Two more ‘Speed Freak Killers’ victims identified

Two more young women who disappeared in the mid-1980s and were feared to have fallen victim to the drug-fueled “Speed Freak Killers” have been identified from the gruesome trove of remains unearthed last month at an abandoned well near Stockton, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department said Friday.

The two teens bring to four the number of victims identified from a toll believed to be at least a dozen and perhaps as many as 72, according to the death row inmate who is guiding authorities to the crude graves.

Investigators excavated bones, clothes, purses, shoes and other evidence from the well outside Linden last month after condemned killer Wesley Shermantine provided hand-drawn maps from his cell at San Quentin to where he and late childhood friend Loren Herzog dumped their victims during a 15-year thrill-killing rampage.

San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore said forensic scientists used dental records and DNA testing to identify the remains of Kimberly Billy, who was 19 when she went missing in 1984, and 16-year-old Joann Hobson, who disappeared in 1985. Both were from East Stockton.

In February, the remains of two other young women who vanished from the Central Valley in the 1980s and ‘90s were recovered after Shermantine guided investigators to a remote site in Calaveras County. Those remains were identified as Cyndi Vanderheiden, 25, of Clements, and 16-year-old Chevelle “Chevy” Wheeler of Stockton. Vanderheiden went missing in 1998 and Wheeler in 1985.

Shermantine, who was sentenced to death for four murders, provided the directions to bounty hunter Leonard Padilla in exchange for a promise of $33,000 to pay off a restitution order, buy headstones for his parents’ graves, and acquire a television and other comforts.

Herzog was originally given a 77-year prison sentence, but it was struck down on appeal and he agreed to a plea deal ahead of a second trial. He was released in 2010 and was living in a trailer near the High Desert State Prison when he got word of Shermantine’s cooperation with authorities. Herzog hanged himself in January, a day after learning that any discoveries would probably bring new charges against him and more prison time.

In recent letters to news organizations, Shermantine claimed that he and Herzog had a third accomplice and that they killed 72 during their “hunting” expeditions that targeted prostitutes, runaways and drifters.

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