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Authorities search for more victims of ‘Speed Freak Killers’

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  • AP
    FILE - In this undated file photo provided by the California Department of Corrections

SAN FRANCISCO >> Human remains uncovered in Northern California with the help of a convicted serial killer have been preliminarily identified as one of his victims, and authorities continued to search another site for the remains of as many as 10 people.

Dental records identified the remains found Thursday in Calaveras County as those of Cyndi Vanderheiden, 25, San Joaquin sheriff’s spokesman Les Garcia said Saturday.

Authorities were still awaiting the results of a DNA analysis to confirm the identification, Garcia said.

Cyndi Vanderheiden’s father, John Vanderheiden, said he is waiting the DNA results but he is almost sure the remains are those of his daughter.

"There will be closure after that," he said.

Searchers following a map prepared by convicted serial killer and death row inmate Wesley Shermantine have so far uncovered two sets of remains near property once owned by Shermantine’s family about 60 miles south of Sacramento.

One set is believed to belong to Vanderheiden, who disappeared in 1998, and the other is believed to be 16-year-old Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler.

Authorities have not positively identified the remains found Friday as those of Wheeler. But Wheeler’s parents said they were notified that the remains were found in a spot where Shermantine said their daughter was buried after she disappeared in 1985.

"They said they found her wrapped in a blanket," Paula Wheeler, the girl’s mother, told The Associated Press by phone from the family’s home in Crossville, Tenn. "This is a happy day. We can finally have some closure."

Investigators believe Vanderheiden and Wheeler were among as many as 15 victims of Shermantine and his childhood friend Loren Herzog. They were called the "Speed Freak Killers" because of their methamphetamine-fueled killing spree.

Shermantine recently agreed to disclose the locations of bodies in return for a bounty hunter’s offer of $33,000. He is giving hand-drawn maps to authorities, who are now turning their attention to a third site — an abandoned well — in San Joaquin County, which authorities continued to search Saturday.

The old cattle ranch well near the town of Linden, just outside of Stockton, has layers of backfill that have slowed down its excavation.

Shermantine has indicated up to 10 additional bodies could be there, according to authorities.

"We haven’t located any remains as of yet, but we remain hopeful," Garcia said.

Shermantine was convicted of four murders and sentenced to death. Herzog was convicted of three murders and sentenced to 77 years to life in prison, though that was later reduced to 14 years. An appeals court tossed his first-degree murder convictions after ruling his confession was illegally obtained.

Herzog was paroled in 2010 to a trailer outside the High Desert State Prison in Susanville. He committed suicide outside that trailer last month after Sacramento bounty hunter Leonard Padilla told him Shermantine was disclosing the location of the well along with two other locations.

Padilla has promised to pay Shermantine as much as $33,000 to disclose the locations of the bodies. He said he hopes to collect on rewards being offered by the state of California for information about several missing persons suspected of being victims of Herzog and Shermantine.

Shermantine has said he wants the money to pay off an $18,000 restitution order that prevents him from buying the limited luxuries like candy bars that inmates with money in their accounts can afford. He also said he want to buy headstones for his deceased parents.

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