The mother of Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler, a 1985 murder victim of convicted mass killer Wesley Shermantine, said she was notified that remains found Friday at a burial site in Calaveras County were those of her daughter.
"It's really bittersweet," said Paula Wheeler, who said she received confirmation at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday that her daughter's dental records match a skull recovered at the site.
San Joaquin County sheriff's officials confirmed later that day that a forensic dentist had made the preliminary identification of Chevy Wheeler.
Deputy Les Garcia, spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, said the remains will be forwarded to the California Department of Justice for further identification. Last week other remains from Calaveras County were tentatively identified as Cyndi Vanderheiden, another of Shermantine's victims.
Hundreds of bones have been unearthed in an abandoned well near Linden after Shermantine, who sits on California's death row, drew maps of burial sites where victims were believed to have been dumped. Two of those sites are in Calaveras County and one is near Linden in San Joaquin County.
Investigators had hoped to resume excavation Tuesday at the Linden site but determined the soil was too wet after recent rains. Instead, they sifted through 34 piles of soil already excavated, Garcia said, adding that excavation should resume today.
Those sifting efforts revealed about 700 bones and bone fragments, bringing to 1,000 the total number of remains discovered so far at the well, Garcia said.
Meanwhile, other investigators have been sorting through the more than 50 tips left on a hotline, narrowing the leads for potential match-ups to likely victims, Garcia said.
Paula Wheeler, who said San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore called to confirm that the remains in Calaveras were those of her daughter, said the news barely eased more than 26 years of suffering. She said she pretty much knew it was her daughter because a lavender sweat shirt which she was last seen wearing was found with the remains on Friday.
"We finally got her," she said in a phone interview from her Crossville, Tenn., home. Then she added with a sigh, "But it was her."
Chevy Wheeler, a 16-year-old attending Franklin High School in Stockton, skipped classes after her mother dropped her off one day in 1985 and was never seen again.
Authorities say she vanished after she was seen in the company of Shermantine and his friend Loren Herzog.
The meth-addicted pair were dubbed "the Speed Freak Killers," after they were arrested and later convicted of several murders. Authorities believe they may be responsible for more than a dozen other killings.
Herzog, who was paroled after part of his conviction was overturned on appeal, hanged himself after learning that Shermantine was offering information on the location of the bodies.
The disclosures came after Sacramento bounty hunter Leonard Padilla said he told Shermantine he would meet the inmate's demands for $33,000 to pay his court-ordered restitution to victims' families, and to buy headstones for his parents and perks such as candy in prison.
Earlier this week, Padilla told The Bee he thinks Shermantine's map actually was directing authorities to another well, east of the abandoned well currently being excavated. He said he believes authorities will find a dozen bodies there.
On Tuesday, Garcia said authorities are looking into digging at that well, too, but for now are focused on their current site.
Paula Wheeler reflected how Shermantine taunted her at his sentencing that her daughter would never be found.
"He looked at me straight dead in the eye after it was all over and he said, 'My parents will know where I'm at when I'm gone, but you'll never know where Chevy is," Wheeler said. "He is evil. And he wouldn't have admitted it if it hadn't been for the money."
Padilla has said he hasn't paid a dime for Shermantine's information but was exploring setting up a trust fund to pay restitution to his victims.
People who think their loved ones may have fallen victim to Shermantine or Herzog, before their arrests in 1998 and 1999, can call toll-free (855) 222-1599 or email email@example.com with name and phone number, the missing person's name and case number.