Prosecutor Details Alleged Abuse in House of Horrors: Beatings, Starvation, Showers Once a Year
“Severe, pervasive, prolonged.”
That is how a California prosecutor is characterizing the abuse a married couple allegedly inflicted on their 13 children over a period of at least seven years — torture, the prosecutor said, that included beatings, starvation and strangulation.
At a Thursday morning news conference, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin laid out a series of startling accusations about the house of horrors authorities found earlier this week in Perris, California. Inside, according to authorities, the children of David and Louise Turpin were kept captive, malnourished and abused, with some of them in chains.
Speaking to reporters, Hestrin described at length the nature of the alleged abuse while noting it was only a “snapshot” of the case thus far. The 13 Turpin children range in age from 2 to 29.
Many key questions remain unanswered as the investigation continues, and Hestrin declined to comment on a possible motive. He said it appears “no one [outside the family] noticed what was happening.”
Hestrin said the abuse the couple’s children faced intensified over time, as the family moved first from the Fort Worth area in Texas, in 2010, to Murrieta, California, and then to Perris in 2014.
“What started out as neglect became severe, pervasive, prolonged child abuse,” Hestrin said.
“This is severe emotional, physical abuse. There’s no way around that,” he said. “This is depraved conduct.”
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Among other behaviors, Hestrin alleged that the Turpins, including parents and children, slept all day and were “up all through the night,” going to bed about 4 or 5 a.m.
The children were allowed to shower no more than once a year and none had “ever” seen a dentist, he said. They last saw a doctor more than four years ago, he said, and were fed very little.
Hestrin said the children suffered “severe caloric malnourishment.” Supposedly home-schooled, he said the kids “lacked a basic knowledge of life” when they were recovered from the Turpin residence.
The 29-year-old female victim, Hestrin said, weighed 82 lbs. when she was found.
Bizarrely, however, he said David, 57, and 49-year-old Louise allegedly purchased enough food for themselves and would leave some of it, including pies, out on the counter where their children could see — but could not eat it.
“A lot” of toys, all unopened, were also found inside the home, Hestrin said.
WATCH: People Explains: Parents Arrested After Their 13 Children Allegedly Found Shackled and Malnourished
He urged anyone with information about the family, in California or Texas, to come forward to Riverside authorities.
“Someone must have seen something, someone must have noticed something,” he said. “We need your help.”
He declined to discuss the condition of the 13 children at length but repeatedly said they were “relieved” by the intervention of authorities.
“They’re in good hands, they’re being cared for,” he said. “They’re all in the hospital, their well-being is being looked at.”
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David and Louise were arrested after one of their children, a 17-year-old girl, escaped the home and alerted police, authorities have said. Hestrin said Thursday that the couple now faces 12 counts each of torture as well as seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse or neglect and 12 counts of false imprisonment.
David is additionally charged with one count of lewd act on a child under the age of 14 by force, fear or duress.
The charges cover alleged behavior dating back to 2010, Hestrin said. David and Louise are not charged with torturing the 2-year-old as the toddler, for some reason, seems to have been fed enough though “we don’t know why,” Hestrin said.
He stressed that the basis for the torture charges was a combination of alleged, severe abuse over time.
The suspects were arraigned on Thursday afternoon, where they pleaded not guilty to their charges. They remain in custody and Hestrin said prosecutors are requesting bail be set at $13 million for each.
Speaking to reporters after their court hearing on Thursday, attorneys for David and Louise declined to comment beyond broad reactions about the allegations against them.
“It doesn’t get much more serious in terms of severity of the conduct being alleged and also the exposure in prison,” said Jeff Moore, Louise’s attorney.
He tells PEOPLE, “The allegations carry life in state prison. In terms of possible sentences this is about as serious as it gets.”
Echoing that, David’s attorney, David Macher, says, “It is a very serious case. Anytime you are talking about a century of imprisonment is a very serious case.”
Prosecutor Kevin Beecham says, “It is a horrible case. It is unfortunate for everyone involved. Thank goodness they [the kids] are out now.”
Anyone with information about the Turpin family is urged to call Riverside County Senior District Attorney Investigator Wade D. Walsvick at 951-955-5400.
• With reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK