May 17, 2001 — the last day Sarah Turney saw her half-sister Alissa alive. For years, the circumstances surrounding Alissa’s disappearance haunted Sarah day and night, leading her on a desperate search for answers. But as Sarah dug deeper into the 17-year-old’s mysterious fate, she discovered that the one person she had spent years protecting was actually the one she should’ve feared the most.
Strangely enough, Alissa’s disappearance didn’t faze Sarah much at first. The high schooler would talk openly about her desire to run away. So, when she vanished on that May morning, 12-year-old Sarah wasn’t surprised.
In fact, Sarah even spotted a note in Alissa’s bedroom that seemingly confirmed she was headed for the Golden State. It still hurt to be without her, but at least Sarah could rest assured that her sister was safe and chasing her dreams. And she’d have to come back eventually.
“I wasn’t worried,” Sarah told People. “I was under the impression [Alissa] was going to be back. I don’t think her being gone forever was anything that ever crossed my mind.” After all, Sarah had already seen enough tragedy for one lifetime.
When Sarah had been just four years old, her mother, Barbara Strahm, had died from lung cancer. And, naturally, the Turney family vowed to stick together in the wake of their tragic loss. Following Alissa’s disappearance, however, this pact suddenly seemed to lose its meaning.
That’s because, before long, strangers and friends alike began accusing Sarah’s father and Alissa’s stepfather Michael. Yes, the man was accused of having a hand in his stepdaughter’s disappearance. But Sarah was quick to defend him. After all, what kind of person would dare harm their own child?
Sarah’s confidence and Michael’s standing as a former sheriff’s deputy helped shift some of the suspicion. Mind you, even his fellow officers couldn’t help but feel something wasn’t right. For a man who insisted he had no idea what had happened to his stepdaughter, there sure were a number of clues to the contrary.
For starters, Michael told police that he’d got lunch with Alissa on the day she vanished. Apparently, though, he had eventually dropped her back home after the two got into a fight. And Michael claimed that, fuming from their fight, Alissa had then run off to stay with an aunt who lived in California. But when police contacted the aunt, she said that her niece had never shown.
A week later, Michael reached out to police again, telling them that Alissa had contacted him from a payphone in Riverside, California. But before an officer could ask him any follow-up questions, he quickly ended the call. Was this the erratic behavior of a grieving father, or was there something more?
With no formal evidence against Michael, the police began pursuing other leads — though these too failed to turn up anything on Alissa’s whereabouts. Frustrated, Sarah decided there was no point in waiting around any longer. It was time to take matters into her own hands.
And so Sarah became her own private eye, creating a website dedicated to finding justice for Alissa and searching for answers in any way she could. Yet time and time again, her findings only seemed to add more weight to the whispers she’d been denying for years. Maybe her father had done something to her sister after all…
In her late 20s, following years of investigation, Sarah finally realized that her father was, in fact, capable of this crime. “For me, it was kind of like a switch,” she told People. But if she was going to prove Michael’s guilt, she knew she couldn’t do it alone.
So, Sarah started a podcast called “Voices for Justice.” She also began making TikToks to help bring her investigation to a wider audience. And to her surprise, the videos soon went viral — including one that actually got local officials to reopen Alissa’s case.
In a disturbing home video snippet from 1997, Alissa can clearly be heard telling Sarah that “dad is a pervert.” Authorities were quick to follow up on these claims with some of Alissa’s friends, who revealed a sickening truth.
Alissa’s friends alleged that Michael had been verbally and sexually abusing her for years. Finally, officers decided it was time to seek a search warrant. But what they found inside Michael’s home was far more sinister than they had ever expected.
Along with dozens of homemade bombs, officers discovered a 97-page manifesto featuring a plot to commit mass murder at the headquarters of a local electrical workers union. Michael was convicted of possession of unregistered destructive devices and spent seven years behind bars — though, for Sarah, this wasn’t enough.
So, following her father’s release, Sarah only continued to press onward with her mission. And she eventually led the police to even more incriminating evidence. Officers discovered that Michael had actually put up surveillance cameras in the house during the time Alissa was living there. He had also monitored all calls going in and out of the home.
But perhaps the worst discovery of all was a number of homemade “contracts” between Michael and Alissa, including one from 1999 that claimed Michael had never molested her. After years of uncertainty, law enforcement — and Sarah — finally had all they needed.
On August 19, 2020, 72-year-old Michael Turney was charged with one count of second-degree murder. The case is set to go to trial sometime in 2021. Just like always, though, Michael maintains he’s innocent.
The authorities believe, however, that Michael was “obsessed” with his stepdaughter, and close relatives claimed that he had treated her far different than other children — even Sarah. He’d also confessed to spying on Alissa at work.
As for Sarah? She believes that Alissa will soon have justice, and she’s found a calling in helping to solve cold cases. Sarah discovered that like her sister, Rosalyn McGinnis was trapped in an unthinkable situation when she was only 10 years old. And again, it was Rosalynn’s own family that inflicted the grim circumstances on her.
Rosalynn McGinnis was supposed to live a normal life: she grew up in Springfield, Missouri, where she spent her days with her brothers at the park, playing the violin, and excelling in school. Still, there was something about Rosalynn that was extra special.
She was one of the most ambitious 10-year-olds at her school. She had dreams of becoming a veterinarian and of teaching violin. But these dreams — and any hope of a normal life — were crushed the day her mother met a man named Henri Piette.
At ten years old, the sexual abuse began. “He was never a stepfather,” Rosalynn said of Henri Piette. “He was a child predator.” Rosalynn would always be haunted by these events — and by the events that would soon take place.
Henri exerted his control over the family by moving them to Wagoner, Oklahoma, far away from the McGinnis’ family and friends. Now they were isolated with Henri, and things were about to take a bizarre turn.
See, Henri attempted to marry Rosalynn when she was 11. The “wedding” took place in a van and was officiated by Henri’s son. Henri then moved them into a small, shabby tent outside of Gore, Oklahoma. He was desperate to be alone with Rosalynn, and to cut the family off from society.
On January 31, 1997, Rosalynn’s hopes for a successful future were officially destroyed when Henri took her from school. “The next thing I know, my mother’s not there, my brothers are not there…and I am by myself with this man,” Rosalynn said.
Gayla made flyers printed with Rosalynn’s description and the plea to “please help find this child.” They stopped searching right before Rosalynn’s 13th birthday. Her family thought she would be missing forever.
And for a while, this didn’t change. After kidnapping her, Henri stripped Rosalynn of her identity by forcing her to wear glasses and to dye her red hair black. He had them both assume aliases, with Rosalynn as “Stephanie” and himself as “Billy Ira Sloop, Jr.”
When she was 13, Rosalynn ended up miscarrying her first baby. “I don’t even know how any human can do that to a child — what he did to me,” Rosalynn said. Henri then smuggled Rosalynn into Mexico, and it was there, when she was just 15, that Rosalynn gave birth to her first child.
They lived in poverty without the basic necessities new mothers require, like gas, heat, and other utilities. Still, one by one, Rosalynn continued to have babies. Henri spent what little money they had on drugs and alcohol, so she had to figure out how to survive on nothing.
She begged on the street for money, and even sold ice cream just to scrape by. Henri was also getting more violent: allegedly, the violence escalated from beatings to shootings, and Henri once sliced Rosalynn’s arm so badly that it cut down to the bone. Life was beyond bleak for Rosalynn…until she met Ian and Lisa.
The British-American couple often saw Rosalynn and her kids at the grocery store, and they soon struck up a friendship. “They just wanted anybody to talk to because it was not something that they were allowed to do,” Lisa said of Rosalynn and her kids. Unfortunately, this brief hope for Rosalynn wouldn’t last.
Always on the move, Henri moved the family to a more remote location in the Oaxaca mountains, once again cutting Rosalynn off from any familiar faces. Here, she couldn’t even beg for money — they were all just trapped. All seemed lost.
Except, unbeknownst to Henri, Rosalynn maintained communication with Ian and Lisa. Though they did not immediately realize that something was amiss, when the couple visited Rosalynn at her new home in 2016, they saw the truth of her situation.
When Lisa and Ian went inside the ramshackle home, what they saw was horrific: three “stalls” instead of bedrooms, holes in the walls, and “very, very thin…foam exercise mats” for beds, Lisa described. Rosalynn and the kids were no longer just living in poverty. They were living in hell.
Lisa eventually learned Henri’s real age, (62), which was when she did the math: If Rosalynn’s oldest child was 17, that meant she must have been only 14 or 15 when she gave birth to him. Lisa told Ian, “This is wrong. There’s something seriously wrong.”
Later, while Rosalynn was recovering from gallbladder surgery at home, Henri became belligerent and ordered her to do housework. That’s when Rosalynn had an epiphany. “I knew that if I didn’t get out of there, I’d either go insane or I would end up dying and leaving my kids with that man,” she said.
When Henri was passed out, Rosalynn grabbed her kids and escaped to Ian and Lisa’s house. Thanks to them, as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Rosalynn ended up legally crossing the border into the U.S. Still, Rosalynn kept looking over her shoulder in fear of seeing Henri on her heels.
Every night, according to Rosalynn, she had nightmares of a menacing Henri standing over her bed. She knew the only way she would be free of him was if she shared her story with the world and stood with other victims of abuse. She also hoped her story would bring Henri to justice.
On June 13, 2019, Henri was found guilty of kidnapping, engaging in a sexual act with a minor, and a myriad of other charges. During the trial, Rosalynn told the world her devastating story — and once again proved her resilient nature. While the rest of the world applauds Rosalynn’s bravery, she can only think of one thing.
Her freedom. “It’s a miracle I’m sitting here today,” Rosalynn said. She has hope for a better future, propelled by a promising GoFundMe page that has already raised $50,000. Rosalynn knew she would never get her childhood back, but she could try to salvage what was left of a childhood for her kids.