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Linden searchers refilling well where human remains were found

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Posted: Saturday, February 18, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 9:11 am, Tue Jan 28, 2014.

After a week of searching, investigators are finally filling in the well in Linden that they painstakingly excavated for remains of the victims of serial killers Wesley Shermantine Jr. and Loren Herzog.

With cadaver dogs from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department and the Department of Environmental Health making sure the area no longer contained any traces of evidence, investigative crews from the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department and the Department of Justice have begun to re-pour dirt back down the well before it is sealed.

According to San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department spokesman Les Garcia, the crews will remain out in Linden throughout the weekend, but it is unclear whether or not they will be pursuing the possible investigation of a second well, located just east of the current dig site.

"We won't dig to just dig," he said.

Prior to refilling the well Friday, investigators again sent down a camera to inspect what was inside, this time more slowly so that an expert could better examine the structure of the well, Garcia added.

The camera is from the Sheriff's Department, not from the Department of Justice, according to Garcia. He was unsure of the make or model of the camera.

There is still no updated bone count from the excavation, though the last reported number was roughly 1,000 bones and bone fragments.

However, all fragments found at the current dig site have been shipped to the morgue to be inspected by a forensic anthropologist before being shipped off to two Department of Justice DNA testing labs — one in Richmond, Calif., and one in Ripon.

According to Jill Spriggs, chief of the department's Bureau of Forensic Services, both crime labs are using any and all resources available to test the remains in what she called a "rush case."

Spriggs and another colleague were present at the afternoon press conference with Garcia to respond to multiple questions regarding the science behind the case.

However, Spriggs said she could not talk about the Linden dig site or any aspects of that investigation.

She could comment on the fact that remains removed from the well were done so in a manner that was "careful," and that since their excavation, the bones, bone fragments and other items found at the scene have been treated with "the utmost care."

The well, which was labeled "Loren's Boneyard" by Shermantine, is being investigated as part of an ongoing search for human remains of victims of Shermantine's and Herzog's killing spree, which lasted nearly two decades.

Forensic odontologists have preliminarily identified a pair of human skulls found at Shermantine's former property in San Andreas last week; one is believed to be that of 25-year-old Clements resident Cyndi Vanderheiden, who disappeared in 1998, and the other is believed to be that of 16-year-old Stockton resident Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler, who went missing in 1985.

Contact reporter Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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