Wesley Shermantine Jr. is guilty of four counts of murder, but is he a serial killer?
The father of murder victim Cyndi Vanderheiden of Clements thinks so. So does the foreman of the jury that convicted him.
Shermantine is a serial killer of young women whos been on the loose for 15 years, said David Allcott of San Jose, foreman of the Santa Clara County jury that convicted Shermantine of the murder Vanderheiden and three others Feb. 14.
Shermantine was convicted of the 1998 murder of Vanderheiden; the 1985 slaying of Chevelle Chevy Wheeler, 16, of Stockton; and the 1984 murders of Howard King, 35, of Lathrop and Paul Cavanaugh, 31, of Stockton.
Shermantine was sentenced to death Wednesday by San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Michael Garrigan.
The Shermantine case was heard in Santa Clara County after Garrigan awarded a change of venue due to extensive pretrial publicity.
Serial killers, unlike the majority of murderers, do not have a motive for their acts, most criminal psychologists and investigators say.
It is not about money, and it not about uncomplex interpersonal revenge, said Brent E. Turvey, a forensic scientist, criminal profiler and a partner at Knowledge Solutions, a school for criminal investigators in Watsonville.
|Wesley Shermantine Jr.|
Most killers already knew the victims. Serial killers often dont know their victims personally, he said.
Allcott sees some similarities between Shermantine, 35, and notorious killer Ted Bundy, who confessed to the murders of 28 women in the 1970s.
I can see the charm. I can see the emotional manipulation, Allcott said of Shermantine. Hes a master manipulator. Hes very good at it.
Bundy, who was executed by the state of Florida in 1989, was a handsome man who possessed good interpersonal skills that were attractive to the women who later became his victims.
Bundys congenial personality and good looks were so prevalent that actor Mark Harmon, once voted People magazines sexiest man in the world, was cast to portray him in a 1986 TV-movie about his life.
Not all serial killers are alike. However, Shermantine seemingly possesses some of those qualities as listed by experts in the field. They include:
The apparent need to control his victims.
Having a possible partner in crime. Shermantines childhood friend, Loren Herzog, is charged with being that partner.
Blaming someone else (Herzog) for the crimes.
Being a good worker, as depicted by his former employer.
Killing locally. Shermantines murders were in San Joaquin County and possibly Calaveras County.
They hunt for the prey where they feel comfortable, where they have a lay of the land, said Eric Hickey, a criminology professor at California State University, Fresno, who has researched about 400 serial killers.
Showing no remorse or empathy for the victims families.
Shermantine exhibits an emotional pathology in his inability to show any compassion for the victims families as he shrugged his shoulders and indicated … that he had nothing to say regarding the victims or their families losses, said Deborah Bates, the deputy probation officer for Santa Clara County who wrote the mandatory probation report before Shermantine was sentenced.
In fact, Shermantine referred to the unknown location of his victims remains as Herzogs boneyard.
Hickey said he believes Shermantine must have gotten the term boneyard from a couple of forensics books where the term is used.
He is very much a control freak, Allcott said. He works to dominate people. He uses intimidation. He got away with murder and he acted that way.
Shermantine showed no emotion throughout the three-month trial except during a few times when he appeared to be mildly peeved when someone made a comment about him that maybe was untrue, Allcott said.
Im glad those qualities are rare among murderers, Allcott said. Hes clearly ruthless, and hes smart.
Additionally, Allcott sees a major difference between Shermantine and Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people in a federal office building and wounded more than 500 others.
I dont know that McVeigh deserves the death penalty, Allcott said. It was a single act. I think I would have more trouble with McVeigh on the death penalty than Wes Shermantine. Hes chosen murder for years.
McVeigh had an anti-government motive for the bombing and seemed to be more of a crazy, Allcott said.
Shermantine is ruthless and cold-hearted, he said, taking into account the 22 murders Shermantine allegedly confessed to his estranged wife. The confession was not admissible evidence, but Allcott said the jury was told about it shortly after it gave its death penalty recommendation March 9.
Acknowledging that hes not familiar with the details of the Shermantine case, Hickey nevertheless said Shermantine appears to be incapable of feeling what his victims or their families have experienced.
These guys sleep well at night, Hickey said. They really do.
Shermantine fits the bill as a serial killer, Hickey said.
The fact that hes done it over a period of time, hes certainly a serial killer, Hickey said during a phone interview Friday.
Stephen G. Michaud, who wrote a biography of Bundy after 100 hours of interviews with him, describes serial killers as showing no feeling for his victims.
He is not in pain; he causes it, Michaud said. As Bundy explicitly expressed it to me: The thrill in sexual homicide comes with possessing victims physically as one would possess a potted plant, a painting or a Porsche. Owning, as it were, this individual.
Shermantine allegedly raped Vanderheiden before she was murdered, although he was not convicted of that crime. He was never accused of raping Wheeler.
Murder isnt just a crime of lust or violence, Bundy said in one of his interviews with Michaud. It becomes possession. They are part of you … You feel the last bit of breath leaving their bodies … Youre looking into their eyes … A person in that situation is God.
In a 1999 interview with the San Joaquin County Sheriffs Department, Herzog allegedly described a similar situation regarding Vanderheidens death.
In the videotaped interview, Herzog described how Shermantine raped Vanderheiden, slashed her throat and told her to let it go naturally as she died, according to court records.
Some serial killers exhibit different traits than Shermantine, experts say. Among them are:
Bundy concentrated on women, while Shermantine was convicted of killing two men and two women.
Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 17 beginning in 1978, focused on men, had sex with their corpses and ate some of them. Dahmer was killed in prison in 1993.
Juan Corona, convicted of killing 25 farm workers in the Yuba City area in the early 1970s and given 25 separate life sentences, focused on male farm workers.
John Wayne Gacy, who killed 29 people in the Chicago area in the 1970s, focused on young boys and adults, whom he sodomized, molested and tortured before killing. He was executed in 1994.
Born Feb. 24, 1966, in Stockton, Shermantine began drinking alcohol at the age of 16, according to his probation report. His drink of choice was Jack Daniels bourbon.
He first inhaled cocaine at 17 and tried methamphetamine for the first time at 19. When he was arrested in March 1999, Shermantine said in a pre-sentencing interview he used methamphetamine several times a week.
Its very much in keeping with sociopathic behavior, Hickey said.
Shermantines criminal history consists of four misdemeanor convictions in San Joaquin County vandalism, receiving stolen property, resisting an officer and fighting or challenging to fight in a public place.
Shermantine was a housing construction worker from 1984 until his arrest at Steve Nickell Construction in Galt.
He was a very good worker, Nickell testified in February during the penalty phase of the Shermantine trial.
Nickell said he once went fishing with Shermantine and never saw or heard of any altercations Shermantine had on the job.
Being a good worker and not showing his violent side at work is typical of serial killers, Hickey said.
Hes very good at manipulation, Hickey said, describing how Shermantine could make a good impression at the workplace.
Away from the workplace, it appears that Shermantine was a different person, as illustrated by Bates in her probation report.
In his lack of any sense of compassion for the human experience of loss, the defendant should be viewed as a continued threat to others.
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