How many people may have died at the hands of convicted multi-murderer Wesley Shermantine? Did his lifelong friend Loren Herzog play roles in other deaths, in addition to the ones to which he pleaded guilty of manslaughter or accessory?
Those questions haunt Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, and it's the reason she is fighting to keep Herzog in prison for as long as possible.
The case took on a life of its own over the past two weeks, when word of Herzog's imminent parole went public and prison officials decided to release him back to San Joaquin County. Twelve years since Clements resident Cyndi Vanderheiden vanished, the 44-year-old Linden man has served his time after pleading guilty to manslaughter in connection with her death. He was scheduled for parole Sunday, but a clerical sentencing error will keep him in prison for a few more weeks or months.
That's not enough for Galgiani.
"There were a number of missing persons during that time. It's not acceptable to me that he be placed anywhere outside prison. I don't want him coming back to San Joaquin County, but I also don't want him in any other community," she said.
For the fifth-generation Stockton native, the Herzog/Shermantine matter hits too close to home: In December 1981, her 19-year-old female cousin vanished and, like the victims in the present case, has never been seen since.
The blonde woman, Dena McHan, was driving home from Sacramento to Stockton and stopped in Lodi to get gas. An attendant later told investigators that two men were bothering McHan.
Galgiani said she doesn't talk about it much, and that she doesn't want her cousin to become a focus. However, she mentioned it in a letter she sent Monday to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, asking him to do everything possible to keep Herzog imprisoned.
"Families like mine, whose loved ones 'went missing' during the timeframe these two men were committing murders, are haunted by the thought that our loved ones may have suffered at his hands," she wrote in the letter asking the governor to direct the Attorney General's Office to look into the case.
That is unlikely, though: A spokeswoman for the Attorney General said the has no jurisdiction over the Herzog matter, and the prosecutor who handled the case also said nothing can be changed.
Herzog was originally convicted by a jury of three murders and sentenced to 78 years in prison. An appellate court ruled that investigators had "coerced" him and violated his rights, throwing out the convictions and ordering a retrial on the charge related to Vanderheiden. Shermantine, meanwhile, was convicted of four murders and is on death row.
The appellate decision cut out enough evidence that prosecutors struck a deal with Herzog. In exchange for a 14-year sentence, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Vanderheiden's death, and accessory to three other murders.
It's not an outcome that Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa liked, after taking both men to separate trials. When the appellate decision came down, the California Attorney General reviewed it and opted not to appeal it, Testa said.
"We don't, unfortunately, have many arrows in our quiver here," he said.
When Herzog will be released is not yet known. Attorneys will appear in court today to address any issues surrounding a clerical error that prison officials found Friday, two days before he was set to be released from prison. Herzog was apparently twice given 152 days of credit, so a judge ordered that he remain behind bars.
Contact reporter Layla Bohm at email@example.com.
Vanderheiden case never over
Though two men were convicted in the November 1998 death of Cyndi Vanderheiden, her body and others have never been found.
Now that the case has returned to the public spotlight, investigators and prosecutors are once again receiving tips from the public. San Joaquin County Sheriff's spokesman Deputy Les Garcia declined to say how many tips his office has received, but he said detectives are following leads.
Thomas Testa, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog in murder trials, encourages the tips. He hopes the victims' bodies are one day uncovered, and he wonders if other unnamed victims could also be revealed.
"There might be people who have been sitting on the fence all these years and are now willing to come forward," Testa said. "It could turn out to be a piece of the puzzle."
Anyone with information may call the Sheriff's investigations unit at 468-4425. Garcia said anonymous calls may also be made to Lodi Area Crime Stoppers at 333-6771.
— Layla Bohm