The remains of two Stockton women who went missing in the mid-1980s were identified today by San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore. The two teenagers are believed to be victims of serial killers Wesley Shermantine Jr. and Loren Herzog.
In a news conference at the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department, Moore said the remains of 16-year-old Joann Hobson and 19-year-old Kimberly Billy, both of east Stockton, were identified through DNA testing by the California Department of Justice.
He also added that the identity of a third victim, also found in the well on East Flood Road in Linden, was still undetermined.
Billy, also known to friends and family as Kimberly Harr, was reported missing to the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office on Dec. 27, 1984.
According to Moore, Billy's grandmother told deputies when she made the report that she last spoke to her granddaughter on Dec. 11, 1984. However, Billy had not called anyone nor had she been seen since that date, and she had made no attempt to contact any relatives over the Christmas holiday, Moore added.
Through examinations by an odontologist and a forensic anthropologist, as well as DNA testing by the Department of Justice's DNA lab, nuclear DNA results confirmed that one set of remains compiled from the 1,000-plus bones and bone fragments found in Linden were that of Billy.
Nuclear DNA is like a fingerprint; it is specific to each person, and no two people share the same nuclear DNA. It is the most accurate way to confirm any DNA analysis.
Hobson was reported missing on Sept. 10, 1985, according to Moore. Hobson's mother allegedly told deputies that her daughter was last seen on Aug. 29, 1985. Hobson's mother said she had checked with friends and family to determine if they had seen or heard from Hobson before she reported her missing.
Hobson went missing just a month or so before 16-year-old Stockton resident Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler disappeared.
She has been preliminarily identified through mitochondrial DNA testing.
Mitochondrial DNA testing pinpoints a specific type of DNA that is passed along through the mother. However, mitochondrial DNA is shared by anyone who is related to the mother, thus making the test less specific than nuclear DNA testing.
"I did not speak directly with the victims' families, but ... I would say that their response was bittersweet," Moore said. "... They are accepting the reality of certainty that (the victims) are no longer with us."
Moore added that ongoing efforts are being made to identify the third set of skeletal remains that had been sent to the Department of Justice.
Overall, it took the department roughly 2 1/2 weeks to identify Billy's and Hobson's remains, and that time frame, according to Moore, is extremely fast.
California attorney general Kamala Harris has asked that any and all testing for remains found thus far in the search for Shermantine's and Herzog's victims be a top priority and focus for the Department of Justice's DNA lab in Richmond, Calif., Moore said.
DNA extractions are still being conducted on the third set of remains, which have yet to be identified, and the time frame on determining the identity of that set of bones and bone fragments cannot be determined.
Thus far, investigators have identified four of five sets of remains — Billy, Hobson, Wheeler and 25-year-old Clements resident Cyndi Vanderheiden.
The remains of both Wheeler and Vanderheiden have been returned to their families for burial.
The question remains, however, as to where investigators will dig next.
According to Moore, as information comes in and is verified, more details will be released on whether another well will be searched in the future.
"We will not test every bone," he said. "... There is no textbook for a case like this. This is a very long process and we have to untangle claims and information we have. When we have information, we move forward. And we will do it as quickly as possible."
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at email@example.com.