Speed Freak Killers

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Loren Herzog
Loren Herzog.jpg
Born (1965-12-08)December 8, 1965[1]
Died January 16, 2012(2012-01-16) (aged 46)[2]
Susanville, California
Cause of death
Other names The Speed Freak Killer
Criminal penalty
78 years, reduced to 14 years, served 11 years
Conviction(s) Murder
Victims 3–19[3]
Span of killings
Country United States
State(s) California
Date apprehended
March 17, 1999
Wesley Shermantine
Wesley Shermantine.jpg
2007 San Quentin State Prison mugshot
Born (1966-02-24) February 24, 1966 (age 49)[4]
Other names The Speed Freak Killer
Criminal penalty
Death penalty
Conviction(s) Murder
Victims 4–19[5]
Span of killings
Country United States
State(s) California
Date apprehended
March 17, 1999

The Speed Freak Killers is the name given to serial killer duo Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine, together initially convicted of four murders — three jointly — and suspected in the deaths of as many as 72 people in and around San Joaquin County, California. They received the "speed freak" moniker due to their methamphetamine abuse. As of 2013 Shermantine is on death row. Herzog committed suicide in 2012; his conviction was overturned in 2004 and he was paroled in 2010. Bones recovered in 2012 from an abandoned well were positively linked to the killings.[6][7]


Herzog and Shermantine were arrested by the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department and charged with a series of murders in March 1999. Shermantine, suspected in the case for several months, was implicated by Herzog, his longtime friend, during questioning by sheriff's deputies. The blood of 25-year-old Cyndi Vanderheiden of Clements was found in his car; she went missing after leaving with Herzog and Shermantine one night in 1998. The duo grew up as childhood friends in the town and were regulars at Cyndi's father's bar in Linden.

Herzog described when Shermantine shot a hunter they ran into while they were on vacation in Utah in 1994. Utah police confirmed that a hunter was shot to death, but his murder was still classified as unsolved. Herzog also said Shermantine was responsible for killing Henry Howell, who was found parked off the road with his teeth and head bashed in; Herzog said he and Shermantine passed Howell parked on the highway and Shermantine stopped, grabbed his[who?] shotgun, killed Howell and stole what little money Howell had. Additionally, Herzog gave specific details about how Shermantine killed Robin Armtrout.

In 2001, a jury found Shermantine guilty of four murders: those of Vanderheiden, Howard King and Paul Cavanaugh – each shot dead in his car in 1984, and 16-year-old Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler, who disappeared in 1985 from Franklin High School in Stockton after telling friends she was leaving school to go with Shermantine to his family's cabin in San Andreas.[8] Shermantine was sentenced to death and is on death row at San Quentin State Prison.

Herzog was charged with murdering Cyndi Vanderheiden, Howard King, Paul Cavanaugh and Robin Armtrout and to being an accessory to Henry Howell's murder. He was found not guilty of being an accessory to Howell's murder and was acquitted of Armtrout's murder, but was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Cyndi Vanderheiden, Howard King and Paul Cavanaugh and given a 78-year sentence. The sentence was later reduced to 14 years. An appeals court overturned the first-degree murder convictions after ruling that Herzog's confession was coerced. Herzog was paroled in 2010 to a trailer adjacent to the High Desert State Prison in Susanville. He committed suicide, hanging himself outside the trailer in January 2012 after bounty hunter Leonard Padilla informed Herzog that Shermantine was planning to disclose the location of a well and two other locations where the duo buried their victims. Previously, none of their victims' bodies were found. Both men maintained that the other did the killing in all cases.[9] The citizens of Linden, a small town with fewer than 2,000 people, 95 miles east of San Francisco, were long aware of the duo's reputation as methamphetamine users.

Recent evidence[edit]

Letters Shermantine wrote to journalist Scott Smith of the Stockton Record led authorities in February 2012 to a well on an abandoned farm outside of Linden, California where more than 1,000 human bone fragments were recovered. The bones were to be tested by the California Department of Justice for DNA profiling.[10] Shermantine stated that he believed Herzog was responsible for the kidnapping of Michaela Garecht.[11] Shermantine gave investigators maps to the well and other possible burial sites after bounty hunter Padilla promised to pay him $33,000 for the information. Bodies from two sites were identified as those of Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler and Cyndi Vanderheiden. In February 2012, authorities and Padilla searched for bodies on property owned by Shermantine's parents. The search was spurred by a letter Shermantine wrote to Padilla that detailed possible locations of victims.[12] In March 2012, the FBI's Evidence Recovery Team was asked to assist with the investigation.[13] In early January 2013 the FBI began excavation of an abandoned well, which they hoped would yield more victims' remains.[14]

Other remains[edit]

Shermantine has stated he knows the locations in the Cow Mountain Recreation Area of bodies of victims killed by other death row inmates. Lake County sheriffs were skeptical that any bodies could be successfully recovered in the large park.[15] In August 2012, California Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani wrote to prison department Secretary Matt Cate asking him to briefly release Shermantine from prison to assist in the discovery of any remains about which he might have knowledge, under an emergency statute she had written.

Kimberly Ann Billy and Joann Hobson[edit]

In February 2012, acting on Shermantine's directions, authorities found more than 300 human bones and some personal items in an abandoned well in Linden, California. In late March 2012, the remains of two Stockton, California teens missing since the mid-1980s were identified as Kimberly Ann Billy, 19, who disappeared December 11, 1984 and Joann Hobson, 16, who disappeared August 29, 1985. The remains of an additional victim as well as an unidentified fetus were found at the well.


  1. ^ California Births, 1905 - 1995, Loren J. Herzog
  2. ^ "Loren Herzog leaves note in trailer before his death". Lassen County Times. January 18, 2012. Retrieved February 14, 2012. 
  3. ^ "FBI digging up Calif. well looking for more "Speed Freak Killers" victims". CBS News. 
  4. ^ California Births, 1905 - 1995, http://www.familytreelegends.com/records/39461?c=search&first=Wesley&last=Shermantine Wesley H. Shermantine
  5. ^ "FBI digging up Calif. well looking for more "Speed Freak Killers" victims". CBS News. 
  6. ^ "More than 300 human bones found at abandoned Calif ranch with convicted killers' map". [dead link]
  7. ^ Marcum, Diana (February 13, 2012). "'Speed Freak' killer's disclosures bring both peace and turmoil". Los Angeles Times. [dead link]
  8. ^ "'Speed Freak Killers' Update: Search for victims' remains reaches bottom of Calif. well". CBS News. 
  9. ^ Wollan, Malia (February 18, 2012). "Serial Killers' Graveyard Opens California Town's Wounds". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ "‘Speed Freak Killer’ Speaks Out In Letter, Search Enters 2nd Week". cbslocal.com. Retrieved 12 December 2014. 
  11. ^ "Bodies of murder victims found after 'Speed Freak Killer' draws maps for bounty hunter from his death row cell". Daily Mail (London). February 11, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Coverage Of Shermantine Property Search". KCRA 3. KCRA-TV. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  13. ^ "FBI Asked To Assist In Search For Victims Of ‘Speed Freak Killers’ « CBS Sacramento". cbslocal.com. Retrieved 12 December 2014. 
  14. ^ "FBI digging up Calif. well looking for more "Speed Freak Killers" victims". CBS News. 
  15. ^ "'Speed freak killer' hints at 14 bodies near Clear Lake". mercurynews.com. Retrieved 12 December 2014. 

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