Safety in Numbers

Date Published 07.06.12

I was having coffee the other day with a retired detective.  We were going over the details of a peculiar unsolved case that obsesses us both.  The case involves a masked suspect who seemed to try and mislead his victims by sharing false details and dropping false clues.  One of the things he did occasionally was appear to be talking to a partner, though the blindfolded victims never believed anyone else was really there.


“It’s possible though, isn’t it?” I asked, imagining some sort of mute, submissive sidekick who hid in the shadows. I was surprised when the detective immediately and firmly shook his head.


“You can’t find two people working together that something isn’t said outside those two people,” he said.


The conversation got me thinking about infamous partners in crime.  Violent offenders are accomplished liars with narcissistic drives; when they work in pairs that thriving pyschopathy comes in handy, because they’ll often sell out their associate while the interrogator is still pulling up his chair.


“There’s safety in numbers” goes the old saying, and in a strange twist the idea applies to criminals too --- anytime there’s more than one offender the likelihood of a leak increases.


Sometimes they even use their final breath to shift blame.


On July 1, 1874 a horse-drawn carriage pulled up in front of a house in Germantown, Pennsylvania where two young brothers Charley Ross, 4, and his brother Walter, 6, were playing in the yard.  The children were familiar with the two men in the carriage, as they’d offered them candy in the past.  This time the men invited the boys to come get fireworks with them.  A short time later the men sent Walter inside a store to buy fireworks.  When he came out, the carriage and his brother were gone.  Charley Ross was never seen again.

Charley Ross


The Charley Ross kidnapping transfixed the country, and became the first high-profile child abduction for ransom. Charley’s father received several illiterate letters demanding money, but no deal with the kidnappers could ever be arranged.


In December, the brother of the homeowner interrupted a burglary-in-progress at a Long Island mansion.  The two burglars were gunned down in the ensuing shootout.  Bill Mosher died immediately.  His partner, Joe Douglas, was mortally wounded, but able to communicate for a few moments before he died.  Several witnesses were present, but there’s no clear consensus on the exact wording of the confession, though everyone who was there agrees Douglas spoke of the Charley Ross kidnapping.  Accounts vary on whether he said Charley was alive, or dead, but in every account one thing comes through: Douglas used his last breaths to finger Mosher as the architect of the kidnapping.


There’s almost always a dominant personality in deadly duos, but that imbalance of power frequently backfires.  It certainly did on Aug. 8, 1973 when Elmer Henley, the teenage accomplice of serial killer Dean Corll, picked up Corll’s pistol and shouted, “You’ve gone far enough, Dean!” Two of Henley’s friends, who he’d introduced to Corll, watched helplessly from the torture boards Corll had tied them to as part of his sex slave fantasy.  Corll, called the “Candy Man” because his family operated a candy factor in Houston, was a sexual sadist with a fixation on teenage boys. 


“You won’t do it,” Corll sneered at Henley.  Those were his last words.  Henley shot him six times.


Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi had one of the more inventive “the other guy did it” strategies.  After Bianchi and his cousin Angelo Buono were charged, in 1979, with the rapes and murders of 10 girls and women in the Los Angeles area he insisted, perhaps inspired by the movie Sybil, that he suffered from multiple personality disorder and his other identity, “Steve Walker,” was to blame.


Experts quickly called Bianchi’s bluff, and he took the next best thing --- he agreed to testify against Buono in exchange for leniency.


Sometimes a partner’s betrayal can drive an offender to more violence.


Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog, dubbed “The Speed Freak Killers,” were meth-using murderers who operated unfettered for nearly 20 years in and around San Joaquin County.  They were arrested in 1999 after blood of a missing girl was found in Shermantine’s car.  The duo predictably blamed each other for the murders.  Shermantine is on California’s Death Row, but in 2004 a judge ruled that Herzog’s confession had been illegally coerced, and his sentence was reduced.  Herzog was paroled in 2010 amid much controversy.


Herzog’s freedom irritated Shermantine and, with nothing to lose, he began talking.  On Jan. 16 a bounty hunter Shermantine had been negotiating the disclosure of details with called Herzog at home and told him that his childhood friend Shermantine was about to reveal the whereabouts of victims' remains and would pin additional murders on Herzog.


“Thank you for calling me,” Herzog said.  He wrote a brief note to his family, then hung himself.


Shermantine’s information did result in a massive discovery --- roughly 1000 bones found on an abandoned cattle ranch in Linden.  The California Department of Justice is currently testing the bones for DNA profiling.


As despicable as he is, I hope Shermantine’s information provides closure for families still in search of what happened to their loved ones.  I’m particularly interested in whether or not he’s right about Herzog’s involvement in the Michaela Garecht case.

Garecht, 9, was abducted on Nov. 19, 1988 outside a market in Hayward, California.  Witnesses described a tall, thin man with long, dirty blonde hair who was driving a run down car.  A sketch of the Garecht suspect is below on the left.  On the right is a mug shot of Herzog from around the same time.

Shermantine insists that Herzog abducted and murdered Michaela Garecht, and that her remains are among the 1000 bones.  Is he telling the truth?  Or is it one more attempt to throw his former partner under the bus?  Even if Garecht's remains are identified, we'll likely never know who was ultimately responsible for her death, since the two so often worked together.  The good news is that Wesley Shermantine isn't going anywhere.  Ever.  He has all the time in the world to talk, or spin, about the old days.

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.