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Report: Speed Freak Killers victim remains may be mixed with others

October 11, 2012 |  1:13 pm

The remains of a 16-year-old female victim of the so-called Speed Freak Killers in the Central Valley may have been mixed in with the bones of a missing 9-year-old Hayward girl and others, a new forensic report indicates.

The remains of murder victim JoAnn Hobson were turned over to the Human Identification Laboratory at Cal State Chico by the girl's mother, according to the Stockton Record. Her bones were excavated from a Linden well this year as investigators searched for remains of the serial killers' victims. Hobson vanished in 1985.

The analyst’s report said the remains were probably commingled as a result of large digging equipment used to excavate a well in Linden, according to the Record.

The report opens up the possibility that other victims may have been unidentified, including missing 9-year-old Hayward girl Michaela Garecht, who vanished in 1988.

The killing duo of Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog were never convicted in Hobson’s death, but Shermantine’s tips led investigators to the Linden well. They earned the moniker Speed Freak Killers because they were believed to be high on drugs while committing their crimes.

The lab said Hobson's remains were significantly mixed up with at least two others and possibly more.

Learning that officials had given her improperly separated remains made her feel like a victim, Shelley told the Stockton Record.

"I am not mad," Shelley said. "I am in a rage over this."

A three-inch piece of bone unearthed in the well is undergoing DNA testing at a Virginia lab to see whether it belongs to Michaela, who was kidnapped outside a Hayward store on Nov. 19, 1988, Hayward police Sgt. Eric Krimm told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Hopefully, the DNA analysis will give us some closure on whether it is or isn't. That's the biggest goal,” Krimm told the Chronicle.

Tips from Shermantine, a Death Row inmate, led investigators to the well. San Joaquin County sheriff's deputies unearthed the remains with a large excavator in February, drawing criticism for their indelicate approach. The state's Bureau of Forensic Services next analyzed the remains.

Shelley said a twinge of uneasiness caused her to send the remains deputies gave her for further analysis.

On Sept. 12, Shelley received the forensic anthropology report prepared for her by Eric Bartelink, director of the lab. He performed DNA analysis on 28 bone samples.

He found the use of large earth-moving equipment contributed to "significant commingling" of the skeletal remains, and that there may have been remains from more than three people in the well, which the state lab had initially identified, the Record said.

Prior DNA and forensic analysis by the state had revealed three people and a fetus. In addition to Hobson, the well held the remains of Kimberly Billy, 19, an unidentified female aged 16 to 18, and the fetus.

Shelley said she has retained an attorney but has yet to decide whether she will take legal action.

San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore said he was taken aback upon learning of the possible commingling.

Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog were convicted of killing four people during a 15-year, methamphetamine-fueled killing spree. Investigators believe the two may have killed as many as 19 people.

Garecht's mother, Sharon Murch, said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday that if the fragment is that of Garecht, she will be glad to at least know the truth.

“I feel an overwhelming desire to bring Michaela home,” Murch said. “It breaks my heart to think of her little body lying in that God forsaken place for all these years, and if that is so, I want to gather her up and bring her home.”

In January, Shermantine began revealing locations of victims from his cell at San Quentin Prison's Death Row. Herzog, who was on parole in Lassen County, committed suicide Jan. 16, the same day he learned Shermantine was speaking to investigators.

Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, who has advocated for ongoing searches for victims, said the report underscored a need for the FBI to take over the investigation.

“This is not a normal situation,” Galgiani said. “We have not seen anything like this before. It is clear that the FBI must come in and take over.”


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-- From a Times staff writer