2 teenage girls' remains linked to California serial killers
Authorities have identified the remains of two teenage girls missing since the mid-1980s and believed to have been victims of the "Speed Freak Killers" who terrorized the Central Valley during a 15-year rampage, the San Joaquin County sheriff announced Friday.
Investigators excavated bones, clothes, purses, shoes and other evidence from a well near Stockton last month after a death row inmate provided a hand-drawn map to two sites where he said he and a late accomplice dumped the bodies of at least 10 victims.
Wesley Shermantine said he and his childhood friend Loren Herzog killed more than a dozen people between the mid-1980s and their capture in 1999.
San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore said forensic scientists had identified remains from Kimberly Billy, who was 19 when she went missing in 1984, and 16-year-old Joann Hobson, who disappeared in 1985.
Moore said at a news conference in the community of French Camp that forensics experts were hoping to identify a third set or remains from the excavated well in the farming town of Linden.
The remains of two other young women who vanished from the Central Valley in the 1980s and '90s were recovered last month after Shermantine guided sheriff's investigators to a remote dumping ground in Calaveras County. Those victims were identified as Cyndi Vanderheiden, 25, of Clements and 16-year-old Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler of Stockton. Vanderheiden went missing in 1998 and Wheeler in 1985.
Shermantine, who was sentenced to death for four murders committed during the thrill-killing rampage, provided directions to a bounty hunter in exchange for a promise of $33,000. That led authorities to both sites where the remains of the long-missing women were recovered.
Herzog was originally given a 77-year sentence, but that was struck down on appeal and he agreed to a plea deal ahead of a second trial. He was released in 2010 and was living in a trailer near the High Desert State Prison where he spent 14 years when he got word of Shermantine's cooperation with authorities that was likely to lead to new charges against him. Herzog hung himself in January, a day after getting the news. The prison is in the northeastern California city of Susanville.
Rob Dick, a private investigator who has worked on the case for more than a decade, said he believed Herzog and Shermantine filled in the well where the remains of Billy and Hobson were found in 1986, meaning that later victims were buried elsewhere.
In a series of letters to news organizations, Shermantine has said in recent weeks that he and Herzog had a third accomplice and that the number of victims was much higher than earlier disclosed. He said more than 70 people were killed during the friends' "hunting" expeditions, in which they targeted prostitutes, runaways and drifters.
-- Carol J. Williams
Photo: San Joaquin sheriff's deputies and Department of Justice personnel catalog human remains recovered from a well near Linden in February. Credit: Craig Sanders / The Record