By late Tuesday, crews working near Linden to recover remains of murder victims from an abandoned well had found roughly 1,000 bones and bone fragments.
The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Justice spent the day sifting through 34 previously excavated piles of debris looking for remains.
And after a day of rain Monday that delayed the search, crews were out once again Tuesday — this time discovering that the piles of dirt excavated prior to Monday contain more bone than dirt, Les Garcia, the Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said at a press conference late Tuesday afternoon.
“I have been in this business more than 30 years, and this is the most gruesome crime scene I have ever seen,” he said. “It is unreal.”
Though excavators were not able to dig deeper into the well Tuesday afternoon as they had originally hoped, Garcia said the roughly 20 individuals working at the site on the 27000 block of East Flood Road will be out once again first thing this morning to start digging.
Thus far, investigation crews have dug 45 feet down. The well is believed to be roughly 60 feet deep.
The owner of the property on Flood Road, who bought it in 1982, started filling in the well with dirt, branches and debris in the midto late-’80s. Excavators have even found washing machine parts in the well. Once he filled it in, the owner put two large cement blocks on top.
According to Garcia, one of the reasons the property owner filled up the well is because teens liked to party in the area, and he was worried one might accidentally fall down the hole.
Garcia said that convicted killers Wesley Shermantine Jr. and Loren Herzog likely found out about the site because of its popularity with teens.
“I’m sure that is what introduced them to this location, and they knew about it. The wells were there. ... I guess, we can assume that that’s kind of their knowledge of the area, as (somewhere) that they would be able to dispose of bodies without being detected,” he said.
The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department is also reviewing whether to dig at a property just east of the current dig site, Garcia said.
Shermantine said the well on that site might hold more remains of victims from his and former partner-in-crime Herzog’s killing spree, which spanned roughly a decade and a half.
However, Garcia said that at this time, no digging has occurred at that site.
Also Tuesday, preliminary findings by a forensic dentist positively identified a set of remains found at another site, Shermantine’s former property in Calaveras County, as those of 16-year-old Stockton resident Chevelle “Chevy” Wheeler.
The analyses are the same used to provide a preliminary identification of 25-year-old Clements resident Cyndi Vanderheiden. DNA results conducted by the California Department of Justice will confirm the identification of the remains, but the Wheeler family is waiting no longer.
According to Paula Wheeler, she and her husband will fly out Feb. 25 to bring their daughter back to their Tennessee home.
“This confirms (my gut feeling),” she said. “We won’t know for sure if it is (Chevy) for seven to 10 days, but we are heading out. We are ready to go.”
The digs are based on maps provided by Shermantine, who is on death row.
Investigators found two sets of human remains in San Andreas last week, and also started finding bones 25 feet down in the well in Linden on Friday afternoon. Along with the bones, investigators in Linden have found some shoes, a purse and a woman’s ring that may have initials on it.
The Sheriff’s department is collecting and documenting the bones before placing them into envelopes that are then booked into evidence, Garcia said.
Garcia added that to his knowledge, an anthropologist is currently at the county morgue working with investigators piece together and identify the remains.
He did not have a timeline on how long it would take to determine any identities through DNA, and said the process will be left up to the experts.
“Through that, we will hopefully be able to tell the sex, and we’ll also be able to get an idea of how many bodies we may have, and then the DNA process as well,” Garcia said. “We literally have to send the investigators home every night. They are that determined.”