Family still looking for answers after man's body found near Mississippi River in Cape Girardeau

Monday, March 30, 2009
Photo Submitted by Theresa Wolken
Thomas Hart Benton Turner, who was found partially in the Mississippi River in late February in downtown Cape Girardeau.

More than a month has gone by since a passer-by discovered the body of Thomas Hart Benton Turner in a rocky outcropping at the Mississippi River near the Cape Girardeau floodwall, yet his family remains no closer to understanding the circumstances leading to his death.

Turner, 47, a resident of Parkwood Manor, was found the morning of Feb. 26 on the rocks near a log that juts into the river, north of Independence Street.

An autopsy showed he died of drowning, but he also suffered a laceration to the back of his head and had some scrapes on his palms, according to Cape Girardeau County Coroner John Clifton.

His wallet was gone, and his cowboy hat had been found on the shore several feet away from where he lay, according to Theresa Turner Wolken, Turner's sister.

His headphones were still in his ears, and a good deal of silt from the river weighed down the pockets of his jeans, Wolken said.

Thomas Turner's body was found partially in the water on the southern end of Cape Girardeau's Mississippi Riverfront Park.

Turner had been an avid collector of stamps, coins, marbles and other items, and an old coin and rare marble were found in the pocket of his jeans.

He'd been a strong swimmer and was in good physical condition, Wolken said.

The investigation into Turner's death is inactive, because police haven't received any information that would indicate foul play, said Sgt. Jason Selzer, spokesman for the Cape Girardeau Police Department.

"It's a struggle. We have unanswered questions, and we may not get any answers," said Gwen Turner Riggs, Turner's sister.

Turner's family thinks his death may have been the result of a robbery or assault, but understand that without a witness or any further information, it would be nearly impossible for police to determine the death was not accidental.

"We've all rolled it around in our head. It doesn't all make sense to us," Riggs said. "We feel like there may be more to it than that."

Turner, a former electronics aeronautics tech in the U.S. Air Force, moved to Parkwood Manor after he'd been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and had reconnected with his family in the last few months before his death, Wolken said.

"He was stubborn like the rest of us," Wolken said.

Wolken described her brother as "kind of a loner," in the sense that he didn't have a lot of close friends outside of his family.

A passionate outdoorsman, Turner kept in shape when he'd lived at home by chopping wood for his parents. He loved hunting and fishing.

He'd discussed coming home to visit his family near Lebanon, Mo., and going on a fishing trip with his father.

"He said he had some things he needed to do in Cape, and then he'd be home," Wolken said.

The Turners were a close-knit bunch growing up, raised on a farm and attended a rural school in Phillipsburg, Mo., Wolken said. She said her brother, a talented baseball player, had been "kind of a firecracker growing up."

He was proud of his red hair and green eyes, she said. "He had this obsession with his green eyes," Wolken said.

Cape Girardeau had been a good fit for Turner because he'd liked going for long walks and exploring the many antique shops, Wolken said.

Wondering about how her brother died, or whether he suffered, has kept her up at night, Wolken said.

"He doesn't suffer schizophrenia anymore," she said. "He's in heaven and you've got to look at all the good parts of all that."

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Cape Girardeau Police Department at 335-6621 or CrimeStoppers at 332-0500.


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