‘SUSANVILLE (AP) - A once-convicted serial killer from San Joaquin County who was the target of court battles and protests over where he should live on parole appears to have committed suicide in his government-issued trailer just outside the walls of the High Desert State prison in remote northeast California.
State and local officials said Tuesday that Loren Herzog — dubbed along with his childhood friend Wesley Shermantine as the "Speed Freak Killers" — was found hanging in the trailer shortly before midnight Monday. Prison officials were checking on Herzog after his parole agent received a notification that the batteries in the parolee's ankle bracelet were running low.
The Lassen County Sheriff's Department said it appears that Herzog died by hanging himself, but that a full investigation would be conducted before a final determination is made. He was 46.
Herzog was in the middle of a fierce debate over his residence and the target of a lawsuit filed by city of Susanville officials that sought his removal from prison property in their town.
Herzog was at the beginning of a 78-year prison sentence for three murder convictions when an appeals court in 2004 ruled investigators illegally coerced his confession.
Without the confession, prosecutors said they were left little evidence and had no choice but to offer Herzog a deal to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter for the killing of Cyndi Vanderheiden, 25. His 78-year prison sentence was reduced to 14 years and he was released on parole in September 2010 after serving 11 years.
With credit for time served dating back to his 1999 arrest and time off for good behavior, the prison system was unable to hold him longer despite calls for his continued incarceration.
Cyndi Vanderheiden's father said he wants to view the body to make sure it's Herzog's.
"He's a coward and cowards don't kill themselves," John Vanderheiden said. "If it is him, then good. He should have died a long time ago."
Cyndi Vanderheiden's body has never been found and Herzog always maintained that his partner in crime, Shermantine, disposed of her alone. The girl's father doesn't believe Herzog and said that was his only regret upon hearing of Herzog's apparent suicide.
"Now we're down to only one creep who knows where she is," said John Vanderheiden, who lives in Clements.
Herzog and Shermantine were dubbed the Speed Freak Killers when they were arrested in 1999 for Vanderheiden's murder and several others. The two were accused of terrorizing San Joaquin County for 15 years by going on methamphetamine-fueled killing sprees. Shermantine is on California's Death Row after being convicted of four murders. Investigators say Shermantine could be responsible for as many as 15 more killings.
Shermantine and Herzog were each initially convicted of several first-degree murder charges, including the rape and murder of Vanderheiden in 1998.
The two lured her to a cemetery with the promise of methamphetamine. Herzog testified that he hid in the back seat of Shermantine's car while his friend attacked Vanderheiden. Herzog also testified that he helped load the body in the trunk, but then testified that he doesn't know what Shermantine did after that.
Before Herzog's release in 2010, family members of his alleged victims and influential San Joaquin County politicians persuaded California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials to parole Herzog far from the Central Valley region, where the murders occurred.
CDCR's decision to locate him in Lassen County set off a furor there that culminated with the city of Susanville filing a lawsuit alleging prison officials were wrong to make Herzog live there. A Lassen County judge agreed late last year and ordered prison officials to remove Herzog. He remained living in a trailer on the prison grounds in Susanville while CDCR appealed the judge's ruling.
He was married with three children when he was paroled.