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Cyndi Vanderheiden - A Victim of the Speed Freak Killers

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The Murder of Cyndi Vanderheiden
Chynthia Vanderheiden

Chynthia Vanderheiden

Family Photo
Cyndi Vanderheiden lived in Clements, California since she was four months old. Clements is a small town in San Joaquin County and in 1998 it had a population of 250. It was a tightly knit community where people knew what they needed to know about their neighbors and helped keep an eye on each other.

The Vanderheidens were a close and supportive family. Nicknamed Tigger by her family, Cyndi was cute and energetic which helped earn her a spot as a cheerleader in high school. As she grew older she hit some rough spots in her life, but things came together and in 1998, after having just turned 25, she was happy.

She was working and had managed to save enough money to put down on a new car, but she was still responsible for the monthly notes. She decided to live at home until her temp job went full-time. It helped to relieve some financial pressure.

November 14, 1998

It was November 14, 1998 when Cyndi disappeared. Earlier that day she met her mother for lunch and then they did a little shopping. Cyndi told her mother that she wanted to go karoaking at the Linden Inn, a bar that her father owned in Linden. Just a week before her parents had thrown her a surprise birthday party there. The group had a good time singing karaoke and Cyndi was in the mood to enjoy it again.

She asked her mother and father if they wanted to go with her, but they were both too tired, so Cyndi and a friend went instead. First they went to another bar that her father owned in Clements, then she left her car there and drove with her friend to the Linden Inn bar.

Herzog and Shermantine

It was there that Cyndi began talking to two of her sister's friends, Wesley Shermantine and Leron Herzog. Herzog (Slim as she called him) was no stranger to the Linden Inn or the Vanderheiden family. In fact he was a regular customer and at one time he had a close relationship with Cyndi's sister Kim.

Cyndi knew Shermantine more by reputation as did everyone around the area. She knew he was Herzog's best friend, but she also knew he had a bad reputation. He had once been investigated after a high school girl from Stockton, went missing and had twice been accused of rape. But he was never convicted of any of the crimes. Besides, Herzog had always been protective of her and her sister Kim, so it is doubtful that Cyndi was too concerned about Shermantine.

At around 2:00 a.m. Cyndi and her friend left the Linden Inn, went by and picked up Cyndi's car in Clement, and then her friend followed Cyndi home. As Cyndi pulled into her driveway her friend drove away.

Vanished

The next morning Cyndi's mother, Terri Vanderheiden, looked into her daughter's room and was happy to see she had made her bed. She didn't see Cyndi, but she figured she had already left for work.

Cyndi's father John Vanderheiden also missed seeing his daughter that morning and later called her at work to see if she made it in okay. He was told that she wasn't there and had not made it in to work at all that day. The news concerned Mr. Vanderheiden and he began driving around town looking for his daughter.

Later in the day John found his Cyndi's car parked at the Glenview Cemetery. Inside the car was her purse and cell phone, but Cyndi was nowhere to be found. He knew something was very wrong and he called the police.

A Massive Search for Cyndi

Word traveled fast that Cyndi was missing and the next day more than 50 people showed up to help search for her. As the day turned into weeks the support continued and people from the surrounding areas joined in to help. At one point there were more than 1,000 people searching the hillsides, river banks and ravines in and around Clements.

A search center was set up which was eventually relocated next to the Vanderheiden home. Cyndi's older sister Kimberly moved back to her parent's home from Wyoming to help in the search and man the search center.

Through the tenacity of the Cyndi's family organized searches for Cyndi continued and her story became national news.

Shermantine and Herzog Top Investigator's List

The San Joaquin County Sheriff's police force was also actively searching for not only Cyndi, but also for 16-year-old Chevelle Wheeler who had disappeared in 1984.

Investigators knew that Shermantine was the last person to see Wheeler alive and now also one of the last people to see Cyndi alive.

Shermantine and Herzog had been friends since childhood and spent their lifetime in the California wilderness exploring the hills, rivers and the many mineshafts that dotted the hillsides. The investigators spent hours of manpower searching in those areas that were well known to Shermantine and Herzog, but nothing turned up.

A DNA Match

Shermantine and Herzog were arrested in March 1999 for suspicion in the murder of Chevy Wheeler. Shermantine's car was impounded which gave police access to searching it. Blood was found inside the car and DNA testing matched it to Cyndi Vanderheiden. Shermantine and Herzog were charged with the murder of Cyndi plus two additional murders from 1984.

A Killer's Confession

When investigators started interrogating Loren Herzog, he started talking. Any loyalty he had towards his lifelong friend Shermantine was gone. He discussed several murders that he said Shermantine had committed, including details of the murder of Cyndi.

"Slim help me. Slim do something."

According to Herzog, on the night that Cyndi Vanderheiden was murdered, Shermantine and Cyndi were partying at a bar earlier in the evening and had made arrangements to meet at Clements cemetery later that night with Cyndi. He said she wanted some drugs.

Allegedly the three met, did drugs together, then Shermantine took them all on a "wild trip" through the back roads. He suddenly pulled a knife and demanded that Vanderheiden perform oral sex on him. He then stopped the car and raped, sodomized, and slit Cyndi's throat.

When the interrogator asked Herzog if Cyndi was saying anything during her ordeal, he said she asked Shermantine not to kill her and asked him to help her. Calling Herzog by his nickname "Slim", her words were, "Slim help me. Slim do something." He admitted that he did not help her and instead stayed in the back seat of the car and turned away.

The investigators and the Vanderheidens did not buy Shermantine's story of what happened. For one thing, Cyndi had to go to work the next day at a job that she liked and was trying to move up in. It is very unlikely that she would stay out all night doing methamphetamines. Also, why would she drive home first and pretend to pull into the driveway instead of going directly to the planned meeting place after leaving the bar?

But regardless, Herzog's own words were enough for investigators to charge him with murder, plus the description of what happened to Cyndi in the car matched with where the blood evidence was found.

Convicted and Sentenced

Wesley Shermantine was found guilty of first-degree murder of Cyndi Vanderheiden, Chevelle Wheeler and two others. The DNA evidence was enough to convince the jury of his guilt, even though Cyndi's and Chevelle's bodies had still not been found.

During the trial Shermantine made an offer to give up the information on where Cyndi's body and three others were buried in exchange for $20,000 that he wanted to be given to his two sons. He was also offered an opportunity to tell where his victims bodies were located in exchange for not getting the death penalty. No deals were made.

The jury recommended a sentence of death for Shermantine and the judge agreed.

Leron Herzog's trial came next and he was found guilty of three counts of murder and one count of being an accessory to murder. He was sentenced to 78 years.

Set Free?

In August 2004, to the horror of the victim's families and to the citizens of San Joaquin County, Herzog's conviction was thrown out on appeal and in 2010 he was paroled.

The Aftermath

Not long after Cyndi went missing John Vanderheiden closed the Linden Inn bar and walked away from it, letting the new owner have whatever was inside. For years he continued searching the hills and ravines in search of his daughter.

Cyndi's mother Terri Vanderheiden, even after the convictions of Herzog and Shermantine, never stopped looking for her daughter walking down sidewalks and in with crowds of people. Many times throughout the years she thought she spotted Cyndi, but would realize she was wrong. She never gave up hope that one day she would see her daughter alive.

Cyndi's sister Kimberly continued to man the phones at the search center and help organize search parties for years after Cyndi disappeared. It would be nine years before she returned to the life that she had before Cyndi went missing.

Herzog Commits Suicide

In January 2012, Leron Herzog committed suicide within hours of learning that Shermantine was going to deliver a map to authorities with the locations marked where several of his victims had been buried.

Closure

In late February, 2012, Shermantine led investigators to locations where he said Leron Herzog buried many of his victims. A skull with teeth was found in a shallow grave on a ravine on Shermantine's property that proved to be that of Cyndi Vanderheiden.

The Vanderheiden family is hoping that with this discovery that they can now find some kind of closure, although it will always remain bittersweet.

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