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Rain delays search for remains

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Posted: Monday, February 13, 2012 1:04 pm | Updated: 9:11 am, Tue Jan 28, 2014.

Due to unsafe conditions caused by rain on Sunday night and Monday, investigators decided not to search on Monday for any more remains of possible murder victims of Wesley Shermantine Jr. and Loren Herzog.

Crews placed a large tarp on top of the 45-foot-deep well on Flood Road east of Linden when they stopped working for the day on Sunday because rain was forecast, according to San Joaquin County Sheriff’s spokesman Les Garcia. The tarp continued to cover the well on Monday as rain pelted the area.

Excavation will not resume until at least Tuesday morning, Garcia said at a press briefing Monday morning. Today, investigators will determine how muddy it is and whether it is safe enough to proceed, he said.

Investigators from the Sheriff’s office, county Public Works Department and the Sheriff’s Team of Active Retired Seniors, commonly known as STARS, have been searching for remains of murder victims while California Department of Justice officials meticulously catalogued each item so they can be DNA tested at the DOJ’s forensic laboratory.

More than 300 bone fragments were found during the weekend in a well underneath eucalyptus trees on Flood Road, east of Escalon-Bellota Road, Garcia said.

“I’ve been in this business 30 years, and this is the most gruesome crime scene I’ve been in,” he said.

Some shoes, a purse and a woman’s ring that may have initials on it were also found. It won’t be known if there are initials on the ring until after it is cleaned and the dirt removed, Garcia said.

Victims whose remains were found during the weekend are believed to have been killed by Shermantine, Herzog or both.

Shermantine is on death row at San Quentin State Prison after being convicted of four murders in 2001. Herzog was sentenced to 14 years in prison after pleading guilty in 2004 to manslaughter in the death of Clements resident Cyndi Vanderheiden, being an accessory in three other murders and furnishing methamphetamine to Vanderheiden shortly before she died. Herzog committed suicide on Jan. 16.

Shermantine sent a map with directions to the sites to Scott Smith, a Record reporter in Stockton, according to Garcia. Smith then sent the map to the Sheriff’s office.

There is at least one other well that will be inspected, Garcia said.

In an interview later on Monday, Garcia said he doesn’t know how much taxpayer money is being used for the search.

“It’s too soon to talk about money,” he said.

The search has not diverted deputies away from patrol operations, Garcia said, but detectives have been diverted from other cases.

“Investigators always prioritize their work on their cases,” Garcia said. “Everything seems to be working.”

Sheriff’s investigators didn’t inspect the wells on the Flood Road property in the 1980s or ‘90s, but Garcia said he isn’t sure whether investigators were given any information about the site during the time the murders may have been committed.

Garcia said he was lacking sleep Monday morning because a reporter from New York phoned him at 3 a.m. PST. The search for remains has received national interest from such organizations as the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and Reuters News Service.

In addition to Sacramento TV outlets showing up to the Linden-area site, Monday’s press briefing attracted KTVU Channel 2 from Oakland along with the San Francisco radio station KCBS.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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