AFTER DAUGHTER IS FOUND DEAD ON CONVEYOR BELT, MOTHER SEEKS ANSWERS
May 6, 2014
Los Angeles Times
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Tears formed on the edges of Jodi Estepp’s eyes as she stared at the stiff quilt covering the bed inside Room 217 at the Anaheim Lodge Motel. Was this the last place her daughter slept?
A mirror, a framed picture of a garden and the smell of old cigarette smoke hung on the white walls. But no trace of Jarrae Estepp remained. All of her possessions were waiting in two bags at the Anaheim Police Department.
Jodi walked outside, where a longtime resident of the motel told her she had seen Jarrae briefly when the 21-year-old stopped to admire her tabby.
Jarrae checked into Room 217 on March 13 along this stretch of Beach Boulevard where prostitutes, the restless and the down-and-out frequent motels with names like the Robin Hood and the Covered Wagon. A day later, an employee of an Anaheim trash facility discovered her naked body on a conveyor belt.
Her fingerprints and tattoos were used to identify her; the one on the left side of her neck spelled out her mother’s name.
Jodi had made the journey from Modesto, cobbling together money from friends and family for gas. The Orange County district attorney’s office had promised a hotel room.
She came to Southern California for answers about Jarrae’s final days but was haunted by questions about days long past.
“I did the best I could,” she said, “but I wonder if I could’ve done more or done less of what I did do.”
Jodi had been in Modesto for about two weeks, meeting with family, some of whom she hadn’t seen in years, and growing more furious the more that time passed without any arrests, believing the case wasn’t being aggressively pursued. When Jodi got the call from the detective April 12, she dropped to her knees.
Finally, a break in the case.
Trapp told her that two registered sex offenders, Franc Cano, 27, and Steven Dean Gordon, 45, had been arrested on suspicion of killing Jarrae and three other women reported missing in Santa Ana. Police had confiscated an RV the men may have been trolling the streets with.
A day and a half later, after an all-night drive, the 40-year-old mother arrived in Anaheim. Standing in front of a Subway restaurant, with cars speeding down Beach Boulevard, she prepared to say goodbye to her daughter.
Putting down a plastic cup smudged with red lipstick, Jodi walked out of her room at the Motel 6, beckoned by the glare and crackle of fireworks over Disneyland.
“Anaheim was Disneyland,” Jodi said, looking at a series of red and gold bursts. “It’s not so much fun.”
Hours later inside her room, she pulled out a pair of size nine wedge heels from a black Nike gym bag. She had bought them for Jarrae and hated them instantly. She couldn’t understand why her daughter liked them.
She had picked up the gym bag and a small Hello Kitty handbag from the Anaheim Police Department that morning.
Jodi also kept touching a green and silver rosary that Trapp had given her. The detective told her she had bought it after being assigned to Jarrae’s case.
Next she pulled out a white tank top with black crosses she had bought for her daughter, followed by several pairs of shorts and an empty CD player. An orange shirt, Jarrae’s favorite color.
It was the same orange as the urn waiting for her in Modesto, filled with her daughter’s ashes. An inscription ran down its side:
“Peace and rest at length have come All the day’s long toil is past and each heart is whispering ‘home, home at last!'”
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