We knew her by her street name ‘Sarah,’” said Lori Basey, president of No Boundaries International. “This is certainly not what we want to be the end of the story for girls like her.”
In a series of vigilante-style videos shot in 2012, Estepp — pregnant, bundled in a fur-lined coat and wearing lavender boots — is shown walking along a squalid street in south Oklahoma City, chewing gum and waving to passing cars. She hops into a pickup truck in one scene and slides out of a sedan in another.
After becoming a mother, Estepp did accept a blanket for her infant son from the nonprofit, but otherwise resisted its intervention efforts.
“Some of the girls that knew her out on the streets are just heartbroken,” Basey said. “Nobody is designed to be sold over and over throughout the day, to experience the violence and consequences these girls end up experiencing.”
Estepp was arrested multiple times and convicted at least once for prostitution, according to online arrest and court records. In January she was arrested in Elk City, Okla., on suspicion of petty larceny.
An aunt, who lives in Modesto and asked to be identified only as Sherry, said Estepp had to practically raise herself after her father died when she was in her early teens. Her mother, the aunt said, had stepped out of her life.
Estepp moved to Oklahoma to live with relatives on her father’s side, but would frequently check in on her younger brother, whom the aunt was raising.
“She had a great heart,” the aunt said. “She was fun to be around.”
After her son was born, Estepp spent time in Modesto but went back to Oklahoma after just a few months, perhaps following a boyfriend the aunt knew only as “Menace.”
“She didn’t have any self-worth,” the aunt said. “She cared so much for other people and not herself.”
Anaheim Police Lt. Tim Schmidt said investigators believe Estepp was killed and then tossed in a dumpster, which was then routinely emptied and trucked to the trash-sorting center.
He said detectives have canvassed motels and businesses along Beach Boulevard and reached out to police in Santa Ana, where officers are investigating the recent disappearance of three women who frequented neighborhoods known for drug-dealing and prostitution.
“We’ve spoken to detectives and compared cases,” Schmidt said. “But we’re not ready to move forward and say there’s any connection.”