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Investigators locate remans believed to belong to murder victims including Cyndi Vanderheiden

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Posted: Sunday, February 12, 2012 7:34 pm | Updated: 9:11 am, Tue Jan 28, 2014.

Bones that may belong to several murder victims dating back to the 1980s were found on throughout the weekend, first in San Andreas and then in a remote area east of Linden, according to the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office.

Investigators from the sheriff's office, county Public Works Department and the Sheriffs' Team of Active Retired Seniors, also known as STARS, found more than 300 bones of an undetermined number of people in a 45-foot-deep well adjacent to some eucalyptus trees on Flood Road, east of Escalon-Bellota Road, sheriff's spokesman Les Garcia said.

It can't be determined how many victims there are until the California Department of Justice conducts DNA testing, Garcia said during a press briefing Sunday afternoon. Large and small bones were found at the site.

In addition to the bones, investigators found some shoes, jewelry and a purse at the bottom of the well, Garcia said.

Meanwhile, in San Andreas, preliminary identifications of the skull and teeth found off Leonard Road near the former property of convicted killer Wesley Shermantine Jr. in San Andreas on Friday appear to be those of Clements resident Cyndi Vanderheiden, who disappeared in November 1998 and hadn't been seen since.

A forensic analysis including dental charting, dental X-rays and photographs by a forensic odonthologist suggest that the remains are that of Vanderheiden, according to the sheriff's office.

The site has proven to be a successful location for retrieving remains of possible victims — Friday's dig resulted in the uncovering of another set of humans remains, believed to possibly be those of Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler of Stockton.

Paula Wheeler, Chevy Wheeler's mother, said she is almost certain her daughter was found Friday.

"I don't know how to react because we have never had to deal with this level of certainty before," she said from her home in Tennessee, where she and her family have since moved. "But I can tell you it's been a great day."

Stockton resident Liz Beeson, who drove out to Linden on Saturday to check up on progress with the dig, said she had lived down the road from Wheeler before she disappeared.

Beeson had heard that a second human skull had been unearthed Friday, and she said wanted to be there as the investigation continued to unfold more results.

"That could have been anyone's child that was taken that day ... but it was Chevy," she said. "I would go out there and help dig, if only they would give me a shovel."

While investigators were inspecting the former Shermantine property in San Andreas, others were searching a well east of Linden for more victims. Investigators finally discovered human remains at the Linden site at about 4 p.m. Saturday. That included a piece of a human skull and bones found at the ranch.

Victims are believed to have been killed by Shermantine, Loren Herzog or both. Shermantine is on death row at San Quentin State Prison after being convicted of four murders in 2001. Herzog committed suicide on Jan. 16.

Shermantine sent a map with directions to the sites to investigators.

While 10 to 20 victims are rumored to have been buried in the Linden-area well, Garcia won't verify those numbers.

"I am not calling this a massive grave," Garcia said.

Crews will continue searching for remains for several days. "It's tedious, and it's going to be lengthy," Garcia said.

About 20 people are investigating the site each day. The area is being guarded on a 24-hour basis, with Flood Road closed to traffic at the Escalon-Bellota Road intersection.

Garcia said investigation crews stopped their efforts late Saturday evening but continued their search at the site east of Linden at 7 a.m. Sunday. The sheriff's department will also begin evaluating when they could begin digging other wells, Garcia said.

"If we have to, we are going to check them all," he said. "We are not going to walk away from this. We are not going to stop."

The well being dug during the weekend runs approximately 60 feet deep, though the remains that were unearthed Saturday were found at around 35 feet, Garcia said. They dug at least 10 more feet deep on Sunday.

According to Leonard Padilla, the Sacramento bounty hunter who agreed to pay Shermantine in return for the locations of victims' remains, he was pleased that remains had been found.

However, he was convinced that investigators needed to look at a second well further east on Flood Road to find more remains of Shermantine's and Herzog's victims.

"It is fantastic that they have found remains," he said. "It keeps them energized. Twelve years ago, no one would have come out here to look."

Contact reporters Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com and Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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