Track star's bad home wasn't seen Mother charged in daughter's death

March 18, 1993|By New York Times

PHILADELPHIA -- In mid-January, Shilie Turner, 17, a high school senior who was one of the nation's most promising young female track stars, vanished from her neighborhood in the Overbrook section.

Her mother made a series of emotional public appeals for her safe return, but a month later Miss Turner's body was found, hidden by bushes in a local park. She had been beaten and then shot six times.

Now her mother, Vivian King, 42, has been charged with her murder, and acquaintances of the family have been left to wonder whether they should have paid closer attention to Miss Turner's complaints of an unhappy home life, and to her loud quarrels with her mother.

"I could tell something was wrong," says Michelle Bea, a freshman at William Penn High School, where Miss Turner was among the nation's top female high school runners in the 400 meters, the 800 meters and the sprint medley. "She didn't like her house. She'd say, 'You don't know what it's like in there.' "

At William Penn, where Miss Turner was well known and widely admired, "everyone is saying, 'I knew her mom abused her' and 'Why didn't you call someone?' " says Donna Comrie, a junior who had known Miss Turner ever since they ran track together in a church league five years ago. "Even my teacher said, 'I knew her when she was little, and her mom beat her.' "

Miss Turner lived on a block of run-down rowhouses on North Edgewood Street with her 10-year-old sister, her mother and the mother's common-law husband, Clarence Jones. Neighbors describe her as warm and well mannered. They have less regard for Mrs. King.

One of them recalled that after Miss Turner disappeared, "nobody on the block" went to Mrs. King to offer comfort. "She had a temper," this neighbor says. "She'd be trying to fight you. She'd ask you to come outside and threaten you. It was unreal."

Except for her husband and her lawyer, no one has come forward to speak on behalf of Mrs. King since police arrested her on murder charges on March 7. Her minister, the Rev. Albert Campbell, pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, declines to comment other than to say that he is a friend and that he is standing by her.

In a recent interview with the Philadelphia Daily News, her husband, Mr. Jones, said Mrs. King had believed in a strict upbringing for her children but had never abused them.

Mr. Jones has declined to make any comment since that interview, abiding by the request of Mrs. King's lawyer, Jack McMahon.

Miss Turner was last seen on a bus that dropped her off six blocks from her home in the early morning of Jan. 18.

On March 6, the authorities asked Mrs. King to come to police headquarters. She was questioned overnight, and then gave a confession that her lawyer now disputes. She is being held in jail.

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