The remains of 14 murder victims are stashed somewhere in the vast and rugged Cow Mountain Recreation Area that straddles Lake and Mendocino counties, a San Quentin Death Row inmate has claimed.
Lake County Sheriff's officials are skeptical but they are investigating statements made recently by convicted serial killer Wesley Shermantine, one of two men dubbed the "Speed Freak Killers."
Shermantine "mentioned bodies in Lake County," during a conversation several weeks ago, said Leonard Padilla, a bounty hunter who was instrumental in getting Shermantine to draw maps that led to the remains of five murder victims in San Joaquin and Calaveras counties in February.
Shermantine, 46, and a friend, Loren Herzog, were convicted of conducting a methamphetamine-fueled killing spree between 1994 and 1998 in the Stockton area where they grew up. It ended with their arrests in 1999. Shermantine was convicted of killing four people but authorities believe there are many more victims in California and elsewhere. Shermantine — who has maintained his innocence — has said Herzog told him he killed more than 70 people.
Herzog was released on parole last year after an appeals court ruled his confessions were illegally coerced. He hanged himself in January, shortly after learning Shermantine had drawn maps showing where bodies were buried.
Shermantine also made reference to 14 additional bodies Lake County bodies in a letter he wrote to Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton. Galgiani is the author of a bill, signed into law last week, that will allow Shermantine to accompany authorities when they search for more victims in San Joaquin County.
In the letter, Shermantine said the bodies dumped near the coast. That would appear to conflict with Padilla's account, in which he quoted Shermantine as saying the bodies were discarded in the Cow Mountain area.
Padilla said Shermantine did not tell him who killed the 14 people, but indicated it was several other Death Row inmates.
Shermantine, he said, has never admitted to killing anyone. He's instead blamed Herzog and others. But he's been truthful about where to find the bodies, Galgiani said.
Nevertheless, the Cow Mountain information is too vague to pursue, authorities said. Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero said he's not about to launch a search of Cow Mountain, which includes 52,000 acres of public land and about 8,000 acres of private land, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
"We are prepared to do whatever it takes to find these bodies," Rivero said. But "I need some good information. It's not like I'm going to send a detective up there with a shovel."