State Sen. Cathleen Galgiani says that convicted murderer Wesley Shermantine Jr. writes to her a couple of times a week to tell her where remains of murder victims are located.
In addition to her other duties in the Legislature, Galgiani takes plenty of time to read Shermantine's correspondence.
"I'm listening to him," Galgiani said during a News-Sentinel interview on Thursday at her State Capitol office in Sacramento. "I take what he says seriously. I think there is a lot of truth in what he writes."
Galgiani, whose Senate district includes San Joaquin County, Galt and Modesto, said that Shermantine told her that remains are not only located in Linden and Calaveras County, where the FBI is searching, but also in Lodi, Lockeford, Clements, Farmington, French Camp, Tracy, Patterson, Modesto, Oakdale, Turlock and Merced.
Because of the multiple counties involved, Galgiani thinks the FBI should take over the criminal investigation from the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office. The FBI is only searching for bodies, she said, while Sheriff's detectives are conducting criminal investigations involving cases in which Shermantine and his late accomplice Loren Herzog were not convicted, Galgiani said.
FBI spokeswoman Gina Swankie said that Special Agent Herb Brown has determined that the FBI will not take over the investigation in the absence of a federal case.
"(The) San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office appropriately remains the lead investigative party for the local homicide matter," Swankie said in an email.
County Sheriff Steve Moore said Monday that he's responsible for investigating any cases that originate in San Joaquin County. However, if FBI investigators find the remains of a victim from another county, then the case will be transferred to that county.
Shermantine is on death row at San Joaquin State Prison after being convicted in 2001 of the deaths of Clements resident Cyndi Vanderheiden in 1998, Stockton resident Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler in 1985, and Howard King and Paul Cavanaugh in 1984.
Herzog accepted a plea bargain in 2004 of being an accessory to manslaughter in connection with Vanderheiden's murder, being an accessory to three other murders and furnishing methamphetamine to Vanderheiden.
Sheriff's deputies from San Joaquin County and personnel from the California Department of Justice, along with cadaver dogs from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, unearthed Vanderheiden's remains in a ravine near Shermantine's former property on Leonard Road in San Andreas in February 2012.
Herzog had been paroled to a trailer in Susanville, where he wasn't allowed to leave the premises without a correctional officer escorting him. He reportedly committed suicide in his trailer on Jan. 16, 2012.
Galgiani and former Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, teamed up to keep Herzog in the Susanville trailer.
"At the end of the day, I had an obligation to keep Loren Herzog from living among us (in the Central Valley)," Galgiani said. "I didn't want him coming home. I wrote about 10 letters to Gov. Schwarzenegger, and (Jerry) Brown when he was attorney general, on why Herzog shouldn't be paroled."
However, Galgiani said they knew they won only a short-term solution, because Herzog was due to be released from his Susanville trailer on Sept. 17, 2012.
That resulted in Galgiani working to secure reward money for new witnesses to come forward with information leading to murder convictions against Herzog in connection to additional victims. It would provide more ammunition to keep him from being paroled in September 2012, she said.
However, getting reward money became a moot point when Herzog reportedly committed suicide eight months before he was set for parole out of his Susanville trailer.
Shermantine began drawing maps of wells where he claims victims are located in December 2011, Galgiani said. He sent his first letter to her on March 23, 2012.
Asked why Shermantine drew the maps and wrote the letters, Galgiani said, "I think he wants to get rid of his demons."
Meanwhile, Galgiani continues to get phone calls from the parents of missing children. Although she has issues like the state budget, gun control and high-speed rail on her plate, she takes their calls or returns them. If she's busy with other matters, Galgiani calls in the late evening.
"When family members call, you just can't close the door on them," she said.
The case hits close to home for her — the Shermantine-Herzog cases bring up memories of Galgiani's female cousin, who has been missing since Dec. 6, 1981.
Meanwhile, the FBI continues to search the Linden area for remains of other victims.
"I hope to God they're in the right place," Galgiani said.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.