HS track star Shilie Turner disappeared 27 years ago, but her story is not forgotten | Jenice Armstrong
Turner’s story was one of those real-life crime stories that permeate your consciousness to the degree that you remember when and where you were when you first learned about it.
Back in 1993, Mister Mann Frisby was a writer for the Daily News' now-defunct Fresh Ink, a weekly supplement produced by high school students.
He also was a senior at Overbrook High School, where he ran track. When Shilie Turner, a friend and track star from a rival school, went missing, Frisby began asking questions and trying to get reporters and editors interested in the story. It wasn’t easy since teens go missing all the time then pop up later.
“It was him that kept pushing that story,” recalled Joe Blake, a former Daily News staff writer. “After a few days, I got concerned and passed it along, but the bottom line is it was him who kept pushing … until somebody paid enough attention to really start reporting on it.″
What authorities soon discovered would haunt the city for years.
Earlier this year, Frisby served as a producer on a show called Buried in the Backyard that revisited the infamous case that made national news. The episode featuring Shilie is scheduled to debut on Thursday at 8 p.m. on Oxygen. Afterward, it can be viewed on Oxygen.com or on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
I plan to watch.
What happened to Shilie was one of those real-life crime stories that permeate your consciousness so much that you remember when and where you were when you learned about it. Back then I was a Daily News business reporter. My desk was on the 14th floor of our former newspaper headquarters at Broad and Callowhill Streets, seven floors above the city desk. I was deep into writing about the opening of the Convention Center.
Still, Shilie’s saga caught my attention. A senior at William Penn High School with a dream of running in the Olympics, she was one of the most promising track stars Philadelphia had ever seen. Then she got off of a trolley in the wee hours on Jan. 18, 1993, and seemingly disappeared. Her mother’s emotional pleas on TV and radio begging for her daughter’s safe return were heart-wrenching. Like a lot of others who followed her story, I assumed Shilie had been the victim of foul play before making it home.
“I remember jumping up and down and saying my friend is missing,” said Frisby, whose new short sci-fi film, The Illadelphia Glow, will be released on Oct. 16. “It kind of went from there.”
The community really rallied around Vivian King, Shilie’s mother. Weeks later, Shilie’s badly beaten body was discovered near the Mann Music Center in Fairmount Park. She had been shot six times. Authorities eventually charged King, who was convicted and sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.
The years have gone by, but some of us have never forgotten the young runner with so much promise.
“Shilie was one of those kids who was going to go on and do really great things and really represent the city and would have made people in Philly feel good when we saw her on the Olympics,” said Yvonne Latty, a former reporter who covered the story extensively. “She really represented the promise of the city, especially during such a tough time in Philadelphia. So much crime. So many murders. It was really dark and she was something bright. And she was snuffed out by her own mother."
King initially confessed, telling police she had been in a drunken rage when Turner came home after her curfew, but later recanted.
“I don’t believe we will ever know the real reason why Shilie was murdered,” said Tamika Friend, a bank manager who passed out missing flyers after her teammate disappeared.
A mother is supposed to be the ultimate nurturer of a child — not the cause of her demise. It was inconceivable then as to how King could commit such an atrocity. It still is.