The Murder of Alissa Turney

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In the United States, approximately 840,000 children are reported missing each year or 2,300 per day & worldwide, about 8 million children are reported each year. < 1% are taken by someone they don’t know, 91% are runaways and family abductions make up for 5% of missing children. An FBI report from the last 10 years indicate that less than 350 children were abducted annually by strangers. 7.57% of chilren abducted by strangers make it back home and the first 3 hours are the most critical; in 74% of abduction–murder cases, the children were harmed or murdered within the first 3 hours of being abducted. 71% of non-family abductions happen outside during the early morning or afternoon, typically when a child is walking to or from school. Two-thirds of victims are females & almost all children abducted  by strangers are taken by men.

On May 17, 2001, it was the last day of 17-year-old Alissa Turney’s junior year at Paradise Valley High School in Paradise Valley, Arizona. At the time, she was living with her stepfather, Michael Turney & her half-sister, Sarah Turney. 

In 1987, when Alissa was 3, her mom, Barbara Strahm met Michael. He was a deputy for the Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff’s Office in the 1970s. When the two met, Barbara was getting over a difficult marriage with Alissa’s dad. Barbara viewed Michael as her “knight in shining armor” & the two quickly got married. Alissa had an older brother & Michael had three sons at the time; neighbors viewed  the family as The Brady Bunch. The family never liked to use the word “step” when referring to their relationship & Michael legally adopted Alissa. They welcomed Sarah into the family in 1988. 

Things began to change when Michael left his electrical job and a few years later, things took a darker turn when Michael shattered his knee while doing some work on a roof; no one recalls him even being in a cast but from that point on, he never worked again. He also always had issues with mental health & a condition of his disability was that he saw a therapist twice a week. 

When Alissa was nine & Sarah was four, Barbara died from lung cancer; she battled the illness for less than two years & was only 34. Sarah said that her father went into  a deep depression after her mother passed & became a person that her older brothers no longer recognized.

As time went on, Alissa started working at the fast food restaurant, Jack in the Box. According to her sister, Sarah, she was a dedicated employee and never missed a scheduled shift. She loved getting out of the house, earning the extra money to save for her future & socializing; she got along with everyone that she worked with. She didn’t exactly love school but got good grades, other than a D in PE. She was described as brave, strong, outgoing, willing to do anything for a laugh, caring, fun, sarcastic and energetic. She loved listening to Marilyn Manson and doodling. She wore a wrist full of bracelets, each with its own story about how she got it & who it was from. Alissa loved kids & knew that one day she wanted to be a mom; she was also taking child development classes in school.

Sarah wrote a blog post about Alissa in 2019 & described Alissa as more than just her sister, she was the closest thing she had to a mother. She nagged her, suggested she do more with her hair, they decorated for holidays together & her love was persistent & unconditional. Even when the two fought, Sarah knew that Alissa loved her & that the anger would subside. 

On Alissa’s last day of junior year, Michael dropped her off at school as he always did; he picked her up early so they could go for lunch. According to Michael, during lunch, they got into an argument about Alissa wanting more freedom. He told her, “As long as you’re under my roof, you’re going to have to check in with daddy, because daddy is a nervous wreck if you don’t.” He claimed that when they got home, Alissa stormed off to her room & he left to pick Sarah up, who was finishing 7th grade & had spent the day at a waterpark on a field trip. Sarah said that she didn’t notice anything different or unusual about her dad’s behavior that day. She said that he was late picking her up at school so she walked to a friend’s house nearby & called him from there to let him know where she was.

Sarah said that Michael continued to call Alissa on her Nokia phone but couldn’t get a hold of her. She said he was frantic about it but that wasn’t unusual, “My dad always wanted to know where Alissa was – and what she was doing. My dad was often frantic about Alissa.” Years later, it dawned on Sarah that something was strange that she failed to notice that day. She said despite being only 12, she had been smoking cigarettes with her friends that day, breaking one of the few rules her dad actually had for her. He was very firm on this because Sarah’s mother, Barbara had died from lung cancer & had been a smoker. After the fact, it dawned on Sarah that she had been smoking only minutes before her dad picked her up, yet he never said anything about it. 

Michael asked Sarah to call Alissa but she didn’t pick up. When Sarah went into Alissa’s room, she found that she left a note on her dresser: Dad and Sarah, When you dropped me off at school today, I decided that I really am going to California. Sarah, you said you didn’t want me around. Look, you got it, I’m gone. That’s why I saved my money. Dad, I took $300 from you. Experts reviewed the note & it was definitely written in Alissa’s handwriting which was neat & had overly big loops on the A’s. She never referenced the fight  with Michael & it couldn’t be determined when Alissa had written the note. It was strange though because Alissa’s normally neat & tidy room was a mess; her backpack was on the floor with the contents tumbling out. 

As Sarah called Alissa again, she noticed her phone buzzing on the dresser. Alissa being gone was also strange because she had made plans to go to a party that evening with her friends. At the time, Sarah wasn’t overly concerned, Alissa had threatened running away in the past and she figured her sister would be back soon.

A few weeks before Alissa went missing, Mike had contacted Alissa’s aunt, Lynette, who was Barbara’s sister. He told her that Alissa had started smoking pot & wondered if she could go and stay with Lynette for the summer. Lynette agreed though found it unusual that Michael was calling because since Barbara’s death, he hadn’t been in close contact with that side of the family. Lynette believes that Michael was calling with the assumption that she would refuse the idea of  Alissa spending the summer with her. She feels that when she said yes, it threw him off; he later called & said he no longer needed her help. Lynette believes that Michael was trying to keep Alissa away so she couldn’t confide in her about issues that were happening at home. When Michael reported Alissa missing, he told police that he believed she ran off to her aunt’s house in CA. 

Police were not concerned & went with the idea that Alissa was a runaway so there was no police investigation into Alissa’s disappearance. There were no interviews conducted with family or friends, no Amber Alert and no questions as to why the $1800 in Alissa’s bank account was untouched & the fact that she had taken none of her possessions with her. Sarah said, “Me and my brother got swabbed for DNA but that’s it.” No one searched the three bedroom, two bathroom house. Michael told Sarah that the police didn’t care about Alissa’s disappearance & that when he put posters on lampposts, they told him to take them down. He gave Sarah the impression that he was the only one doing anything to find her. 

Sarah said that after Alissa went missing, her dad would talk about Alissa constantly and tell anyone and everyone about her. She said in hindsight, “He made a fuss with everyone, other than the police.” 

A week after Alissa disappeared, at about 5am, Micheal said he got a call from what he believed to be a California phone number. He told ABC, “The conversation was sort of scrambled. It was one-way. I said, ‘Is this you, Alissa?’ The voice sounded a little bit different. But then again, I could realize it was Alissa. And then, she um… Basically, it’s as though she pulled the phone away from her and said a few cuss words and stuff, about, ‘Leave me alone.” He said then the phone went dead.

Sarah said the summer that Alissa went missing, she began to experiment with drugs and alcohol and though she missed her sister, she had other things going on. She’s ashamed to say that as the years went by, she almost got sick of hearing about her & hearing her dad tell the same stories over and over. She said, looking back, she was just being a bratty teenager at the time. A couple of days after Alissa went missing, Michael gave Sarah her cellphone because she didn’t have one at the time. 

Despite this, Sarah remembers sleeping in Alissa’s bed each night & wearing her clothes. She said looking back, she thinks she was trying to be like Alissa and trying to fill the void of her disappearance.

For five years, little to no questions were asked after Alissa disappeared, but, in 2006, self-proclaimed serial killer Thomas Albert Hymer, AKA Psycho, gave a Florida prison guard a picture of Alissa that had been torn out of the pages of USA Today and said, “I killed her. And I’m going to make you famous.” Hymer had been arrested a few months after Alissa disappeared in Gray, Georgia. He was found driving the car that belonged to 30-year-old video store employee, Sandra Goodman who had been found strangled and stabbed the day before, wedged under a bed in Ft Lauderdale. Hymer had been sentenced to life in prison for her murder in 2003.

Hymer never gave any motivation for murdering Goodman & three years later he began writing letters to local investigators, claiming he had killed another 21 people, women like Alissa who had just disappeared. He described in graphic detail what he did to each of these women, saying he replicated how he killed Goodman, strangling her to death in a hotel & dismembering her body in the bathtub before putting the remains at a recycling center. 

Detectives from Phoenix PD’s Missing & Unidentified Persons Unit flew to Florida to speak with Hymer & they quickly figured out that his description of Alissa was not accurate. He claimed that Alissa was a heroin addict though then admitted that he might be mistaken. He said he did kill a woman but perhaps it wasn’t Alissa. He also failed a polygraph.

On a positive note, Hymer’s claims did bring Alissa’s case back into the spotlight since the story was widely reported. The Phoenix Police Department Missing Persons Unit decided to reinvestigate Alissa’s case in 2008 & interviewed 200 people who had known her. Alissa’s friends had disturbing information about the relationship Michael had with Alissa. Sarah said, “It forced them to finally look into my father. It took police two minutes to realize something was extremely wrong.” 

It was also discovered that when Alissa first went missing, Mike never told anyone he had picked her up early from school. Sarah didn’t even know until she saw the special about Alissa’s case featured on 20/20. Mike said that Alissa asked him to pick her up early so she could avoid her boyfriend, John; she said she wanted to break up with him after school. John said that is very doubtful because just that day, the last time he saw her, Alissa stuck her head into one of his classrooms to say hi. She told him she was getting picked up early but she would see him later. Friends said their relationship was very solid and they saw no signs that she planned to break up with him. 

Despite the fact that it appeared Michael had been searching for Alissa after she went missing, he had never really been cooperative with the Phoenix PD, unwilling to undergo a polygraph test or an interview. Sarah had become the point person for communication between police & family. On December 11, 2008, police called Sarah & explained that they believed that her father was responsible for Alissa’s disappearance. When speaking with police, Alissa’s friends claimed that Michael may have been molesting Alissa. 

Despite all of this, at the time, Sarah still had no suspicions that her father was guilty of Alissa’s disappearance; it took her time to understand what actually happened.  Sarah said that her father had never been abusive to her & gave her anything and everything that she wanted. 

Sarah said that her dad was always considerate & giving with her friends, “he’d be the guy who would give my friends five gallons of gas if they ran out. Or give them $10 because they needed it. He was so outwardly kind and generous. He always helped our neighbors out. He gave to charity. He fixed people’s stuff.” 

Out of the blue, Mike contacted police to let them know that he had a new idea as to what could’ve happened to Alissa. He said that when he worked as an electrician in the 1980s, he complained about the working conditions & he believed the union hall had a grudge against him & went after Alissa.  When police went to speak with him, Mike was outside, checking the mail, police discovered that he was carrying a knife, two loaded guns and seven magazines of ammunition. It was now time to search the house.

In the area where Michael & Sarah lived, about a hundred neighbors had been evacuated from their homes; they stood nearby, watching behind the police tape that lined the streets, hoping to see what was going on. Phoenix Police Bomb Squad & the Bureu of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives were searching Micheal’s home. Sarah was brought inside & told to take their three dogs out with her; she had no idea why the bomb squad was there until she watched the news that night. According to a police spokesperson, it was described as the largest seizure of improvised explosive devices that the Phoenix PD had ever made.

Police had found more than 28 pipe bombs and other explosive devices, 19 loaded, high-caliber assault rifles, two handmade silencers and a van filled with gasoline. There was a safe in the house that contained a 98 page manifesto entitled “Diary of a Madman Martyr” written by Michael. He attempted to explain that this was why he was so well-armed. There were multiple copies found, each addressed to a different media outlet.

Like he told police, he wrote that the union had kidnapped & murdered Alissa & buried her in Desert Center, CA. He claimed to have killed two assassins who carried out the hit on Alissa. 

The manifesto ended with an “operational plan” that involved him driving an explosive-filled van to the union hall; he planned to shoot any survivors &  then kill himself. Sarah said the van had been there, in the yard  for months; she & her friends would sit inside it & smoke cigarettes. 

Desert Center, where Michael claimed that Alissa was buried, was not a place they had ever visited; it was a three hour drive from where they lived in Phoenix. Sarah believes it was a place he could say & people would search but find no body. She said that by this point, her dad had been on disability for many years & had all the time in the world to do research. She said he had gone to CA multiple times, claiming he was looking for Alissa.

Sarah said she found a map in her dad’s things of California; it had been marked with specific coordinates. She gave it to the police but it was never investigated. In 2003, a hiker in Desert Center came across bones but the gender of the person couldn’t even be identified & tests came back inconclusive. Sarah was completely on her father’s side until about a year after the 20/20 episode aired & she began putting pieces of the puzzle together. She believes that her dad took Alissa to the middle of nowhere, tried to sexually assault her, she fought back & said she was going to tell someone & he snapped. She feels he buried her there and came home. 

There was also a home video that Sarah found that she didn’t recall from when she was little. She was holding a video camera & her dad was telling her to hit the red button to stop recording. She didn’t & you could hear Alissa calling, “Sarah! Dad’s a pervert!” When Mike discovered the camera was still on, he started yelling, “And Alissa is a stupid moron!” over and over. 

The police search gave a picture of what Alissa’s life was like while under Michael’s care. They found many homemade, notarized contracts; one was dated from 1999, two years before her disappearance. It asked the then 16-year-old to sign her name next to the declaration that Michael Turney had never molested her. However, Alissa did tell many friends that she was molested by her step-dad often. Alissa’s boyfriend, John Laakman, told police that Michael had once taken Alissa out to deserted land & sexually assaulted her. A school teacher & friends attested to this as well. Friends also said that Alissa told them that one night she woke up, gagged & bound & tied to a chair with Michael on top of her. 

Michael’s nephew, David had lived with them for 6 months in the late 1990s. David claimed that one night he got home late from work & everyone was sleeping. He tried to watch a VHS tape labeled “Doctor Dolittle” but instead, the tape contained footage of a woman laying on the sofa, wearing nothing but shorts & had a newspaper covering her face. He was sure it was Alissa. In another frame, another woman, possibly Alissa’s friend, was also in the room & also wearing nothing but shorts with her face covered with a newspaper.  He said Michael sat in the room, just watching. David couldn’t understand what he was seeing; were the girls in the video drugged and passed out? Regardless, he was so disgusted that he immediately moved out. Michael claims that David is just a drunk & these are lies. 

Police did find hundreds of VHS tapes & surveillance cameras everywhere, both inside & out. Many of them focused on Alissa, some even capturing her & her boyfriend making out. All telephone calls were set to be automatically recorded too. Oddly enough, despite all of the cameras, there was no footage from the day that Alissa went missing. The phone call Alissa allegedly made from California was also not captured. 

Police were able to apprehend Michael because of the unlawful possession of pipe bombs. In June of 2010 Michael was sentenced to 10 years & served 7, being released in 2017.

Sarah knew that her dad liked guns, often going to gun shows; she said that everyone in Phoenix has a gun so she was never alarmed by this. Sarah said that  she had the master bedroom in the house with her own bathroom, a refrigerator in her room and a door to the outside so she often came & went as she pleased. 

After the death of their mother, Barbara, Michael began treating his daughters differently; despite Alissa being older, he was much more strict with her. She was more rebellious & did smoke some pot & occasionally skip school. Michael would search Alissa’s belongings, monitor her phone calls & sit in the parking lot during her shifts at Jack in the Box. He treated Sarah 180 degrees differently; Alissa wasn’t allowed  to go to parties but as Sarah got older, Michael let her boyfriend move into the family home. He also  stocked her mini fridge with beer; she said she basically lived in teenage paradise. 

After Alissa disappeared, Michael gave Sarah control over the home surveillance system; he removed the camera he had hidden in the air vent that was there  specifically to monitor Alissa. Michael purchased a device for Sarah that could identify if any secret cameras were watching her; she feels she was basically brainwashed by him. He would say, “We need to keep an eye on Alissa.” At the time, she wasn’t able to see just how strange this was. 

A Phoenix based journalist named Ottavia Zappala launched a podcast called Missing Alissa which brought forward more interviews and explored new evidence. Sarah feels that there isn’t a lot of faith in the police because of the way that Alissa’s case has been handled. She feels that many people are scared of her dad which prevents them from coming forward; this particular podcast has helped.  

Six months after Michael was released from prison, Sarah asked him if he was responsible for Alissa’s disappearance. He replied that if she wanted to know the truth, “she should come visit  him on his deathbed.” The two met at Starbucks & spoke for over an hour; she felt he was trying to be emotionally manipulative & got aggressive when that didn’t work. She said that he spoke through his teeth & leaned in close to her face when he spoke. She said he was pathetic, going off on tangents about his childhood. He continued to say that he would give her all the honest answers she wanted to hear when he was on his deathbed. This was the last time Sarah spoke to her dad. 

Sarah recorded this conversation though police say they can’t do anything with the information; not without a body. Sarah has come forward to the media because police have told her that the best chance of getting a prosecution is media exposure. David, Michael’s nephew also came forward & said, “I do not seek attention. This isn’t about me. This is about a 17-year-old girl whose life was snuffed  out because her stepfather didn’t want anyone to know of his dirty secret. Mike Turney killed her. And the truth will come out.”

Sarah said that she’s grateful to still have memories of Alissa that aren’t tarnished by everything that’s happened after she went away. “When I think of her, I still think of my tough older sister  who taught me  how to be tough, too. She gave me so much strength when she was here. Now I’m using that strength to fight for the justice she deserves.” Sarah made it her mission to get justice for her sister; she created a TikTok account to advocate for Alissa & build a case against her dad. Her account blew up & she quickly got 800,000 followers. She was also active on FB, Instagram, Twitter & even created a podcast called Voices for Justice about Alissa’s case.  On August 20, 2020, 72-year–old Michael Turney was arrested, indicted and charged by a grand jury with second-degree murder. 

Sarah posted to Twitter after all was said and done: It took almost 20 years but we did it. Though police did not say how they came to arrest Michael Turney — or whether Sarah’s social media efforts helped solve Alissa Turney’s disappearance — County Attorney Allister Adel acknowledged Sarah’s social media campaign in a press conference. “Sarah Turney, your perseverance and commitment to finding justice for your sister Alissa is a testament to the love of a sister,” Adel said.

“Because of that love, Alissa’s light has never gone out and she lives on in the stories and photos you’ve shared with the community. This passion you have demonstrated to her during your journey is something that will keep Alissa’s memory alive forever.”

According to a Reddit update, the trial continues to be moved & rescheduled & is supposed to be on 9/27/22.


  1. safeatlast: The Truth About Child Abduction Statistics in 2022
  2. PIFTM Blog: She is My Hero: Sarah Turney on Her Missing Sister, Alissa
  3. Mel Magazine: What Is Michael Turney Hiding?
  4. Phoenix News Times: How a Phoenix Podcast Host Used TikTok to Advocate for Her Missing Sister
  5. YouTube: Kendall Rae: WHERE IS Alissa Turney?! + Featuring her SISTER
  6. ati: The Disappearance Of Alissa Turney, The Missing Teen Allegedly Killed By Her Stepfather

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