Speed Freak Killers
February 14, 2012 by staff
Speed Freak Killers, San Joaquin County – Ralph Colburn says the only time he ever met Wesley Shermantine, he felt an almost uncontrollable mix of fear and revulsion. Colburn had just bought the house the convicted serial killer grew up in, but back in the mid-’80s when they met, Shermantine was just one of the two most notorious bad boys in town.
“Wes came over to check a water valve at the house for me, and when he walked up, I got a shiver,” said Colburn, 81, who still lives in the house on Fine Road. “I had a machete in my hand and I thought, ‘You know, I should use this.’
“If you’ve ever seen a snake that just needs killin’ – that’s how it felt. He gave me a real bad feeling.”
These days, there are a lot of those kinds of memories being talked about in this tiny farming town just south of Stockton.
Dozens of sheriff’s investigators are dredging through an old well here that Shermantine says contains untold numbers of bodies of people he and his late childhood pal, Loren Herzog, murdered. So far, more than 300 bone fragments have been dug up, along with shoes, jewelry, coats and a purse. The search was suspended because of rain Monday and was to resume today.
Shermantine, 46, says Herzog did all the killing, and since the 45-year-old Herzog hanged himself Jan. 16, he’s not able to rebut the accusation. But considering Shermantine is on Death Row for murdering women with Herzog more than a decade ago, investigators are taking that contention with a grain of salt.
So are many in this area.
“Those two were total trouble, scary speed freaks,” said Fred Knust, who lives outside of town and helped in the fruitless 1999 search for one of the pair’s victims. “This is a small town, and everyone knew they were guys you stayed away from, because people disappeared around them.
“Now we know why those people disappeared.”
The pair grew up a few doors away from each other on Fine Road. As kids, they threw so many rocks at windows that one man built a high fence just to protect his glass, said a longtime neighbor who refused to give his name, citing the seamy nature of the case.
“They were always just smoking dope and causing trouble,” he said. “Even before they got caught, people thought they might be responsible for bodies that showed up in the local canal.”
When Shermantine and Herzog were arrested in 1999, they were dubbed the Speed Freak Killers for committing a string of methamphetamine-fueled slayings throughout Central California dating to the 1980s. Between them, they were convicted of seven murders, but investigators have long thought the body count actually climbed past a dozen.
Based on the findings so far from Shermantine’s tips, some associated with the case believe the number of victims might actually climb to well above 30. The killer’s tips also led to the discovery last week of body parts believed to be those of Cyndi Vanderheiden, 25, and Chevelle “Chevy” Wheeler, 16, in San Andreas, 29 miles northeast of here.
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