A woman who was adopted would often wonder what happened to her biological mom. But in 2002, she learned the horrifying truth.
Cheryl Gyant always knew she was adopted, but it wasn’t until she was ten years old that she found out. She never thought much about her birth parents until she read a book about a notorious serial killer duo that had terrorized northern California in the 1980s. The book detailed the horrific crimes of Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, who were accused of kidnapping, torturing, and murdering as many as twenty-five women. They claimed that their killing spree was inspired by the novel “The Collector,” and they were eventually caught after a shoplifting incident and a suicide.
As Gyant delved deeper into the story, she learned that her birth mother, Sheryl Okoro, was likely one of their victims. Okoro had disappeared from San Francisco in 1984, and her fate remained a mystery until a heartbreaking letter and nude photos were found near the killers’ remote bunker in Calaveras County.
When Gyant found the letter, she knew it was from her birth mother. “Those 11 pages are all I have of my mother,” she said. She decided to write a fictionalized biography of her mother, entitled “A Letter from Sheri,” as a way of honoring her memory.
Okoro’s life was marked by tragedy from an early age. She grew up in Michigan and ran away from home several times, eventually becoming pregnant at sixteen. By the time she was twenty-six, she was living in San Francisco’s Pink Palace apartment complex when she met Lake, who offered her work on a marijuana farm. She was never seen again.
Leonard Lake’s obsession with pornography and “The Collector” eventually led him to obtain a 2.5-acre compound in Calaveras County, complete with a hidden bunker outfitted with a cell-like room, where he and Charles Ng carried out their heinous crimes. It took years to track down Ng, but he was eventually convicted of killing six men, three women, and two baby boys. He now sits on California’s death row. Prosecutors believe that the killers may have murdered as many as twenty-five people in total.
For Gyant, the discovery of her mother’s tragic fate was a shock. “It’s surreal to think about what happened to her,” she said. “It’s like something out of a horror movie.” But she is determined to honor her mother’s memory and ensure that she is never forgotten.
“I hope readers will take from my book my tenacity, determination and passion for family and do whatever needs to be done to bring closure to their own hurtful situations,” Gyant said of her book inspired by her experiences, titled A Letter From Sheri.
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