Elvis Impersonator Who Renewed Vows of Couple Accused of Torturing Children Speaks Out
Entertainer Kent Ripley says he saw no sign of abuse in 13 children of California couple whose wedding vow renewal he oversaw three times
An Elvis impersonator who oversaw three wedding vow renewals for a California couple accused of imprisoning and torturing their 13 kids – all of whom joined parents David and Louise Turpin at the Las Vegas chapel as recently as October 2015 – says the allegations are “sad, disturbing, upsetting, sickening.”
But Kent Ripley, the entertainer who performed as Elvis for the family, tells PEOPLE he saw nothing to indicate any abuse of the children or tension between them and their parents.
He says the Turpins’ name immediately leapt out at him following reports of the parents’ arrest Monday because he recalled their large collection of kids – and David Turpin’s unique haircut.
“I definitely didn’t want people to think that I saw something and didn’t say something,” says Ripley, who first performed a marriage renewal ceremony for the couple on Oct. 29, 2011, to mark their 26th anniversary, according to video of the event shared by A Elvis Chapel.
At that time only the couple was present, with Ripley in costume walking Louise Turpin to the altar while singing “Love Me Tender,” and then serenading them afterward as they danced to his rendition of “Viva, Las Vegas.”
But during conversation, Ripley says the parents proudly mentioned the large brood of kids that Louise home-schooled. And when the couple returned to the same chapel for another vow renewal on Sept. 2, 2013 – and yet again on Oct. 31, 2015 – their children joined them.
In 2013 the girls served as bridesmaids and flower girls in matching plaid dresses, with the boys in black suits, and they all jumped in afterward to sing “Hound Dog.”
After the more recent ceremony in 2015, Ripley counted out the kids. “Lucky 13!” he said, the video shows.
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He remembers well-behaved children and apparent affection on display between them and their parents.
He asked the family how they traveled around – “I get curious,” he says. “Where do 12, 13 kids go? You go to a restaurant, you’re renting the whole restaurant,” he joked – and remembers hearing they had a van. He also recalls someone saying something about a past or future trip to Disneyland.
“They didn’t stand out as a couple as being weird or odd,” he says. “In our profession, we see people, we talk to people all the time from all over the world. Why would these two people look any different or act any different?”
However, he said the large number of kids “is something to remember them by.”
He concedes he spent only 45 to 60 minutes with the Turpins on each of the three occasions spread out over four years, and couches his observations accordingly. He doesn’t know why they chose to renew their vows, why they chose an Elvis theme, or why they brought the kids along the second and third time around.
“Just like most people [in that setting], you can see a little bit of emotion, and when you see that, you think that deep down, there’s some care, some love,” he says. “So with that you go, ‘this is why they’re here: They’re telling each other that they still love each other.’ And in front of their children, they’re saying that ‘mom and dad still love each other.’ And to me, when you bring  children with you, and they’re sitting there with smiles on their faces, they’re saying that the parents love the children.”
“They didn’t appear to be unhealthy,” he says of the kids. “I saw a family that was growing up together, that probably didn’t have a lot of social interaction, but that’s not always a bad thing when the world has bad things.”
“I saw this family in a very unique situation that most people don’t have with that many siblings,” Ripley says. “I see this family in a unique situation, having each other, living in California, father had a very – I mean, I was told he was an engineer. To me that’s a fairly decent, highly intelligent job where you’re respected in your community. And smiling children’s faces.”
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He adds: “They came across as being quiet. But very soft-spoken. When I spoke to them, I said, ‘Hi, what’s your name?’ They answered without hesitation. They didn’t look around like, ‘oh, I need permission to talk.'”
“The parents didn’t look stressed out,” he says. “A lot of parents look stressed out if they have two or three kids. They didn’t look like they had a burden on their shoulder.”
He felt differently after learning of the charges against them.
“In general life, when you, when I, when people, friends or family – when you really have a history of knowing somebody, when you realize that something happens, you realize that you didn’t really know somebody, that’s when it’s sad, disturbing, upsetting, sickening, all those descriptive words.”
“My prayers and my heart goes out to the children,” he says, “and I will continue to pray for their recovery and their lives in the present and the future.”