Police searching wrong well for 'Speed Freak' victims, others say
As the search for human remains connected to "Speed Freak" killers Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog hit the bottom of a San Joaquin County well on Thursday, a private eye and a bounty hunter who have been on the case for more than a decade insisted that authorities were searching the wrong well.
Discoveries from earlier this month indicate that private investigator Rob Dick and bounty hunter Leonard Padilla might know what they are talking about.
Earlier maps that convicted killer Shermantine gave Dick and Padilla in exchange for the promise of cash did not lead them or authorities to bodies. Shermantine insisted he was being truthful and asked Dick for current pictures and maps of the area. He specifically asked for photos of a grove of eucalyptus trees, a small bridge and a cattle pen, Dick said.
When Dick went to the area and started asking around, he found that a gate on the map that was supposed to lead to the body of Cyndi Vanderheiden had been moved after a fire in 2001, after Shermantine's 1999 arrest. He found that a map showing the body of Chevelle Wheeler past four oak trees was in an area where more trees had grown over the years.
With the new information, the pair went to authorities and asked for a dog specially trained to sniff for bones -- not cadaver dogs that respond to the scent of blood and flesh such as the pair police had been using.
Dick said authorities intercepted updated maps from Shermantine and found the bodies, blocking Padilla and Dick from the crime scene.
As for the well where authorities are now digging, Dick said he talked to the homeowner and checked property records and found that the well had been filled over in 1983 -- before most of the slayings occurred. The area is dotted with old cattle wells, open pits dug by settlers and often not marked on any map. There is such a well, on the same property, near a small bridge, Dick said. Neighbors told him that well once had a cattle pen nearby, he said.
Dick said authorities have rebuffed his efforts to talk privately. Padilla, who some say is fond of the spotlight, shouted to authorities while TV cameras were rolling that they were at the wrong well.
"What have they found in that well?" Dick asked. "A partial human skull and bone fragments. I'm telling you there are so many more bodies, but it's a different well."
Shermantine and Herzog were arrested in 1999 for a killing spree spanning at least 15 years and an unknown number of victims. Shermantine was sentenced to death for killing four women. Herzog was to receive 77 years to life for three murders, but his sentence was overturned by an appeals court that found his confession to some of the crimes had been coerced. Herzog served 14 years on a plea deal and was paroled in 2010. He committed suicide two months ago, shortly after Padilla told him that Shermantine was going to reveal the locations of victims' bodies to authorities.
-- Diana Marcum
Photo: Authorities search Sunday for human remains near a well on an abandoned cattle ranch near Linden. Credit: Craig Sanders / [Stockton] Record