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The Speed Freak Killers - Chevelle 'Chevy' Yvonne Wheeler case

Wesley Howard Shermantine Jr. (l) 
and Loren Joseph 
Wesley Howard Shermantine Jr. (l) and Loren Joseph Herzog
Inseparable since childhood, Loren Joseph Herzog and Wesley Howard Shermantine Jr., both now 44, grew up to turn into meth-heads and killers, ultimately getting themselves dubbed the "Speed Freak Killers."The two frequently used methamphetamine, or speed, while they roamed around California's San Joaquin County for approximately 15 years, terrorizing the residents of the mostly rural region and allegedly killing a number of people, frequently women, in their deadly rampage. Shermantine once reportedly bragged that he had killed 19 people, but the duo was convicted of only a few of the slayings they were suspected of committing.

Arrested in 1999, Shermantine was convicted in 2001 of raping and killing Cynthia "Cyndi" Ann Vanderheiden, 25, of Clements, Calif., as well as killing two other people, and Herzog was convicted in 2003 of the three killings as well. Herzog and Shermantine were also suspected of killing many others. Herzog gave a detailed videotaped confession over a period of four days detailing how he had lured Cyndi to a cemetery by promising to provide speed—she, Herzog and Shermantine had apparently shared drugs before. After getting her to the cemetery, Shermantine allegedly attacked and killed her. Herzog testified that he hid in the backseat of Shermantine's car while Cyndi was being attacked. Afterward, he said, he helped Shermantine load her body into the trunk of Shermantine's car and that he did not know what happened to her body after Shermantine left with it. Her remains have never been found. Details of Cyndi's case, as far as investigators were able to determine, were, aside from Herzog's statement, somewhat sketchy.

On the evening of November 13, 1998, a Friday, Cyndi had gone to a karaoke bar in Linden, Calif., with a friend. Later that evening, another friend drove her in Cyndi's car to another bar, the Old Corner Saloon in Clements, in the town where Cyndi lived with her parents. Once parked outside the establishment, she told her friend that she would drive herself back to her family's home, about a mile from there. A male friend followed her home early that morning and later told police that he saw her park her car in her parent's driveway at approximately 2:30 a.m. on November 14, 1998. However, he did not wait to see if she went inside the house. Similarly, Cyndi's mother told investigators that she had heard her daughter arrive home at that time. Cyndi was never heard from again, but her father found her Cavalier parked at Glenview Cemetery on Mackeville Road in Clements later that day, after a search had been initiated for her. The car was unlocked, and her purse and cell phone were inside. Police attempted to piece together what had happened; it was theorized that she must have left her parents' home again shortly after pulling into the driveway to go to the cemetery. The theory, however, left many questions unanswered.

According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, Vanderheiden's family does not believe Herzog's account of what happened, nor does San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa, who prosecuted both killers.
Herzog was sentenced to 78 years in prison, and Shermantine was sentenced to death. Three years later, an appellate court decided that Herzog's confession had been coerced by police and overturned his convictions. Lacking his confession in a retrial, prosecutors felt it prudent to offer a plea agreement in which Herzog pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. He was subsequently resentenced to 14 years in prison for killing the pair's last known victim. Shermantine's death sentence, however, stands.

On Saturday, September 18, 2010, after some legal and political wrangling and credit for good behavior, Herzog, a suspected serial killer, was paroled from the High Desert State Prison in Susanville, Calif., to the outrage of victims' families, local citizens and law enforcement. Given what this pair of killers is believed to have done, it is easy to understand why a community, already in disbelief over the failure of their justice system to deal definitively with suspected predators, would become indignant when one of the killers was released after serving only a few years after crimes that would normally have kept the killers behind bars for life.

Chevelle 'Chevy' Yvonne Wheeler

Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler
While it is difficult to pinpoint with certainty the killers' first victim, unless one believed Herzog's statement to investigators, it is suspected that Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler, 16, was likely among the first. She skipped school on Wednesday, October 16, 1985, and was last seen getting into a red pickup truck outside Franklin High School in Stockton, Calif., that day. She had told friends that she was cutting classes and going with a male friend to Valley Springs, Calif. She had seemed apprehensive about making the trip, the friend said, and she had asked her friend to inform her father of what she had done if she did not return by the end of the school day. When Chevy failed to return, the friend indeed told her father who, in turn, notified the police. Authorities quickly identified the friend with whom she had skipped school that day as Wesley Shermantine Jr., 19, who was also acquainted with Wheeler's family. Police also determined that Shermantine owned a red pickup truck.

Members of Chevy's family told police that Shermantine had called their home the morning of Chevy's disappearance. When questioned by detectives, Shermantine denied any involvement with the girl and proclaimed his innocence to her family. However, investigators sensed that he was lying. They learned that his family owned a cabin in San Andreas, Calif., and when they searched it they found blood and hair evidence. Although the blood samples matched Chevy's blood type, it was not enough immediately to bring forth charges against Shermantine: DNA-testing technology in 1985 could not analyze samples with the precision available today. In 1985, though, detectives believed with good cause that the blood and hair belonged to Chevy, but had to acknowledge that they lacked the authoritative analysis to sustain their theory in court. By the end of the 20th century, of course, DNA technology had made many significant advances, and detectives submitted the blood and hair evidence to the crime lab again. It turned out that the samples taken from the cabin indeed matched Chevy Wheeler.

Armed with the new evidence and, after linking the two suspected killers, Shermantine and Herzog were arrested on Thursday, March 18, 1999, on suspicion of murder. Both men were later charged with the kidnapping and murder of Cyndi Vanderheiden. Using the evidence collected at the San Andreas cabin where, detectives learned, Shermantine had been living for quite some time, Shermantine was subsequently charged with Chevy Wheeler's murder 14 years earlier.

Although authorities had remained tight-lipped about their investigation, court officials at the time suggested to staff reporters with The Record, a newspaper serving San Joaquin County, that the two men had implicated each other in a number of slayings. At one point Shermantine pointed out to the detectives that Herzog possessed a key to the San Andreas cabin, and that he had also been friends with Chevy.

Herzog's videotape

Following more than 17 hours of questioning by San Joaquin County Sheriff's detectives, most, if not all, of which was videotaped, Herzog implicated Shermantine in five unsolved slayings that had occurred in northern California, including that of Cyndi Vanderheiden, and in the shooting death of a hunter in Utah. Herzog told detectives that Shermantine pulled the trigger or used a knife in those killings.

According to Herzog's statement, if it can be believed, the pair of meth-heads was driving a truck in 1984 along Highway 88 in the Hope Valley, Calif., area, several miles south of Lake Tahoe and west of the Nevada border in a somewhat remote location, when they passed a vehicle parked on the side of the road. The vehicle's driver, Henry Howell, 41, a Santa Clara resident, had pulled to the side of the road because he was intoxicated. With little warning and for no reason, Shermantine stopped his truck, got out, and allegedly shot Howell with a shotgun.
Two months later, Herzog said, they were out driving around together again, this time on Roberts Island, located just southwest of Stockton, when they passed a parked 1982 Pontiac. Herzog told detectives that they turned around, approached the car and grabbed their shotguns as they exited the truck. Herzog said that Shermantine shot and killed the driver, Howard Michael King III, 35, while he sat behind the wheel, and then dragged the passenger, Paul Raymond Cavanaugh, 31, out the passenger door and shot him at point-blank range. Witnesses later reported seeing a red pickup truck in the area of Roberts Island prior to King's and Cavanaugh's deaths, and tire tracks found at the scene were later shown to match the tires on Shermantine's pickup.

The following year, September 1985, Herzog said, he and Shermantine met Robin Armtrout, 24, at a park in Stockton. Their purported plan was to go out drinking together, but they went to a pasture near Linden instead, not far from where the men lived. At some point, Shermantine "got carried away," according to Herzog, and, the next thing he knew, Shermantine was beating and raping the young woman. He eventually stabbed her more than a dozen times, and left her nude body on the bank of nearby Potter Creek. When a dove hunter later stumbled upon her naked body, investigators noted that the stabbing wounds were mostly in the back and chest areas. Armtrout was last seen by her mother climbing into a red pickup truck with two men.

Herzog also told detectives that Shermantine later boasted about having done the same thing to Chevy Wheeler.

Herzog continues implicating his friend

Herzog also detailed how he and Shermantine had asked Cyndi Vanderheiden to meet them at the cemetery near her home after leaving another bar, The Linden Inn, the night her mother said she had heard Cyndi pull into the driveway of their home. According to Herzog, the three of them had left that bar sometime after midnight, which would have been prior to her going to the Old Corner Saloon in Clements. It was not clear why Cyndi had left the Old Corner Saloon and ended up at The Linden Inn, but investigators apparently located people who had seen the three together at The Linden Inn. For some reason, Vanderheiden had gone home, at least briefly, before leaving for the cemetery. After Vanderheiden apparently met up with Herzog and Shermantine and left her car at the cemetery, the trio was en route back to Linden when Shermantine supposedly pulled a knife and ordered Cyndi to perform oral sex on him. According to Herzog's statement, Shermantine then stopped the car, raped Cyndi, and then slashed her throat. At least part of Herzog's account was corroborated when detectives found Cyndi's blood on the passenger-side headrest and inside the trunk of Shermantine's car, and collected the accounts of the witnesses who had seen the trio together at The Linden Inn.
Herzog also implicated his friend in the shooting death of a hunter in northern Utah in 1994 while he and Shermantine were on vacation, according to what authorities told The Record newspaper. Law enforcement officials reportedly confirmed the hunter's death to the newspaper, and said that they were still treating his death as an unsolved murder.

Shortly after Herzog's and Shermantine's arrests, FBI agents raided Shermantine's parents' home in San Andreas and confiscated nearly $40,000 worth of guns, which were examined by evidence technicians attempting to link them to other unsolved crimes. The effort, however, appears to have been futile.

Shermantine, upon learning of Herzog's statements to police, struck back by insisting that Herzog, and Herzog alone, was to blame for Cyndi Vanderheiden's death. Shermantine also provided information implying that he might know the location of Vanderheiden's corpse and of other bodies.

Doug Jacobsen, Shermantine's attorney, showed Shermantine a copy of the videotaped interview that Herzog gave to police, prompting Shermantine's to respond.

"The more I've heard about all the stuff I'm supposed to have done, the madder I get," Shermantine told a reporter for The Record. "I'm tired of being used and manipulated by Loren. If Loren can give details about all these murders, it must mean he's the one that did them. I'm innocent. I've done nothing wrong to any of these people....With everything Loren told the detectives, I'd bet my life there were other bodies out there."

It was reported by The Record that authorities were also looking at Herzog and Shermantine as potential suspects in the 1994 murder of a woman in Tuolumne County. The woman's body had been dismembered and was found inside a barrel.

According to Herzog's statement, he had only watched as Shermantine committed the killings. Although both men were only charged with a handful of killings, prosecutors believe that between Herzog and Shermantine they may have been responsible for as many as 20 deaths, although they remain uncertain as to the exact body count.

Serial killers—or not?

Wesley Howard Shermantine
In 1999, shortly after the duo's arrests, Shermantine hinted that at least one body, possibly others, may have been hidden in an abandoned mine shaft in eastern San Joaquin County. Investigators learned that Herzog and Shermantine, while growing up in Linden, had sometimes explored mineshafts in the area, and Herzog had once remarked in a drunken stupor that the mineshafts would be a "great place to hide a body," according to Shermantine's comments to The Record.

"He'd get to drinking and crying and telling me about all the things he'd done wrong in his life," Shermantine said about Herzog. "Then he'd start telling me the places he'd put people."
Cops and prosecutors had to wonder, however, which one, if either, was telling the truth and which one, if not both, was lying.

"I don't think you can believe a word Wes Shermantine says," said Herzog's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Peter Fox.

According to the timeline of their alleged crimes, including ones for which they were convicted, Herzog and Shermantine had killed five people before turning 21, yet did not kill again for more than a decade. Typically a serial killer will have a cooling-off period ranging from a few days to a few months, depending upon the individual killer's cycle of violence, but a voluntary, decade-long cooling-off period would be without precedent. It was, of course, possible, even likely, that the pair had continued killing during that period, but police had not linked the pair to the deaths. In San Joaquin County alone there were 190 unsolved killings that needed to be examined for any link to Herzog and Shermantine.

"It would be irresponsible for us not to look at any unsolved murders from that time frame and see if there's a correlation with these two suspects," said Mike Padilla, spokesman for the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office, in 1999. "The investigation is ongoing."

"There are definitely other bodies out there," said Greg Cooper, then chief of the Provo Police Department in Utah and a former FBI profiler. "These guys wouldn't have been inactive from 1985 to 1998, not unless...they were incarcerated, or they were dead."
Cooper said at the time that it appeared that Shermantine and Herzog had been improving their killing skills as time went on. He noted that their earlier killings indicated novices at work, but the later victims—including those whose bodies may have not yet turned up yet—indicated the pair had learned how better to conceal their crimes.

A number of jurisdictions reported looking at unsolved murders that were still on their books to see if they could be connected to either Herzog or Shermantine, or both. After Herzog's recent release from prison many people, including Testa, are hopeful that evidence will be found linking Herzog to other unsolved murders so that he can be charged, tried and returned to prison.

Shermantine's trial

Wesley Howard Shermantine Jr.
During Shermantine's trial, which began on November 22, 2000, in Santa Clara—moved to that city because of the extensive publicity about the case throughout the San Joaquin Valley—prosecutors painted a picture of a coldblooded predator who had been on a rampage for fifteen years. On trial for the murder of Chevy Wheeler in 1985, Cyndi Vanderheiden of Clements in 1998, and Paul Cavanaugh and Howard King in 1984, Sherman, the single trial began against the wishes of Shermantine's lawyers, Doug Jacobsen and Deborah Fialkowski. The lawyers had argued that the cases involving male victims should be tried separately from the cases involving the female victims because, the charges against Shermantine in the deaths of King and Cavanaugh arose largely from the statements made by Herzog.
"There are no fingerprints, no eyewitnesses, no smoking gun," Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa said during his opening statement. "It's all in the details....Wes told several individuals that he had hunted the ultimate kill—humans."

Testa told the jury that it was believed that Shermantine may have killed as many as 20 other people during his lengthy rampage, and may have disposed of their bodies in mine shafts, remote hillsides or buried them beneath a trailer park. Over the years, Testa said, Shermantine had bragged to relatives and acquaintances that he had "made people disappear" from the outskirts of Stockton. He allegedly told one woman in a trailer park during a confrontation that she should "listen to the heartbeats of people I've buried here. Listen to the heartbeats of families I've buried here."

During the course of the trial, five women testified that Shermantine had sexually assaulted, them, including a babysitter whom he had attacked when she attempted to collect money that he owed her. A woman testified that her car had been rear-ended by Shermantine, who kidnapped her at knifepoint when she got out to exchange insurance information. She said that she jumped from his moving vehicle to escape. His estranged wife recounted that she had been brutalized by Shermantine for years, and said that he had beaten her while she was pregnant.

Cyndi Vanderheiden's body was never found
Although Cyndi Vanderheiden's body was never found, Testa took the jury through the details of the prosecution's theory that she had been kidnapped and killed during a methamphetamine-fueled meeting with Herzog and Shermantine. Many of the details were from Herzog's videotaped statement.
Shermantine was convicted of the four murders, and in May 2001 was sentenced to death by San Joaquin County Judge Michael Garrigan. Shermantine angrily protested that he was innocent and "never killed no one." He even cried at one point, saying that Chevy Wheeler had been his friend. During the trial, he had offered to provide authorities with the location of two bodies for $20,000, to be provided to his family, if prosecutors would drop their quest for the death penalty. The deal was not taken.

Shermantine was sent to San Quentin State Prison in Marin County shortly after sentencing.

Herzog's trial

Loren Joseph Herzog
Loren Joseph Herzog
Herzog went to trial in August 2001 for the murders of Cyndi Vanderheiden, Howard King III, Paul Cavanaugh, Robin Armtrout, and Henry Howell. Like Shermantine, Herzog had been granted a change of venue to Santa Clara because of extensive pre-trial publicity in San Joaquin County. During his opening statement, Testa admitted that the prosecution did not have conclusive evidence that Herzog had actually committed any murders, but insisted that he was nonetheless also guilty of the crimes either as a principal or accomplice. Much of the same evidence heard at Shermantine's trial was also heard at Herzog's. One of Herzog's attorneys, Kenneth Quigley, maintained that Herzog had not killed anyone but acknowledged that Herzog may have witnessed murders committed by Shermantine.

It took until nearly mid-October 2001 for Herzog's trial to conclude, and then another two weeks for the jury to deliberate. When the jury came back on Monday, October 22, 2001, with its verdict, it found Herzog not guilty of the murders of Robin Armtrout and Henry Howell. The jury convicted him, however, of the first-degree murders of Cyndi Vanderheiden, Howard King III, and Paul Cavanaugh. The verdict did not call for "special circumstances," though, which meant that Herzog would not face the death penalty. On Monday, December 10, 2001, Herzog was sentenced to 78 years in prison by Judge Michael Garrigan, making him eligible for parole at some point.

Few, however, would have expected his release, by parole or other procedure, would occur so soon. A state appeals court ruling in August 2004 paved the way for Herzog's release when it overturned his convictions, finding that police had improperly interrogated him. The police, the appeals court found, had coerced confessions from Herzog by lengthy interrogations while he was fatigued, infringing upon Herzog's rights. The court also found that deputies had not fed him adequately over the four days of questioning, had made threats and promises while they interviewed him, and had delayed his arraignment for more than four days. Deputies also ignored Herzog's efforts to invoke his right to remain silent, the court found.

"We do not reach this result lightly," the court wrote in its decision in ordering a new trial.

The new trial, though, never happened. Although the prosecutor, Testa, maintained that he believed Herzog was guilty of murder, he reluctantly concluded a new jury trial would be too risky.

"The people think that Loren Herzog might be able to pull the wool over the eyes of a jury," Testa said in court.

As a result of the prosecution's concerns that Herzog might convince a jury to acquit him, Testa and Herzog's attorneys in November 2004 worked out a plea agreement in which Herzog would plead guilty to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in Cyndi Vanderheiden's death, to being an accessory in three other murders—Cavanaugh's, King's, and Howell's—and to furnishing methamphetamine to Vanderheiden shortly before her death. Herzog accepted the plea agreement, and Judge F. Clark Sueyres sentenced him to 14 years in prison. Herzog was additionally granted credit for time served, and for good behavior, resulting in his eligibility for parole on September 18, 2010.

Release Controversy

Protest against Herzog's release
Protest against Herzog's release
Much to the mortification of the residents of Lassen County, Calif., Herzog was paroled to their area upon his release from prison in San Joaquin County: some of his victims' relatives successfully petitioned to have his release moved out San Joaquin County, where many of his alleged crimes had been committed. Originally scheduled for release in July 2010, prison officials discovered that his sentence required him to serve several additional weeks. The discrepancy over the release date was chalked up to a "clerical error." Although a number of influential politicians had tried in vain to keep Herzog locked up, the prison system said that there was little they could do given Herzog's sentence and the ruling of the parole board. Dozens of area residents protested in Susanville three days before his scheduled release date.

It was established that Herzog's parole would be for three years, supervised. Another condition of his parole, according to Sacramento's News 10, was that Herzog be housed in a modular home on the grounds of neighboring High Desert State Prison in Susanville. Although the property is owned by the state prison system, it is located outside the perimeter of the prison itself. Herzog is required to wear a GPS monitoring device tracked 24 hours a day, and is subject to a curfew.
Nonetheless, thousands of residents are upset over Herzog's release into their county. At the time of his release, many people were organizing to take their protest to the governor's office.

"Everybody was completely outraged," said an area resident to CBS 12 Action News. "The bottom line is nobody heard about it until the last minute."

Assemblyman Dan Logue, a Republican from the California State Assembly's 3rd District, was among those who had fought to keep Herzog in jail.

"I cannot believe that the parole board let this guy out so early," Logue said. "He still has years to serve, so I'm looking into the reasons behind that also."

Logue's attempt to keep Herzog behind bars by utilizing a civil commitment law, which would have required the district attorney, through the court system, to have a mental evaluation done to determine if Herzog still possessed a propensity for violence, but was unsuccessful.

"He can still get in his vehicle and go wherever he wants to go," said an area resident. "The ankle bracelet is not going to stop him from going anywhere in a small town like that."

"There is no bigger injustice," John Vanderheiden, Cyndi Vanderheiden's father, said of Herzog's release. "All Herzog's release is doing is making me relive it all over again....Our justice system just didn't do its job."

His own demons, however, finally carried out what the justice system couldn't do to Herzog. On January 16, 2012, he was found dead in his trailer, parked just outside the walls of High Desert State Prison. According to authorities, Herzog had hung himself. Hours before his body was discovered, a bounty hunter, Leonard Padilla, had spoken with Herzog on the phone. He told him that he had made an agreement with Shermantine to pay up to $30,000 for the locations of the bodies, money Shermantine would use to pay off the restitution he owes. Padilla hoped to make back the sum via rewards from the families of the missing victims. What may have tipped Herzog over the edge was that, according to Padilla, Shermantine was ready to reveal details about ten bodies in a well on Herzog's own property. In a simple suicide note, Herzog wrote, "Tell my family I love them."


Associated Press
CBS 12 Action News
CBS News
Lodi News-Sentinel
News 10
Reno Gazette-Journal
The Record

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