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  • Craig Sanders / Stockton Record

    San Joaquin County sheriff's detectives Paul Hoskins, left, and Lindsay Smith sift for possible human remains from debris excavated last week from an abandoned well in the background.

  • Wesley Shermantine and an accomplice were dubbed the "Speed Freak Killers."

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No human remains found at Linden well

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 - 8:51 am

In announcing that excavation efforts at a Linden well had failed to yield any human remains, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Sacramento office did not hesitate to place blame.

Herb Brown said convicted serial killer Wesley Shermantine's information about where investigators would find bodies has not always been accurate. He charged that Shermantine has failed to provide necessary specifics that would lead them to the victims, and, worst, that the death row inmate has now completely shut down, refusing to speak to agents since the conclusion of the latest dig.

"I think he tells us information based on his convenience," Brown told reporters in a Thursday news conference.

Some who have been working for years to find the victims of Shermantine and cohort Loren Herzog, dubbed the "Speed Freak Killers," fired right back.

Sacramento bounty hunter Leonard Padilla and his partner, private investigator Rob Dick, claim the FBI dug in the wrong place – that they excavated a well on Flood Road several hundred yards away from one of three nearby sites Shermantine pointed out to investigators.

In total, Shermantine marked four sites during a rare escorted visit from prison to the rural San Joaquin County area last August.

"The FBI had no business digging where they were digging. … I don't know where (information about that location) came from, but Wesley Shermantine never took them to that location," said Padilla, who regularly talks to Shermantine. "We constantly told them they were digging in the wrong place and they wouldn't listen."

Responding to Brown's announcement that no remains had been found, Dick, who has been working on the Shermantine-Herzog case for 10 years, scoffed.

"My answer is simple – duh," he said. "Come on, guys."

Caught in the finger-pointing are the families of confirmed and suspected victims of the duo who have been waiting decades – the crime spree began in the 1980s and extended into the 1990s – for news of their loved ones.

Shermantine was convicted in four killings; Herzog in three of those. But in Thursday's news conference, Supervisory Special Agent Todd Irinaga said investigators so far have tallied 16 victims between the two. Some people, including Dick, believe there are many more.

Harriet Salarno of the statewide Crime Victims United advocacy group attended the briefing on behalf of the families. She called the news "sad and disappointing."

"Put yourselves in (the families') position. They're looking for anything," Salarno said. "It's heartbreaking."

Thursday's developments came about a year after investigators unearthed remains in two sites – one in Calaveras County, the other near Linden – that were identified based on maps drawn by Shermantine and sent to Padilla and Stockton newspaper reporter Scott Smith.

With pressure from state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, authorities approved a visit to the area by Shermantine, who has said he wants to help bring closure to the victims' families. He remains steadfast that he killed no one, and only helped bury bodies out of fear of Herzog.

Herzog hanged himself in January 2012, shortly after Padilla said he visited the paroled killer's trailer and told him Shermantine was starting to talk.

During the August trip, Dick said Shermantine identified four sites. According to the FBI, they dug in the area Shermantine was most sure would contain remains.

But Brown said that a land survey of that area identified only two wells, one of them the well excavated near Linden last year. The FBI began excavating the second well last month, and, after digging 100 feet down with nothing but debris to show for it, finished last week.

Brown said the dig cost about $200,000, not including personnel costs, a tab that will be split roughly between the FBI and San Joaquin County.

"Despite what Shermantine would like the media and the public to believe, we continued to offer him every opportunity to assist with the successful recovery of victims' remains, with the caveat that he must provide specific information regarding locations and identities," Brown said. "Since providing information that aided recovery of five victims in February 2012, his claims have lacked necessary specificity. He now refuses to meet with us, stymieing future investigation and excavation."

Brown said the FBI has no plans to dig elsewhere, unless Shermantine gives investigators information that can be corroborated in other ways.

He said his agency does not have the time to excavate without solid information, nor does it have the desire to "raise false hopes."

Padilla and Dick said Shermantine refuses to cooperate now because he insists the FBI is trying to make him out as a fool.

"He's pissed," Dick said.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Kim Minugh

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