Sheriff: ‘How could this happen in Silver Springs?’
The need for money to feed a heroin addiction likely motivated a California man to strangle his grandmother in her Silver Springs home, then carry the blanket-bound body to California and bury her in a flower bed, an official said Thursday.
During a press conference on the Lyon County Court House steps, Sheriff Allen Veil said authorities are certain the body uncovered in Riverbank, Calif., Tuesday is that of 73-year-old Peggy Herlacher.
Positive identification is awaiting DNA and dental comparisons, but the body has “dental work very similar to what she had, (and) some surgical scars,” Veil said.
Veil said an autopsy conducted Wednesday determined the cause of death was strangulation.
Herlacher, who lived alone on four acres near Lahontan Reservoir, was last heard from around 4 p.m. July 22 when she spoke by phone to her friend in Oregon.
On July 24, family discovered she was missing, as were her car and grandson James Masterson, 22, who’d come to stay with Herlacher the week before.
Veil said Masterson, who has no criminal history, had been at odds with his family over stealing and lying, which prompted the visit to his grandmother.
“This was kind of one of those last-ditch efforts on the family to get him to a place where he could actually get along with a family member because he’d pretty much burned his bridges,” said Veil.
But on July 25, Masterson was alone when Sacramento police stopped him on a traffic violation in his grandmother’s car. He was allegedly in possession of heroin along with Herlacher’s credit cards and jewelry.
Masterson denied to family knowing his grandmother’s whereabouts and has refused to talk with investigators, officials said. He is being held in the Sacramento County Jail on stolen property and drug charges.
“He took her credit cards, he took her jewelry and he was under the influence of heroin when he was arrested, so I think it’s pretty easy to link those – it’s narcotics related and he was looking for money to support his habit,” said Veil.
Lyon County Sheriff’s Lt. Brian Veil said cell phone records and credit card transactions led investigators to the Modesto area, Masterson’s home town. For eight days they talked with family and friends there trying to determine what happened to Herlacher, said Brian Veil.
One witness, Herlacher’s granddaughter Michelle Smith, reported seeing Masterson at his grandfather Kenneth Bedore’s home on July 25.
Police had looked in that backyard once before in the search for Herlacher. But after receiving further information, Brian Veil, another Lyon County detective and Stanlislaus County Sheriff’s homicide investigators returned to Bedore’s home and, after receiving permission from the family, began to dig in a raised flower bed.
“Fairly quickly,” said Brian Veil, they unearthed a comforter under a plastic sheet.
“The remains were wrapped in two separate articles of bedding, and were underneath a sheet of plastic, bark chips and a large terra cotta pot,”said Sheriff Veil.
He said one of the pieces of bedding was a blue and white afghan that Herlacher’s daughter Lethea Love of Fernley told police was among the items missing from the home.
Lyon County District Attorney Bob Auer said he is awaiting the completed report before filing a formal complaint, but from what he knows now, he expects to file charges within a week.
“It looks like this is a case that involves kidnapping, robbery and murder,” he said.
Auer also said once charges are established he may convene a death-penalty review team to determine if that’s an option in this case and begin extradition proceedings.
“This one still is a shocker – a grandson and a grandmother. I think most of us would never even consider that being a possibility,” said Sheriff Veil, who’s been in law enforcement in the county for more than 20 years. “It brings the community to its knees because how could this happen in Silver Springs, Nevada?”