(Sonya Cywink in a photo from 1989. She was murdered in 1994 and the case remains unsolved (Photo courtesy of the family)
APTN National News
When Mag Cywink sees the earth kick up from a strong swirling wind she hears her sister.
Almost like she’s calling out to her from the whirlwind.
A whisper from her spirit.
After all, Sonya Nadine Mae Cywink was the Whirlwind Woman.
It’s been like this for 22 years for Mag – that’s how long it’s been since Sonya was murdered.
”We are sent messages, we just have to listen,” said Mag.
People die but their spirits do not, she said.
Mag’s spirit is what’s kept her pushing after all these years to make sure Sonya’s unsolved murder isn’t forgotten.
Sonya, originally from Whitefish River First Nation on Manitoulin Island, was living in London, Ont. at the time and struggling with the wide swath of addictions when she disappeared Aug. 26, 1994.
Witnesses reported last seeing her near Dundas and Lyle streets around 2 a.m.
Four days later her body was found just outside of London in Elgin County on the historical pre-contact village site of the Neutral people.
She was 31.
It’s been an open murder investigation for the Ontario Provincial Police ever since.
Sgt. Chris Gheysen, 50, was the lead detective on Sonya’s case and was doing paperwork in the office when the call came in.
“I still remember it was a sunny late summer day,” said Gheysen in an interview with APTN National News.
The call came in through dispatch that “a body has been found” and Gheysen responded.
Upon arrival, he saw Sonya’s body and from there worked to find out what happened.
The investigation took him to some of the roughest parts of London at the time.
“It was a difficult investigation because we had no witnesses come forward offering credible information,” said Gheysen.
He said a lot of the people who knew Sonya then are still alive and likely know who killed her.
“I’m confident there is more than one person, there is a number of people out there that know what happened to Sonya,” he said. “They can still to this day provide that one piece of information to solve it. I wholeheartedly believe it’s a case that is solvable. We just need people to talk.”
While it’s been many years since Gheysen first investigated Sonya’s murder, he’s remained in contact with Mag and the two have developed a bond.
“Mag is a special person. She’s made sure Sonya’s memory has not been forgotten. I’ll do anything I can to help,” he said, which includes speaking to APTN, as he has not talked to media about this case.
Mag also speaks highly of the work Gheysen did to try and find her sister’s killer.
“Sonya was his first homicide investigation and I think she changed his life in ways he never anticipated,” said Mag. “He was willing to sacrifice his life (and) remained our friend after 22 years.”
In 1998, a couple years after Gheysen was no longer on the case, he attended a Releasing the Spirit ceremony where a Lakota medicine man gave Sonya her spirit name, Whirlwind Woman.
Since then, the case has changed hands multiple times and is now under the direction of Det. Andy Raffay of the OPP’s criminal investigation unit.
Raffay said evidence from the older cases like Sonya’s get retested as new technology becomes available.
“Since Sonya’s death there have been advances in case management, the sciences and technology used to assist in criminal investigations,” he said.
But so far that hasn’t yielded any new leads and on Tuesday the OPP announced they were offering a $60,000 reward, $10,000 of it put up by Mag, for any information that leads to a conviction.
It’s not the first time the reward has been offered but police believe at this point people are either going to be motivated to come forward by money or guilt.
The night before the anniversary of Sonya’s death Mag lit a memorial candle.
Not just to honour her sister but the nephew she never got to meet. Sonya was pregnant at the time of her death.
“To honour her life and Jacob our unborn nephew whose life must also be honoured,” he said.
Losing her sister the way she did tormented Mag for years after. But has found comfort in being a voice for Indigenous women and is part of the group No More Silence that raises awareness.
“There is peace in doing something to make certain no other family has to endure the pain and heartache,” she said.
In the meantime, she waits for the next whirlwind and maybe a tip that will find her sister’s killer.
Anyone with information about Sonya’s murder is asked to contact the OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or to remain anonymous call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.