Gov. Schwarzenegger is offering a $50,000 reward for information on the disappearance of a woman whose cousin -- a state lawmaker -- is fighting to keep convicted killer Loren Herzog behind bars.
Dena Viola McHan, 19, vanished on her way home to Stockton from Sacramento on Dec. 7, 1981. Her car was never found, and the last time someone saw McHan, she was getting gas near Lodi and two men were bothering her.
Her cousin, Cathleen Galgiani, was 17 at the time and still keeps a large color photo of the blond-haired, green-eyed young woman.
Now an assemblywoman, Galgiani identified with the anguish of Clements residents John and Terri Vanderheiden, whose daughter, Cyndi, vanished in 1998.
"Every time we read about these cases in the newspaper, we think about our loved one. It's only natural," said Galgiani, D-Livingston. "It brings things back for families."
So, when a public outcry arose because one of Cyndi Vanderheiden's killers was set for release from prison this summer, Galgiani launched her own effort. She wrote to the governor, asking him to order prison officials and state attorneys to review the case. She mentioned her cousin's disappearance, explaining that she identified with the families of missing loved ones.
Prison officials ultimately found a clerical error that kept Herzog in prison past last month's release date; he is now scheduled to be paroled Sept. 17.
In the meantime, the governor's office contacted Stockton police, who investigated McHan's disappearance. Their case had gone cold and all leads were long since exhausted.
Under state law, if leads are exhausted, but publicity might help the cas and the victim's family agrees, the governor may offer a reward leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone who committed a kidnapping or murder.
Keeping memories alive
"When Dena disappeared, this fund wasn't in place and there was no way to draw attention to her case," Galgiani said Friday evening after the reward was announced. "Unless people know that someone's gone missing, they can't come forward with information."
She remembers seeing her cousin's face on a flier posted at Flame Liquors, 1301 W. Kettleman Lane, and her family scraping together money to offer a small reward.
The $50,000 reward is much more than most families can gather, and more than local Crime Stoppers groups offer for anonymous tips.
Galgiani hopes her cousin's case is resolved, and she hopes other families can find out what happened to their loved ones. She encouraged families to contact the law enforcement agency that investigated the case, and said she welcomes calls.
"People don't always know what the process will be. I didn't know either," she said.
Herzog's lifelong friend, Wesley Shermantine, was arrested at the same time and convicted of Vanderheiden's rape and murder. He was convicted of several other murders in the mid-1980s, and is now on death row.
Shermantine allegedly bragged about killing other people, and law enforcement and prosecutors have long suspected there were other victims. Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa, who prosecuted both men, still keeps the file in his office and welcomes publicity, because he thinks other cases could be linked to Shermantine and Herzog.
McHan was last seen leaving a friend's house near Sacramento State University. She was headed home to Stockton. Those with information on the case may contact Stockton police at 209-937-8377.