After years of waiting, the Vanderheiden and Wheeler families are finally bringing their daughters home.
On Tuesday, the parents learned that their daughters had been positively identified through DNA analysis by the California Department of Justice after a week-and-a-half of extensive testing. The remains of 25-year-old Clements resident Cyndi Vanderheiden and 16-year-old Stockton resident Chevelle “Chevy” Wheeler were found on convicted killer Wesley Shermantine Jr.’s former property in San Andreas roughly two weeks ago.
For the parents of the missing girls, the wait to hear that their daughters had been found was described by John Vanderheiden as “an eternity.”
John and Terri Vanderheiden have waited 14 years to find out what happened to their daughter Cyndi, who vanished after she went out to Linden for a night of karaoke with a friend. It was there that she met up with Loren Herzog, Shermantine’s accomplice.
The two left the bar, and until two weeks ago, the only trace of Cyndi Vanderheiden that had been found was her car, parked with doors locked in Glenview Cemetery.
“I feel good, knowing that it is her for sure,” John Vanderheiden said. “There was the preliminary results. But with DNA testing, it means this is real ... . I feel great, but at the same time this brings back all the anger, too.”
For Paula Wheeler, 14 years has been about half the time span she and her husband, Raymond Wheeler, have had to wait to hear what may have become of their little girl.
Chevelle “Chevy” Wheeler was just 16 years old when she left in a truck driven by 19-year-old Wesley Shermantine, Jr. after she decided to cut classes at her high school.
Paula Wheeler said she and her husband had warned Shermantine to not come near their daughter after Raymond Wheeler found a shotgun under Shermantine’s car seat.
Shermantine claimed it was for protection, Paula Wheeler said.
“We knew from the get go the night we found out she was missing that (Shermantine) had something to do with it,” Paula Wheeler said. “But she will be released to us now. We feel good.”
The positive identification of the remains of both Vanderheiden and Wheeler are just the cusp of what the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and the California Department of Justice face when it comes to testing the remains of over 1,000 bones found in a well in Linden.
The bone and bone fragments were found in what Shermantine dubbed in a map to investigators to be “Loren’s Boneyard,” and the dig site on the 27000 block of Flood Road yielded not only human remains, but shoes, a purse and women’s jewelry as well.
It is unclear as to how long it will take the Department of Justice to identify all of the bones found in Linden, but crews are already back to work looking for a second potential well that may contain more human remains.
In a press release, San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Les Garcia said Sheriff Steve Moore personally called the families to notify them of the DNA results and to help move along the process of returning the remains.
While what exact funeral arrangements are still being determined by both families, the Vanderheidens and the Wheelers have both decided to cremate their daughters’ remains.
John Vanderheiden said his daughter will be buried in Clements Cemetery, while Paula Wheeler said her daughter’s remains will be flown back to Tennessee, where the Wheelers now live, to be buried.
“The time has come,” Paula Wheeler said of bringing her daughter back home.