Woman makes desperate plea for word on missing daughter

By Denise Davy -- Social Issues Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator. January 9, 1998.

The mother of 29-year-old Sheryl Sheppard broke down yesterday while making a desperate plea to anyone who might know something about her daughter’s disappearance.

“If anyone knows where she is, could you please phone the police as soon as possible,” Odette Fisher asked at a press conference at Hamilton-Wentworth police headquarters.

Police have fews clues to go on in their search, and those they have are often contradictory. Sheppard, who shared a Stoney Creek apartment with her mother, has been missing since Jan. 2, two days after she was seen on an ONtv/Y 95 radio simulcast of a New Year’s Eve party at which she accepted a marriage proposal from Michael Lavoie.

Friends say the two had dated for about two years, and he had moved into the apartment with Sheppard and Fisher several months ago. Lavoie told police he last saw Sheppard when he drove her to work as an exotic dancer at the Concord Hotel in Niagara Falls last Friday.

However, hotel manager Mike Manojlovich, who has been at the Concord more than 20 years, said Sheppard has never worked there. “I don’t even know the girl.”

Sheppard’s friends also say she hasn’t worked as an exotic dancer for a while and were surprised to hear of Lavoie’s report.

“It would be weird of her to do something like that. She would have told me,” said Paula Branton, who has been a friend of Sheppard’s for 13 years.

Branton and Sheppard have worked at Tim Hortons at Sanford Avenue North and Cannon Street East in Hamilton since it opened last September.

Fisher spent the Christmas holidays with relatives in New Brunswick, and was to have been picked up by her daughter at Toronto’s Union Station Sunday. Sheppard failed to show up, and Fisher reported her missing the next day.

“It’s not like her to be late,” Fisher told The Spectator in an interview.  “She’s very reliable.”

Fisher says she feels numb over her daughter’s disappearance.

Family and friends say the relationship between Lavoie and Sheppard was often stormy.

Branton said the two fought frequently, which is why she was surprised to hear Sheppard had accepted the marriage proposal.

Detective Warren Korol said police talked to Lavoie Monday at his mother’s home on Mohawk Road East, but he failed to show up for a[n] interview the next day. He was then found by police early Wednesday in a car with the engine running at a storage garage on Stone Church Road East.

He was treated at Henderson Hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning, then detained under the Mental Health Act until yesterday when he left the hospital.

Fisher said her daughter was born and raised in Hamilton and attended Notre Dame High School until grade 10. She married at 21 but the marriage lasted less than six months. A second marriage lasted one year.

Lavoie and Sheppard met on a trip with a group of friends to an amusement park in western New York state.

Lavoie moved in with Sheppard and her mother several months ago and frequently had his three children from a previous relationship with him on weekends. Fisher didn’t approve of her daughter’s relationship.

Gary Valerie, owner of the Tim Hortons where Sheppard worked, said Lavoie used to visit the doughnut shop while Sheppard was working and stay for a full eight-hour shift. “I had to talk with her about (him always dropping in for long periods) and put a stop to it.”

Valerie said Sheppard took a leave of absence in mid-December.

The disappearance has devastated family and friends. Dwayne Wiles, 28, a close friend of Sheppard’s for 10 years, described her as outgoing. “She’s friendly with everybody.”

Branton said she’s hoping for the best, but her friend’s disappearance has left her feeling “dead inside.”