Alissa Turney, 17, was finishing her junior year in high school on May 17, 2001, when she disappeared. Her sister, Sarah Turney, was 12-years old when her sister disappeared and remembers her sister being excited for the summer to come. While young Sarah was on an end-of-year field trip to a water park, her family was about to change forever. The Turney sisters lived with Sarah’s biological father, Michael Turney, after their mother, Barbara Strahm, died from cancer when Alissa was eight-years old. Michael adopted Alissa as his own afterwards, adding a daughter along with his daughter, Sarah, and three sons who were already grown and out of the house (Cavallier 2020).
When Michael Turney went to pick up Alissa from school that day, she reportedly was not there (Cavallier 2020). According to Sarah Turney, he also claims to have taken Alissa out of school early. However, he gives conflicting stories: he picked her up early, she never went to school that day, or she ran away with a biker. He also told a neighbor that she went to live with relatives in California. Her disappearance happening on the last day of school also seems to be strategic: if she disappears on the last day, children won’t be at school going to counselors where they may talk about things she had told them about her relationship with her father (Turney 2019). Her boyfriend and some of Alissa’s friends did confirm that Michael picked her up around lunch time on the last day of school (Pai 2020). Her bedroom, which was usually tidy, was found in disarray, and her phone was found on her dresser when they attempted to call her. With her phone was a note, written in what appeared to be her handwriting, claiming that she was running away to California, where an aunt lived (Cavallier 2020). The note read, “Dad and Sarah, When you dropped me off at school today, I decided I really am going to California. Sarah, you said you really wanted me gone – now you have it. Dad, I took $300 from you. That’s why I saved my money” (Pai 2020). Alissa had previously talked about leaving Arizona and heading to California, even talking about wanting a white jeep like Cher in Clueless. The family learned later that Alissa had never made it to their aunt’s house, if that was truly where she was heading (Cavallier 2020).
According to Sarah, her father was frantic about her sister, both before and after she went missing. Before her disappearance, he constantly needed to know where she was and what she was doing. He was overbearing, controlling to the point of possible psychological abuse. Sarah Turney noted that he never treated her the way he treated Alissa. After Alissa went missing, he apparently went to California repeatedly to look for her. He passed out fliers of her and went house-to-house looking for information on his missing child (Cavallier 2020). His frantic behavior with his family, and the panic he caused in them, was contrary to the nearly blasé way in which he reported her missing at nearly 11 PM that night. When he called to report her missing, he reported that she had left and left a note, leading to the conclusion that she had run away. Michael once worked for law enforcement and would absolutely know how to report in a manner that would result in little interest in following up with the report. Calling in and acting as if this is a standard runaway teenager and not a genuinely missing person would result in less eyes on the case. This caused a major delay in investigating the case, which meant evidence that could have helped find Alissa Turney is no longer available, such as phone records from the time or traffic cameras (Turney 2019).
While Michael Turney was apparently building the façade of a concerned father, his son James Turney was more concerned with his sisters’ safety. James told Dateline that, after their mother’s death, he hoped to give the girls a safe place to live and that he felt his father was not treating them well or keeping with safe. Just months before Alissa disappeared, she told James during a conversation that she was frightened of her father and wanted to leave. When he learned she was missing, he thought she had run away just like most everyone else. What was confusing was that she didn’t go to any of the places she could have, like his house or her aunt’s house, and she had left behind her belongings, including approximately $1,800 in her bank account (Cavallier 2020). In the years since her disappearance, not only has that $1,800 gone untouched, but her social security number has never been used. If she had run away, eventually she would have needed to use her social security number to get a job or attend school again. She never got to attend her senior year and would surely have joined a new school when she settled. She’s never contacted anyone else in her family, even 19 years later. Surely, once her family was free of her father, she would make contact were she still alive (Pai 2020).
While Michael Turney has been the main subject of scrutiny by the public, in 2006 a confession made by Thomas Hymer brought the case back to the public eye. Hymer, who was serving time for the 2001 murder of Sandra Goodman in Florida, claimed to have killed Alissa. Unfortunately for the Turney family, his story didn’t add up and he later confessed that he was mistaken. The confession may have been false, but it brought a renewed interest in the case and family members who had never been talked to by the police began to come forward. Allegations began to pile up on Michael Turney and his relationship with Alissa. Sarah, who would have said before that her father was not likely involved, began to question him as well. She found that his story about the day Alissa went missing seemed to be changing over time and it didn’t feel right (Cavallier 2020).
It was in 2008 that the case was finally reopened and reclassified from a runaway to foul play. Due to the allegations made by others against Michael Turney of sexual abuse, he quickly became the main suspect in her disappearance and possible murder. When a search warrant was served in December 2008 for the house the Turney’s lived in at the time, they found videotapes dating back to the 1980s and surveillance footage from the house. Despite the surveillance on the house, no videos were found from the day Alissa went missing (Cavallier 2020). Sarah Turney sites the supposed failure of all the surveillance equipment on the exact day that Alissa went missing as suspicious. There was a passive recording device on the family phone that recorded all calls, and she says her father maintained before she was even born. There were multiple cameras hidden throughout the house, including phasing the doorway and hidden in a vent facing their cough. Michael Turney claims that the recording device on the phone failed when Alissa supposedly made a phone call to the family in which she told him that her leaving was his fault and that she was never leading California (Pai 2020), and has said both that the cameras in the house failed and that there is video from the day Alissa disappeared, but he won’t share it with police (Turney 2019). If he truly has footage from the day Alissa Turney disappeared, it is extremely suspicious that he won’t hand the footage over to detectives investigating her disappearance.
Other items found in the house included two handmade silencers, 26 handmade explosive devices (filled with gunpowder and nails), a van filled with gas cans, and a whopping 19 high caliber rifles. A manifesto was also found, titled “Diary of a Madman Martyr” and spanning 98-pages. Michael Turney plead guilty to possessing 26 unregistered pipe bombs in March of 2010 and received the maximum 10-year sentence, but was released in 2017. While Sarah Turney was hopeful that the investigation into her father’s involvement in Alissa’s disappearance would continue, but was disappointed to be told by the police that they could not bring charges against any people of interest in the case (Cavallier 2020). During this search was also when they recovered letters written by Alissa in which she wrote about the sexual abuse she suffered at her stepfather’s hands. They also recovered the contracts she signed which stated that he had not sexually abused (Pai 2020).
According to Sarah’s blog, “Justice for Alissa”, she knows exactly why her father likely killed her sister. Michael Turney was abusing Alissa sexually as well as the abuse through control. Not only did family members come forward with allegations of abuse, but friends of Alissa’s came forward and a teacher who had been dating Michael Turney attested to the abuse as well. Alissa also wrote letters here she talked about the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her father. Michael was known to follow Alissa to work and wait in the parking lot so that he knew where she was at all times. His controlling behavior with Alissa came across to others as more of an abusive boyfriend than a father. Not only did Michael warn Alissa’ friends and their parents that she was gullible and couldn’t take care of herself, he also forced her to sign behavioral contracts that stated that he never abused her, sexually or physically. Michael made a call to Child Protective Services a year before Alissa’s disappearance claiming that she was going to call and falsely accuse him of sexually abusing her to get him to buy her a car (even though in reality, he had been offering to buy her a car so that she could drive Sarah to school and run errands), apparently to ask what a parent should do if a child falsely accuses them of sexual abuse. Sarah does not remember any of Michael’s other children ever being subjected to the treatment that Alissa was, and she believes this behavior becoming public knowledge was the motivation for Michael (Turney 2019).
On that day, Michael would have had an alarmingly long amount of time alone with Alissa during which time he could have murdered her and hidden her body. From the time he picked her up, approximately 11 AM, to nearly 7 PM that night, he was alone with Alissa. It is known that Michael has an extensive knowledge of the desert, leading to the possibility that her remains could be out there somewhere. He was also seen buying a large amount of lye near the time that Alissa went missing and has acknowledged that he did buy the lye. Furthering the suspicion on Michael, he had identical trucks at the time, one of which was hidden from his children, which he sold shortly after Alissa’s disappearance (Turney 2019). As we know already, he made several trips to California under the guise of looking for Alissa. Is it possible that her remains are hidden somewhere out there? Did one, or perhaps both, of those trucks have evidence in them that could tie him to her? Michael Turney also told family members another story: someone had been following Alissa with the intent to cause her harm. This was where he came up with his excuse to go to California looking for her and began making the fliers he gave out. He said the police were not helping and he would have to do things himself (Pai 2020).
Michael told one of his sons that Alissa was killed by assassins sent by the Electrician Union and buried in Desert Center, CA and that he was forced to kill these men. Yet, he continued to tell the rest of the Turney family that Alissa was missing. If he truly knew that Alissa was dead and where her body was buried, why would he continue to tell the rest of his family that she was missing? Why wouldn’t he have told investigators where her remains were (Turney 2019)? Michael did apparently tell police the same story, but when they checked on the men he named, they found that the men had actually died of natural causes (Pai 2020). On top of this suspicious behavior, Michael Turney refuses to give DNA samples to police and has refused to do any formal interviews without meeting certain criteria first. A meeting with police must take place on live television, with him having the ability to interrogate his family, John Walsh, the judge that presided over his bomb case, and two Phoenix police detectives. Not only would he be interrogating these people, but he would require them to be on a polygraph operated by a Canadian operator (Turney 2019).
Since his release from prison on the bomb charges, Sarah has only seen her father in person once. It was October of 2017 when she met with him at a Starbucks, a neutral space, Sarah with the intention to find out what happened to Alissa and Michael with the intention of reconnecting with his daughter (Cavallier 2020). However, when Michael realized that Sarah was not there to reconnect after his stay in prison, he became angry. Sarah reports on her blog that he made several jarring, digusting statements about her sister before declaring, “Be at the deathbed Sarah and I will give you all the honest answers you want to hear,” followed by the statement that he would tell everything if the state would give him a lethal injection within 10 days (Turney 2019).
Sarah Turney has remained vocal in the case of her sister, running her blog and her podcast, Voices for Justice, which chronicles Alissa’s disappearance. She also began a youtube channel, a facebook page, and began posting videos on Tik Tok, which is where I was first exposed to the case. Her Tik Tok videos are what made me decide to write on her sister’s disappearance, in hopes that maybe someone would read this article and know something that may help (Cavallier 2020). While I was beginning my research for this blog, a major break was made in the case: Michael Turney has been arrested for the murder of Alissa Turney. The announcement that a grand jury indicted Michael on second-degree murder charges in the death of Alissa Turney came on Thursday, August 20, 2020. The actual indictment was handed down on Agust 19, 2020 (Phakdeetham 2020). Sarah Turney and her siblings will finally see justice, but it isn’t over yet. The Turney siblings deserve the chance to have a proper burial for their sister. Her remains have still not been recovered, all these years later. If you know something, or believe you do, please contact the Phoenix, AZ police at (602) 262-6141 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can contact Silent Witnesses at 480-WITNESS (Cavallier 2020).
Cavallier, A. (2020, June 14). Sister of Alissa Turney who disappeared on last day of school in Phoenix, Arizona in 2001 turns to TikTok app for help. Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://www.nbcnews.com/dateline/sister-alissa-turney-who-disappeared-last-day-school-phoenix-arizona-n1231014
Turney, S. (2019, April 27). 5 Reasons I Know My Father Killed My Sister, Alissa Turney. Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://justiceforalissa.com/blog/f/5-reasons-why-i-know-my-father-killed-my-sister-alissa-turney
Pai, A. (2020, July 16). Alissa Turney’s stepfather facing charges 19 years after Arizona teen went mysteriously missing from school. Retrieved August 25, 2020, from https://meaww.com/19-years-after-alissa-turney-disappeared-police-set-to-charge-her-stepfather
Phakdeetham, J. (2020, August 21). Stepdad charged with 2001 murder of teen despite NO body being found. Retrieved August 25, 2020, from https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/12468994/alissa-turney-stepdad-charged-murder-no-body/