Dig Expert Says Better Method Available For Well Searches

LINDEN (CBS13) – Responding to criticism on the search for human remains in a well near Linden last week, investigators say they’ve followed procedure, but experts say there are alternative methods that can preserve the remains and the crime scene.

Dr. Rick Snow specializes in recovering human remains. The former state forensic anthropologist for Georgia has, among other things, spent eight months excavating mass graves in Bosnia

“Over the years I have done 12 wells and removed human remains from six of them,” he said. “None of these remains have marks on them because of the excavation.”

Under the supervision of the state Department of Justice and San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, crews in Linden dug a trench with a hole straight down a well containing human bones believed to be victims of “Speed Freak Killers” Wesley Shermantine and Lorez Herzog, using heavy equipment to remove victims’ remains. More than 1,000 bone fragments were recovered.

“The safety of search teams was paramount in the decision to use the excavator,” said the DOJ’s Jill Spriggs.

But that method was heavily criticized by retired FBI Agent Jeff Rinek, who called it unnecessarily destructive and a desecration.

“In my mind, I see backhoe bucket breaking bones, breaking skulls, dislodging teeth from skulls, intermingling the victims’ remains,” he said last week.

Dr. Snow uses an alternative method, although heavy equipment is still in the equation.

Working in a corkscrew pattern around the well, a 50-foot well would end up with a hole 200 feet in diameter.

“What this allows us to do is work in complete safety,” Snow said.

The well shaft is kept covered with metal sheets to prevent debris from contaminating evidence, allowing investigators and forensic anthropologists to examine an undisturbed crime scene, Snow said.

The technique is more effective but also more expense.

CBS13 spoke with bounty hunter Leonard Padilla, who has offered to pay death row inmate Shermantine for information on the location of the wells where Shermantine said Herzog dumped bodies.

Padilla says various companies that specialize in recovering human remains have approached him and would possibly donate their resources, but the bounty hunter believes brining in the FBI is the best alternative and would take the financial burden of the search off San Joaquin County.

“They can put in people like you can not believe from around the world,” he said. “It doesn’t cost the county of San Joaquin one red cent and the FBI is best at this. They have the best labs and the best people to handle this thing.”

An FBI spokesperson said the federal agency’s assistance hasn’t been requested by the sheriff’s office.


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