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Mother says long-missing daughter may be victim of "Speed Freak" killers

By Ronnie Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The mother of a 9-year-old girl snatched from a Northern California street 24 years ago said on Thursday she believed DNA tests would show her daughter was buried in a well where a pair of serial killers dumped their victims.

A 3-inch bone fragment possibly belonging to Michaela Garecht was found in a bag of skeletal remains largely belonging to another victim of the "Speed Freak" killers, so named for the methamphetamine-fueled violence police say the two perpetrators unleashed during the 1980s and 1990s.

Police in Michaela's hometown of Hayward, California, across the bay from San Francisco, say they expect to get test results by the end of the month. Michaela was abducted outside a Hayward grocery store on November 19, 1988.

"I'm thinking it's probably Michaela. All the indications seem to point that way," her mother, Sharon Murch, told Reuters in an interview. "There's no happy ending. But if she's been in that well for all these years, I'd just like to bring her home."

Hayward police Sergeant Eric Krimm said that the fragment, which yielded DNA samples that were being studied by a Virginia laboratory, "has the potential to be a bone from Michaela."

The inquiry began when the mother of 16-year-old murder victim JoAnn Hobson asked for a forensic examination of remains found in an abandoned well linked to the Speed Freak killers and given to her by San Joaquin County sheriff's deputies.

A forensic anthropologist found that the bag contained parts of at least two other people, one of them a child between the ages of 5 and 14.

Authorities have recovered nearly 1,000 human bone fragments, along with a woman's ring, a purse, shoes and coats from the 50-foot well near a former cattle ranch in Linden, California.

Investigators were first directed to the well and four other burial sites by a map that convicted "Speed Freak" killer Wesley Shermantine gave a Sacramento bounty hunter who agreed to pay him $33,000 for information leading to the location of his victims' bodies.

Shermantine was convicted in May 2001 of four murders dating back to 1984 and is currently on California's death row.

Prosecutors said previously they believed Shermantine and his co-defendant, Loren Herzog, a childhood friend who was convicted of three murders, were linked to as many as two dozen killings.

Herzog committed suicide in January and Shermantine has begun to speak out about the crimes, asserting he and Herzog carried out six dozen murders.

If Shermantine's claims prove true, he and Herzog could end up responsible for 72 killings, ranking them among the most prolific serial murderers in U.S. history.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney)

(This story has been refiled with a new headline)

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