The 2001 vanishing of 17-year-old Alissa Turney in Phoenix remains an unsolved mystery. After over two decades, her family still seeks answers in the cold case.
Her stepfather Michael Turney was arrested in 2020 for her presumed murder, but many questions linger. Alissa’s sister Sarah has led a tireless social media campaign to keep the case alive.
Read on for the full story behind Alissa’s disappearance, from early missteps in the investigation to the recent developments that led to charges against Michael and his subsequent acquittal.
Life of 17-year-old Alissa Turney – She was living with her Stepfather Michael Turney
Alissa Marie Turney was born on April 3, 1984, and grew up in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Barbara Farner is the mother of Alissa.
When Michael Turney and Barbara Farner first crossed paths, she was thirty years old while he was forty.
Barbara was already a mother to Alissa and an older son named John from previous relationships.
On the other hand, Michael had three older sons—Rhett, James, and Michael Turney Jr.
Following their marriage, they made the decision to have Sarah in order to integrate their family further.
Unfortunately, Barbara passed away from lung cancer when Alissa was young.
After her mother’s death, Alissa’s stepfather Michael adopted Alissa and her siblings.
By 2001, Alissa was a junior at Paradise Valley High School.
She lives with Michael Turney and her younger half-sister Sarah Turney. Her four older brothers had moved out of the Michael Turney household by this time.
At school, Alissa was described as an average student by friends. She worked a part-time job at Jack in the Box fast food restaurant and had an active social life.
According to friends, Alissa dreamed of moving to California someday, possibly to live with an aunt she had recently discussed moving in with.
She wanted to drive a white Jeep like Cher in the movie Clueless. Despite their five-year age gap, Alissa had a close relationship with her half-sister Sarah.
At home, tensions escalated between 17-year-old Alissa and her controlling stepfather Michael in the months leading up to her disappearance.
Alissa confided in her boyfriend Jon that she was afraid of Michael and wanted to get away from him.
Michael monitored Alissa’s phone calls, installed surveillance cameras around the house, and even filmed her while she was working at Jack in the Box.
Friends said he imposed strict rules and curfews on Alissa that led to frequent arguments.
Alissa also confided in friends that Michael had tried to sexually abuse her on multiple occasions.
Clearly, there was ongoing tension between Alissa and Michael in the home in the final years and months before she disappeared.
In the months before she went missing, Alissa was focused on finishing up 11th grade and spending time with friends, like any normal teenager. But her circumstances would soon dramatically change.
Day of Disappearance of Alissa Turney – May 17, 2001
May 17, 2001, was the last day of Alissa’s junior year at Paradise Valley High School. By all accounts, it started out as a normal day for Alissa Turney.
Sometime around lunch that day, Alissa’s stepfather Michael signed her out of school early.
Her boyfriend Jon saw Alissa just before she left and said she told him Michael was picking her up to go to lunch.
According to Michael, he took Alissa home after lunch so she could clean her messy room. He claimed they got into an argument about the state of her room and house rules.
Michael said Alissa then stormed off to her bedroom, after which he left the house to run some errands.
When Michael returned home later that afternoon with 12-year-old Sarah, Alissa was nowhere to be found.
Michael and Sarah searched Alissa’s bedroom and found a handwritten note on her dresser.
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.
Michael and the police took this note at face value, assuming Alissa had run away from home.
But Alissa had made plans to attend a party with friends that night and never showed up.
She also left behind her cell phone, the $1800 in savings in her bank account, and other personal belongings.
The Initial Investigation Falls Short
Michael called the Phoenix Police Department that evening to report Alissa as a runaway. But with the note as “evidence”, police did not suspect foul play in her disappearance.
They filed a missing persons report but did not conduct interviews, search the Turney home, or investigate the circumstances around Alissa’s vanishing.
In the first days after she went missing, neither the police nor her family seemed alarmed.
Alissa’s stepbrother John and younger sister Sarah assumed she had run away to her aunt’s house in California as she had wanted.
In the week after Alissa went missing, Michael Turney claimed he received a brief early morning call from her in California.
However, police were never able to confirm or obtain a recording of this alleged call. Michael told police his home security system was not on at the time to record the call.
For several years after her disappearance, Michael traveled to California frequently to supposedly search for Alissa and pass out missing flyers.
During this time, Michael started telling people he believed Alissa had been abducted or harmed by unknown individuals.
It was not until 2006 that a break in the case emerged, although it turned out to be false.
A man named Thomas Hymer falsely confessed to Alissa’s murder while in prison for another crime.
However, upon investigation, police determined Hymer had no connection to Alissa.
Police Reinvestigate Alissa Turney’s Case
While investigating the false confession in 2006, police noted inconsistencies in Michael Turney’s original story about the day Alissa went missing.
This prompted the Phoenix Police Department’s Missing Persons Unit to reopen the investigation into Alissa’s disappearance in 2008, seven years after she vanished.
In the years between 2001 and 2008, Alissa had no contact with friends or family, did not use her social security number, and her bank account was never accessed.
It became clear to detectives that this was not simply a runaway case.
Detectives interviewed over 200 people connected to Alissa, including friends from school. This revealed chilling new information about Alissa’s home life and her relationship with Michael Turney.
Multiple friends told police that Alissa had confided in them about being sexually abused by Michael on several occasions.
One said Michael had picked her 17-year-old stepdaughter Alissa Turney up early from school one day and drove her to a secluded area where he tried to sexually assault her. Others were told about him trying to gag Alissa with a sock while she slept.
Police also uncovered Michael Turney’s disturbing obsession with surveilling Alissa.
He had installed cameras in her bedroom, tapped her phone calls, and spied on her at work with binoculars. Hundreds of hours of footage of Alissa were found in Michael’s possession.
When questioned again about the day Alissa disappeared, Michael claimed he had footage from home security cameras but had since taped over it.
Detectives believed this critical evidence had been deliberately destroyed.
In December 2008, during a new search of the Turney home, police made another chilling discovery – a stockpile of 26 pipe bombs and 19 firearms. This led to Michael’s conviction on federal weapons charges in 2010.
Police also found a 98-page manifesto written by Michael detailing his paranoid delusions. They were now certain Michael Turney was involved in Alissa’s disappearance.
Alissa’s sister Sarah Turney had also come to suspect that her own father was responsible for whatever happened to Alissa after 2001.
Tireless Advocacy of Sarah Turney for Her Sister
Alissa Turney’s younger half-sister Sarah was just 12 years old when Alissa vanished in 2001. For years she believed her sister had run away to California.
But as she grew older, Sarah began to suspect their father Michael Turney knew more about Alissa’s fate than he let on.
In 2008, when police told her Michael was the main suspect, Sarah made it her mission to get justice for Alissa.
Sarah created Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok accounts dedicated to her missing sister. She filed extensive public records requests to learn more about the investigation details.
Sarah also started a widely popular podcast called “Voices for Justice” covering the case.
In 2020, Sarah brought Alissa’s story to TikTok. She danced in videos to increase engagement, while overlaying details about the case.
Sarah’s TikToks went viral, gaining millions of views and over 1 million followers.
She shared old home movies and recorded conversations where she pressed her father for the truth. Sarah purposefully appealed to TikTok’s algorithms to boost the reach.
Her hope was that the public pressure would lead to charges against Michael.
Nearly 20 years after Alissa’s disappearance, Sarah’s relentless advocacy through social media and her podcast kept the case in the public eye.
She succeeded in compelling police to test the DNA evidence and build a case against her own father.
Michael Turney Finally Arrested for 17-Year-Old Stepdaughter Alissa Turney’s 2001 Disappearance Case
In August 2020, Alissa’s stepfather Michael Turney was arrested at his home in Phoenix and charged with second-degree murder of Alissa.
An indictment alleged that Michael had killed Alissa sometime between May 17, 2001, when she vanished, and June 15, 2001.
The arrest came nearly 20 years after Alissa disappeared and just months after her sister Sarah Turney brought the case to TikTok.
Sarah’s viral social media campaign is credited with applying pressure on police to pursue charges against Michael after years of delays.
According to police, the arrest was the culmination of decades of investigation, including two exhaustive searches of the Turney home in 2008 and 2020.
Advances in forensic technology allowed for additional DNA testing and analysis of critical evidence compared to 2001.
The probable cause statement cited Michael’s obsession with surveilling Alissa, the destruction of potential video evidence, and inconsistencies in his statements about her disappearance.
However, the details behind what new evidence specifically led Phoenix prosecutors to bring charges remain sealed.
Police said after the arrest that they have not yet located Alissa’s body but hope Michael may cooperate now that he is facing a murder trial.
Michael maintains his innocence and plans to fight the charges in his upcoming trial scheduled for 2023.
For Sarah Turney, seeing her own father finally arrested for her sister’s presumed death brought a mix of emotions – grief, relief, and hope that justice could be served after 20 long years.
She posted on Instagram that, “Nothing could fully prepare me for this bittersweet moment.”
Where the Case Stands in 2023 – Michael Acquitted of Second-Degree Murder Charges in Alissa Turney Case
In 2021, Sarah Turney continued her advocacy for her sister, releasing a memoir called “Justice for Alissa: My Story of Growing Up with Fear and Losing My Sister.” She hopes keeping the case in the spotlight will lead to answers.
Investigators have still not located Alissa’s remains despite extensive searches.
In 2021, police excavated parts of the home where the Turneys lived in 2001 looking for Alissa’s body or other evidence related to her presumed death.
The excavation uncovered homemade explosives and illegal weapons, leading to new federal charges against Michael Turney in 2022 for possessing unregistered destructive devices. But Alissa’s body was still not recovered.
Phoenix prosecutors maintain they have a very strong circumstantial case against Michael Turney built on advancements in forensic evidence testing not available in 2001.
In 2022, Michael was released on house arrest pending trial, despite objections from Alissa’s family.
Sarah continues publicly advocating for the truth and for prosecutors to reveal more about the evidence against her father.
In July 2023, Michael Turney went to trial for second-degree murder of Alissa Turney.
Sarah testified that her father and sister constantly yelled at each other. She described Alissa as warm and protective.
However, Michael’s defense team, led by attorney Treasure Van Dreumel, argued there was no substantial evidence to support a conviction of their client.
On the 6th day of the trial, Judge Sam Myers made the shocking decision to acquit Michael of all charges.
Judge Myers granted a Rule 20 judgment of acquittal, ruling prosecutors had not provided substantial evidence to prove Michael’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The trial had been scheduled to last two more weeks but ended abruptly with Michael’s acquittal on the 6th day.
After the acquittal, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said she respected the court’s decision but disagreed with it.
She released a statement saying,
“For more than 20 years, her family fought for justice and their perseverance is a testament to the love they had for Alissa. I am proud of the hard work by prosecutors and law enforcement on this case. While our office doesn’t agree with the Judge’s ruling today, we respect the decision of the court.”
Alissa’s family and supporters have vowed to continue seeking justice.
For now, Michael Turney is a free man still shrouded in mystery over what happened to his stepdaughter Alissa after she disappeared in 2001.
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No, Alissa Turney has never been found since disappearing in 2001 at age 17.
Michael Turney was accused of second-degree murder in Alissa’s presumed death.
Michael Turney is the stepfather of Alissa.
Alissa Turney was 17 years old when she disappeared in 2001.
Alissa Turney vanished in 2001 after being signed out of school by stepdad Michael.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office prosecuted Michael for Alissa’s murder but failed to secure a conviction at trial.
No known clues from Alissa before she disappeared on the last day of her junior year in 2001.
He claimed to have surveillance footage of Alissa but it was taped over and never produced.
Yes, he was acquitted of Alissa’s murder charges in July 2023.
Michael was taking Alissa out of school early on the day she disappeared.
James Turney is Alissa’s brother and the biological son of Michael Turney.
The last day of Alissa’s junior year was the final time she was seen before vanishing.
The Phoenix Police Missing Persons Unit re-investigated Alissa’s case in 2008 and arrested Michael in 2020.
No substantial evidence was presented at trial implicating Michael in Alissa’s disappearance.