The Cold Case of Missing Adopted Teen Daughter of Would-be Bomber

Photo from the Turney Family via NBC News | Alissa Turney

Alissa Turney went missing on the last day of school in 2001. There have been a couple of promising suspects, including adopted father Michael who was arrested as a would-be bomber in 2008, but the case remains cold.

Arizona teen Alissa Turney goes missing in 2001

In Phoenix, Arizona, on the last day of classes at Paradise Valley High School, May 17, 2001, Alissa Turney had just completed her junior year. Alissa was expected to attend a graduation party later that evening – she never made it.

Alissa had a 12-year-old half-sister, Sarah. The girls shared the same mother, Barbara Strahm, who died from cancer when Alissa was eight years old. Michael Turney, Sarah’s father, legally adopted Alissa. Michael also had three sons, who were already out of the house by that time, NBC News Dateline reports.

Michael reported Alissa missing the same day. At the time, the police did not suspect foul play in classified Alissa as a runaway. The girls had an aunt in California and had talked about going to see her, and they, at first, suspected she may have gone to the aunt’s house. They found her usually tidy room a mess.

They called Alissa’s cell phone and heard it vibrate in the room. They found it on the dresser and a note in Alissa’s handwriting that said she was running away to California.

But there were reasons Sarah didn’t believe that Alissa ran away. First, there was $1800 still remaining in Alissa’s bank account. Alissa left behind all her makeup and her Nokia cell phone. Sarah believed Alissa would not have run away and left the money and personal items behind.

Florida man confesses in 2006

Investigators thought they caught a break in the case when, in 2006, a Florida man confessed to the crime. Thomas Hymer told a prison guard he had committed the murder of Alissa Turney. Only a few months after Alissa disappeared, Hymer was arrested in Gary, Georgia.

At the time, Hymer was caught driving a vehicle that had belonged to a woman named Sandra Goodman, who had been found the day before strangled, stabbed, and wedged under a bed in a hotel in Fort Lauderdale. Hymer received a life sentence for the crime in 2003.

But upon questioning by the Phoenix Police, detectives with the Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit, Hymer’s story didn’t hold up and his description of Alissa wasn’t viable. Later, he admitted to authorities he might’ve been mistaken.

Alissa’s father comes under suspicion in her disappearance and leads to discovery of bombs

Initially, police did not consider Alissa’s adopted father, Michael Turney, a suspect. They still were treating the case as a runaway situation, despite the fact that she had never shown up at her aunt’s house. But as and family began to make allegations concerning Alissa’s adopted father Michael Turney, police finally started to take those accusations seriously.

Sarah Turney told Dateline that her father Michael recorded phone conversations and surveilled the family with security cameras. She says he had become much stricter with Alissa in her teenage years.

In 2008, investigators from the Phoenix Police Department (PPD) Missing Persons Unit finally opened Alissa’s case and officially declared that foul play was involved in her disappearance.

“In 2008, the Missing Persons Unit Detectives began to investigate further information obtained in the case,” said PPD Sergeant Maggie Cox. “The totality of circumstances known to police prompted the focus on Michael Turney as the suspect.”

When investigators executed search warrants on the home of Michael Turney in December 2008, they made a wealth of discoveries. Authorities found surveillance footage from around the house and multiple videotapes, although no videos from the day she disappeared.

Next, investigators found things they were never expecting. A van filled with gasoline cans and 26 handmade explosive devices that were filled with gunpowder and roofing nails. The Phoenix Police Department said it was the largest stockpile of explosive it had ever discovered in its history. Investigators also found 19 high-caliber assault rifles with two handmade silencers.

Even more disturbing, investigators found a 98-page manifesto that was titled “Diary of a Madman Martyr” that Michael Turney had written. According to the document, Turney believed the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the electricians union to which he belonged, was involved in the kidnapping and murder of Alissa. The document revealed that he planned to blow up the union hall while killing himself in the process.

In March 2010, Michael Turney pled guilty to the possession of 26 unregistered pipe bombs and was sentenced to the maximum term of 10 years in federal prison, but was released in 2017.

Father makes near-confession to Sarah after his prison release

In October 2017, shortly after Michael Turney was released from prison, his daughter Sarah met him at Starbucks, as a neutral place, for over an hour. She says he was angry when he realized she wasn’t there to reconnect but, instead, was there to get answers about Alissa.

Sarah says after she pushed him for answers about Alissa he told her he would give her all the honest answers on his deathbed.

“Be at the deathbed, Sarah, and I will give you all the honest answers you want to hear,” Michael allegedly told Sarah, who says he added that he would confess to everything if the state agreed to give him a lethal injection within ten days.”

Despite these alleged comments from Michael Turney, Sarah says when she took the information to authorities, they told her without an official confession made by Michael to the police – there isn’t anything they can do. Phoenix police investigators say they are still unable to prosecute any person of interest in Alissa’s case.

Police ask for the public’s help

Alissa Turney would be 36 years old today. At the time of her disappearance,  she was 5’4” tall, weighed 145 pounds, had blonde highlights in her brown hair, and had a small scar on her chin.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Phoenix Police Department Missing Persons Unit at (602) 262-6141, or Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS or email