National News

California Parents of 13 Charged With Torture and Abuse

Posted January 18, 2018 4:15 p.m. EST
Updated January 18, 2018 4:18 p.m. EST

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The siblings were allowed just one shower a year. Their parents left pumpkin and apple pies on the counter, out of reach of the children, who were fed only meager, infrequent meals. As punishment, they were tied up for weeks or months at a time.

The Southern California couple was arrested after police found their 13 children in squalid conditions, some shackled. The couple was charged on dozens of counts of torture and abuse on Thursday, days after one of their daughters managed to execute the escape she had planned for two years. The gruesome details were outlined by the Riverside County district attorney, Mike Hestrin.

David A. Turpin, 56, and his wife, Louise A. Turpin, 49, could face up to 94 years to life in prison if they are convicted of all the charges against them. The charges include 12 counts of torture, an additional seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse and 12 counts false imprisonment. David Turpin is also charged with one count of a lewd act against a child.

The couple hid the behavior by registering the residence as a private school, which prevented government officials from ever coming into contact with the children. None of the siblings have seen a doctor in four years and they have never seen a dentist.

After planning an escape for more than two years, the Turpins’ 17-year-old daughter escaped through a window with another sibling on Sunday morning. While the other sibling became frightened and turned back, the 17-year-old called 911 from a deactivated cellphone and showed police officers photos to support her story.

When they arrived, police officers found a filthy and foul-smelling home. Many of the children, who are between 2 and 29 years old, were so emaciated that they looked several years younger.

The gruesome and extensive abuse stretched back at least seven years, Hestrin said at a news conference here Thursday morning. The children were only allowed to bathe once a year — if they washed their arms above their wrists, they were accused of “playing in water” and chained to their beds as punishment, Hestrin said.

“The victims were often not released from their chain to go to the bathroom,” he added.

They were forced to stay up all night and sleep during the day and given a tiny amount of food on a strict schedule — a 29-year-old woman who escaped weighed just 82 pounds and a 12-year old sibling was the size of a 7-year old. The 2-year-old child did not appear to be abused, Hestrin said. It appears that all 13 siblings are the Turpins' biological children, he said.

Hestrin said that many of the children appear to have cognitive delays and show evidence of nerve damage from “extreme and prolonged physical abuse.”

The entire family stayed awake all night, usually going to sleep around 4 or 5 a.m., Hestrin said. While the oldest son took a course at the local community college, his mother stood outside the classroom and took him home as soon as it ended. The 17-year-old daughter did not understand what the officers meant when they asked if there was medication in the home. Many of the children did not know what a police officer was.

“They were never allowed to have toys,” Hestrin said. “They lack a basic knowledge.”

Turpin appeared to be employed and earning a regular income, Hestrin said. He and his wife ate well. The police found several toys scattered through the four-bedroom home, but they were all unopened. The only thing they were permitted to do was to write in their journals — the authorities found hundreds of them in the home and expect they will provide crucial evidence in court.