The FBI is now investigating whether a bone fragment found belongs to a 9-year-old Hayward girl who has been missing since 1988 in a case now raising questions about a mix-up at the lab pointing to the possibility of more "Speak Freak" victims who have yet to be identified.
Hayward police confirmed in a news conference Thursday morning that a three-inch bone fragment found in a Central Valley well matches the DNA of Michaela Garecht, who was kidnapped 24 years ago and never been found.
Police said they had no definitive answer on who the bone belongs to. But according to Michaela's mother, she was told there was a strong likelihood her daughter's remains were linked to a high profile "Speed Freak" serial murder case because of confidential information police told her.
Police did say the bone fragment is believed to belong to a girl between 5 and 14 years old and stems from the time period when Michaela was kidnapped after she and a friend went to the neighborhood market. The bone fragment had been sent to an Arizona lab, and is now heading to another Virginia lab for further analysis.
Michaela's mother, Sharon Murch, posted a statement on her blog after learning about the investigation.
"If this is confirmed," she said, "I will be glad to know the truth, simply because it is the truth. And I feel an overwhelming desire to bring Michaela home. It breaks my heart to think of her little body lying in that godforsaken place for all these years, and if that is so, I want to gather her up and bring her home."
The bone fragment was found in February during the excavation of a site revealed by convicted "Speed Freak" killer Wesley Shermantine. Several other skeletal remains have been found in the area and identified as some of Shermantine's and partner-in-crime Loren Herzog's victims. The pair were convicted of four murders but suspected in the deaths of as many as 15 people in and around San Joaquin County from 1994 to 1998. The pair were nicknamed "The Speed Freak Killers" due to their methamphetamine addiction.
In addition, this cold case has taken a dramatic twist, greatly complicating matters. The bone fragment was originally delivered to Joan Shelley, the mother of 16-year-old murder victim JoAnn Hobson, after the excavation in the Linden well. Authorities told Shelley the bone belonged to her daughter, who went missing in 1985. But Shelley sent the fragment off to CSU's Chico Human Identification Laboratory. The lab report, according to the Bay Area News Group, came back stating that because there were so many bones in the well, there were at least two other people's DNA mixed in with Hobson's remains. At least two of the bones were possibly that of a young child, the newspaper reported, leading authorities to suspect they may belong to Michaela.
The report opened up the possibility that there are other victims of the "Speed Freak" killers who have yet to be identified.
Hayward police have custody of these other bones, and now the FBI is helping sort out the confusion.
On Wednesday, the San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore issued a statement, pointing to the fact that his department relied on the work of the Department of Justice and an anthropologist: "Initially, I was taken aback to learn there was possibly a mix-up involving the recovered remains from the well we dug near Linden."
He added: "Our hearts go out to the family of Jo Ann and all the victims of Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog."