Historic/Cold Cases

The Disappearance of Sheryl Sheppard – Missing From Hamilton, Ontario Since January 1, 1998

Sheryl Sheppard, 29, was last seen publicly accepting a marriage proposal from her boyfriend while being broadcast on a 1997 New Year’s Eve radio simulcast occurring on a local public access television channel out of Hamilton Ontario. Her then-boyfriend, Michael Lavoie, 26, said, on air: “In 1998, I’d like to ask you to marry me, Sheryl” Sheryl, replied simply “Yes” and hugged and kissed him.

Friends and family expressed astonishment at her acceptance of the proposal as her relationship with boyfriend Michael Lavoie was not very healthy- family didn’t approve of him having three kids from a previous volatile relationship nor did they approve of his precarious financial situation and frequent unemployment. Months prior Michael had moved in with Sheryl and her mother and had been living with them off and on for the past few months. Many friends report that the two year relationship was riddled with fighting and strife.

Although she last last seen on New Years, her mother Odette Fisher says she spoke with her over the phone on New Years Day and made plans for Sheryl to pick her up from Toronto Pearson International Airport on January 4th. Strangely enough Sheryl didn’t mention the proposal to her mother, even though they were very close. Her mother had to find out about the engagement from Michael after she went missing. This lead some to believe that Sheryl was not serious about the potential marriage and had said yes to the on-air proposal out of public pressure and or intoxication.

Friends close to the couple told police that the day after the engagement Sheryl told them that she was going to call off the engagement, and that she would tell Michael in a public place because she feared he would turn violent.

Her “fiancée” Michael claims that he last saw Sheryl in January 2nd when he dropped her off at a strip club called the Concord Hotel on Lundy’s Lane in Niagara Falls, ON. Supposedly, according to Michael, Sheryl was working there as an exotic dancer, however the manager of that establishment, who had worked there for 20 years denied this claim and said that not only said Sheryl not work for them but that he had never even heard of her until police showed up asking questions. Friends say that while she had worked as a dancer in the past, those days were behind her and they were not aware of her still working in the industry, and if she had gone back to the industry she would have told them.

Sheryl worked full-time as a donut decorator at the coffee and donut establishment, Tim Hortons, and co-workers of Sheryl’s say Michael would often show up at the fast-food restaurant for long periods of time- hanging around and making patrons and employees alike uncomfortable. He was so jealous and possessive that when he felt Sheryl was conversing with a customer for too long her would clear his throat and gesture for her to wrap it up.

Gerald Davidson, a neighbor of the couple, and part of a larger friend group that included both of Sheryl’s previous husbands, recalls a terrifying moment in their apartments underground parking lot, when Michael lost his temper and grabbed Sheryl by the throat, a common occurrence according to people close to the couple, and yelled” If you keep f*king around with me… something’s going to happen to you.” This statement was in line with family members recollection of Sheryl telling them that if something ever were to happen to her, they knew who to question- Michael. Another family member remembers Sheryl saying that there was a chance she could go missing in the future.

The anger and jealousy exhibited by Michael was not uncommon and was a feature of his previous relationships as well. His former long term girlfriend, whom he dated from his teens into his twenties and with whom he had two kids recalls his fierce temper and predilection for violence. Once he broke both her cheekbones from beating her and often he would tell her that he had fantasies of murdering her.

After a particularly nasty fight, which marked the end of Gwen’s and Michael’s relationship, Michael left their shared home and went to a gas station, where he claimed to have just murdered his wife and two kids. The gas station attendant, understandable alarmed, called police who immediately went to check on Gwen and the kids, who were thankfully found alive. Michael was charged with public mischief but those charges were later dropped and he faced no consequences.

When Sheryl never arrived at the Toronto Train Station to pick up her mother, Odette, she was reported missing to police. Michael never reported her missing even though supposedly he had not seen her since January 2nd. In the past two days when friends had called asking for her he would alternately claim she was either sleeping or at work. Later, upon police questioning he would change his story about who was to have picked up Sheryl from the strip club he had supposedly dropped her off at on January 2nd, saying that a friend was going to pick her up and then later claiming Sheryl’s ex-husband, Brian Sweeney was the one who was tasked with picking her up. Friends of the couple commented on how unusual that situation would be- here was a man who was so jealous and possessive he would hang around a donut shop for hours keeping an eye on Sheryl, but at the same time was claiming her dropped her in an alley way of a strip club in order to dance for other men and then allowed her ex husband to pick her up? That was not the controlling Michael they knew at all. Brian Sweeney quickly came forward to the police and not only denied picking her up that night but also requested a polygraph test to clear him of any connection to her being missing.

To add to the list of suspicious behavior, Michael, upon finding out Sheryl’s mother had reported her missing, removed a large majority of his clothes and possessions from their shared house.

Adding to the mounting evidence against Michael, the maintenance supervisor for the building they lived in recalls seeing Micheal lugging our two large garbage bags from the apartment complex. Gerald Davidson, the neighbor who had seen Michael grab Sheryl by the neck, also recalled those suspiciously large garbage bags being carried out by Michael. Police searched the garbage transfer station but found nothing of value.

The physical evidence was limited but damning. After a ten day investigation of the couples apartment police came away with a couple clues that indicated the apartment was in fact a crime scene: the first clue was that Sheryl’s purse and ID were on the premises- two things she would not have left without, two: both her contacts and glasses were also in the apartment- Sheryl had extremely poor eyesight and would not have gone anywhere without one of those objects on her person, three: there were stains on the wall that police felt were suspicious, although crime scene techs were unable to determine if it was blood or some other substance, four: the curtains, which Sheryl’s mother specifically remembers as being attached to the wall with metal curtain rods were instead nailed to the wall- indicating that the curtain rods might have been used as an improvised weapon.

When police called in Michael to come In for questioning, he promised he would come by the station the next day, however when he didn’t show up they went looking for him. Earlier that day a police officer, Officer Matthews noted a suspicious looking vehicle parked by the storage unit. He ran the plates and it came back to a Michael Lavoie. Later that day, when Officer Matthews heard that Michael was being sought for questioning the name rang a bell and he directed police to that storage unit he had been near earlier.

In the early morning of January 5th at 1:30am Michael was found in a rented storage garage, closed. with his car running- he was overcome with carbon monoxide poisoning and was suffocating to death. Police report that he had tried to commit suicide but was found before succumbing to the carbon monoxide and taken to the hospital. He admitted nothing during questioning and directed police to speak with his lawyer. Later, police would learn that Michael had mailed a suicide note to his mother, Pat Lavoie prior to entering the storage unit. This demonstrates he was serious about the attempt and intended to die that day had police not intervened. What was he so guilty about? What made him that depressed. If his story was to be believed, which many do not, he wasn’t even aware she was missing for more than 24 hours so why the histrionics? What does he know that police and Sheryl’s family does not?

Michael declined to take part in any of the numerous on-air interviews or public pleas for Sheryl’s safe return. He also refused to help in any of the outdoor searches for remains or clues. There is a persistent rumor circulating around Hamilton that the reason Sheryl’s remains will never be found is that Michael put her through a wood chipper.

There is a $50,000 reward for information on Sheryl’s whereabouts, that of her remains, or information leading to to the arrest of her attacker. Anyone with any information should contact Detective Peter Thom at 905-546-3843.

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Sheryl Sheppard missing New Year’s Day 21 years ago from UnsolvedMysteries


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