Wesley Howard SHERMANTINE Jr.
A.K.A.: "The Speed Freak Killer"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Thrill Killer - Drugs
Number of victims: 4 - 24
Date of murders: 1984 - 1999
Date of arrest: March 17, 1999
Date of birth: February 24, 1966
Victims profile: Paul Cavanaugh, 31 / Howard King, 35 / Chevy Wheeler, 16 / Cyndi Vanderheiden, 25
Method of murder: Shooting - Stabbing with knife
Location: California/Utah, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in California on May 16, 2001
Wesley Shermantine Jr. & Loren Joseph Herzog (6-24+)
California investigators believe this lethal pair of speed freaks may have killed as many as 20 people, disposing of their bodies in mine shafts, remote hill sides and buried underneath a trailer park. Over the years Shermantine told relatives and acquaintances he had "made people disappear" around the outskirts of Stockton. In a confrontation with one woman in a trailer park, Testa said, Shermantine told her: "Listen to the heartbeats of people I've buried here. Listen to the heartbeats of families I've buried here."
Shermantine has been charged with only four murders: Paul Cavanaugh, 31, and Howard King, 35, in 1984; Chevy Wheeler, 16, of Stockton in 1985; and Cyndi Vanderheiden, 25, of Clements, east of Stockton, in 1998. The first two victims were found shot to death in a car off a remote road late one night. Tracks at the scene matched the tires on Shermantine's pickup truck. Shermantine's friend Loren Herzog, who is charged in three of the killings -- as well as two other unrelated murders -- will be tried later.
Wesley Howard Shermantine
Classification: Serial Killer, Thrill Killer
Arrested: March 17, 1999
No. Victims: 4-24
Age: 33 at time of arrest
Victim Profile: Young Women, men
MO: Went "hunting" with friend Herzog, traded drugs for sex, killed for sport.
Location: Stockton, Linden, Northern California, Utah, Nevada
Loren Joseph Herzog
Classification: Serial Killer, Thrill Killer
Arrested: March 17, 1999
No. Victims: 5+
Age: 33 at time of arrest
Victim Profile: Young Women, men
MO: Went "hunting" with friend Wesley Shermantine, killed for sport.
Location: Stockton, Linden, Northern California, Utah
On March 23, 1999, prosecutors in Stockton, California charged Loren Joseph Herzog -- one of the men accused of kidnapping and killing 25-year-old Cyndi Vanderheiden -- with four additional counts of murder, bringing possible closure to a string of unsolved killings dating back to 1984.
Vanderheiden, a Clements resident, disappeared from in front of her family's home November, 1998. Both Herzog and childhood buddy Wesley Howard Shermantine, both 33, have been charged with her murder. Combined both men are accused of six unsolved murders. They are both charged with the robbery-murder of drifters Howard King, 35, and Paul Raymond Cavanaugh, 31, whose bodies were found shot to death in a car off a remote road on Roberts Island on Nov. 27, 1984. Tracks at the scene matched the tires on Shermantine's pickup truck.
Herzog is accused of the murder of Henry Howell, 41, of Santa Clara, who was shot dead on Highway 88 near Hope Valley in September 1984; and the September 1985 murder of Robin Armtrout, 24, whose nude body was found stabbed nearly a dozen times on the east bank of Potter Creek near Linden. Shermantine has been charged individually in the deaths of 16-year-old Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler, who disappeared in 1985 while skipping school at Franklin High School and whose remains are still missing. Shermantine was suspected in Wheeler's death for a decade, but was not arrested until 1999 when DNA tests revealed blood found in his home was hers.
On November 22, 2000, the trial of Wes Shermantine began in Santa Clara with the prosecutor painting a picture of a ruthless predator on a fifteen-year long rampage. The trial was moved to Santa Clara because of the tremendous publicity about the case in the San Joaquin Valley. Shermantine, 34, is charged with killing three people in the 1980s and a woman in 1998, though only two of the bodies have been found. Prosecutors told the jury that they believe Shermantine may have killed as many as 20 more people, disposing of their bodies in mine shafts, remote hill sides and buried underneath a trailer park. "There are no fingerprints, no eyewitnesses, no smoking gun," prosecutor Thomas Testa said in opening statements. "It's all in the details."
Testa said that over the years Shermantine told relatives and acquaintances he had "made people disappear" around the outskirts of Stockton. In a confrontation with one woman in a trailer park, Shermantine allegedly told her: "Listen to the heartbeats of people I've buried here. Listen to the heartbeats of families I've buried here."
Not the nicest man on the planet, several witnesses testified that they had been brutalized by Shermantine. Five women testified he had violently raped or sodomized them, including a baby sitter who said she had been attacked when she stopped by to collect money he owed her. A woman said he had rear-ended her car, then kidnapped her at knifepoint when she pulled off the road to exchange insurance information. She jumped from his car while it was moving and managed to get away. His estranged wife described how he had brutally beaten her for years, hitting her while she was pregnant or holding her children in her lap.
According to Testa, Shermantine once told Herzog he had killed 22 people in California, Utah and Nevada. The typical speed-freak thrill killers, Shermantine and Herzog allegedly killed for sport: "Wes told several individuals that he had hunted the ultimate kill -- humans."
Teenager Chevy Wheeler disappeared after playing hooky from school and driving into the mountains with Shermantine. Though Shermantine was suspected for years of killing the teen-ager, he was not arrested until 1999, after DNA tests determined that drops of blood found in his remote cabin in the mountains were almost certainly from the girl. The prosecutor said Vanderheiden disappeared after being seen with a methamphetamine-fueled Shermantine and Herzog at a bar. Vanderheiden's blood was found on a head rest and in the trunk of Shermantine's car, Testa said. Both women are believed to have been lured away to their deaths with the promise of drugs.
In court both men have insisted it was the other one who did all the killings. Shermantine insists Herzog is solely to blame for the killing and has hinted he knows where the bodies of Vanderheiden and other victims may have been stashed. Herzog's attorney characterizes Shermantine's version of events as a desperate ploy to deflect blame. During more than 17 hours of questioning by San Joaquin County sheriff's detectives, Herzog implicated Shermantine in five unsolved Northern California killings, as well as the shooting death of a hunter in Utah in 1994.
Herzog told authorities he had only watched as Shermantine committed each of the murders. Under California law, prosecutors were able to charge Herzog with murder in connection with the mid-1980s killings based on his own admissions, court officials said. Without more evidence, however, the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office has so far been unable to charge Shermantine with any additional crimes.
On videotape, Herzog said Shermantine had bragged over the years of committing as many as 24 murders. Herzog told detectives that Shermantine either pulled the trigger or wielded the knife in every murder the pair are charged with. On Roberts Island, Herzog and Shermantine were riding together in a truck when they passed a parked 1982 Pontiac, Herzog told detectives. The friends turned around, pulled shotguns from their truck and approached the car. Shermantine fired first at the driver, killing Howard Michael King, 35, as he sat in the car, Herzog said. Shermantine then dragged Paul Raymond Cavanaugh, 31, from the passenger door and shot him at point-blank range before cutting open his pockets with a knife, Herzog said.
Two months before, Shermantine and Herzog were in a truck on Highway 88 near Hope Valley when they passed Henry Howell, a 41-year-old Santa Clara resident who was drunk and parked along the side of the road. Shermantine stopped, got out of the truck and shot Howell with a shotgun, Herzog said. In September 1985, the men picked up 24-year-old Robin Armtrout at a park near Del Mar Avenue in Stockton, Herzog said. Intending to go drinking together, the three ended up in a country pasture just east of Shermantine and Herzog's homes in Linden. Shermantine "got carried away," Herzog told detectives, beating, raping and eventually stabbing Armtrout more than a dozen times before leaving her naked on the bank of Potter Creek.
On the videotaped interview, Herzog said Shermantine bragged of doing the same thing to Chevelle Wheeler. Shermantine was investigated but never charged after Wheeler was reported missing in 1985, authorities said. Samples of blood matching Wheeler's blood type were found at the time in a San Andreas hunting cabin belonging to Shermantine's family. Recent developments in DNA technology allowed investigators to prove the blood came from Wheeler. Shermantine said that Herzog had a key to the family cabin and was good friends with Wheeler. According to Wheeler's parents, however, Shermantine called the family's home the day Chevy disappeared to confirm that the girl still planned to go with him on a mountain excursion.
About the Vanderheiden case, Herzog said he and Shermantine met the woman in a cemetery near her Clements home after the three left a bar after midnight. While driving back to Linden, Shermantine pulled a knife and ordered Vanderheiden to perform oral sex, Herzog told detectives. Shermantine then stopped the car near Waverly Road, raped Vanderheiden and slashed her throat, Herzog said. Detectives found Vanderheiden's blood in the back of Shermantine's car after it was repossessed January 22.
Herzog also implicated Shermantine in the 1994 shooting of a hunter in northern Utah. Shermantine allegedly shot a hunter while he and Herzog were on vacation, authorities said. Local officials in Utah confirmed they are investigating the unsolved murder of a hunter from 1994.
FBI officials seized almost $40,000 worth of guns from the San Andreas home of Shermantine's parents. The San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office plans to call in a small army of evidence technicians to thoroughly examine the guns in an attempt to link them to weapons evidence from unsolved crimes, including the 1994 murder of a woman in Tuolumne County whose dismembered body was found in a burned-out barrel.
On March 5, 2001, Shermantine said that if his two young sons recieve $20,000 in reward money, he'll reveal the location of the bodies of four victims, two for which he was convicted, and two more. Although Shermantine has been convicted for four murders police believe he may be responsible for up to 22 more slayings. Authorites have offered to drop the death penalty for two bodies, but Shermantine asked for cash instead. The victims' families, who very much want Shermantine sentenced to death, said they were willing to consider the death penalty deal but were against paying for the bodies. They'd also like to help other families locate their missing loved ones. Shermantine, they said, has offered to reveal the locations of several bodies he hasn't been charged with killing.
One of duo convicted in serial murders to be freed
September 12, 2010
They were dubbed the "Speed Freak Killers," inseparable boyhood friends from the sticks who were finally brought in after a methamphetamine-fueled murder spree lasting 15 years.
Wesley Shermantine is on California's Death Row.
Loren Herzog is walking free from prison in the coming days, the beneficiary of a bungled interrogation and a favorable appeals court ruling significantly reducing his prison sentence.
The people living in the rural San Joaquin County region the pair terrorized in the 1990s are once again gripped by fear, rage and disbelief that Herzog -- initially convicted of three first-degree murders and implicated in several others -- will be set free.
Their frustration is mitigated only slightly by news Friday that Herzog will be relocated to Lassen County in the state's remote northeast corner.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says Herzog will be paroled from Norco prison in Riverside County sometime in mid-September, declining to give an exact date. He was previously scheduled to be released July 25, but corrections officials abruptly canceled that, saying they'd miscalculated his sentence.
Despite calls from influential area politicians to keep Herzog locked up, the department said there's little it can do about Herzog's impending release now that he has served his time. But it did heed pleas from witnesses and families of victims by choosing to settle Herzog hundreds of miles from San Joaquin County.
"There is no bigger injustice," said John Vanderheiden, the father of the pair's last known victim -- 25-year-old Cyndi Vanderheiden. "All Herzog's release is doing is making me relive it all over again."
Shermantine and Herzog were each initially convicted of several first-degree murder charges, including the rape and murder of Cyndi Vanderheiden in 1998.
The two lured her to a cemetery with the promise of methamphetamine. Herzog testified that he hid in the back seat of Shermantine's car while his friend attacked Vanderheiden. Herzog also testified that he helped load the body in the trunk, but doesn't know what Shermantine did after that. Her body hasn't been found.
The Vanderheiden family of Clements doesn't believe Herzog's story -- and neither does San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa.
"These guys were so tight and they did everything together," Testa said. "A dead body is kind of a heavy thing."
Testa now hopes that the publicity surrounding Herzog's release will prompt new witnesses to come forward and help crack several other unsolved murders the two are suspected of committing. Witnesses say that Shermantine boasted that he killed 19 people.
Testa, who prosecuted both men, said he was disappointed when Herzog's jury rejected a death sentence in 2001 and a judge sentenced him to 78 years in prison on the three first-degree murder convictions.
In 2004, the news got worse for the prosecutor. The California Court of Appeal tossed out Herzog's convictions and sentence. It ruled that Herzog's detailed statements that amounted to a confession were illegally coerced.
The court ruled investigators ignored his several requests for a lawyer and pressed on with their interrogation after his 1999 arrest.
Without the videotaped confession, prosecutors said they were left little evidence and had no choice but to offer Herzog a deal to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter for the killing of Vanderheiden. His 78-year prison sentence was reduce to 14 years.
With credit for time served dating back to his 1999 arrest and time off for good behavior, the prison system can no longer hold him.
Witnesses who testified against him have expressed fear of retribution, while prosecutors are concerned Herzog will attempt to cover his tracks in several unsolved murders where he remains a suspect. Families of his victims are outraged he gets to return to his wife and three children while some of them don't know where their loved ones were buried.
Herzog's attorney, meanwhile, is trying to soothe those concerns. San Joaquin County Public Defender Peter Fox, who represented Herzog since his 1998 arrest, said the characterizations of his client are distorted.
Fox portrays Herzog as a dim country bumpkin led astray by a dominant and evil friend who masterminded all the killings. Fox said Herzog was a nonparticipating bystander during all the murders and helped cover his friend's tracks afterward.
"This is not a dangerous person," Fox said. "It's not fair to call him a killer. He is guilty of having the world's worst friend."
Herzog and Shermantine were the same age and grew up across the street from one another in Linden, a dusty community of 1,100 about 10 miles east of Stockton.
Witnesses testified at trial the two, now both 44, were trouble almost from the start.
They drank, did drugs and first turned to murder three months after graduating from high school in 1984, according to court records. By the time they were arrested in 1999, they were implicated in six murders and suspects in at least a dozen more that remain unsolved and open today.
"There was some evidence that suggest it was part of a game," said prosecutor Testa.
Herzog was held in jail for four days before he was brought before a judge -- the first of the many missteps investigators took that has led to his early release.
During those four days, Herzog was visited by investigators from several different agencies seeking to connect him and Shermantine to open murder cases in their jurisdictions. He was given various versions of his rights to remain silent and seek an attorney, but the interrogations continued despite mutterings that he didn't understand what was going on and saying on several occasions that he thought he had better talk to a lawyer.
Nonetheless, he unburdened himself with tales of murders he said he watched Shermantine commit. Herzog believed that the police interrogating him would set him free once he told him that he was only a witness to Shermantine's depravity.
At end of the fourth day and his last interview, the investigator asked Herzog why he cooperated.
Herzog said he was hoping to "get that killer off the street" and looked forward to leaving jail.
"I feel it's gonna work out man," Herzog said during that 1998 interrogation. "I'm going home sometime. I got, gotta go home and see my wife, kids, you know, I gotta raise 'em."
Vanderheiden family still struggles with the pain of a daughter's disappearance
By Layla Bohm - Lodinews.com
Saturday, November 15, 2008
The brown sign is gradually fading, but the white letters still clearly read, "Cyndi Search Headquarters."
Ten years after Cyndi Vanderheiden disappeared from her home, the sign outside her father's nearby shop bears tribute to the question that haunts her family: Where is she?
Two men are behind bars, one of them on death row, for her death, along with the deaths of several other women, but Cyndi's body has ever been found. But it wasn't for lack of trying: Hundreds of people searched rugged terrain over a period of several years, and to this day investigators are still following tips.
Friday marked the 10th year since she vanished. Somewhere in the vast California countryside, Cyndi's remains await a proper burial.
On Tuesday, what would have been her 35th birthday, her family had no gravestone at which to pay tribute. Instead, a bench made of iron and horseshoes, with an "In memory of Cyndi" plaque, sits at the family's plot in a cemetery.
For her family, there is no substitute for a proper burial.
"It's been 10 years. Maybe somebody's decided to speak," her mother, Theresa Vanderheiden, said. "A lot of people think that because we have the guys (convicted of her death), we have her."
Ten years later, Cyndi's parents are a little older and much more learned in the justice system. Cyndi's blue-eyed cat, Topaz, is a bit more pudgy.
In some regards, life has gone on. Her parents still live in a tidy Clements home, with the words "Live, Laugh, Love" in metal letters decorating one wall. Her older sister, who had moved 1,000 miles from Wyoming back to Clements to help run the massive search effort in 1998, restarted her own life last year.
But after hours of searching with hundreds of volunteers, and three years spent in courtrooms, the loss of a daughter doesn't just go away. Her parents and the prosecutor all said they still think of Cyndi every time a body is found, waiting until the inevitable update that it's someone else's loved one.
"It's never easier," said her father, John Vanderheiden. "It would be a little easier if we could find her and put her to rest."
He and Cyndi's mother, Theresa Vanderheiden, no longer hold out hope that the men convicted, Wesley Shermantine Jr. and Loren Herzog, will ever reveal details about Cyndi's burial place. But they believe someone, somewhere has information. The disappearance
When she disappeared that November 1998 day, Cyndi had marked her 25th birthday a week earlier.
Her parents pulled off a surprise birthday party for her at the Clements bar they owned. Cyndi wasn't exactly thrilled to be caught off-guard, wearing a baseball cap and little makeup because she thought she was just running a quick errand to the bar.
But before long, the cheer of friends and family had Cyndi smiling. Photos show a grinning Cyndi standing beside her father, both holding microphones and singing karaoke.
A few days later, she and a friend drove to the Linden Inn bar, which her father also owned. They sang karaoke there, too, and at some point Cyndi began talking to Shermantine and Herzog, who knew her sister.
The two men had graduated from Linden High School and still lived in the area. They took outdoor trips together, hunting all sorts of game.
Shermantine had a dark side. He was suspected in the 1985 disappearance of a Stockton high school girl, and others had accused him of rape. He hadn't spent any time in prison.
That night, Cyndi and her friend left Linden and headed back to Clements, to the bar where she had left her car. Her friend followed her on the brief trip to her parents' home, where she was staying until her temporary job became full-time.
She'd had a few setbacks in life, but things were going well. Cyndi had saved her money to buy a new, two-door Chevrolet Cavalier, which she drove brand-new off a car lot and was making payments.
Her friend watched long enough to see Cyndi pull safely into the driveway.
The next morning, Theresa Vanderheiden — who recalls as if it was yesterday — peeked into Cyndi's room and noted with pleasure that her daughter's bed was made. Then she headed off to work.
Later that morning, John Vanderheiden drove down nearby Mackville Road on his way to a job for his heating and air conditioning business. He was passing the Clements Glenview Cemetery when he saw his daughter's gold car in the middle of the parking lot. Nobody was around.
Before long, the Vanderheidens learned that Cyndi never made it to her job off Arch Road in Stockton.
When John Vanderheiden went back to further inspect her car, he found her black purse and cigarettes in the back seat, and her cell phone on the center console. Her keys, with an emblem of Disney's Tigger on the ring, were gone.
Cyndi, whom the family had nicknamed Tigger because of her bounciness, had vanished. The former Calaveras High School cheerleader and Lodi High School graduate was never seen again.
Word of Cyndi's disappearance spread quickly. By the next day, more than 50 people were looking for her.
Within the week, that number had grown exponentially. Friends and strangers searched by helicopter, horseback and Harley Davidson.
At that point, Clements had a population of about 250 — a third of the 717 now listed on a population sign at the edge of town — and any news was a big deal.
Everyone in Clements still knows one another, and the Vanderheidens moved there when Cyndi was 4 months old.
Cyndi's disappearance became big news, in part because her family members were determined not to let her simply disappear. They organized massive searches, and friends held fund-raisers.
Her older sister, Kimberly, was living in Wyoming with her husband and two of her three daughters. She immediately packed up and headed straight to California to find the sister she was so sure would turn up alive.
It took nine years and a number of heartbreaks before Kim returned to Wyoming last year. Now remarried, Kim Lovejoy is focusing on her daughters. She has a full-time job as an assistant manager at a retail store. Her salaried position allows her the flexibility to attend her daughters' volleyball and basketball games.
But for a long time, her focus was on the baby sister who had loved rocking out to Alanis Morisette songs.
When Lovejoy returned to California, she took charge of search headquarters, which started in a Clements building and then moved to her father's shop. John Vanderheiden installed two phone lines and a fax machine, and ultimately paid for a toll-free 800 number.
Lovejoy manned the phones, sometimes sleeping overnight in the search headquarters so she wouldn't miss a possible tip.
It was no longer another small-town missing persons case. Thousands of calls came in from across the country.
Meanwhile, San Joaquin County Sheriff's investigators were watching Shermantine and Herzog.
Shermantine was the primary suspect in the disappearance of a Stockton high school girl named Chevelle Wheeler. Detectives learned that Shermantine was an avid hunter who knew all about surviving in California's wilderness.
Jurors would eventually hear testimony that Shermantine had bragged to his sister about how he and Herzog had hunted everything they could, "including the ultimate kill," which prosecutors and a witness said referred to humans.
Sheriff's investigators combed through every possible record on where Shermantine and Herzog had been, including citations and hunting permits, then searched those areas extensively.
Investigators searched hillsides and riverbeds, as well as mineshafts, based on accounts Herzog gave them of exploring mines with Shermantine when they were children.
As lead investigator Deborah Scheffel recalls, there are about 47,000 registered mine shafts within traveling distance from Clements. Add air shafts and unregistered mines, and the number is likely doubled. Some were as big as a house and 90 feet straight down, posing challenges and risks for searchers.
One property owner dumped his trash in a deep mine shaft, then burned it once a year, Scheffel said.
Four months after Cyndi disappeared, Shermantine and Herzog were arrested and charged with her murder, along with several other deaths.
John and Theresa Vanderheiden had given investigators samples of their blood, since Cyndi's DNA wasn't on file anywhere. Scientists matched their DNA to blood found in Shermantine's Toyota Cressida car, discovered when his car was repossessed.
The massive search for Cyndi had received its share of publicity, and the idea of serial killers in rural San Joaquin County didn't make the case any quieter. The case would ultimately result in several national television shows, and hundreds of newspaper articles were written about it.
Two years to the month after Cyndi disappeared, Shermantine's trial started in Santa Clara County, where the case was moved due to the intense publicity.
In the midst of the trial, Shermantine asked for $20,000 — to be given to his two sons — in exchange for information on where Cyndi's body was buried. The Vanderheidens wanted no part of it, and despite a bounty hunter offering to pay the money, no deal was made.
He was convicted of four counts of murder after a three-month trial. Though prosecutors didn't have two of the victims' bodies — Vanderheiden's as well as Stockton student Chevelle Wheeler — their DNA was enough to convince the jury.
Jurors decided Shermantine should die, and a judge handed down the death sentence. Despite his previous request for money, at the sentencing Shermantine proclaimed his innocence and said Herzog had committed the crimes.
The process started all over again in July 2001, when Herzog's trial started. A separate Santa Clara County jury convicted him of three counts of murder and being an accessory to a fourth. He was sentenced to 78 years.
Then, in August 2004, an appeals court threw out Herzog's convictions, saying investigators had coerced him while questioning him. He ultimately pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Vanderheiden's death, as well as being an accessory in three other deaths. Herzog is serving a 14-year sentence and could soon be eligible for parole.
Through the hundreds of court appearances, the Vanderheiden family didn't miss anything.
Theresa Vanderheiden's employer, Bank of Stockton, held her job for her when she needed to take days off work. Lovejoy, Cyndi's sister, kept answering phones and following possible tips.
John Vanderheiden closed the Linden Inn bar shortly after his daughter vanished and let the new owner have everything. He made a lot of trips to court, staring at Shermantine and Herzog.
"I never missed a day. When either one of them was in court, I was there," he said.
He has no intention of missing Herzog's parole hearing either, and is waiting to get news of a date.
At this point, 10 years after Cyndi vanished, her family wants more than anything to put her to rest. They've learned that nothing will ever bring them closure, so they just want a piece of their shattered family back.
"After 10 years, if I could say anything to anybody, it would be: Ten years is a long time to wait for your loved one," Lovejoy said, stressing that tips can be anonymous. "No one is going to hurt you. No one has to know who told us. Put yourself in our shoes, and you wait 10 years to find out where your loved one is."
She still thinks of her baby sister every single day, and every time a call from California comes in the middle of a work day, she braces for possible news of her sister. That hasn't happened yet.
The prosecutor who sent the men to prison, Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa, hasn't forgotten the case and still hopes the family can one day get a measure of peace in the revelation of Cyndi's whereabouts.
And Scheffel, the investigator who still remembers so many minute details, thinks it's the one part of her career where she failed. Despite hours of searching with backhoes and ground-penetrating radar and psychics and tips, she wishes she could do more. She's still following any new leads that come in, hoping she can offer peace to the families of those who disappeared.
"It would be far better to have (the victims) in a cemetery or somewhere they can be memorialized, not the way Shermantine disposed of those girls, like garbage," Scheffel said.
Ten years later, Theresa Vanderheiden hasn't brought herself to have her daughter declared officially dead. It took two years to empty Cyndi's room. It took even longer to trade in Cyndi's car.
Though the Vanderheidens, who sat through two preliminary hearings and two trials, do believe their daughter was murdered, they don't have her body as final proof.
Theresa Vanderheiden is still a mother. She still gets teary-eyed when thinking of Cyndi. And because she doesn't have her daughter's body, she says, "She could still walk through the door."
Timeline of the Cyndi Vanderheiden case
Nov. 14, 1998: Cyndi Vanderheiden is last seen alive pulling into the driveway of her parents' Clements home. Her car is found hours later at nearby Glenview Cemetery.
Nov. 16, 1998: After two days the search intensifies, with bloodhounds finding her scent leading to the Mokelumne River. Deputies drag the river, and divers search with underwater cameras.
Nov. 20, 1998: Her family opens a 24-hour search headquarters, complete with two phone lines and a fax machine.
Nov. 22, 1998: More than 350 volunteers search by horseback, helicopter and Harley Davidson. At least 500 people attend a fund-raising lunch.
March 18, 1999: Wesley Shermantine Jr. and Loren Herzog are arrested for the murders of Vanderheiden and other victims. DNA tests reveal that Vanderheiden's blood was in Shermantine's car.
Nov. 22, 2000: Shermantine's trial opens in Santa Clara County, where it was moved due to extensive publicity.
Feb. 14, 2001: Shermantine is convicted of four counts of murder by a Santa Clara County jury. While awaiting the penalty phase of his trial, he offers to reveal the location of Vanderheiden's body in exchange for $20,000 that would go to his two sons. The family refuses, and though a Sacramento bounty hunter offers to pay the money, no deal is made.
March 9, 2001: The same jury recommends a death sentence for Shermantine. Prosecutors had offered to take the death sentence off the table if Shermantine told them where the bodies were buried; he did not.
May 16, 2001: Shermantine is sentenced to die. He denies killing anyone, blaming Herzog.
July 31, 2001: Jury selection begins in Herzog's murder trial, also held in Santa Clara County.
Oct. 23, 2001: A different Santa Clara County jury convicts Loren Herzog of three counts of murder and being an accessory to a fourth murder after more than two weeks of deliberations.
Dec. 10, 2001: Herzog is sentenced to 78 years in state prison.
May 9, 2002: Herzog is stabbed in the abdomen by another inmate at High Desert State Prison in Susanville.
Sept. 4, 2002: "American Justice: Vanished," a TV show that ran for three years, spends an hour-long episode on the case. It still shows in re-runs on the Arts and Entertainment channel.
Aug. 18, 2004: The 6th Appellate District Court overturns all four of Herzog's convictions and orders a retrial on the Vanderheiden murder. The appellate court ruled that Herzog was coerced while being questioned by San Joaquin County Sheriff's investigators in 1999, but he was not coerced when questioned about the Vanderheiden case.
Oct. 22, 2004: Herzog is charged with one count of murder in Vanderheiden's death.
Nov. 24, 2004: Herzog accepts a plea bargain by pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Vanderheiden's death, being an accessory to the deaths of Paul Cavanaugh, Howard King and Henry Howell, and of furnishing methamphetamine. He is sentenced to 14 years in state prison, with credit for more than six years for time served.
Nov. 4, 2008: The Vanderheiden family quietly observes what would have been Cyndi Vanderheiden's 35th birthday.
Where they are now?
Updates on some of the people involved in the disappearance of Cyndi Vanderheiden:
Wesley Shermantine Jr., now 42, sits on death row at San Quentin on the San Francisco Bay with more than 600 other prisoners sentenced to die. The opening brief in his appeal is due Wednesday. He wasn't appointed a state public defender until Nov. 29, 2006, five-and-a-half years after he was sentenced to death — standard time for the backlog of death row appeals in California.
Loren Herzog, who turns 42 next month, is currently housed at the California Rehabilitation Center in Santa Clara, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He will likely be eligible for parole in the near future, but a spokeswoman said the department does not give out release dates for safety and security concerns.
John and Theresa Vanderheiden still live in the same home where their daughter was last seen pulling into the driveway. John Vanderheiden currently runs his 35-year heating and air conditioning business and also owns two bars, The Water Hole in Lodi and The Office in Lockeford.
Kimberly Lovejoy, Cyndi Vanderheiden's older sister, recently returned to Wyoming, where she had been living until her sister vanished. She is remarried and working as an assistant manager at a retail store.
Thomas Testa, the San Joaquin County deputy district attorney who prosecuted Shermantine and Herzog, continues to handle many of the most complex homicide cases in his office. He has won more than 100 jury verdicts in murder cases that have gone to trial.
Detective Deborah Scheffel investigated a number of notable cases including the high-profile death of Lawrence McNabney during her time at the Sheriff's Office. In November 2004, she left the office to become an investigator with the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office.
Judge Michael Garrigan, who presided over both trials, retired in November 2003 after 20 years on the bench but still oversees cases when needed. He recently presided over the three-month trial of a chiropractor accused of more than $1 million in fraudulent billing, which ended in a mistrial.
Peter Fox, Herzog's attorney, was appointed this year to be San Joaquin County Public Defender.
Kenneth Quigley, Herzog's other attorney for the murder trial, is still based in San Francisco. Clients have included Victor Willis, who played the police officer in the group "Village People."
Doug Jacobsen, one of Shermantine's two attorneys, continues practicing in private defense work in Stockton.
Deborah Fialkowski, Shermantine's other attorney who was based in San Francisco, is now semi-retired and lives in Hawaii.
Chevelle Yvonne Wheeler
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: October 16, 1985 from Stockton, California
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: October 27, 1968
Age: 16 years old
Height and Weight: 5'3, 115 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Blonde hair, blue eyes.
Wheeler's nickname is Chevy.
Details of Disappearance
Wheeler was last seen entering a red pickup truck outside of Franklin High School in Stockton, California on October 16, 1985. She told friends that she planned to skip classes that day and drive to Valley Springs, California with a male friend. Wheeler has never been heard from again. One of her friends says Wheeler seemed apprehensive about the trip. She asked her friend to tell her father if she didn't return by the time school let out for the day.
Authorities soon learned the identity of her friend: Wesley Howard Shermantine Jr. was an acquaintance of Wheeler's family. He was nineteen years old at the time of Wheeler's disappearance. Family members told investigators that Shermantine called their home the morning Wheeler disappeared to confirm their plans for a drive to the mountains. When Shermantine was questioned by authorities shortly after Wheeler vanished, he denied having any involvement in her case. Shermantine also told her family he was innocent. Investigators continued to suspect him, particularly after searching Shermantine's family's cabin in San Andreas, California. Police collected blood and hair evidence at the cabin in 1985, but DNA testing technology prevented the samples from being analyzed until 1999, 14 years after Wheeler disappeared. Investigators privately believed that the blood and hair were hers, but they did not have evidence to support theory at the time.
Shermantine's friend, Loren Joseph Herzog, claimed on videotape that Shermantine bragged about abusing, raping and murdering Wheeler in 1985. Photos of Shermantine and Herzog are posted at the end of this case summary.
Herzog and Shermantine were arrested in 1999 for numerous murders in the western United States, including the presumed killings of Wheeler and another missing woman, Cynthia Vanderheiden. Vanderheiden disappeared from California in 1998 after being spotted with both Shermantine and Herzog.
Authorities believe that the men lured their victims to their deaths by promising drugs. Both Shermantine and Herzog used methamphetamine in the 1980s and 1990s.
DNA testing proved that the blood and hair samples taken from the San Andreas cabin in 1985 belonged to Wheeler. Shermantine and Herzog have blamed one another for the murders. Shermantine told investigators that Herzog had a key to his cabin in San Andreas and that Herzog was also friends with Wheeler.
Shermantine announced he would reveal the locations of two of the missing victims if authorities gave $20,000 in reward money to his sons. Prosecutors offered to drop the death penalty from Shermantine's sentence if he is convicted of the crimes, but he demanded the reward money instead. The offer was not accepted and Shermantine was convicted of the murders of Wheeler, Vanderheiden and two other individuals in May 2001. Shermantine was sentenced to death for the crimes. He protested the verdict and announced to the courtroom that he was innocent. Herzog was found guilty of three murders in 2001, but he was spared the death penalty. Investigators are also exploring the possibility that Shermantine may have been involved in the 1997 California disappearances of Hannah Zaccaglini and Karen Knechtel Mero. No charges have been filed against Shermantine in these cases. Wheeler's remains have never been located.
Herzog apologizes, accepts plea bargain
November 25, 2004
STOCKTON -- Three months ago, Loren Herzog was a convicted multiple killer set to spend the rest of his life in prison. Then an state appellate court threw out his three murder convictions and much of the evidence against him, decimating prosecutors' case and leading to a plea bargain that could free Herzog from prison before his 46th birthday -- in fewer than eight years.
Herzog accepted the deal Wednesday and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the 1998 killing of Cyndi Vanderheiden.
Then, he spoke these words: "I wish this never would have happened, and I'm sorry it did."
The plea ended a case that spanned six years and that hit a crescendo last week, when prosecutors tried to barter with a serial killer on death row. They offered Wesley Shermantine Jr. the chance to get off of death row in return for his testimony and help in the Herzog case.
Shermantine, Herzog's longtime friend who was convicted in four murders, including Vanderheiden's, declined the deal, Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa said Wednesday.
Testa admitted that his case against Herzog had been damaged by the recent 6th District Court of Appeal decision. It ruled that several police interrogations of Herzog were coercive, and it precluded Testa from using in the second trial much of the evidence he had argued in the first.
"Mr. Herzog might be able to pull the wool over the eyes of the jury," Testa told Judge F. Clark Sueyres, explaining why he had offered the plea deal.
Testa later said, "I did not want Loren Herzog on the street, which could have happened by the end of January had we gone to trial."
Herzog, 38, also pleaded guilty to minor charges connected to three other deaths, and to providing methamphetamine to Vanderheiden. He was immediately sentenced to 14 years in prison and will be given credit for time he already has served, about three years in the County Jail and another three in state prison.
Sueyres, in addition to the plea agreement, ordered Herzog to pay $50,000 in restitution to the Vanderheiden family to ensure "that Mr. Herzog never profit from any story he may have to tell about the unfortunate events of Nov. 13 and 14," Sueyres said.
The appellate court ruling shone a light on the interrogation practices of detectives, pointing out that Herzog was physically exhausted, deprived of food and threatened over the course of several days of interviews. The court also said detectives ignored Herzog's attempts to invoke his right to remain silent.
Despite those findings and the resulting plea deal that cut Herzog's sentence by more than 80 percent, San Joaquin County Sheriff Baxter Dunn said he stands by his agency's handling of the investigation.
"I do disagree with the findings of the Court of Appeal," Dunn said Wednesday. He said the appellate court reviewed transcripts of the interrogations but should have been able to watch the videotapes, in which, he said, inflection of the detectives' voices and Herzog's appearance tell a different story. "I do believe they would certainly have come to a different decision."
Dunn said he was disappointed about the plea deal though not surprised.
Vanderheiden's family members reluctantly had given prosecutors their OK to offer the deal but expressed disappointment after Wednesday's hearing.
"Only 14 years -- it seems like it's very cheap for a person's life," said John Vanderheiden, the victim's father. "At least he's off the streets for at least another eight years. We can live with it -- for the time being."
John Vanderheiden praised the Santa Clara jury that convicted Herzog in 2001 of three counts of first-degree murder and sent him to prison for 78 years. He also said San Joaquin County District Attorney John Phillips should have taken the appellate decision to the state Supreme Court.
"I think now that Loren has admitted to killing my daughter, ... he should now tell where the bodies are -- so we can lay this to rest," John Vanderheiden said in court.
Cyndi Vanderheiden's body and those of another of Shermantine's victims, Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler, and at least one alleged victim have not been found.
Herzog's defense attorney, Peter Fox, said Herzog does not know where the bodies are.
"I don't believe there's more than one person who knows the answer to that question," Fox said, alluding to Shermantine.
Herzog's sister, Lorie Stoker, spoke on her family's behalf, calling the plea agreement a compromise.
"When you have to plead guilty to something you did not do -- as Loren did -- it is difficult on him, and it's difficult on the family," Stoker said, adding that the important thing is that "Loren's coming home to us."
Herzog's wife, along with his mother and father, attended the hearing.
"It's a difficult thing to plead to a long prison sentence," Fox said, calling the deal "bittersweet for both sides."
Testa had prepared to argue a case that centered on Herzog's relationship with Shermantine. He hoped to establish a pattern: that when the two were together, using drugs and raping women was the norm.
Testa would have said Herzog should have known, when he and Shermantine left a bar with Cyndi Vanderheiden and provided her drugs, that murder could have resulted.
"They're birds of a feather," Testa said after the hearing on Wednesday. "They're 50-50, not 90-10 or 70-30."
Shermantine had been offered the chance to be taken off death row and given immunity from any crimes of his discovered in the future. In return, he would have had to testify against Herzog and lead investigators to Cyndi Vanderheiden's body.
Shermantine declined the deal late Friday, saying he feared for his safety in prison if he became a snitch, Testa said.
Wednesday morning's hearing originally was scheduled so Sueyres could rule on whether to keep the Herzog trial in Santa Clara County, where it was held in 2001, or to bring it back to Stockton. Testa said Sueyres was prepared to rule to keep the case in Santa Clara.
Sueyres, accepting Herzog's guilty pleas, was clearly pensive about the deal, asking Testa to explain the legal reasoning behind offering it and offering an observation of his own.
"Obviously, this case turns on what Mr. Herzog had in mind on that night that Cyndi Vanderheiden was killed," Sueyres said after he explained that mere presence at a crime does not amount to aiding and abetting.
Herzog has admitted he was present at Cyndi Vandeheiden's murder and heard, from inside a car nearby, the sound of a knife opening and the sound of Shermantine killing the 25-year-old Clements woman.
"Legal responsibility is not the same as moral responsibility," he said. "Cyndi Vanderheiden called Mr. Herzog a good friend. I am certain that, instinctively, she counted on him to guarantee her own safety.
"But all we can do in court is carry out the law."
Herzog Arraignment Delayed; Shermantine Offers Deal
Men Convicted In Murder Of Cyndi Vanderheiden
October 7, 2004
STOCKTON, Calif. -- Convicted serial killer Loren Herzog was due to be arraigned in the murder of Cyndi Vanderheiden Thursday morning, but that appearance was delayed.
Herzog and another man, Wesley Shermantine, were convicted in 2001 of murdering Vanderheiden, but an appellate court overturned Herzog's conviction, forcing the district attorney to retry him.
In the meantime, Shermantine has apparently sent letters from his cell on death row at San Quentin to Joan Shelley, whose 16-year-old daughter, Joann Hobson, disappeared 19 years ago. In the letter, Shermantine reportedly says Herzog was the killer.
"He said Herzog had a date with my daughter that night and he killed her ... and he knew where her body was," Shelley said.
Shermantine also wrote a letter to the Vanderheiden family offering to testify against Herzog in exchange for a deal.
"He wanted everybody, all the victims' families, to go and ask the governor to make a deal with him and he would testify against Herzog and show him where the bodies and everything were," Vanderheiden's father, John Vanderheiden, said.
The bodies of Joanne Hobson and Cnydi Vanderheiden have never been found.
"There's not a day goes by that we don't think about her, that I don't cry as I'm driving down the road ... I'm still looking," Vanderheiden's mother, Teri Vanderheiden, said.
Herzog is scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 18 on a single murder charge in the death of Vanderheiden. Because he was sentenced to 78 years to life in prison in the first trial, he cannot get the death penalty in the second trial.
Court rules confessions in SJ slayings were coerced
August 28, 2004
STOCKTON -- A state appellate court has thrown out the murder convictions of a former Linden man found guilty of three slayings in San Joaquin County during the 1980s and 1990s, and ordered a new trial.
The decision is final if the San Joaquin County District Attorney doesn't appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The 6th District Court of Appeals in San Jose ruled Aug. 18 that San Joaquin sheriff's detectives used coercive tactics to get the admissions that led to two of Loren Herzog's three guilty verdicts.
Herzog, 38, was convicted in 2001 of first-degree murder in three killings -- Cyndi Vanderheiden, Paul Cavanaugh and Howard King. He was sentenced to 78 years in prison.
The appellate court said his confessions in the Cavanaugh and King killings, which took place in 1984, were coerced. The court did not rule that his confession in the Vanderheiden slaying, which took place in 1998, was coerced.
The appellate court said Herzog was interrogated for hours while physically exhausted. Deputies failed to feed him, made threats and promises, and delayed his arraignment more than four days. They also ignored his attempts to invoke his right to remain silent, the court said
Barring a successful appeal by the district attorney, Herzog's retrial could be limited to Vanderheiden's killing, since that confession is still admissible.
Throughout the trial, defense attorneys claimed Herzog was a bystander to the violent deeds of his childhood friend, Wesley Shermantine, who was sent to death row in 2001 for the three murders, plus that of 16-year-old Chevy Wheeler.
Appeals Court Throws Out Murder Convictions of Loren Herzog
A state appellate court has thrown out the conviction of 38-year-old Loren Herzog, who has been serving a prison sentence for the murder of three people in the Stockton area.
The Sixth District Court of Appeals ruled that detectives with the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department coerced a confession from Herzog in violation of his constitutional rights.
The court found that detectives did not allow Herzog adequate rest or food, made physical threats, and did not allow him to exercise his right to remain silent.
In December 2001, Herzog was convicted and sentenced to a prison term of from 78 years to life for the murders of 27-year-old Cyndi Vanderheiden, 31-year-old Paul Cavanaugh and 35-year-old Howard King. The murders occurred over a period of 14 years, with the 1998 killing of Vanderheiden being the most recent. Her body has never been found.
Only one of three murder charges against Herzog will be retried. He face a second trial for the murder of Vanderheiden.
Also convicted in 2001 was Herzog's longtime friend, 38-year-old Wesley Shermantine Jr. Because Shermantine was identified as the killer, he was sentenced to death.
Herzog will remain behind bars before retrial, attorney says
By Ross Farrow
News-Sentinel Staff Writer
The attorney prosecuting Loren Herzog's murder case said he fears that Herzog may be "inadvertently" released from prison while awaiting his retrial.
However, Herzog's attorney, Peter Fox, said there's no way Herzog will be released from state prison before his retrial on Clements resident Cyndi Vanderheiden's murder is completed.
"That's bologna," Fox said in a Friday telephone interview concerning Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa's statement in an e-mail to the News-Sentinel Thursday that Herzog may be released from prison. "It's a red herring."
Testa explained in a phone interview Friday that the California Attorney General's Office told him that cases often fall through the cracks, especially when a transfer of paperwork is involved. Inmates are sometimes released during these circumstances, Testa said. He maintains that he never said that Herzog's release from prison was imminent.
A panel of three judges from the 6th District Court of Appeal overturned Herzog's three murder convictions on Aug. 18, saying that Herzog was "coerced" while being interviewed by San Joaquin County Sheriff's investigators in 1999.
The appellate court ordered a retrial for Herzog in the murder of Vanderheiden, 25, who disappeared in 1998. Vanderheiden is presumed dead, but her body has never been found.
Herzog was sentenced to 78 years in state prison in 2001 after being convicted by a Santa Clara County jury of the murder of Vanderheiden and the 1984 murders of Paul Cavanaugh, 31, of Stockton, and Howard King III, 35, of Lathrop. Herzog was also convicted of being an accessory to the 1984 murder of Henry Howell, 45, of Santa Clara.
The appellate court dismissed convictions in the Cavanaugh, King and Howell murders, ruling that Herzog was "coerced" by San Joaquin County sheriff's investigators while being questioned, according to the appellate court document.
However, a retrial was ordered in the Vanderheiden case because appellate court justices determined that Herzog was not coerced while being questioned about Vanderheiden's murder, court records show.
Although appellate court justices didn't consider Herzog to be coerced during questioning of the Vanderheiden murder, Fox said the justices ruled correctly that Herzog deserves a retrial.
The jury convicted Herzog of Vanderheiden's murder because of evidence in the Cavanaugh, King and Howell slayings.
"It deprived him of a fair trial in the Vanderheiden case," Fox said.
Testa previously said he was frustrated that Herzog's conviction in Vanderheiden's murder didn't stand.
Testa, who prosecuted the case in 2001, had refilled charges against Herzog in mid-September, but according to Fox, the charges were not accepted because San Joaquin County doesn't yet have jurisdiction in the case.
However, San Joaquin County won't have jurisdiction in the Herzog case until after Oct. 17 -- 60 days after the appellate court ruling. Sometime after Oct. 17, the appellate court will issue a "remittitur," a document that makes it ruling official.
Fox also disputed a headline in Friday's edition of an area newspaper that said that Judge Thomas Harrington refused to overturn the appeal court's ruling. No lower court judge can overturn any higher court decision, Fox said.
Herzog, who had been in custody at Calipatria State Prison in Southern California, was transferred to Duel Vocational Institution in Tracy for an appearance in San Joaquin County Superior Court on Thursday morning, Testa said.
However, Harrington refused to hear any matters concerning the Herzog case because the county doesn't yet have jurisdiction in the case. That means that Herzog will likely be returned back to Calipatria State Prison, Testa said.
Herzog's father, Jerry Herzog, said Thursday he was delighted that his son will get a new trial and that two other murder charges were dismissed.
"I think the appellate court renewed my faith in the whole system," said Jerry Herzog. "I'm his dad, and I'm proud of it."
Jerry Herzog deferred any further comments to Fox.
Wesley Howard Shermantine
March 5, 2001
Convicted killer Wes Shermantine said that if his two young sons recieve $20,000 in reward money, he'll reveal the location of the bodies of four victims, two for which he was convicted, and two more. Although Shermantine has been convicted for four murders police believe he may be responsible for up to 22 more slayings. Authorites have offered to drop the death penalty for two bodies, but Shermantine asked for cash instead. The victims' families, who very much want Shermantine sentenced to death, said they were willing to consider the death penalty deal but were against paying for the bodies. They'd also like to help other families locate their missing loved ones. Shermantine, they said, has offered to reveal the locations of several bodies he hasn't been charged with killing.
Wesley Howard Shermantine February 3, 2001 The Santa Clara County jury pondering the fate of suspected serial killer Wesley Howard Shermantine asked for the rereading of testimony given by his mother-in-law, who said she heard Shermantine confess he saw the bodies of two men he is accused of killing. Shermantine faces first-degree murder charges in the 1984 shotgun killings of Howard King, 35, and Paul Cavanaugh, 31, who were found dead on Daggett Road off Highway 4. Prosecutors theorize he killed the pair as part of his search for "the ultimate kill".