“The neighbours MUST have known something was going on.”
I overheard this outside of the home of David and Louise Turpin in Perris in California this week.
I have heard it before.
I heard it in 2006 outside the house in the Austrian town of Strasshof where Natascha Kampusch was held captive by kidnapper Wolfgang Priklopil for eight years.
I heard it in 2008 outside of the house in another Austrian town, Amstetten, where Josef Fritzl kept his daughter Elisabeth captive for 24 years, fathering seven children with her.
I heard it in 2009 outside of the house in Antioch in California where Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped 18 years earlier, was found living a shed with two daughters fathered by her captor.
I heard it in 2013 outside of the house in Cleveland in Ohio where Ariel Castro had held three women captive for up to 11 years.
And now here was that phrase again, as the unimaginable horrors of another story of captivity were revealed to the world: that the neighbours had somehow failed.
Neighbours I spoke to in Perris have spent the last week wondering if they could have done more
Interestingly the man who said the Turpin’s neighbours “MUST have known” lived not far from their house himself and had spoken to David Turpin a couple of times.
But, in his view, it was the other neighbours who should have seen or done something.
So, what would YOU do in that situation, if YOU saw or heard something strange from next door?
I can tell you that the neighbours I spoke to in Perris have spent the last week wondering if they could have done more.
But is seeing someone gardening late at night, or not being chatty about Christmas decorations, or simply looking pale and strange, enough reason to call the police or social services?
Remember that neighbours of the couple who kidnapped Jaycee Dugard DID do something: they called police to report children who appeared to be living in the back garden.
When officers called at the home of Phillip Garrido – a convict who should have been under federal supervision – they even saw a child in the house but accepted Garrido’s lie that she was his brother’s daughter.
An inquiry found that authorities missed numerous opportunities to end Jaycee’s captivity and her family was awarded $20m in compensation.
Jaycee wrote a book about her captivity and victims in all of the cases mentioned here chose to speak out, too.
Elisabeth Fritzl’s decision to give evidence at her father’s trial was enough to make him admit the charges. Natascha Kampusch gave a live television interview just days after her release and Castro’s victims also addressed their ordeal on camera.
Their messages of survival and hope will have encouraged families of missing children everywhere.
We should blame the perpetrators for the horrors they suffer but we shouldn’t fall into the trap of blaming neighbours.