With the help of a cadaver dog and a hand-drawn map from a killer, officials Thursday found remains in a remote Calaveras County ravine that may be those of Cyndi Vanderheiden.
At approximately 10:45 a.m., investigators from San Joaquin and Calaveras counties, along with two K-9 units from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, found a human skull in a remote area outside San Andreas. The discovery was made on property once owned by the family of Wesley Shermantine, convicted of Vanderheiden’s murder.
The team was following a map provided by Shermantine, who is on San Quentin’s death row, said San Joaquin Sheriff’s spokesman Les Garcia.
Sgt. Jose Cardoza of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office said a cadaver dog named “Maya” that specializes in searching for decaying human bone found the skull.
The remains could be those of Vanderheiden, though Garcia said the identity of the skull will not be known until after the state Department of Justice finishes conducting DNA analysis.
The analysis could take weeks, Garcia said.
“We are hoping that the results of the DNA testing will be a priority [with the Department of Justice],” Garcia said.
The discovery of the skull comes after a search that yielded no results in the same area Wednesday.
But according to Garcia, the search area was slightly expanded. Now, investigators will continue to process the scene in hopes of possibly uncovering more remains. They plan to continue searching on Friday.
Garcia added that investigators also found an additional piece of bone in the same area that the skull was found. However, it is unclear at this time if the bone is human or animal.
John Vanderheiden, Cyndi Vanderheiden’s father, was notified of the discovery by a San Joaquin County sergeant around 11:30 a.m.
Vanderheiden said he was told the skull contained teeth that had remained intact and appeared to have fillings — something Vanderheiden said would fit his daughter’s profile.
According to Vanderheiden, his daughter had fillings put in her back teeth as a teenager.
However, Vanderheiden and his wife did not make the trip to San Andreas on Thursday, instead deciding to go about their days. He said he knew better than to get his hopes up.
“We have been going through this for 14 years,” he said. “There is no use getting excited until it is proven and it is true.”
This is the first successful recovery of any remains in any search for Shermantine’s and partner-in-crime Loren Herzog’s victims.
Searches for the remains of Vanderheiden and other Herzog and Shermantine victims have ramped up in recent weeks after Herzog committed suicide in January in his trailer, which was on the grounds of High Desert State Prison in Susanville.
Shermantine has said he knows the locations of where victims were buried and that he wants to help recover the victims’ remains.
He had asked for monetary compensation — roughly $33,000 — in exchange for revealing the burial locations of Vanderheiden and missing Stockton resident Chevy Wheeler.
Sacramento-based bounty hunter Leonard Padilla said he was willing to pay the fee, but as of Thursday, Shermantine had not received any payment for any information he provided.
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.