An Inside Look At The Speed Freak Killers

What made them killers?

Those who knew pair struggle to understand what went wrong

LINDEN – Susanne Dickins recalls her daily school bus rides as a child growing up in the sleepy town of Linden.

Two inseparable boys who were five years younger – Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine – also got on the bus near Fine and Eastern Heights roads.

It was the 1970s, but she can still picture Herzog, a quiet, towheaded little boy every mother would love.

Never far behind him was Shermantine, whom Dickins describes, by contrast, as a “stinker.” Shermantine made everybody tense when he stepped onboard the bus.

“He was always the one who would create the mess we didn’t need,” Dickins recalled. “The rest of us were just trying to get home.”

Even so, Dickins could never have fathomed that those two boys would grow up to be serial killers.

Remnants of their trail of horror have been unearthed in recent days – first in Calaveras County and last week near their boyhood homes in rural eastern San Joaquin County.

Shermantine, now 45, began revealing the locations of missing victims late last year. He said Herzog stowed some bodies in wells near Linden at a spot he calls “Loren’s boneyard.”

In one well, county Sheriff’s Office searchers found 1,000 bone fragments along with a woman’s purse, jewelry and shoes.

Those who knew Shermantine and Herzog are struggling to understand what went wrong. Some answers to Shermantine’s behavior may be found in his family tree.

Old newspaper clippings show dozens of headlines about earlier Shermantine men going to jail for fights and burglary.

One Stockton Record headline from 1957 says, “Brothers Held after Brawl, Beating of Man.” A follow-up story exclaims, “Judge Rules Shermantine Pair Guilty.”

Wesley Shermantine took such wildness to another level.

While maintaining his death sentence will eventually be overturned, Shermantine said in an Oct. 2, 2011, interview with The Record that he squandered his life on substance abuse.

He said he regretted leaving his wife at home raising their children while he was out drinking and abusing drugs such as methamphetamine.

Sherrie Sherman – in a recent Fox TV 40 interview – described her ex-husband as a volatile drug addict.

“He was very hot-headed,” she said. “When he started smoking the drugs is when it all started going downhill.”

She does not know why he and Herzog spared her life. She could easily see herself being among the remains recently found in the well east of Linden.

Shermantine’s older sister, Barbara Jackson, 48, said she chooses to remember the kind, younger sibling who would do anything to help her. Her brother took Herzog everywhere and considered him a brother.

She is reeling from news accounts that Shermantine now admits, at the very least, to disposing of Herzog’s murder victims. And her thinking is starting to change because of that possible truth.

She said the two boys were inseparable from age 3 into their teenage years and young adulthood.

The two families lived across Fine Road from each other. Malvie and Jerry Herzog still live there today. Residents in the close-knit rural neighborhood fear talking publicly about the Herzog family.

Both of Shermantine’s parents, Wesley Sr. and Sue Shermantine, died after he went to prison.

Despite wanting to think otherwise, Jackson long suspected a darker side to her brother.

“If he wound up just covering up for Loren, he deserves to be where he’s at,” she said of her brother, who is on death row. She’s happy he’s finally coming forward. “I wish he had done it a long time ago.”

She believes Shermantine gave up the burial places of Cyndi Vanderheiden, Chevy Wheeler and the well near Linden to send Herzog back to prison.

Jackson, undergoing treatment for bone cancer, said her brother feared what crimes Herzog might next commit.

Shermantine and Herzog were arrested in 1999, ending a decades-long killing spree. Shermantine received a death sentence, while Herzog’s long prison sentence was overturned on appeal. He was released on parole in 2010.

Herzog, 46, apparently hanged himself Jan. 16 at a fifth-wheel trailer on the grounds of a north-state prison after learning that Shermantine was providing details of burial sites.

What baffles Jackson is that she and her brother had a privileged youth. Their father had a successful home construction company.

The two boys, she said, lived an idyllic youth, exploring the wilds of eastern San Joaquin County and the hills outside San Andreas.

“They knew every mine shaft, spring or rock formation,” Jackson said, adding that there was not a fishing hole they had not tested.

She said Shermantine at some point in life reached a fork in the road and chose his own unsettling path. “He’s my brother, regardless. I’ll always love him.”

Boyhood fishing and hunting expeditions foreshadowed later hunts for human prey.

San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa, who won convictions against the two in 2001, said at trial the jury learned about somebody who once overheard a spirited front porch talk between the two about their blood sport.

Someone interrupted them, Testa said.

“They were both exulting in the thrill of the human hunt,” Testa said. “Loren took Wes aside and said, ‘Shut up.’ ”

In a letter sent from death row, Shermantine said they funded their hunting trips to other states by selling marijuana.

He also talked in jailhouse visits about random road hunting. He denied killing anybody – blaming that on Herzog. But he said he enjoyed driving back roads with a hunting rifle at the ready.

That matches the slaying of Henry Howell, found shot dead in 1984 along a road near Markleeville on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, Testa said. They were not convicted of Howell’s death.

“He wasn’t even robbed,” Testa said. “They saw him, they shot him, and they went on.”

Testa said the two were never charged with any out-of-state slayings, but they were suspects in cases in Reno, Utah and New Mexico.

Dates on hunting licenses and speeding tickets correlated to the homicides, but Testa said they did not make a court case.

Testa has 20 bankers’ boxes in storage filled with evidence and documents from the trials of the two men. He said their victims may add up to 18 or 20.

Testa believes the two men used each other’s personality attributes in their crimes. At first, investigators believed that Shermantine dominated and Herzog was the obedient sidekick. In reality, Testa said, they more likely played an equal role.

“Loren was the good-looking, rockin’ roller. He opened the door,” Testa said. “Wes was the one who got them and killed them.”

Dickins long ago moved away from the Linden-Peters area, but she has not forgotten the school bus rides with Shermantine and Herzog.

She fondly remembers Herzog’s mother, who taught her to sew. Dickins visited the Herzog home weekly for 4-H sewing lessons given by his mother, Melvie, then a school secretary.

“She was the nicest person,” Dickins said. “She would probably love to have him back now.”

Contact reporter Scott Smith at (209) 546-8296 or Visit his blog at

 An interesting look at this killing duo. No abuse or maltreatment mentioned. Just two normal childhoods. Actually, they seem to have had better childhoods than many people that I know who are not drug addicts or killers.

I do not believe for one second that Shermantine only helped in the disposal of the victims. I don’t think anyone does. He was up to his elbows in the blood right along side of Herzog.


  1. Sometimes I think the pairing of people with just the wrong combination of personality type can create evil.

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