In light of several new revelations from a CBC podcast, an online petition is calling for Hamilton police and city officials to take renewed interest in the case of the 1998 disappearance of Sheryl Sheppard.
The petition, which so far has more than 400 signatures, comes from listeners of the popular CBC true crime podcast, Someone Knows Something, which concluded its second season last week.
"We believe that police and prosecutors should act on (new) information to seek answers from Michael Lavoie, the prime suspect in the case," says the petition. "In addition, we want to assist police to raise a larger reward fund for Sheryl, and in additional searches if required."
The podcast re-examined the police investigation into the disappearance of Sheppard, who was a 29-year-old Hamilton resident when she disappeared around Jan. 2, 1998, and the subsequent media frenzy. She'd been at a New Year's Eve party two days earlier with her boyfriend Michael Lavoie, who'd proposed to her on live TV. She said yes.
Lavoie, who the podcast revealed has been interviewed less than 30 minutes since the investigation opened, claimed he dropped Sheppard off at a hotel in Niagara Falls, where he said she would be working as an exotic dancer. She was never seen again.
Sgt. Peter Thom of the Hamilton police homicide unit says the investigation remains open and ongoing.
"As a result of the CBC podcast, a couple of follow-up interviews were conducted," he confirmed in an emailed statement to CBC News.
"We really want city officials to become actively involved again," said Noah Kerzner, a 27-year-old Toronto resident who started the online petition.
"Nobody is pointing fingers, and saying anybody did a bad job in the past. We really just want officials and police to hear the new testimony that was brought forward and to give the case a second look while it has the momentum that it needs."
A mother's persistence pays off
Dan Forgan, a retired Hamilton police officer who was the previous lead investigator on the case for ten years, says the credit for keeping Sheppard's story alive goes primarily to her mother, Odette Fisher.
"I think quite often in cases like this, with the passage of time, people change their minds and will talk more freely. People that were reluctant to talk to the police initially are speaking up now," he said.
"I'm hoping that the investigators working on the case now get that final piece of information to make the arrests. Ultimately, it would be best if they were able to recover her remains and give Odette Fisher the closure she deserves."
Kerzner says he started listening to the podcast to pass the time during his long commute to work in Richmond Hill. Within two weeks, he'd raced through both seasons and, having been moved by Sheppard's story, started getting involved in online discussions of her case.
Once the petition reaches its goal of 500 signatures, Kerzner says he plans to write to city councilors and the mayor on behalf of the concerned public, asking for the reward level to be raised and for investigators to take a second look at the new evidence.
There is currently a $50,000 reward for information related to Sheppard's disappearance.
New evidence and testimony
Over the course of the podcast's 12-episode run, which has been downloaded and listened to over 18 million times around the world, host David Ridgen revealed many details that were previously unknown to police.
Speaking to the media for the first time, Lavoie's mother Pat revealed that she received a suicide note from him mailed prior to his entering the storage locker.
Forgan admitted the police had not known about this letter during his time on the investigation.
Several witnesses including Sheppard's sister, aunt and a friend also revealed publicly for the first time that she might have known that her life was in danger — in one instance even saying, "Don't be surprised if I go missing."
Investigation is 'very close' to end: former lead investigator
Although the regular season of SKS has come to a close, Ridgen says there may be more episodes to come if new information comes to light or more people come forward.
"People have been interested in this case because it feels so close to them, and because Sheryl seems like someone they knew, even if they didn't know her," he said.
Forgan believes the answers that will solve the case are "very close."
"I think, like the podcast said, someone out there knows something," said Forgan. "The more public interest there is in this, the more chances there are of meeting a resolution and finding the evidence needed to make arrests."