Reporting Laura Cole
FRENCH CAMP (CBS13) — Nearly a week after a grieving family found out their loved one’s remains were discovered 10 years ago, San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore apologized and promised an internal review at a news conference on Monday.
“I’d like to express my regrets to the Melton family,” Moore said.
Her family always suspected Tracy Melton was murdered by Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine. Although that hasn’t been confirmed, the sheriff’s office did receive DNA confirmation of her death last April but didn’t notify the family until last week. She had been missing since 1998.
Shermantine and Herzog were dubbed the “Speed Freak Killers” during their murder trials for serial killings committed around San Joaquin and Calaveras counties in the 1990s. Although Herzog committed suicide earlier this month, perhaps out of fear he’d go back to jail based on new information his partner Shermantine has been sharing from death row at San Quentin.
Shermantine has been speaking out about where the bodies are buried, and Sheriff Moore has been facing questions about his handling of the search for those victims, and his decision two weeks ago to stop Shermantine from coming out to assist detectives.
In his press conference Monday, Moore said he called off the search after not being informed about it, not being able to determine who the lead agency was and out of concerns for public safety.
Read Full Statement On Search Efforts
“As sheriff/coroner it is one of my responsibilities to recover any decedent whenever possible, but that responsibility does not relieve me of my duty to provide for the safety and security of all county residents,” he said.
Instead, he set up a meeting Jan. 20 with the various agencies involved and they agreed to send a letter to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation requesting the prison agency “complete the planning process for such transportation in the future should circumstances dictate such action.”
Now the sheriff says he will consider allowing Shermantine to come out, but only if he’s needed. But when CBS13 asked about the plan, his next steps, and why it’s taking so long, he would not provide any details.
Shermantine has been sharing information with Sacramento-based bounty hunter Leonard Padilla, who has offered him more than $30,000 for information on the location of victims’ bodies.
Shermantine called Padilla again on Monday while CBS13 was in Padilla’s office.
Previous search efforts to find the remains of Cyndi Vanderheiden and Chevelle Wheeler have fallen flat. Padillia wants Shermintine to show him the burial sites in person.
“It is difficult when you are on the phone with an individual,” Padilla said. “You do the best you can. I don’t’ have the ability to move that man from the prison to San Andreas for him to say ‘right there.’”
But Moore said moving Shermantine comes with risks.
“I still have grave concerns that should Mr. Shermantine be brought out of death row, there exists a great potential of an escape attempt or potential suicide by cop,” he said.
Moore’s reluctance wasn’t well received by Wheeler’s mother.
“That Sheriff Moore stopped it, which I’m furious about,” Paula Wheeler said.
Paula Wheeler testified at Shermantine’s trial in 2001 and now she’s pushing for the sheriff to transport the serial killer so he can put an end to the 26 years of hell she says she’s been living in.
“Forget all your fears about him running away,” she said. “You’ve got the technology to do it and get it done and bring her home.”