By Bill Dunphy -- Crime Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator. January 7, 1998

Hamilton-Wentworth police waded through a mountain of garbage at an east-end waste transfer station yesterday in an increasingly desperate search for a Hamilton exotic dancer missing since New Year’s Day.

Last night, Staff Sergeant Steve Hrab was still calling the disappearance of Sheryl (Sweeney) Sheppard, 29, of Hamilton a “suspicious missing person” case, but it was becoming clear from their actions police fear it may turn out to be the region’s first murder of 1998.

“There are a number of circumstances around her disappearance that make this suspicious, and could lead us to suspect foul play,” Hrab said.

“We have reason to be concerned for her safety.”

But the search of the garbage transfer station on Kenora Avenue failed to turn up any evidence that would suggest Sheppard met with foul play, Hrab emphasized.

Hrab, head of the major crimes unit, said his investigators are anxious to speak with Sheppard’s common-law husband Michael Lavoie, 26. Lavoie is believed to be driving his white 1986 Buick Regal.

“Our concern is he was coming in to see us shortly after midnight (Tuesday) and he failed to show up and we don’t know why. No one has seen him since, although we’re told he has called some people.”

Lavoie, who is unemployed, proposed to Sheppard during a live New Year’s Eve ONtv broadcast, Hrab said.

Although police have not been able to find anyone who has seen or heard from Sheppard since last Thursday, the Queenston Road resident was not reported missing until Monday.

“She was supposed to have picked up her mother at (Pearson) Airport Jan. 4, but she never showed,” Hrab said.

Police had been told her common-law husband was to have dropped her off at a hotel in Niagara for a dancing gig on Jan. 2, but police say she never arrived at the hotel. A check of her apartment turned up her wallet and identification.

Sheppard, who also used the name Fisher, and her maiden name Sweeney, is described by police as a blue-eyed blonde, 5-foot-4, and weighing 105 pounds.