Searching for closure
Questions remain despite confirmation of missing woman’s death
Summer Reeser drove from her home in Oregon to her hometown of Chico last week expecting to mourn the death of her mother, Victorene “Vicki” Pyrskalla, who went missing in 1996 at the age of 42.
Reeser’s grandparents had been informed by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office on Friday, May 17, that DNA samples investigators had taken from them a few months ago had linked their missing daughter to a Jane Doe in Yolo County.
“I hoped that one day maybe somebody would say something or she’d be found, but I really didn’t think it would happen, so this was an utter shock,” Reeser said during an interview at the CN&R.
That body, as it turns out, was found in the Sacramento River 17 years ago, just four months and 22 days after Pyrskalla’s mysterious disappearance.
According to a BCSO press release issued Wednesday, May 22, confirming the DNA match, on May 25, 1996, jet skiers spotted the badly decomposed remains floating near Crawdad’s River Cantina, a restaurant along the Garden Highway in Sacramento. A brief coroner’s report out of Yolo County gives the deceased an approximate age of 43 to 58 and notes evidence of methamphetamine use. The unidentified woman was buried in a numbered plot at Woodland Cemetery. On Monday (May 20), Reeser, her husband, Tim, and several other family members attended a graveside service there.
But something was amiss.
Reeser pointed to discrepancies she’s discovered in the coroner’s report, including the height and weight of the Jane Doe. Pyrskalla was 5-foot-1 and close to 170 pounds, but the body was approximately four inches taller and weighed 135 pounds. Reeser says the coroner told her the body’s reproductive organs were intact. But she insists her mother had an ovary and fallopian tube removed, and likely would’ve had uterine scarring from endometriosis.
“The body in no way, shape or form matches my mother,” she said. “I understand there is a DNA match. How did that DNA match come to be?”
The report also lists the death as a probable drowning, which makes no sense to Reeser or her family, especially considering the circumstances surrounding Pyrskalla’s disappearance.
Pyrskalla, who had two daughters, vanished from her father’s small almond farm near Chico River Road on Jan. 3, 1996. Her father, Harmon Wright, and husband, Fred Pyrskalla, as well as the rest of the family suspected foul play. Pyrskalla had been staying in a travel trailer on the property while awaiting a court date scheduled for Jan. 10 on a probation violation related to a welfare-fraud conviction. She was facing a sentence of two years in prison.
The day after she went missing, Pyrskalla’s familyfound a pool of blood on the ground outside of the trailer. In a CN&R story about the incident from Feb. 8, 1996, Wright talked about the amount of blood, which was determined to be human. “The cops said it was not enough blood to be life-threatening, but I don’t know. It was quite a lot,” he said, indicating an area about a foot in diameter and a couple inches thick. “It was all coagulated.”
A window to his home had been broken into and the cord running electricity to the trailer had been unplugged. The trailer’s door was ajar, and inside were Pyrskalla’s shoes. Missing were her wallet and purse.
Reeser, just 20 years old back then and a resident of Missouri, had been visiting Chico only days earlier. Pyrskalla had spent time with Reeser in Missouri and told her daughter she wished she could get in the car and go back with her.
“I told her I would leave my stuff [in order to make room] so that she could come with me. But she said, ‘You know I can’t do that, or else [the authorities] will always be after me,” Reeser said. “I said, ‘I know, mom.’ And then I left.”
It was the last time she saw her mother.
The last person to see Pyrskalla alive reportedly was a man named Gary Otto Meyer. Pyrskalla was at a friend’s house the evening of her disappearance and agreed to give him a ride. Meyer, who was questioned by law enforcement, has an extensive rap sheet and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in 1996 on a third-strike burglary conviction.
Despite the blood and other indications of foul play, Reeser said her family got the impression that BCSO investigators believed her mother had run off to avoid a possible prison term. In a CN&R story in 1996, Pyrskalla’s probation officer, Debbie Grover, said she thought she’d faked her disappearance. “She’s a master manipulator,” she said.
Those words have haunted Reeser.
For 17 long years, she has been battling with the depression and anger stemming from Pyrskalla’s absence. She does not believe her mother is alive, but will not get closure until she finds out whether that Jane Doe is indeed her mother and, at long last, how her mother died.
“I want to know for sure,” she said. “The person in that autopsy report is not my mother.”