While dozens of people combed the Horseshoe Road area in Moncks Corner for any trace of 5-year-old Justin Turner, Bill Salisbury heard someone holler about 100 yards away. "We found him! We found him!" the rescue squad member recalled.
The blue-eyed, blonde haired boy who had been missing for two days was found lying in a storage box under a dining seat inside the pickup truck camper of his father and stepmother, Victor and Pamela Turner.
Justin Turner had been sexually assaulted with a cylindrical object and strangled.
More than 25 years later, detectives are still working to put someone in prison for his death.
But the 1989 case, which had gone stale for several years, is breathing new life, according to Berkeley County Sheriff's investigators. Capt. Rick Ollic said someone called with a new tip in the case last month following the 25th anniversary of the boy's death.
Ollic would not go into details except to say the tip has led authorities to research someone's name.
"We really want to bring closure to this case," he said.
On March 3, 1989, Justin Turner ate a bowl of cereal and got dressed for school, according to his stepmother. She told investigators she was in the shower when the boy left that Friday morning for a friend's house, where he planned to board a bus to his kindergarten class at Whitesville Elementary School.
But Justin never made it to his friend's house or to school.
Pamela Turner called police and reported him missing later that same day, according to authorities.
More than 100 people searched near the Horseshoe Road home until Sunday, when they found the child's body.
Turner had been strangled with something similar to a narrow belt, perhaps a dog leash, according to authorities. He was clutching some hair, which was later determined to be animal hair.
In the weeks following the gruesome discovery, fear gripped the small community. At one point, sheriff's officials assured citizens a blood-thirsty maniac was not on the loose.
Investigators already had their sights set on Justin's stepmother, the last person to report seeing him alive, according to Sydney Wrenn, chief investigator at the sheriff's office at the time. Wrenn has since retired from law enforcement and owns a bail bond company in Moncks Corner.
"There's no doubt in anyone's mind involved in the investigation as to who killed the boy," Wrenn said.
What went wrong
Wrenn said investigators hoped to keep those suspicions under wraps while they built a case, but someone mistakenly told reporters and it became public. "It blocked us completely from talking to this person after that night," Wrenn said.
More obstacles would soon follow when Wrenn asked then-Berkeley County Coroner William B. Smith, Jr., not to intervene into the investigation.
"The very next day, the headline of the paper read that the coroner was calling for an inquest," Wrenn said. "People got up there and testified to their imaginations."
Turner's attorney at the time said more than half of what was testified to in the inquest was inadmissible, irrelevant, or prejudicial. Testimony had focused on a host of suspicions, psychic "visions" experienced by the boy's grandfather and odd statements supposedly made by Pamela Turner and the boy's father.
The coroner's jury recommended that Pamela Turner be charged with Justin's murder, and investigators arrested her minutes later. The charge, however, was later dropped due to a lack of evidence.
"Some people think I botched the investigation, which is totally ridiculous," Wrenn said. "I don't have any doubt in my mind, if they would have stayed out of my way, I could have built a circumstantial case. I could have solved the case, but it didn't work out."
Pamela Turner, who had been a lifelong resident of Berkeley County, ended up moving to the Upstate and changing her name. She currently lives with Justin's father, Victor, in the Spartanburg area. The Post and Courier attempted to reach her by phone and email, but could not make contact.
Russell Pace, who married Justin Turner's mother, Elaine, told The Post and Courier last week that he didn't want to dig into the painful memories of the child's death by talking about it. After 25 years, he said, he feels like he's fulfilled his promise his late wife to keep the case alive.
"It's just too hard to talk about it," he said.
In a 1991 interview with The Post and Courier, Elaine Pace said she struggled with her grief and wondered how she could let it go. "You never stop bleeding on the inside."
Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.
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