UPDATE Friday afternoon: News reports say searchers using information provided by convicted serial killer have recovered the remains of a second person in Calaveras County.
One of the high-profile investigations of missing East Bay girls has been back in the news, following claims by a serial killer that his recently deceased partner in crime kidnapped and killed Michaela Garecht of Hayward in 1988.
Wesley Shermantine is known as one of the “Speed Freak Killers.” He is on death row after being convicted of killing four people in 2001. He has claimed that one of the victims of his friend and crime partner Loren Herzog was 9-year-old Michaela, reported the Contra Costa Times.
This claim came in a letter Shermantine wrote to the Stockton Record. The letter also said that Shermantine would lead detectives to the bodies of other people he and Herzog had killed.
This week, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s announced that a sketched map Shermantine made has led investigators to a human skull and other remains of one of his possible victims.
Authorities are working to identify the remains. If Herzog is responsible for Michaela’s disappearance, he won’t be able to confirm Shermantine’s claim. Herzog, 46, hanged himself Jan. 16 in his trailer on the grounds of High Desert State Prison in Lassen County.
Herzog was living in the trailer following his release from prison. His conviction for three murders was overturned by an appeals court, and his 78-year prison sentence was reduced to 14 years; he was released in September 2010, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
There is speculation that Herzog hanged himself after hearing that Shermantine was preparing to disclose the location of missing bodies, including that of Garecht, and pin the blame on Herzog.
This latest development in the Garecht’s investigation calls to mind the supposed closure of the case involving Amber Swartz of Pinole. Amber was the first of three young girls to go missing in a seven-month period in the East Bay. Amber was snatched from outside her home in June 1988.
In July 2009, police announced that they had identified her killer: Curtis Dean Anderson, who died in prison in late December 2007. Anderson was serving some 300 years for crimes, including kidnapping, sexual assault and murder, against three Vallejo girls. In November 2007, he confessed to kidnapping Amber, taking her to Arizona where he killed her in a hotel, before dumping her body somewhere in the desert.
This announcement didn’t provide the closure it probably should have. Police acknowledged that they didn’t find Amber’s body and suggested the chances of finding any trace of her remains was slim, after 21 years. Also, it appears that Anderson didn’t give specific information about where he dumped her body before he died. In addition to no body, there is no physical evidence.
Although Pinole police said they spent more than a year corroborating the story, Amber’s mother, Kim Swartz, remained wary of Anderson’s confession, in part because Anderson was notorious for confessing to crimes he committed, and some he may not have. Anderson displayed a strong need for attention; his tendency to string reporters and victims’ families along was well documented.
Right after the Pinole police announcement, Swartz said she felt like it was hard to be certain that Anderson killed her daughter. With no body, and no physical evidence, she said, it was hard to find “closure.” She said she was also concerned that police had not been able to administer a polygraph to Anderson before he died.
Perhaps Shermantine’s claims will lead to evidence that will provide more closure for the family of Michaela Garecht. Shermantine is making his disclosures because a bounty hunter said he is paying him more than $30,000 to do so.
Already, Shermantine provided a solid lead with a sketch that allowed authorities to find human remains. That’s apparently more than Cutis Dean Anderson provided to detectives in Amber Swartz’s investigation.