The father and stepmother of a South Carolina boy reported missing in 1989 were in jail Friday and will be charged with murder in the 5-year-old’s death, officials said.
Victor Lee Turner, 69, and Megan R. Turner, 63, were arrested Tuesday at their residence in Cross Hill, about 3½ hours north of Berkeley County, where the crime happened, Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis said at a news conference Wednesday.
They were each booked into Hill-Finklea Detention Center in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, on a murder charge. Bond for each had not been set, according to jail records.
It wasn’t clear if the Turners have retained a lawyer for their defense. A former attorney for the defendants said he retired in 2016 and no longer represents them. The area public defender did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Justin Turner’s body was found in a camper adjacent to the couple’s home, and authorities determined he had been asphyxiated, the sheriff’s office said in statements and court documents.
It appears authorities were long focused on the couple. Megan Turner, formerly Pamela K. Turner, was previously charged in the case, Lewis said, but the complaint was withdrawn without prejudice, leaving open the option to prosecute in the future, the sheriff said.
Lewis said he found it odd that the pair allegedly showed little interest in the investigation — when it was cold or when it was reviewed starting in 2021.
“I never got one phone call from his daddy or his stepmother,” the sheriff said. “What are y’all doing about my son’s death? Not one. What does that tell you?”
Investigators, citing a forensic examination of evidence, believe Justin was fatally strangled with a ligature “a short time after consuming his last meal” on March 2, 1989.
Evolving DNA and forensic evidence technology helped to match a ligature to a shirt collar the victim was wearing, investigators said in arrest affidavits filed for each suspect.
According to the affidavits, Megan Turner told witnesses she “had an altercation with the victim” before she said he was last seen. And she provided “misinformation” and inconsistent details about her whereabouts during authorities’ time frame for the murder, the affidavits said.
In the early moments of a search for Justin on March 5, 1989, Victor Turner entered the camper and almost instantly backed out to say his son was inside, according to the affidavits.
“My son is in there,” Victor Turner, now 69, is quoted in the document as saying at the time. “Somebody’s hurt him.”
Cousin Amy Parsons, who was 8 when Justin was killed, kept the case alive for relatives, Lewis said. At Wednesday’s news conference, she expressed gratitude for its closure, but she also said the Turners shouldn’t have been free for 34 years.
“They don’t deserve another day,” she said.
Lewis said the killing reverberated throughout the close-knit community about 30 miles north of Charleston for decades, marking its departure from more innocent times.
“I can think of a more tragic, horrendous murder,” he said. “Five-year-old boy. Today Justin would have been 40-years-old. Could have graduated from high school, went to college, got married, had a child, been a productive citizen. But he wasn’t.”
He continued, “We believe these two people took that away from us.”