It was 6 PM on the night of Halloween 1973, when 9-year-old Lisa French stepped off her front porch for what would be her last time trick or treating. On her way to meet up with a friend, Lisa stopped at a few neighboring houses hoping grab a some extra chocolate bars along the way. That’s when little Lisa encountered the man who would become her killer.
Lisa knocked on the door of Gerald Turner, peaking into the front doorway that had been left partially ajar. Lisa called out sweetly, “Trick or treat!” as Turner stepped into the room. Turner invited Lisa in and lured her into his bedroom. There he raped and strangled the child to death, before scooping her lifeless body and her clothing into several trash bags.
For four days after Lisa’s disappearance a search party of 1,500 volunteers had gathered. Police also assisted in the search efforts by knocking on every door in the neighborhood, hoping that neighbors had witnessed something that may offer a clue into the whereabouts of Lisa French. It was during these door-to-door neighborhood interviews that investigators came across Gerald Turner.
Turner, who had a pending case involving the sexual assault of a young babysitter, provided police with information on what he had been doing Halloween night. Turner’s story didn’t sit right with investigators and they felt that there were certain discrepancies within the details that immediately set off red flags.
On November 4, 1973, the search for Lisa French came to an end. A farmer had found trash bags containing the nude body of a child on his property and instantly alerted the police.
Though investigators already had Turner pegged as a possible suspect he wouldn’t officially be taken in for questioning until March of 1974. Again, police asked Turner what he was doing Halloween night around the time Lisa French had disappeared. Turner’s story contradicted some of the details within the original story he had told police days after Lisa’s disappearance.
The following month, investigators requested that Turner came down to the police station for a formal interview. Again, some of the details Turner told police about that Halloween night contradicted details he had given in earlier interviews. Turner also agreed to provide investigators samples of his hair, as well as fibers from a bedspread he had in his home.
Investigators were able to have the hairs and fibers compared to those pulled off of Lisa’s body and they were found to have been a match. Police returned to Turner’s residence after the tests were concluded in the fall of 1974 in order to be interviewed again on the case. Turner was asked to take a polygraph regarding his recollection of events that transpired that evening. Turner refused.
After pressure from law enforcement, Turner reluctantly agreed to take the test. After analyzing the results, investigators were not completely satisfied, with many of the questions returning inconclusive results. Turner was asked to participate in a second polygraph, but he refused.
It was during this time that Turner suggested to investigators that Lisa’s death may have been an accident. This suggestion turned into a two-hour conversation where Turner admitted to seeing Lisa in the doorway, taking her into his bedroom and brutally raping her. Turner claimed that he had not strangled the girl, rather that her death had been the result of shock brought on by the rape. Turner said he then dumped the girl’s body and provided investigators with a map to indicate the approximate location he had left her, the same field Lisa’s body had been recovered.
The case that had left the Wisconsin town of Fond du Lac, as well as a nation, in a state of fear and disbelief was finally solved. Turner was sentenced to only 38 and a half years in prison for second degree murder, sexual perversion, enticing a child for immoral purposes, and indecent behavior with a child. He was paroled in 1992.
During this time Turner had violated his parole. Within his possession were hardcore pornographic materials and a letter he had written to his victim.
I doubt that I could ever fully realize the terror you experienced at my
hands. For that night of the children to have started out so joyous for you
only to end so tragically will haunt me forever. I can still see you standing
in the doorway with that felt hat beaming at having recognized me. . . . Then I
see the delight in your eyes turn to fear as I close the door behind you. . . .
The rest of my life I will have to live with what I did to you. On that night I
became a monster. . . . I do swear to you on forfeiture of my life I will never
harm another child.
Turner was paroled again in 1998, after a jury had determined that they didn’t consider Turner to be sexually violent. After another parole violation for possessing and viewing hardcore pornography in the halfway house he was living in 2003, Turner was sent back to prison where he was ordered to remain for 15 years.
In addition to the city of Fond du Lac restricting trick or treat to daylight hours, the Lisa French case inspired lawmakers to require sex offenders to remain in jail until they are no longer considered to be a danger. Turner remains behind bars where he occasionally receives letters from Lisa French’s mother. She says she has forgiven Turner for the brutal crime committed against her daughter, but will never forgive his sin.