Early on many were labelling what went on inside David and Louise Turpin’s suburban home in California as a “house of horrors”. Today the Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin confirmed that was certainly true.
Even before starting his news conference today, Mr Hestrin warned “this will be difficult to listen to”. He was right.
The couple – who if found guilty face up to 94 years to life imprisonment – today pleaded not guilty to 37 charges each of torture, child abuse and neglect. Their bail has been set at $15.2 million (US$12 million) each.
Chained to beds, taunted with food they weren’t allowed to eat and locked in rooms reeking of their own waste, the Turpin’s 13 children were so emaciated and malnourished, many will suffer permanent physical disabilities and mental impairments for the rest of their lives.
Forced to stay up until 4 or 5am every night, the tiniest act of defiance by the children – such as washing their hands above the wrist – was punished with being chained up for weeks or even months at a time, harsh beatings and strangling.
“If the children were found to wash their hands above the wrist area, they were accused of playing in the water and they would be chained up,” District Attorney Hestrin said.
“None of the victims have seen a doctor in more than four years. None of the children have ever seen a dentist.
“All the victims were and are severely malnourished – specifically, severe caloric malnutrition associated with muscle wastage.
“The abuse and severe neglect intensified over time and intensified as they moved to California.”
When police raided the family’s home this week, Turpin’s 12-year-old daughter weighed as much as an average 7-year-old, while the eldest, a 29-year-old woman, weighed just 37kg. Social workers who are now buying clothes for all the children, right up to the age of 29, are only buying children’s sizes.
It also begs the question: how could this – 13 innocent children and adults, tortured and punished by a “depraved” couple for so long – have gone unnoticed in what is otherwise an ordinary suburban street in Perris, two hours drive south of Los Angeles?
The brave act of one of the girls, a 17-year-old, eventually brought an end to their nightmare.
“(She) had been working on a plan with her siblings to escape this abuse for more than 2 years,” District Attorney Hestrin said today.
“She escaped through a window and took one of her siblings with her. That sibling eventually became frightened and turned back and went back into the house.”
But there was still enough time for the girl to call the police – and for the whole horror of what was going on inside the house to emerge to a horrified public.
The abuse claims being alleged against the 13 children’s parents include that:
– the children were ordered to sleep all day and forced to be up all night, being told to go to sleep at 5am;
– they were first tied to their beds with ropes and, when they worked out how to break out of those ropes, they were than chained and padlocked;
– punishments included frequent beatings and strangulation-
– the children were fed very little even though their parents would buy apple pies and pumpkin pies, put them down in front of them in the kitchen and eat them themselves;
– they weren’t allowed to show more than once a year;
– ranging in age from 2 to 29, the children were not allowed any toys even though toys, still in their packages, were found in the house.
– if they washed their arms above their hands they were severely punished.
All of the children were emaciated and as a result suffer serious health issues.
The district attorney has told how the children – who were meant to be being home schooled – were uneducated to the extent of not being aware of simple everyday items and people.
“Supposedly home schooled, the children lacked a basic knowledge of life,” he said.
“Many of the children did not know what a police officer was. The 17-year-old, when asked if there was medication or pills in the home, didn’t know what medication or pills were,” Mr Hestrin said.
“The only thing the children were allowed to do in their rooms or chained up was to write in journals. We now have recovered those journals, hundreds of them, and are combing through them for evidence.”
The parents today faced court charged with 12 counts of torture, seven counts of dependent adult abuse, six counts of child abuse and 12 counts of false imprisonment. David Turpin was additionally charged with one count of a lewd act on a child under the age of 14.
“David Turpin touched one of the victims in a lewd way using force or fear,” Mr Hestrin said of the last charge.
Earlier police had explained how Louis Turpin was dismayed and perplexed as to why the police needed to raid the house.
David Turpin’s elderly mother has expressed surprise at the allegations. She often asked the couple why they had so many children and he always replied because “God wants me to”.