The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit is making strides in solving long-standing mysteries and shedding light on decades-old murder cases.
Most recently, the unit was instrumental in the arrests regarding the murder of Justine Lee Turner.
It’s been 35 years since the 5-year-old Turner went missing and was found dead, strangled and sexually assaulted, near his Berkeley County home.
New evidence relating to the cause of death led police to arrest and charge Turner’s parents with his 1989 murder, due in part to unit detectives and the State Law Enforcement Division’s (SLED) $62.8 million forensic services lab unveiled just last year.
According to Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis, the cold case unit began reviewing Turner’s case in 2021. Through new forensic technology, detectives and SLED investigators say they discovered evidence the 5-year-old was strangled to death with a leash on or around the early-morning hours of March 3, 1989.
Lewis said forensic analysis and autopsy results indicated the body was placed inside the family’s camper “a short time” after his death by strangulation. The warrant states the suspected leash found in the Turner home matched the leash wounds on the boy’s neck and fibers on the leash were consistent with the child’s shirt collar material.
The findings led to the arrest of Turner’s father and stepmother, Victor and Megan Turner on Jan. 9.
“We have a lot of forensic evidence,” Sheriff Lewis said in a Jan. 10 news conference in Moncks Corner. “We got here because of new technology and forensic medicine. We all know how things have progressed over the years. And we kept pushing and plugging and pulling to finally get what we needed to make an arrest.”
Lewis credited the breakthrough in Turner’s case to the county’s Cold Case Unit and its pursuit of justice for the 5-year-old. The unit reviews old cases for new information and attempts to apply new technology that may be successful in uncovering serious crimes.
The Cold Case Unit reviews case files and searches for any physical evidence that may allow for a retesting with current forensic techniques. Unit deputies follow up with prior witnesses to review their testimony to possibly gain additional information. According to the BCSO website, the mission of the unit is to gather information which may result in a resolution or adjudication of a case.
Sheriff Lewis highlighted the advancements in forensic capabilities, emphasizing the evolution beyond traditional DNA analysis.
“It’s not just about DNA anymore. There’s a lot of things we can do that we couldn’t do back then. We didn’t have the means to do it,” Sheriff Lewis said.
Lewis said the Cold Case Unit has made progress in identifying a woman who died 50 years ago based on skeletal remains.
Through collaboration with forensic experts and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, investigators produced a facial reconstruction, offering a glimpse into the woman’s appearance at the time of her disappearance.
Sheriff Lewis acknowledged the work of his detectives and emphasized ongoing efforts to address other unresolved cases.
“We’ve got several cold cases we’re working on, some we are actively doing forensic work on right now.”
While the Cold Case Unit’s recent breakthroughs mark milestones, the legal proceedings for the Turners and other cases are pending. A circuit court judge has yet to set bond. The couple’s first appearance in court is scheduled for Feb. 15, according to court documents.
“It’s all in the Ninth Circuit solicitor’s hands now,” Lewis said.