Hue and Cry

The Disappearance of Alissa Turney

The Disappearance of Alissa Turney

Location: Phoenix, Arizona  |  Year: 2001

In 2001, Alissa Turney was 17 years old and a junior in high school living with her stepsister Sarah and stepfather Michael Turney. Alissa’s mother had passed away and Michael’s three older boys were living out of the house.

Each sister had a very different relationship with their father. Michael was a cool, laid-back dad with Sarah, but with Alissa, he was uptight, strict, and monitored her whereabouts. He told Sarah he did this because Alissa needed more guidance and direction in life. Tensions between Alissa and her stepfather were always high.

Alissa Turney and friends (East Valley Tribune)

When Alissa was around her friends, she was a completely different person than when she was around her family. She just radiated when she was out and about with friends, and it seems like that, that energy that she had kind of got sucked back in when she went into her home.

Katie Rothweiler, grade school friend of Alissa Turney (ABC News)

May 17, 2001, was the last day of school before summer break and that day Alissa’s sister Sarah was on an end-of-year retreat at Water World. Michael failed to show up after school to pick Sarah up at 3 pm though. Sarah ended up walking to a friend’s house to wait for him. Sometime in the evening her father finally arrived to pick her up and informed her that Alissa was missing.

Sarah used her father’s phone to try to contact Alissa on the way home but couldn’t reach her. At the house, Michael had Sarah check Alissa’s bedroom. There she found the contents of Alissa’s backpack scattered on her bed and her cellphone on top of her dresser. Her cell phone was next to a note, which 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.

Note from Alissa Turney to her sister Sarah and father Michael

This was not surprising to Sarah at first because Alissa actually did have an aunt in California who she had recently talked about going to live with, as she had not been getting along with their father.

That night, Michael, who use to be a police officer himself, called the police department to report Alissa as a runaway. Police opened a missing person’s file but no investigation or follow-up was done, as Michael claimed she was a runaway and that he knew her location was in California.

A week after Alissa disappeared, Michael told police he received a call from her early in the morning between 4 to 5 am from Riverside, California. On the call, Alissa apparently told him she was unhappy with her life, blamed him as the reason she left, and then hung up. Police were never able to verify the call and were unable to obtain a copy of the recording. Michael had a home recording system but had told the police it was not on at the time of the call because of the early hour.

During the years after her disappearance, Michael started telling family and those close to Alissa that he thought something terrible had happened to her. He thought someone might have been following her or caused harm to her and since the police were not doing anything he had to search for her himself. Michael would even make several trips to California to search and pass out missing person flyers of Alissa.

Michael Turney (East Valley Tribune)

In 2006, several years after Alissa disappeared, the police got a lead from a man named Thomas Hymer. Hymer was in a Florida prison serving time for murder and sent police a letter confessing to Alissa’s murder. Police eventually realized the letter was a hoax,  but during their investigation, they noticed things were not adding up with Michael’s initial story.

In the 7 years since Alissa had gone missing, she had not contacted a single one of her friends or anyone in her family, including the aunt she was supposed to live with. The $1,800 she initially had in her bank was still there, untouched. Her social security number was also never used, meaning she had never gotten a job or gone to school. It became clear to the police that this was not a runaway case.

Police learned that the day Alissa went missing, she was not in school the entire day. Michael had picked her up from school near lunchtime, which was confirmed by her boyfriend John, who said Alissa had told him she was leaving early but would see him later that evening at an end-of-year party. Many of her friends also claimed that she told them she would see them later that night at the party.

Michael’s version of the story was that he picked her up to get lunch and when they arrived home, they got into a fight about house rules, which ended with her storming off to her room and him leaving to run errands.

Police also discovered Michael was a very meticulous and paranoid man. He had documented every incoming and outgoing call to the house and had cameras placed outside of his property. There was even a hidden camera in the vent of the living room. When police asked for the videotapes of the day of Alissa’s disappearance, Michael told them he reviewed them and there was nothing to see. When they ask for the audiotapes of that day, he told them that unfortunately on that day the recorder had been turned off, so nothing was recorded.

At this point, police had enough probable cause to search the house. While doing so, investigators came across twenty-six homemade pipe bombs and a 90-page manifesto written by Michael. In the manifesto, Michael claimed that Alissa had run away, but he believed she was followed by two men from the electrical union he used to work for. During his time at the electrical union, he was a whistleblower and he believed that the men took revenge on him by murdering Alissa. He then avenged her death by killing the two men (the men he was referring to were found to have died of natural causes).

Police also recovered tons of paperwork and hundreds of hours of audio and videotapes but were still unable to find anything from the day Alissa went missing. Letters were found where Alissa claimed to have been molested by Michael and parent-child contracts were found, which Alissa had signed to agree that she had never been sexually assaulted. Friends, her boyfriend, and a teacher, later confirmed hearing about these allegations.

After interviewing Alissa’s friends, police learned from one friend that Alissa had confided in him that her father had tried sexually abusing her when she was younger. He had picked her up early one day from school and driven to a secluded area where he attempted to fool around with her. She also told her friend that he got aggressive. Another friend told police that one time Alissa awoke to her father trying to gag her with a sock. Michael Turney has denied all of these allegations.

Michael Turney ended up pleading guilty and served ten years in prison for the twenty-six pipe bombs. He was also declared to have a paranoid personality disorder and required to participate in mental health treatments.

UPDATE – June 9, 2020:

Sarah Turney announced in a case update from her Voices for Justice podcast, that the Phoenix police department are submitting Alissa’s case to the prosecutor’s office for charges against Michael Turney. You can listen to Sarah Turney’s podcast, Voices for Justice, for more information and case developments.

UPDATE – August 21, 2020:

Michael Turney has officially been arrested for the disappearance of Alissa Turney. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office announced second-degree murder charges against him in a press conference. Alissa’s sister, Sarah Turney, also announced the news on Twitter:

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