Even with Xiana dead, family’s worry continues

By Michelle LockeAssociated Press Writer
Monday February 12, 2001

Case is still unsolved, and many questions are still unanswered in child’s death 


VALLEJO – Sometimes Stephanie Kahalekulu wakes up at night, wondering. 

She wonders why the bubbly 7-year-old she helped raise vanished six months after going to live with her birth mother. She wonders how the girl’s remains came to be abandoned on a wooded hillside. 

She wonders what happened in between. 

The search for Xiana Fairchild ended this month with the discovery of a small skull in the green splendor of the Santa Cruz mountains. The search for answers goes on. Chief among the questions: What happened to Xiana? Are the adults who had charge of her telling the truth? And does a jailed cab driver hold a key to the case? 

“I need to know,” says Kahalekulu. “Knowing is hard and it hurts but it’s nothing compared to going through it and she went through it.” 


Xiana’s story began grimly. She was born when her mother, Antoinette Robinson, was in prison for auto theft. But soon she was living in Hawaii with her great-grandmother and Kahalekulu, a very young great-aunt — 36 — because of the wide age disparity in the family. 

Family pictures show a bright-eyed child with a mass of curly black hair, playing in a laundry basket, standing on a beach, opening presents. Always, there is the brilliant smile, one that had become a gap-toothed grin by her final pictures. 

“She was in her own little giggly world, really,” says Kahalekulu, laughing as she recalled how Xiana, neat even as a small child, used to clean off each step before climbing up a slide. 

In June 1999, Xiana was reclaimed by her mother, who had moved to the former Navy town of Vallejo, about 35 miles north of San Francisco. 

Kahalekulu, who’d moved to Colorado at that point, was against the idea but didn’t have any legal standing. 

She made do with frequent phone calls; the last was on Thanksgiving 1999. “We asked her direct questions as to how she was doing. Her answers didn’t give any indication that anything was wrong.” Toward the end of the conversation, Xiana and Kahalekulu’s young daughter began chatting about Christmas; after hearing the promise, “Mommy will buy you that,” Kahalekulu picked up the phone with a smile. “I said, ’What am I buying you for Christmas? She said, ‘You’re buying me a Gameboy for Christmas.’ I said, ‘Oh well, we’ll see.”’ 

Two weeks later, Xiana was gone. 


From the beginning, the case was shrouded in ambiguity. 

Xiana was reported missing on Dec. 9, 1999, by her mother. Robinson’s live-in boyfriend, Robert Turnbough, told police he had dropped Xiana off at the school bus stop. 

Turnbough would later say that Xiana left the house by herself. He said he lied because he was afraid he would become a suspect since he had once been convicted for scalding a 9-month-old. A few days later, the gray sweat pants Turnbough had said Xiana was wearing when she disappeared turned up in the laundry. Turnbough said he had assumed that was what the girl was wearing. 

Kahalekulu, who’d flown in to search for Xiana, was horrified. She walked through the neighborhoods Xiana walked on her way to the bus stop, heard neighbors tell how Xiana was sometimes locked out of the apartment in the afternoons, watched as Turnbough’s stories faltered. 

“I would like to know what way it is that you make someone tell the truth,” she lamented. 

Turnbough and Robinson subsequently appeared before a federal grand jury. Vallejo police describe both as being under “a cloud of suspicion,” but no charges have been filed. Both deny having anything to do with Xiana’s disappearance. 

Turnbough called an impromptu news conference to declare his innocence. “I might do drugs and mess up a bit, but I am not a monster,” he said. 

Robinson’s lawyer, Dan Healy, says his client’s been maligned. 

“They’ve treated the mother of a murdered child like dirt,” he said. 


Xiana’s disappearance sent a tremor through the Bay area, which has been hit with a number of child abductions, including the 1993 kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas from Petaluma. 

Within days, a volunteer search center was in place and fliers flapped from telephone poles. 

Then, in the summer of 2000, something extraordinary happened. 

Another girl was kidnapped from the streets of Vallejo — and escaped. Shackled to the front seat of the kidnapper’s car for two days, the girl first tried to pick the lock with a nail file and, when that didn’t work, grabbed a ring of keys when her abductor was out of the car and freed herself, flagging down a passing truck and diving through the open window of his cab. 

Kahalekulu cried when she heard about the kidnapping. “There was the exact same feeling of not knowing what to do and feeling that I needed to find her, find her right this minute because something horrible must be happening right now and then not being able to do anything because you can run as far as you can and you can’t find the child.” 

She was thrilled when the girl escaped — and prayed that shy Xiana would be able to summon up the same temerity. “I was hoping, ’Have it in you. Just once — that’s all you need to get away.”’ 

The man arrested in the 8-year-old’s kidnapping, former Vallejo cab driver Curtis Dean Anderson, 39, turned out to have a long history of abusing women. He also had lived in Vallejo at the time Xiana disappeared and had worked for the same cab company for which Robinson and Turnbough had once worked, although not at the same time. 

From jail, Anderson made a number of rambling statements, including reportedly telling Kahalekulu he kidnapped Xiana and kept her for two weeks and then gave her, alive, to someone else. He also said he once gave Xiana a ride in his cab. 

Kahalekulu continues to visit Anderson in jail, sure that he’s guilty. 

Police, who took Anderson to the spot where Xiana’s skull was found but didn’t pick up any new information out of the trip, say it’s not clear whether Anderson knows something or is just fond of publicity. 

“There’s no evidence that links Mr. Anderson to the Xiana Fairchild case,” said Santa Clara Sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Eastus. 

Anderson’s attorney, Carl Spieckerman, did not return a telephone call to The Associated Press. But he has said that there’s no evidence corroborating Anderson’s reported statements. 

After the skull was found, tests put the time of death six months back, close to the time of the second kidnapping, although officials now say those reports are premature and the death could have taken place much earlier. 

Kahalekulu dearly hopes they’re right. 

“I wake up in the middle of the night,” she said. 


On a quiet winter’s morning, a sharp wind whistles around the corner of the search center in a donated storefront and ruffles three wilted balloons tied to the front door. The lonely cry of a seagull echoes overhead. 

Someone has left a teddy bear that has fallen on its face; a woman passing by stoops to straighten it. 

Posted in the window, a flier announcing Xiana’s disappearance bears the handwritten addition, “We will always remember you.” 

A dispute with another child advocate over donations earlier this year was a setback, but Kahalekulu plans to keep the center open for now. 

Summing up Xiana’s life for a speech to the volunteers who helped look for her, Kahalekulu focused on how the 7-year-old lived, not how she died. 

“Picture her now running and laughing and giggling her classic Xiana giggle. Be happy for her,” she said. “She is safe in the arms of our Lord Jesus Christ.”