When the Santa Ana Police Department last month asked the public for help in locating three women last seen Aug. 13, including two who were last in an area of the city known for drugs and prostitution, the first image that flashed in my mind was the face of Tina Hoang at right.
The body of the 20-year-old Bellflower mom who had been busted in the past for prostitution was found on the sand next to a lifeguard tower in Newport Beach on March 4, 2013, and police a month later labeled the case a homicide.
What if, I wondered last month, if Orange County was now dealing with a serial killer preying on prostitutes?
Extending the notion further, why is it that Orange County law enforcement formed a multi-agency task force when homeless men were being fatally stabbed over a few months of late 2011-early 2012 but were not doing so now when the victims were female prostitutes? Are cops making a judgment call on which type of victims are worthy of their attention?
Anaheim Police Lt. Tim Schmidt, the department spokesman, provides the answer--not directly but substantively--in a recent Orange County Register story.
"We don't have the evidence to say they're connected," Schmidt told the Register of the cases involving missing persons Kianna Jackson, Josephine Vargas and Martha Anaya in Santa Ana and the late Tina Hoang and Jarrae Estepp, who'd worked as a prostitute before her body turned up in an Anaheim trash recycling facility on March 14. The 21-year-old's death is also being investigated as a homicide.
The homeless killings task force had bodies of three men who had each been fatally stabbed before nabbing apparent serial killer Itzcoatl Ocampo, who had just stabbed a fourth homeless man to death and would later be blamed for fatally stabbing a mother and adult son who lived near the troubled former Marine's Yorba Linda home. Ocampo committed suicide in the county jail.
When it comes to the Santa Ana cases, there is no evidence those women are dead. It's important to note that cops there were originally looking for four missing women, but one turned up alive and well in Anaheim Hills, where she was avoiding being found due to a criminal warrant.
Meanwhile, the manner in which Hoang and Estepp met their respective ends has not been released by police because those investigations continue. All that connects all these cases at this point is the illicit way the women are believed to have made money on the streets.
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On that point, it's important to know the view of Lois Lee, president of Children of the Night, a Van Nuys-based shelter for youth involved in prostitution, who tells the Register she does not believe Orange County has a serial killer preying on prostitutes.
"It's just a high-risk job," she reportedly said of sex work.
If you know anything about any of these cases, tips may be left, even anonymously, with OC Crimestoppers at 855.847.6227.