Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Speed Freak Killers

An Outraged Community

Howard Shermantine Jr. (l) and Loren Joseph Herzog and Wesley
Wesley Howard Shermantine Jr. (l) and Loren Joseph

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.

Cynthia 'Cyndi' Ann Vanderheiden
Cynthia "Cyndi" Ann

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.

Thomas Testa
Thomas Testa

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.


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