More Remains Found In Calif. With Killer's Help

Published February 12, 2012 11:18AM (EST)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Authorities searching with the help of a convicted serial killer found more human remains Saturday — the first bones discovered at an abandoned well on a cattle ranch where a death row inmate claimed 10 or more victims may be buried, authorities said.

The discovery marked the third straight day that remains were found with a map prepared by Wesley Shermantine. He and his childhood friend, Loren Herzog, were called the "Speed Freak Killers" for a methamphetamine-fueled killing spree that had as many as 15 victims.

Two sets of remains had been found Thursday and Friday near property once owned by Shermantine's family about 60 miles south of Sacramento.

The latest remains were found after crews dug slowly through 30 feet of soot and debris at the well near Linden, Calif., said San Joaquin County sheriff's spokesman Deputy Les Garcia.

It was not clear whether they belonged to one or more people, and Garcia said they had not yet been identified.

The search was called off after dark Saturday, but was set to resume Sunday.

Dental records identified remains found Thursday in Calaveras County as those of Cyndi Vanderheiden, 25, Garcia said. Authorities were awaiting the results of a DNA analysis to confirm the identification, Garcia said.

Cyndi Vanderheiden's father, John Vanderheiden, said he was almost sure the remains are those of his daughter, who disappeared in 1998.

"There will be closure after that," he said.

The remains found Friday have not been identified, but Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler's parents believe they are those of their 16-year-old daughter. Wheeler's parents said they were notified that the remains were found in a spot where Shermantine said their daughter was buried after she disappeared in 1985.

"They said they found her wrapped in a blanket," Paula Wheeler, the girl's mother, told The Associated Press by phone from the family's home in Crossville, Tenn. "This is a happy day. We can finally have some closure."

Shermantine recently agreed to disclose the locations of bodies in return for a bounty hunter's offer of $33,000.

He is giving hand-drawn maps to authorities, who are focusing on the spot where Saturday's remains were found, though layers of backfill were making excavation difficult.

Shermantine was convicted of four murders and sentenced to death. Herzog was convicted of three murders and sentenced to 77 years to life in prison, though that was later reduced to 14 years. An appeals court tossed his first-degree murder convictions after ruling his confession was illegally obtained.

Herzog was paroled in 2010 to a trailer outside the High Desert State Prison in Susanville. He committed suicide outside that trailer last month after Sacramento bounty hunter Leonard Padilla told him Shermantine was disclosing the location of the well along with two other locations.

Padilla has promised to pay Shermantine as much as $33,000 to disclose the locations of the bodies. He said he hopes to collect on rewards being offered by the state of California for information about several missing persons suspected of being victims of Herzog and Shermantine.

Shermantine has said he wants the money to pay off an $18,000 restitution order that prevents him from buying the limited luxuries like candy bars that inmates with money in their accounts can afford. He also said he want to buy headstones for his deceased parents.

By Salon Staff

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