PERRIS, CA — How were David and Louise Turpin, the California parents who allegedly held their 13 children captive in a “house of horrors,” able to continue their horrific abuse undetected for so many years?
On January 14, a 17-year-old sibling was able to escape through a window. She used a disconnected cell phone to call 911 — and told police that she and her brothers and sisters were being held captive.
When police responded, they found a shocking scene: The children were allegedly starved, chained, and shackled to beds — with some of them so emotionally damaged that they were unable to recognize what a police officer was.
The oldest child, who is 29, weighed just 82 pounds, according to authorities, and appeared much younger.
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin described the alleged abuse as “severe, pervasive, prolonged” at a press conference in January.
So how could it be that no one seemed to know what was going on?
The children had allegedly been tied to beds with ropes. They were also restrained with chains and padlocks, Hestrin said — sometimes for months at a time.
Prosecutors say the Turpins forced their children to sleep in the day and stay up at night in an attempt to further isolate them. They were only permitted to shower once a year.
The family lived in the Fort Worth, Texas, area before moving to to Murrieta, California, in 2010. Though some Texas neighbors noticed that the children seemed withdrawn, by the time the true extent of what was going on inside the home began to be revealed, the Turpins had moved on.
When the family left their home in Rio Vista, Texas, neighbors say they left behind “filth” after their residence went through foreclosure.
Piles of garbage and waist-high heaps of dirty diapers lined the floors. The couple had even reportedly abandoned their dogs, who had been living off of the garbage left behind in the home.
Home-schooling laws added another layer of complexity to the case. Since the Turpins claimed the kids were home schooled, no teachers, classmates, or counselors were able to observe their physical condition over the years.
The couple’s house was registered with the state of California as the private Sandcastle Day School, and David Turpin was listed as its principal. He claimed that he had run a K-12 school from the home since 2010, according to a private school affidavit. According to the Los Angeles Times, Turpin called it a full-time, religious school unaffiliated with any denomination.
But neither the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department nor the Department of Public Social Services had ever been called to the home to talk to the Turpins.Over the years, the alleged abuse escalated. But through it all, at times the family seemed to be exhibiting normal behavior.
One sibling was even allowed to enroll at Mt. San Jacinto College. A fellow student told NBC4 that he was “sweet,” but kept to himself. She said that he behaved as if he was starving at a school potlock, saying that he “literally ate plate after plate after plate.”
Louise Turpin’s sister, Teresa Robinette, told Hollywoodlife.com that she is sure that her sister ruled the household. She’s also said of her nieces and nephews: “They’ve obviously never known happy. My main hope is that I can put my arm around them and just tell them they had family that loves them that’s not deranged. I want them to meet their cousins.”
“Louise was always in control of her life. I have reason to believe Louise was the driver of all this, and that [her husband] David went along,” she said.
The children are now being housed in three separate homes in Riverside County, authorities said on Monday, but all speak together regularly over Skype. Corona Regional Medical Center CEO Mark Uffer said that the adult children now hope to learn life skills like grocery shopping. “They are all bright and articulate and incredibly eager to study,” one of the adult children’s attorneys told People. “The thing they want more than anything else is an education.”
David and Louise Turpin have pleaded not guilty to all charges. Both are being held in custody on $13 million bail.
If convicted, each faces up to 94 years to life in prison.
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Main photo: David and Louise Turpin with their children [DailyMail.com (screenshot)]