Loren Herzog, convicted in the killing of Cyndi Vanderheiden of Clements, committed suicide by hanging Monday night, according to prison officials.
Herzog’s body was found late Monday night in a trailer on the grounds of High Desert State Prison near Susanville. He had been living at the prison since being paroled for the 1998 killing of Vanderheiden. He was 46.
He was pronounced dead Tuesday morning.
Herzog died a virtual pariah, as officials, including those in San Joaquin County, rejected his release to their jurisdictions.
Vanderheiden’s mother, Terri Vanderheiden, said she was numb this morning upon hearing the news of Herzog’s death. Her daughter’s body has not been recovered.
“I don’t know; it’s like, ‘Wow,’” Terri Vanderheiden said. “He should have died a long time ago ... I want to see the body to see that he’s really dead. What they say and what’s real are two different things.”
Her husband, John Vanderheiden, is even more adamant that Herzog may not be dead. Vanderheiden said he would like to drive to Susanville and view the body himself. Failing that, he wants to see photographs.
“I want proof that he’s dead,” John Vanderheiden said as he leaned against a pool table at his Lockeford bar. “I don’t want phone calls telling me that. I’m happy if it’s him. Send me a picture or let me look at him.”
Herzog, who grew up in Linden, was sentenced to 78 years in state prison in 2001 after being convicted by a Santa Clara County jury of the murder of Vanderheiden and the 1984 murders of Paul Cavanaugh, 31, of Stockton, and Howard King III, 35, of Lathrop. Herzog was also convicted of being an accessory to the 1984 murder of Henry Howell, 45, of Santa Clara.
Herzog was paroled in September 2010, but he was required to live in a trailer on prison grounds.
John Vanderheiden also wondered if the location of his daughter’s remains died with Herzog.
“I would have thought he would have left a note saying where Cyndi’s remains are,” he said.
Cyndi’s sister, Kim Vanderheiden Lovejoy, who now lives in Wyoming, said that Herzog had what was coming to him.
“I don’t wish that on anybody, but what goes around comes around,” Lovejoy said. “In my eyes, it’s karma. He deserves what he got.”
Lovejoy, who’s been married to her current husband for four years, said she received a lot of support when she posted the news of Herzog’s death on Facebook and included links to several newscasts.
“[Tuesday] was the first opportunity to say ‘rest in peace’ for my sister,” Lovejoy said.
And the Vanderheidens are not the only ones who are in shock regarding Herzog’s sudden death.
Deputy district attorney Thomas Testa, the prosecutor in Herzog’s case, said when he first heard the news Tuesday morning, he thought someone had murdered Herzog.
Testa said he felt Herzog was too cowardly and too weak to be able to follow through on a suicide plan, but that after letting the news sink in, Testa began to accept Herzog’s death, though he did so with increasing disappointment.
Testa said Tuesday afternoon he would contact Department of Corrections officials to see if they would send him some photographs of Herzog’s body after the autopsy and investigation are completed. Testa estimates the autopsy should be completed in two or three days.
Disappointment, he said, because 50 percent of the knowledge of where all of Herzog’s and Shermantine’s victims are is now gone.
“We just lost half of our knowledge base,” he said. “But at the same time, things have balanced out because justice has taken place. He deserved to die.”
John Vanderheiden thinks there are other people who know where his daughter’s remains are, but that they are not talking.
Public Defender Peter Fox, who defended Herzog in court, said he had no comment regarding the incident Tuesday afternoon.
Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani, whose cousin Dena McHan disappeared in 1981, was also shocked by the news.
Galgiani, who has written several legislative bills in the aftermath of Herzog’s pending parole, said she could not believe Herzog’s death “had come to this.”
“Families have been emotionally bleeding for the last 14 years because they have never found their loved ones,” she said. “I feel relief for those who testified and feared for their lives, but I grieve for the family members who have been hoping that there would be further investigations that could help bring their loved ones home. We need to give those families peace.”
Galgiani’s legislation, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 29, 2011, requires that local law enforcement authorities be notified of a prisoner’s scheduled release date 60 days prior to release and no less than 30 days in the event of unexpected changes.
Galgiani also asked then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reverse Herzog’s parole in 2010. However, he was paroled in September 2010. Herzog’s parole caused a stir in San Joaquin and Lassen counties, with neither of them wanting him released to their communities.
At approximately 11 p.m. Monday, Herzog’s parole agent was alerted by GPS signal that Herzog’s monitoring ankle bracelet was indicating a low battery, according to a press release by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The agent notified officials at High Desert State Prison outside Susanville — where Herzog was living in a trailer that was specially designed for him — after the agent unsuccessfully attempted to make phone contact with Herzog, the statement read.
According to the statement, prison staff responded to Herzog’s residence and discovered him unresponsive, and around 11:45 p.m., the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office was called in to investigate, according to a press release by the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office.
A press release from the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office stated deputies who responded to Herzog’s trailer eventually pronounced him dead at approximately 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The Lassen County Sheriff’s Office, the Lassen County District Attorney’s Office and the CDCR are all investigating Herzog’s death. The Office of Inspector General was also notified.
According to the Lassen County press release, the evidence at the scene was consistent with asphyxiation by ligature — hanging. However, the press release also stated that an official determination related to the cause of death will not be made until after the investigation and an autopsy are completed.
A panel of three judges from the 6th District Court of Appeal overturned all of Herzog’s convictions in August 2004, saying that Herzog was “coerced” while being interviewed by San Joaquin County Sheriff’s investigators in 1999. The appellate court ordered a retrial in the Vanderheiden case only.
The appellate court ruled that Herzog was “coerced” by sheriff’s investigators while being questioned about the Cavanaugh, King and Howell deaths, but not while being questioned in Vanderheiden’s death.
The appellate court ordered a retrial for Herzog in the murder of Vanderheiden, 25, who disappeared on Nov. 14, 1998.
Herzog accepted a plea bargain on Nov. 24, 2004 and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in connection with Vanderheiden’s death. He also pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the Cavanaugh, King and Howell murders, and to furnishing methamphetamine to Vanderheiden shortly before she died.
Herzog was sentenced to 14 years in state prison, with credit for six years served.
Herzog’s childhood friend, Wesley Shermantine Jr., 45, was convicted in 2001 of Vanderheiden’s, King’s and Cavanaugh’s murders. He was also convicted of murdering Chevelle “Chevy” Wheeler, 16, of Stockton.