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Truck Driver Arrested For Texas Woman’s 1992 Murder Charged In 1993 California Cold Case

Douglas Thomas is accused of killing two alleged sex workers, Sherri Herrara and Shenda Hayes, during his 40-year career as an interstate truck driver.

By Jax Miller
A police handout of Douglas Thomas

A man arrested in Texas last month for a 1992 homicide has just been charged with another murder of a woman found dead in California nearly 30 years ago.

Douglas Thomas, 67, was charged on Friday in California for the 1993 murder of Sherri Herrera, 30, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement. DNA allegedly helped connect Thomas to Herrera’s murder, as well as the 1992 murder of Shanda Denise Hayes, for which Thomas is currently awaiting trial in Texas, according to CBS Waco affiliate KWTX.

According to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, Thomas traveled extensively around the U.S. during his 40-year career as a truck driver and only recently retired.

Thomas was first arrested in May by the Texas Rangers for the 1992 murder of a Titus County, Texas woman, who has been identified by Texas media outlets, including KWTX, as Shenda Denise Hayes, killed in April 1992.

Hayes was sexually assaulted and strangled “with a device made of wire and cord in a manner to control the victim,” Texas Rangers wrote in a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Waco outlet. Her body was discovered near an I-30 rest area in Mount Pleasant, about 100 miles east of Dallas.

On March 30, 1993, the body of Sherri Herrera — a mother of four from Tulare, California — was found on the Hayfield Road on-ramp to the I-10 in Desert Center, a rural area situated between Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Herrera had disappeared five days before she was found, with family members claiming she was in a relationship with a truck driver from San Diego, according to The Spokesman-Review.

It is not clear if Herrera’s alleged boyfriend was Douglas Thomas.

Police determined that she had been dropped off at a rest stop between Tulare and Pixley, where she was a “known prostitute and drug user who worked the highway rest area,” and disappeared shortly thereafter.

When she was found, Herrera had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death with a belt, according to KWTX.

A police handout of cold case victim Sherri Herrera

Both Herrera and Hayes were reportedly sex workers.

DNA samples from the Herrera crime scene were entered into the FBI's Combined DNA Index System CODIS in 2002, according to the affidavit, while DNA from the Hayes crime scene was entered into CODIS in 2004.

Texas and California officials worked together and ultimately conducted genealogy research into the matching DNA found at both murder scenes starting in September 2020. A profile was created in April that allegedly identified six of Thomas' descendants — all living in the Waco area near him.  

After his arrest for the Hayes murder, officials with the Riverside County Regional Cold Case Team traveled to McLennan County, Texas and questioned him about Herrera. They subsequently charged him with murder for Herrera’s death and the district attorney’s office added a special circumstances enhancement, charging him with murder during the commission of a rape.

Long before DNA allegedly connected Thomas to Herrera’s murder, Tulare County Sheriff’s detectives had looked into Herrera’s nephew, convicted murderer Robert James Acremant, for her murder, according to The Spokesman-Review. Acremant died of natural causes in 2018 while on death row after he was convicted of three murders committed between 1995 and 1997, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

He was never charged in connection with his aunt’s murder.

Douglas Thomas remains at the McLennan County Jail, where he is being held on $2 million bond, inmate records show. Riverside County officials say Thomas will face prosecution in Texas before they request he be extradited to California to face charges for Herrera’s death.

Authorities in California ask anyone with information about the case to contact the Riverside County Regional Cold Case Homicide Team at 1-951-955-2777.

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