Should The 'Halloween Killer' Be Released From Prison & Be A Free Man?

Lisa Ann French was on her own and she decided to go trick-or-treating nearby her house.

October 31, 2018

Gerlad Turner [Wisconsin Department of Corrections]

Gerlad Turner [Wisconsin Department of Corrections]

By: Matt Gilligan

On Halloween in 1973 all across America, kids were allowed to be kids. They dressed up in their spookiest costumes and went door-to-door, trick-or-treating in the neighborhoods they called home. Neighborhoods that kids and their parents deemed safe, even though urban legends and rumors about razorblades in apples and poisoned candy ran rampant.

Fond du Lac, Wisconsin was one of those average, middle America towns. Autumn was in full swing as kids rushed out their doors unsupervised to gather up as many goodies as possible along tree-lined streets while fallen leaves crunched under their feet.

But after the events of October 31, 1973, Halloween in Fond du Lac and across Wisconsin would never be the same. That night, terror came to the town in northeast Wisconsin, and the residents and the family affected by the unthinkable tragedy carried the scars of Halloween with them forever.

Lisa Ann French was a typical nine-year-old girl who lived in Fond du Lac with her mother and stepfather. On Halloween 1973, Lisa insisted on dressing up as a butterfly, but her mother suggested another costume because of the chilly night air. Instead, Lisa dressed as a hobo, wearing duct-taped jeans, a floppy hat, a green parka, and coloring freckles onto her face.

Lisa left home alone after dark around 6 P.M. and was supposed to meet up with a friend and walk to Pumpkin Place, a Halloween party organized by the community so kids could gather together to have a good time in a safe environment. But Lisa’s friend unexpectedly got into trouble with her parents at the last minute and was grounded for the night. Lisa Ann French was on her own and she decided to go trick-or-treating nearby her house.

Lisa knocked on the doors of two houses and received candy from neighbors. Her third stop for the evening would prove tragic, and the nine-year-old entered the house at 152 Rose Avenue but never walked out alive.

Inside the home was Gerald Turner, a man in his mid-20s who worked as a machinist for the Soo Line Railroad. Turner was divorced with two children and knew Lisa and her family well. He used to rent the other side of the family’s duplex, and Lisa sometimes stopped by his house to see and play with his young baby.

Turner had been charged with statutory rape of a 15-year-old babysitter the previous year but nothing had come of the offense. Later, his two ex-wives and a former girlfriend testified that Turner beat and raped them in the past.

Turner later said that when Lisa appeared in his doorway, he was “highly sexually motivated.” Turner brought Lisa into his bedroom and raped and strangled her to death.

Ironically, Gerald Turner’s girlfriend, Arlene Penn, and their young daughter were celebrating Halloween at Pumpkin Place that night, the location that Lisa was supposed to go to with her friend. Penn and the baby returned home around 7:15 P.M., and Turner told her he wasn’t feeling well. He retired to the bedroom to lie down a few times until Penn finally decided to leave again to visit her mother.

Arlene Penn had no idea that in the adjacent bathroom was the dead body of the little girl who used to stop by and push her baby down the street in a stroller. After Penn left the home, Turner took the opportunity to dispose of the body. He placed Lisa’s naked body in a garbage bag and put her clothes in another bag. Turner then drove four miles outside of Fond du Lac and dumped Lisa’s body and her clothing in farm field in the town of Taycheedah.

When Lisa did not return home, her mother and stepfather became frantic. Families in the neighborhood called each other, turned on their porch lights, and put signs in their windows. Police searched for the missing girl all night. When dawn broke, there was still no sign of Lisa.

Over the next few days, 5,000 volunteers combed the town, looking for any sign the girl. Police and concerned citizens searched on foot, on horseback, and in private planes. Local gas stations gave out 25 free gallons of gas to people using vehicles to explore Fond du Lac and surrounding towns.

Finally, on November 3, 1973 at 11:30 A.M., a farmer driving his tractor saw two trash bags in some brush off a country road. Inside one of the bags the farmer made a horrific discovery: the nude, dead body of Lisa Ann French.

The people of Fond du Lac came together to grieve the loss of one of their own, an innocent young girl savagely taken from her family by a monster who walked among them. The police questioned all neighbors, family, and friends.

They had their eye on Gerald Turner, but his arrest did not come quickly. Turner was questioned multiple times by investigators, and, after they realized a discrepancy in one of his statements, they brought him in for questioning again in August 1974, nine months after the brutal murder. This time, Gerald Turner confessed to the murder of Lisa Ann French and detailed what happened that fateful evening.

[Wisconsin Department of Corrections]

[Wisconsin Department of Corrections]

Though he would later claim his innocence and recant his confession, Turner was found guilty and sentenced to 38-and-a-half years in prison. The judge went out of his way to note that Turner showed no remorse for his crime.

It was during Turner’s time in prison that Fond du Lac and many other towns in Wisconsin passed new laws about when children were allowed to trick-or-treat for Halloween. Gone were the days of children roaming free after dark, unsupervised by parents. The new laws vary from town to town, but in Fond du Lac, trick-or-treating is designated as the Sunday before Halloween from 3:30-5:30 P.M. Even Milwaukee, the largest city in the state, has strict annual rules, allowing kids to trick-or-treat the Sunday before Halloween from 1-4 P.M.

It would seem that anyone convicted of such a terrible crime would most likely be put behind bars for life, but Turner was released on parole in 1992 after 17 years of incarceration.

Just over a year later, in late 1993, Turner was ordered back to prison because a judge determined that the state of Wisconsin had miscalculated his mandatory release date under a faulty formula. Years of legal quarreling ensued, and Turner was finally released to a halfway house in Madison in 1998. Five years passed and in 2003, Turner was sent back to prison on a 15-year sentence after he was found to be in possession of pornographic images and videos.

Today, a legal battle is raging about whether Gerald Turner should be released as his latest sentence is set to expire, or whether authorities can have him committed to a mental health facility because they deem him a sexually dangerous person. Lisa Ann French’s mother has started a petition to keep Turner incarcerated, and her family is fighting his possible release in every way possible.

For now, Gerald Turner’s fate is undetermined, as his case is locked up in a back-and-forth legal battle playing out in court and in the public eye. In May 2018, Turner was granted a change of venue to argue against being held in a secure treatment facility after his sentence expires.

The legal wrangling continues, but there is no doubt that that Lisa Ann French’s family, and the people of Fond du Lac, pray that the man known as the "Halloween Killer” will never walk the streets as a free man again.

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