Mass Grave Search Nears End in NorCal

Dozens of missing person cases could be solved following gruesome find in Northern California.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The find is disturbing, but could bring closure to many families with missing loved ones. (Published Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012)

    Authorities said late Wednesday they believe they have dug to the bottom of a San Joaquin County well in their search for possible victims of the "Speed Freak Killers."

    Searchers were following maps made by San Quentin death row inmate Wesley Shermantine. 

    1,000 Bone Pieces Found in Mass Grave

    [BAY] 1,000 Bone Pieces Found in Mass Grave
    It started with a map. And it's turned into a gruesome Valentine's Day discovery. Investigators, using this map, have uncovered hundreds of bones which are believed to be the victims of the notorious duo called "The Speed Freak Killers." The primary dig is in the town of Linden, just outside of Stockton. Today alone they found 700 bones and fragments. A convicted killer, who sits in jail, literally mapped out this location. NBC Bay Area's Stephanie Chuang reports from the Central Valley. (Published Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012)

    The dig yielded about 1,000 bone fragments as well as items such as shoes, purses, coats and jewelry.  Wednesday afternoon San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department spokesman Les Garcia said they will send a camera to the bottom of the site Thursday morning to make sure they didn't miss anything.

    Officials have positively identified the remains of two female victims buried on the property once owned by Shermantine's family. They have informed the families of Cyndi Vanderheiden and Chevelle Wheeler that remains of their loved ones have been found. The other remains will be sent to a Department of Justice crime lab in Richmond for identification, which could take months.

    Human Remains Found in San Joaquin County

    [BAY] Human Remains Found in San Joaquin County
    Rain suspended the grisly search for more human remains in San Joaquin County. The search in Linden has already unearthed hundreds of bone fragments and what could be the bodies of two missing women -- missing since the mid-1980s. But will the discovery bring anyone peace? NBC Bay Area's Cheryl Hurd talked to a Sacramento bounty hunter who believes his relationship with a convicted serial killer could help a local family find closure. (Published Tuesday, Feb 14, 2012)

    The focus will now move to a second nearby well, according to Garcia. The area being searched was a common hang-out for teenagers in 1980s and 90s.

    Investigators said they think Shermantine and his childhood friend Loren Herzog may have killed as many as 30 people during a methamphetamine-fueled killing spree and that many of the bodies were buried in the wells.

    Herzog recently committed suicide. The timing of the suicide and the search are connected. A bounty hunter told him hours before he killed himself that Shermantine had given up the location where the bodies were buried.

    The bounty hunter has agreed to pay Shermantine $30,000 for breaking his silence.

    In a letter to a Stockton newspaper reporter, Shermantine also hinted that Herzog may have been involved in the 1988 disappearance of Michaela Garecht of Hayward. Shemantine noted that Herzog looked a lot like the sketch of Garecht's kidnapper. Hayward police told KTVU that they have sent details on what Michaela was wearing when she was abducted to San Joaquin authorities in case they find it in either of the wells.

    Below is the sketch and a photo of Herzog at the time.