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Into thin air

Thumbnail Sharon Shechtor PolaroidIn the November 8, 2001 Democrat and Chronicle, in Carol Ritter’s column titled “New cookbook offers a bounty of local recipes,” there is a mention of a cookbook called Bobbies Kitchen from Generation to Generation, compiled by Sharon Shechter, her name in bold, of Nettlecreek Road in Perinton. The book consisted of recipes handed down in her family. A little more than a month later, Shechter would again get her name in the paper—this time because she vanished from the face of the earth.

The thirty-five-year-old mother of three—five-four, 110 pounds, brown hair, and brown eyes—was last seen during the late afternoon of Sunday, December 9, leaving her home in her minivan, on her way to pick up her kids.

Sandra Poole, Shechter’s mom, says she spoke with her daughter around noon that day. It was not uncommon for Poole and her daughter to check in with one another several times throughout the day. During their noon conversation, Shechter mentioned she was to pick up her kids at 5:30 p.m. from her estranged husband’s residence, as regularly scheduled. In the meantime, she was going holiday shopping with longtime friend Mike Pieramico and then home to work on some holiday crafts.

According to Pieramico, just after 5 p.m., following the Christmas shopping, he walked out Shechter’s front door and watched her plug in the outdoor Christmas lights. Before getting into his vehicle, he thoughtfully started Sharon’s van, so minutes later it would be warm when she left her home on Nettlecreek Road. This would be the last time Mike would see his friend.

Uncharacteristically, there hadn’t been any snow yet that year, but it was still a chilly thirty-eight degrees, so Shechter grabbed a long denim jacket on her way out the door. She was last seen wearing her comfortable Cape Cod crewneck sweatshirt and a worn pair of jeans, which her longtime friend Lynda Fleming referred to as her “crafting clothes.” Clearly, Shechter had every intention of coming right home after retrieving the children.

Poole called her daughter that evening, but Shechter didn’t answer. She thought Shechter must be busy with the kids and didn’t think about it again. The next day Poole returned from a funeral and her message machine was blinking. She was certain it was a message from Shechter, but instead it was a coworker at the Ide Group in the old Genesee Hospital on Alexander Street where Shechter worked as a sonographer, saying Shechter hadn’t come in to work that morning and had not called.

Shechter’s mom and Fleming went to Nettlecreek Road on Monday afternoon to look for her. Freshly painted ornaments were left drying on the coffee table. The outdoor Christmas lights, now vague in the midday sun, were still plugged in. But there was no sign of Shechter or her minivan. No clue where she might have gone. The kids were still with their dad.

The sheriff’s office found it interesting that, although Shechter failed to pick up their children—Jake, 9, Amber, 7, and Rachel, 5—from husband Alan Schecter’s residence on Sunday night as planned, it wasn’t he who reported her missing. It was, in fact, Shechter’s coworkers who brought her absence to the attention of law enforcement the following morning.

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When Shechter didn’t show up for work, there was instant concern. After speaking with her mom, their concern deepened. Shechter certainly wouldn’t fail to pick up her kids.

Jane Smith (not her real name) was Shechter’s coworker and friend: “Sharon was first and foremost a really good mom. We were all moms, so we all talked about our kids all the time. Sharon was always doing something with her mother and the kids. She was the mom you wanted to be—always doing projects and letting the kids help in the kitchen, all the messy stuff. Her number-one priority was her kids. We knew she wouldn’t just disappear; none of us thought that. Something bad had happened. Anyone that knew Sharon knew her kids came first. She was ten minutes late, and we were like, ‘We need to call the police,’ but we didn’t think they would take us seriously. Because she’s an adult, and there are a lot of people who don’t show up to work. But that’s not like her.”

But the sheriff ’s office did take them seriously, took a missing person’s report, and put out a be-on-the-lookout (BOLO) for her van.

Investigators learned the missing woman had a tumultuous domestic life. She met the charming Alan Shechter at a party during the summer of 1988. Following a whirlwind romance, they had a quickie wedding on February 18, 1989, with Sharon purchasing a gown straight from a rack at the mall. Three years later, in 1992, they started their family and went on to have three children together.

Eventually, it became apparent that the marriage was disintegrating, and in early 2000, Sharon filed for divorce. In October 2000 there was an incident. Sharon alleged domestic abuse and received an order of protection. Alan was to stay away from her and the kids. He disregarded it, and she had him arrested; he was charged with second-degree criminal contempt for violating an order of protection. But the order expired on November 21, 2001 and had not been renewed. The divorce proceedings were set to be finalized in court mere days after Sharon vanished.

Three days after Shechter’s disappearance, police found her 1993 red Dodge Caravan tucked in the rear parking lot of the Days Inn motel on Chili Avenue in Gates, fourteen miles from home. When they searched the interior, they were shocked by what they saw. Blood, lots of it.

No one could be sure how long the van had been there. The Days Inn was an airport motel, and travelers shuttled to and from, so it wasn’t uncommon for vehicles to sit for prolonged periods of time. As police covered the scene, rusty train cars idled on the tracks behind the motel, while the bustling I-390 and dense trees flanked either side. Shechter hadn’t registered as a guest, and there was no evidence that she’d entered the building. Today, the area is well covered with surveillance cameras, but not in 2001.

Following the van’s recovery, Alan Shechter retained a lawyer and stopped talking about Sharon. The three children were staying with him and instructed by the sheriff’s office to not talk to the press.

In the months following Sharon’s disappearance, Alan refused to allow the children to see their maternal grandmother, Sandra Poole—her only grandchildren, the only bridge to her daughter. She was devastated and fought in family court to obtain visitation rights. A volunteer lawyer, Robert McLean II of the nonprofit Volunteer Legal Services Project, represented Poole. She was granted privileges eighteen months after Shechter disappeared.

During the first weeks and months after Shechter was gone, friends and relatives kept busy making sure people didn’t forget. They tacked up 3,000 posters with her picture all over Monroe County stores, gas stations, and bus stops. It gave them something to do for a while. By the spring thaw, Poole, with waning hope, urged hikers and farmers to keep an eye out for remains. Gathering at The Marketplace Mall in June 2002, Poole and loved ones released six purple balloons, her daughter’s favorite color, representative of each month she had been missing.

Investigators noted the geographical proximity in 2007 when, only a few hundred yards from where Sharon Shechter’s van was found, another person went missing. He was Brian Sullivan, a pleasant and polite nineteen-year-old, last seen at the Burger King on Chili Avenue in Gates at 5:38 a.m. on July 8, 2007. His 1995 red Pontiac Sunfire was found nearby at the end of Lettington Avenue off Hinchey Road. His bank card and his receipt from Burger King were in the car. The two events are equally baffling but are thought to be unrelated.

In February 2018, seventeen years after Shechter’s disappearance, it was publicly announced by Sheriff’s Investigator Michael Shannon that the investigation was being handled as a homicide due to the “circumstances.” (It has never been revealed if the blood in the van was indeed Sharon Shechter’s, but such a DNA match may have been the “circumstance” that led to the change in the crime’s characterization.)

To date, no persons of interest or suspects have been publicized, and neither Sharon Shechter’s body nor her personal effects have ever been found.

Shay Arcarese grew up in Perinton and is a true crime enthusiast who has been independently investigating the disappearance of Sharon Shechter since 2020. She has a podcast, The Raven Calling, that further explores Sharon’s life and case. Today, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office still classifies the investigation into Sharon’s disappearance as open and ongoing. Any information you may have on Sharon Shechter should be directed to them, or if you prefer, email your information and contact info to [email protected].

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