COURTESY OF THE SYKES FAMILY
For months, the police in Berkeley, Missouri, have been investigating the disappearance of 25-year-old Monica Sykes
, who got in a car outside her sister's house early in the morning of October 28 and hasn't been heard from since.
But last week, Sykes' mother publicly raised questions about the department's handling of the case
— telling the RFT
that phone records show that Monica had become very close with a Berkeley police officer in the month before her disappearance. Now Howard has apparently been placed on administrative leave.
Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins did not return a call or email seeking comment, nor did Police Captain Art Jackson, the department's interim chief.
But Regina Sykes tells the RFT
that Hoskins called her last week after the RFT's story was published — the first time she's heard from the mayor during her family's three-month ordeal. (Previously, she said, she left him a message, but he never returned her call.)
See also: Monica Sykes Was Out With a Berkeley Cop Just Before Her Disappearance
In their conversation last Thursday, the mayor told Regina Sykes that Howard had been placed on administrative leave and will stay there until the investigation is complete. That detail was confirmed by Captain Jackson in a KMOV story
over the weekend.
Berkeley's interim chief confirms Sykes spent the night at one of his officer's homes the night before she disappeared. That officer is Robert Howard. .... "He was placed on administrative leave because of things that evolved during the course of the investigation that we need to look more into. At this point, I am not going to name him as a suspect," says Interim Chief Art Jackson.
In their phone call, Mayor Hoskins also pledged to the Sykes that there would be a weekly status meeting between the family and the police department, an idea the family welcomes.
Then the mayor said that the department was putting a new detective in charge of the investigation, replacing the female officer who's worked the case since day one.
Regina Sykes vociferously argued against such a move. "As I told him, my husband and I have full and complete trust in her," she says. "She's been nothing but up front with us. We don't have a problem with her at all. My issue has been with her superiors."
And that "issue" is mainly because they aren't sure whether they can trust the department to investigate its own. The family had no idea Monica was hanging out with Howard, 39, until after she went missing — which they say is odd since Monica told her older sister everything. Beyond that, Howard, who has been with the department less than a year, was subject to an order of protection from his estranged wife not long before Monica's disappearance. His wife wrote in her application that she feared for her life and her children's. (Howard was never served with the order, and it later expired.)
The department has stated that Howard is not a suspect — and that they have identified another "person of interest" to blame for Monica's disappearance. That man, who'd been seeing Monica for a few months before she went missing, has been taken into custody on a probation violation.
The Sykes family isn't ruling him out by any means, but they believe everyone who was near Monica bears closer scrutiny. That means anyone who interacted with her in the hours before her disappearance. And as far as the family is concerned, Howard is the last adult confirmed to have seen Monica alive.
As Howard confirmed to the RFT
, he dropped Monica off at her sister's home at 6:48 a.m. on the morning of her disappearance. She vanished just fifteen minutes later after only a brief encounter with her young nephews, telling them she was getting them some candy and would be back soon. She didn't even take her wallet.
Monica's six-year-old nephew said she got into a white car, but the Sykes family has noted that he wouldn't have an unobstructed view of the street (and beyond that, that he is six years old).
The man Monica was publicly seeing did drive a white car. That car was later found burned in unincorporated St. Louis County, according to Interim Chief Jackson.
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