One of duo convicted in serial murders to be
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Nov. 20, 1998: Her family opens a
24-hour search headquarters, complete with two phone lines and a fax
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
Nov. 22, 2000: Shermantine's trial
opens in Santa Clara County, where it was moved due to extensive
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
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
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
Nov. 4, 2008: The Vanderheiden
family quietly observes what would have been Cyndi Vanderheiden's 35th
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
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,
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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.