After less than 12 years behind bars, one of the men convicted of killing Cyndi Vanderheiden of Clements is about to be released from state prison.
Loren Herzog, now 44, has served his time for manslaughter, as well as being an accessory to the deaths of three other people. He'll be released on parole July 25 and must stay at least 35 miles away from San Joaquin County, said the victim's father.
"He's not getting out because he's innocent, he's getting out on a technicality," said John Vanderheiden, who spent the better part of three years searching rural areas around Clements, manning a phone tip line and sitting in court. His daughter's body has never been found.
Herzog and childhood buddy Wesley Shermantine, also 44, were arrested three months after Cyndi Vanderheiden, who would now be 37, disappeared from her Clements home on Nov. 17, 1998. The men were soon linked to other killings, and the case got so much publicity that they went to trial in Santa Clara County.
Separate juries in 2001 convicted them of multiple murders; Shermantine was sentenced to death, and Herzog was sent to prison for 78 years. In 2004, an appellate court ruled that Herzog had been "coerced" while being questioned by San Joaquin County Sheriff's detectives. His convictions were thrown out, but a new trial was ordered solely in the Vanderheiden killing.
Much of the evidence against him was inadmissible in court, so prosecutors ultimately worked out a plea deal. In November 2004, Herzog pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Cyndi Vanderheiden's death, accessory to three other murders and furnishing methamphetamine.
He was sentenced to 14 years in prison, but due to the time spent in county jails and credits for good behavior, Herzog has now served his time.
It's not something that pleases the prosecutor, who has sent countless murderers to prison for life, as well as to death row.
"There are many defendants where I like to see them starting a new chapter in life when they get out on parole, but I do not feel that way about Loren Herzog," said Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa. "Society was short-changed."
Due to security concerns, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does not release parole dates to the public until an inmate has been released from prison. However, state law allows victims' family members to receive prior notice about an inmate's parole, death or other matters.
The Vanderheidens had requested such information, and they also asked that Herzog not be released on parole close to them. Parole officials honored that request, and Herzog must stay at least 35 miles away from San Joaquin County, said CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton. Parolees must stay in their county of parole unless they get permission from the parole agent assigned to them. They must try to find employment, and the state Franchise Tax Board can garnish their wages to pay restitution.
"We've asked for restitution but we've never gotten anything from either one of them," Theresa Vanderheiden, Cyndi's mother, said of Herzog and Shermantine.
Parolees usually have specific conditions they much meet, but Thornton did not yet have those available Thursday. All parolees must follow orders of their agents and must abide by all laws.
"The purpose of parole is to try to reintegrate prisoners into society," Thornton said.
While in prison Herzog did work as a porter — janitorial duties such as sweeping and emptying trash — which paid a minuscule wage, Thornton said. He has most recently been housed in California Rehabilitation Center, located in Norco near Riverside in Southern California.
The Vanderheidens, who have another daughter, four granddaughters and two great-granddaughters, said they don't want Herzog anywhere near them.
Public Defender Peter Fox did not return a message seeking comment, and Herzog's family members could not be reached.
Shermantine is locked away on death row in San Quentin State Prison, where appeals take more than 20 years to run their course.
Until the men were arrested, they had lived in the Linden area, and Herzog slightly knew Vanderheiden. The last night she was seen alive, she was talking to Herzog and Shermantine in a Linden bar her father owned at the time.
A girlfriend followed her home to Clements, and nobody saw her again. Her car was found the next day, parked at the nearby Clements Glenview Cemetery.
Hundreds searched for the woman, but there has been no trace of her.
Testa still holds out hope that her body will be found, and that it could help solve other missing persons cases.
"I have a file here in my office and I hope to someday close it," the prosecutor said. "We're kind of beholden to the public to come forward."
Contact reporter Layla Bohm at email@example.com.