Cyndi Vanderheiden's remains are likely located in Calaveras County, said nationally known bounty hunter Leonard Padilla, who added that he's willing to pay convicted killer Wesley Shermantine Jr. $15,000 to show where her body is located.
California Department of Corrections officials talked about transporting Shermantine to San Joaquin and Calaveras counties as early as Wednesday so that Shermantine could show them where the remains of Vanderheiden and other victims are located, Padilla said.
However, San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore requested that bringing Shermantine to San Joaquin County be put on hold until he has a face-to-face meeting with local, state and federal authorities, according to sheriff's spokesman Les Garcia.
Vanderheiden, 25, who lived in Clements, disappeared on Nov. 14, 1998. Her body has never been recovered.
Shermantine, now 45, was convicted of Vanderheiden's murder and that of three others. He is on death row at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County. His childhood friend, Loren Herzog, was found dead early Tuesday morning in an apparent suicide in his trailer on the grounds of High Desert State Prison near Susanville. He was 46.
Herzog, who grew up in Linden with Shermantine, pleaded guilty in 2001 of voluntary manslaughter in connection with Vanderheiden's death. He also pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the 1980s murders of Paul Cavanaugh, Howard King III and Henry Howell and to furnishing methamphetamine to Vanderheiden shortly before she died.
Moore will meet Friday morning with representatives from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office, FBI and Calaveras County Sheriff's Office to discuss logistics, Garcia said.
"(Moore) doesn't want to move forward until he has a meeting so that everyone is on the same page and he knows what is going on," Garcia said. "His main concern is the safety of the community."
The sheriff was concerned that Shermantine could escape into territory very familiar to him if he is brought to San Joaquin County, Garcia said.
Padilla sees things differently.
"(Moore has) got his shorts all up in a knot," Padilla said in an interview Wednesday morning. "I kind of wish he'd lighten up so we can get out there and get the bodies."
Padilla says there are about 10 bodies in a well, either on Herzog's property in the Linden area or his parents' property.
"Cyndi Vanderheiden is at a separate location," Padilla said. "I believe she is in Calaveras County, but I can be wrong."
Padilla and Thomas Testa, who prosecuted the Shermantine and Herzog cases nearly a decade ago, believe Shermantine would not escape from custody if CDCR officials brought him to the site of the bodies.
Testa said he "respectfully disagrees" with Moore.
Padilla added that it's insulting to CDCR to think that Shermantine would escape.
Padilla told the News-Sentinel he phoned Herzog on Monday afternoon — just hours before Herzog died — and advised him to get an attorney.
If Shermantine shows authorities the location of Vanderheiden's and other victims' remains, Herzog could have been charged with their murders, Padilla and Testa said.
That is because Testa granted immunity to Shermantine for any murders beyond the four for which he was convicted — Vanderheiden, King, Cavanaugh and Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler — if Shermantine reveals where the bodies are located.
However, Herzog had no such immunity from future prosecution, which Padilla thinks led to Herzog's suicide.
"I think with Loren, that what I relayed to him was very accurate, and he didn't want to deal with that anymore," Padilla said. "That would bring in new bodies, assuming what Shermantine said is true."
However, Padilla said he thinks Shermantine is telling the truth.
Investigators believe that Herzog and Shermantine killed as many as 19 people.
Kim Vanderheiden Lovejoy, Cyndi Vanderheiden's sister who now lives in Wyoming, said she hopes that her sister's remains can be located soon.
"It's still very overwhelming," Lovejoy said. "I don't want to get my hopes up. Then we can put this all behind us."
Shermantine's attorney, Denise Anton, did not return a call Wednesday afternoon.
Testa said he considers the colorful Padilla, who wears a black cowboy hat and has appeared many times on TV, a credible source of information.
"Leonard Padilla is a good guy," Testa said. "He is quite a credible guy. I've known him for years. He is pleasantly flamboyant."
If Padilla pays Shermantine the $15,000 for the location of Vanderheiden's body, Shermantine could use the money for personal purchases like snacks at San Quentin, Padilla said.
The Sacramento bounty hunter added that he's offered to pay $18,000 for Wheeler's whereabouts in Calaveras County.
That would be used to pay off a restitution fine against Shermantine, Padilla said.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.