FBI Evidence Recovery Team Concludes Linden Excavation
|FBI Sacramento February 21, 2013|
SACRAMENTO, CA—At a press conference held at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Sacramento Division Headquarters, Special Agent in Charge Herb Brown announced the conclusion of the FBI’s excavation operation on a rural agricultural parcel in the Linden area of San Joaquin County. The six-week operation excavated all dirt and debris that completely filled the old well that once plunged nearly 100 feet below the rural pasture land.
“We are disappointed that our efforts did not yield remains, offering closure to families who suspect that Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog were involved in the disappearance of their loved ones,” said Brown. “I commend the collaborative team of investigators, evidence response personnel, and technical experts who ensured that a thorough search of the hand-dug well was completed.”
A lengthy, multi-agency investigation and extensive site survey resulted in the large-scale excavation of a well on private property in Linden, California on January 7, 2012. Shermantine provided information and was escorted to San Joaquin County by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officers and FBI agents on August 16, 2012, to pinpoint a location with the highest probability of yielding victim remains. Additional investigative work by the FBI enabled its Evidence Response Team (FBI ERT) to locate the well, clarifying some inaccuracy of Shermantine’s statements.
The site Shermantine identified as having the highest probability of containing victim remains—a 70 percent chance—was located 200 yards from one of two wells located along Flood Road between Waverly Road and Escalon Bellota Road. FBI ERT personnel conducted a thorough site survey of the identified area on September 28, 2012 to attempt to locate a possibly unknown well in the indicated area. Vegetation and soil was removed, ensuring that a thorough search was completed; however, the effort confirmed that only two open wells existed along that section of Flood Road. One well was excavated by San Joaquin County in February 2012 and the second became the site of the recent FBI ERT excavation effort. Former and current landowners also confirmed that neither areas Shermantine has noted—the area near the culvert nor an area currently under residential driveway—contain wells.
Over the course of six weeks—two weeks of site prep and installation of safety devices and four weeks of excavation—local FBI ERT personnel and resources from FBI Headquarters (Technical Hazards Response Unit and ERT); State of California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal OSHA); California State University, Chico Department of Forensic Anthropology; and Drill Tech Drilling and Shoring, Inc.; excavated the old well that was originally carved from the rock-hard native soils by hand. The San Joaquin County Department of Public Works and San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, including the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s S.T.A.R.S. volunteer program, provided support, including site preparation, traffic control, and site restoration assistance to the FBI excavation.
After boring efforts failed to pinpoint the depth of the historic well bottom and located the aquifer more than 200 feet below grade, the team committed to excavating the full depth of the well—however deep—until the historic well bottom was found with certainty. Regardless of whether remains were found among the fill, the team planned to continue excavation until the rock and clay well bottom was located, ensuring that the entire well was thoroughly excavated and examined. The nearly 100-foot-deep well was carefully excavated by hand, conveying buckets of fill dirt to the surface with a crane for closer inspection. Drill Tech excavated an operational platform adjacent to the well from the rock hard native soils until a depth of approximately 69 feet had been reached. In total, the team excavated and hand sifted more than 50 cubic yards of fill dirt from within the well.
Once the team excavated 95 feet below grade, a debris field was located. Human remains and personal effects were not among the items found in the muddy, trash-laden layers. The only bones found during the excavation effort proved to be a large animal, likely cattle. The remaining items included discarded fencing, buckets, beverage cans, and other refuse.
The Flood Road well excavation was the third time FBI ERT had sought to recover victim remains. Two other locations in San Joaquin County have been the target of potential recovery operations: a residential backyard garbage pit and a location in a former orchard. Shermantine’s recollections served as the basis for each of the previous failed attempts at recovering human remains.
“Despite what Shermantine would like the media and the public believe, we continued to offer him every opportunity to assist with successful recovery of victim remains with the caveat that he must provide specific information regarding locations and identities,” said Brown. “Since providing information that aided recovery of five victims in February 2012, his claims have lacked necessary specificity. He now refuses to meet with us, stymieing future investigation and excavation.”
Families who believe that their missing loved ones are connected to Shermantine and Herzog’s activities should remain in contact with the local law enforcement agencies who have been working their respective missing person cases.