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Digging for victims of California's 'Speed Freak' serial killers

February 13, 2012 |  9:13 am

Speed freak killings
Authorities were planning Monday to continue digging up an old cattle ranch to look for victims of California's "Speed Freak" serial killers, acting on a map drawn by one of the killers, who is now in prison.

The question on most minds in the rural community of Linden, east of Stockton, is: How many victims they will  find?

MAP: Linden, California

On Sunday, for the second day in a row, authorities said they discovered bones, believed to be human, near a well. They also discovered a pair of sandals, a pair of tennis shoes, engraved jewelry and a woman's purse in an area long rumored to hold a mass grave.

A map drawn by Wesley Shermantine, 45, a convicted serial killer who spilled his secrets in exchange for a promise of cash from a bounty hunter, labels two wells on the ranch "Loren's Boneyard."

Shermantine and Loren Herzog were arrested in 1999 for a series of murders known as the "Speed Freak" killings, which may have spanned more than 15 years and claimed an unknown number of victims.

Last week Shermantine's maps led authorities to San Andreas, where they found remains believed to be those of Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler of Stockton, who disappeared at age 16 in 1985, and of Cindi Vanderheiden, 25, of Clements, who disappeared 14 years ago on a night people had seen her shooting pool with Shermantine and Herzog in neighboring Linden.

Sherry Gibbs, who works at Clements Country Market, senses that people coming into the store want to talk about bodies being discovered but don't know what to say.

"We just all keep saying to each other, 'So? You following the news?' and leaving it at that. You have to understand this is such a peaceful place, and to think those boys came from here. There's good and bad everywhere, but this isn't bad," she said. "This is pure evil."

Shermantine has said in letters and interviews that there could be 10 to 20 bodies in the wells. But he also reportedly has bragged about murders as far away as Utah, where, he said, Herzog randomly shot a man who was standing beside his broken-down car.

"They basically hunted people," said Rob Dick, a private investigator who for more than a decade has been compiling a list of possible victims. Because the murders were spread around different communities over a number of years, it wasn't until Shermantine and Herzog were arrested that people realized many disappearances might be connected.

Shermantine and Herzog had reportedly spent their childhood years killing animals and exploring abandoned mines and wells in the area. Shermantine has said that even as a child, Herzog had identified places that would make good spots to hide bodies.

Shermantine was sentenced to death row 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, was paroled in 2010 and committed suicide two months ago, shortly after Sacramento bounty hunter Leonard Padilla told him Shermantine was going to give the location of bodies.


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-- Diana Marcum in Linden

Photo: Authorities search Sunday for human remains near a well on an abandoned cattle ranch near Linden. Credit: Craig Sanders / The Record (Stockton)