'I need to put her to rest': 19 years later, mom still searches for Sheryl Sheppard

Sheryl Sheppard went missing on New Year's Day 19 years ago. Her mom, Odette Fisher, is still searching for answers.

Sheppard went missing on New Year's Day 19 years ago, and Odette Fisher is still searching for answers

"I want to find her remains," says Odette Fisher, mother of Sheryl Sheppard. "I need to put her to rest." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

New Year's Eve isn't a festive time for Odette Fisher. When midnight strikes, and the calendar page turns, she'll just think about her missing daughter.

I didn't call her Sheryl. I called her my body guard.- Odette Fisher

Fisher's daughter is Sheryl Sheppard, a Hamilton woman who went missing 19 years ago, sometime between Jan. 1 and 2. New Year's Day 1998 is the last time they spoke.

On New Years Day Fisher keeps a candle lit. It comes with somber memories. 19 years ago she was in New Brunswick visiting family. The phone rang around noon Jan. 1, and it was Sheryl.

"She phoned me at lunch time to wish me a happy new year," Fisher said. "She spoke to my mom and she spoke to my sister. Then I came back and she said, 'Mom, I'll be there in Toronto to pick you up.' And she never showed up."

There was nothing unusual about the conversation, Fisher said. There was no hint that it was the last time they'd ever talk. But it was.

"She was going to take care of me," says Odette Fisher of her daughter Sheryl. "She'd say, 'When Mom gets older, I'm going to take care of her."

Sheppard, 29, had spent New Year's Eve at a party. Her boyfriend, Michael Lavoie, proposed to her at that party. She said yes.

While I'm alive, I just want to know. I want an answer.- Odette Fisher

That boyfriend was allegedly the last person to see her. Lavoie claims that he dropped her off at a hotel in Niagara Falls on the evening of Jan. 2. But that's when she vanished.

Sheppard's disappearance is the subject of season two of the CBC podcast Someone Knows Something. Each episode is created fresh with new information the crew gets every week. Host Dave Ridgen says they're getting somewhere.

"The podcast has been successful in bringing other people forward," said Ridgen, whose next episode airs Monday.

"Every interview we do, we get new information."

Fisher has some optimism. Nineteen years later, remembering her daughter still brings tears. Fisher worked for 25 years as a DARTS driver. Her daughter, she said, was always worried about her physical safety.

“Every interview we do, we get new information," says David Ridgen, host of Someone Knows Something. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"She was my body guard," Fisher said. "I didn't call her Sheryl. I called her my body guard."

"She was going to take care of me. She always said, 'When Mom gets older, I'm going to take care of her.'"

Fisher said her main goal is to find her daughter's remains so she can find closure. She wants a physical space to visit to grieve, something more concrete than the candle burning in her house on New Year's Day.

"I'm 70-years-old," she said. "I'm not … While I'm alive, I just want to know. I want an answer. I want to find her remains. I need to put her to rest."

"It's painful not knowing what happened to her."